I’ve not been in court for the past week or so. Instead I’ve been working on The Novel. At the moment I’m reading through a hard copy of the manuscript and editing in preparation for a full rewrite. In practice this means my days involve not moving from whatever spot I park myself in the morning with occasion burst of movement to get food, water or any other basic need.
My days are counted in pages and chapters and my grasp on reality is, for the moment, slightly less than firm.
This morning I was on my way into town for groceries when I bumped into a colleague from the courts. It feels like I’ve been away for months, even though it’s only been a week or so.
In my moments of resurfacing into the real world I’ve been watching the ongoing controversy of the judges’ pay cuts. For any non Irish readers let me explain. The Irish economy is rather bolloxed at the moment as you may have heard. We’ve gone from being the poster child of economic boom to an illustration of how not to do things. We have crashed and burned quite spectacularly since the new year.
The government desperately needs to save money to try and keep some kind of check on a spiralling deficit. Consequently they are trying to persuade all public sector workers to agree to pay cuts and stop being such a strain on the national purse strings.
Now it would be easy to imagine that the Irish economy is almost entirely propped up by public sector workers who have job security the rest of us can only dream of, the strongest unions in the country and a bench marking process that was supposed to protect them from being worse paid than the private sector but has in many areas led to them being paid a lot more. But this isn’t a post about public sector workers or rather it is about one particular kind of public sector workers.
Judges do not have to take a pay cut. It’s in the constitution that they can’t be forced to. So the government have asked them to make a voluntary cut…a move which has so far proved a not particularly popular option.
I can see why people are so upset about the failure of 129 out of the countries 148 judges to volunteer for the cut. In a climate where there’s more bad news every day then the reluctance of a group who individually earn between €170,000 and €290,000 a year to make a gesture of solidarity is going to stick in most gullets.
But I can also see why they have constitutional protection in the first place. Judges need to be impartial and should not be in a position where they are tempted to make political decisions based on financial, or other, pressure. Justice should be impartial and it’s right that there should be some form of constitutional protection for that. The pay protection is there for the same reason as the protection from prosecution…because judges should not be vulnerable to any form of pressure when they are trying a case.
Now before everyone jumps on me I know that judges are human beings like the rest of us and are still public servants. It might be easy to forget that when you see them sailing through the corridors of the Four Courts preceded by their tipstaff carrying an impressive staff to announce their presence.
I know a lot of people would like to see an end to that kind of pomp and circumstance but for the moment that’s the way things are and that’s an argument for another day. It’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out. I’ll be watching with interest.
Nice to see an opinion in favour of judicial independence. There’s something undignified about the likes of Cowen, O’Dea and Dermot Ahern (all three of them officers of the court, by the way) attacking the courts while pocketing their own inflated salaries and perks.