TDs pretending to be on the average industrial wage or less cost us exactly the same as all the others and they only compound their hypocrisy if they expect free legal aid, writes Donal O’Keeffe.

Last week in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Melanie Greally granted legal aid to Paul Murphy TD. Murphy faces trial next year on charges of allegedly imprisoning the then-Tanaiste Joan Burton and another woman in Burton’s car, at a water charges protest in Jobstown in November 2014.

Murphy had submitted documentation showing his average weekly income and the State did not contest the figures. Civil legal aid is normally granted under a set of very strict criteria: the applicant submits figures for their income and outgoings, their debts, savings and assets and, if the applicant has a disposable income of less than €400 a week, they may receive legal aid. For criminal legal aid, the judge examines on a case by case basis and assesses the means of the applicant.

(Legal aid may also be granted if a judge deems it essential in the interest of justice. It is worth noting that the legal aid budget is finite and, for Paul Murphy to get legal aid, presumably someone else has to go without.)

Before tax, Paul Murphy TD earns €87,258 a year. That’s €1,678 a week.  Which begs the question: how on Earth was Paul Murphy granted legal aid? The answer seems to be that Murphy takes from his TD’s salary what he calls “a young worker’s wage” – €22,000 per annum – and donates the rest to an Anti-Austerity Alliance “solidarity fund” which apparently fights for various causes. In essence, Murphy is taking his salary, spending it as he sees fit and then bragging about his self-imposed austerity. He’s not alone in this.

You will almost certainly have heard Sinn Fein boast that their TDs are only paid the average industrial wage. The truth is, of course, that Sinn Fein TDs cost the State exactly the same as every other TD does – they just choose to give two thirds or so of their wages to Sinn Fein. The same applies to Murphy, and to say that they only earn the average industrial wage is simply untrue.

“It’s a lie,” says Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick, with characteristic bluntness.

“When I hear Paul Murphy or Sinn Fein spin the lie that they are in some way a cheaper form of public representation, I think it’s a blatant lie that people should not let go unchallenged.  A Sinn Fein TD, or an AAA/PBP TD, costs the taxpayer exactly the same as a Fianna Fáil TD, or a Fine Gael TD or a Labour TD.

“In fact,” says Collins, “I would challenge any one of them to produce their P60.”

Regina Doherty, Fine Gael TD for Meath East, concurs. “The cost to the State for all TDs is exactly the same whether we choose to spend our salaries in SuperValu or on campaign leaflets.”

Paul Murphy took a seat in the 2014 Dublin South-West by-election, a seat which Sinn Fein had assumed was in the bag. Panicked at being outflanked on the left by the AAA/PBP, Sinn Fein then changed their policy on Irish Water. Panicked at being outflanked on the left by Sinn Fein, Fianna Fáil then changed their policy on Irish Water too.

Then came the election and the endless discussions to form a government in its chaotic wake. For Fianna Fáil – a party solely about the acquisition and retention of power – to “facilitate” the old enemy Fine Gael, a heavy price would have to be conceded by FG. Irish Water it was. That said, it really must have scalded Fianna Fáil to waste their one wish on an election promise that they never really thought they’d have to deliver. As RTÉ’s Joe Duffy noted drily, it was nice of Fianna Fáil to give a present to people who don’t even vote for Fianna Fáil.

Credit where it’s due, though, Paul Murphy and the rest of the AAA/PBP actually did win an argument, which is more than their former heroes in Syriza ever did. It’s possible, of course, that winning may actually prove long-term the very last thing they want. After all, if the heat is gone out of the Irish Water argument, people may well be less likely to take to the streets in protest in such numbers and it may not be so easy to find another cause which can harness such public rage. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps the Glorious Revolution is now unstoppable.

After all, as Colm Keena wrote in a searing piece in The Irish Times last weekend, “what the PBP-AAA want is to bring down the whole system. Getting people out on the street is the objective, rather than the particular issue that is being protested against.” Keena argues that the effective stymieing of Irish Water means that the Irish people will in fact end up paying more and getting less.

“And yet,” says Keena, “in the eyes of the PBP-AAA, things have never looked so hopeful. It’s another success; another step in the process of tearing the whole system down.”

Tearing down the whole system may have to wait until after Murphy’s trial. Judge Greally granted Paul Murphy legal aid. She made her decision independently and that was entirely proper, given that we have an independent judiciary. Funnily enough, though, I haven’t heard any of our Glorious Revolutionaries quibble with that decision, despite their usually being quick to roar about “The Establishment”, “political policing” and the like. Imagine the noise if the judge had denied Murphy legal aid. Imagine the noise if a politician from what the Twitter Angry Left calls “FFFGLAB” applied for legal aid.

It’s worth remembering that in his three years in the European Parliament, from 2011 to 2014, in a seat he inherited from Joe Higgins, Paul Murphy racked up a staggering €1,343,117 in salary and expenses. No, you didn’t read that wrong and I didn’t mistake a full stop for a comma. Paul Murphy got almost €1.4 million for his time in Europe.

Had I been earning nearly half a million a year for three years, I’d like to think I’d have enough salted away to be able to live on twenty-two grand a year. But that’s me. I guess I’m not a socialist.

Paul Murphy costs us €87,258 (plus expenses) a year. It’s his choice if he only takes home €22,000 (and it’s worth noting that you can still live like a king on €22,000 per annum if you’re allowed to expense everything from the breakfast roll to the toothpaste). He costs us the same as every other TD and it shouldn’t matter whether he spends his money on the AAA or on hair-care products. It’s also worth asking the question of what precisely the Anti-Austerity Alliance “solidarity fund” is for at all, if not for defending cases exactly such as Murphy’s.

I’m angry and poor myself, but if Comrade Murphy wants to agitate a standing army of the angry poor for the Glorious Revolution (which is never going to happen) that’s his business. If some people are disaffected and misguided enough to follow him, that’s their business.

But if Paul Murphy is going to sanctimoniously pretend he doesn’t cost the taxpayer exactly the same as every other TD does, and then stick us with his legal bill while he’s at it, that’s everybody’s business.