State Papers: O’Higgins had concerns ahead of European job

Chief justice worried about pension before European Court of Justice appointment

Former chief justice Thomas O’Higgins was happy to accept an appointment as the Irish judge at the European Court of Justice, but was worried about his pension, State papers show. Documents released from the Office of the Taoiseach show the government needed to find someone to replace Judge Andreas O’Keeffe, who was due to retire from the European court in October 1985 but intended to leave at the end of 1984.

Then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald wrote to Mr Justice O’Higgins on November 28th, 1984, to ask him if his name could go forward as a successor to fill the post until the following October.

Memo

A memo to government at the end of November said the gross annual salary of a judge of the European court was £74,000 (€94,000), plus 5 per cent for head of household allowance, dependent child and education allowance, and 15 per cent for residence allowance.

The memo explained that an Irish judge would have to retire from the Irish bench to accept an appointment in Europe. "Under the law, a judge who resigns is entitled to a pension only if he has reached 65 and has at least 15 years' service," it said.

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Judge O’Keeffe was not entitled to an Irish pension when he moved to the European court and the government gave him an undertaking that his pension would “be kept in cold storage” until 65, when it would become payable.

In a handwritten letter to the taoiseach dated December 6th, 1984, Mr Justice O’Higgins said he had 11 years’ service and, on retirement “due to age or incapacity”, would be entitled to a pension plus gratuity tailored to actual service. “I will not be retiring for either of these reasons. I would wish therefore to have my pension and gratuity rights preserved.”

In a note dated December 6th, the taoiseach said Mr Justice O’Higgins had decided to accept the appointment and pointed out his concerns.

A government minute dated June 4th, 1985, also on file, said Mr Justice O’Higgins was nominated by the government for reappointment to the European court for six years.

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