The country’s most senior judge has waived a €5,200 pay rise in a move likely to lead to calls for other members of the judiciary to follow suit.
Despite a view in Government circles that awarding salary hikes to the judiciary “does not look good”, the Cabinet signed off on increases ranging from €2,543 for a District Court judge to an extra €4,095 for a member of the Supreme Court.
However, the Irish Independent has learned that Chief Justice Frank Clarke will not accept his increase of €5,200.
The move is understood to have been a personal gesture by Mr Justice Clarke in recognition of the economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
However, the disclosure is likely to put pressure on colleagues to signal a willingness to do likewise.
The Cabinet last night signed off on the increases that kicked in last October.
Supreme Court judges are now eligible for pay of at least €208,854.
The extra €2,543 approved for District Court judges brings the minimum salary they’re entitled to up to €129,704.
The increases were due as part of wider public sector pay restoration after cuts in the last economic crash.
But the Cabinet signing off on the salary changes comes against a backdrop where the Coalition is already facing a backlash for refusing to pay student nurses on the frontline during the pandemic.
Rise TD Paul Murphy claimed the pay boost for judges “rubbed salt in their wounds”. He noted that Supreme Court justice Séamus Woulfe, who has been at the centre at the ‘Golfgate’ controversy, is now entitled to a €4,000 salary bump.
The Chief Justice, Mr Clarke, famously clashed with Mr Woulfe over his attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August, shortly after the former attorney general was appointed to the Supreme Court. He told Mr Woulfe it was his personal view that he should resign. Mr Woulfe has not done so.
Mr Clarke – who is entitled to a salary of up to €266,295 but is taking less than this – waived the increase of €5,221 that he was due to get in October. It is unclear if other judges have done the same.
The move to sign-off on the October pay increase caused unease within Government, with Culture Minister Catherine Martin questioning it, according to sources. The Green Party deputy leader was said to have “asked questions” about why the decision was being taken at this point and asked: “Could it not be done another time?”
Ms Martin’s spokesperson said last night: “Conversations at Cabinet are confidential. No comment.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was quizzed by reporters about the boost for judges amid the debate over pay for student nurses. He said it was the same 2pc pay increase that other public sector workers like teachers and gardaí received, while noting that ministers waived theirs. Mr Varadkar added: “No matter when you do these things, they’re always going to be misrepresented.”
In the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended measures put in place to support student nurses, while not directly addressing Paul Murphy’s point on judicial pay.
Judges, meanwhile, do not view the recent increases as pay rises, but rather the reversal of cuts made during the last financial crisis.
One senior judge told the Irish Independent the comparison between the restoration of judicial pay and the situation with student nurses was unfair.
The judge said the position with the student nurses should be addressed on its merits. This was a political issue and not one for the judiciary to express a view on,
the judge said.
Judges have previously complained about their pay and conditions, with the Association of Judges of Ireland telling Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in 2017 that the best candidates were not applying to become judges due to pay cuts and pension changes.
A Department of Public Expenditure spokesperson said the changes to judges’ salaries is “the 2pc all public servants have received since the 1st of October under the current public service pay deal. Judges are currently being paid it on an administrative basis, so this [yesterday’s Cabinet decision] is a technical order.”
The spokesperson added that judges are “being treated the same as all other public servants.”
“There is no preferential treatment whatsoever.”
— to www.independent.ie