Those pension entitlements of gardai,nurses, teachers and civil servants are estimated by actuaries to be worth about €120 billion in today's money. That is about treble the €40 billion bank bailout which enraged the public. Compared to that, the savings from the referendum on judges' pay were peanuts.
Traditionally, those pensions have been paid on a pay-as-you-go basis from taxation and borrowing. While that burden was tolerable in a young work force supporting relatively few pensioners, it will require crippling taxation in about 15 years when there will be about two workers for every dependent person including pensioners. Many of those future workers will be earning low incomes, so the burden will have to be carried by maybe 1.5 workers per dependent, some of them earning after tax incomes less than many pensions. This situation is shaping up to be a socially unjust,massive intergenerational transfer of incomes. Young people under the age of forty should be angered by this. Some US cities have already been ruined financially by pensions of local government workers, including police and fire services, which should be a red flag for all governments.
An insidious feature of Irish public sector pensions is that pensions rise automatically with the pay of the job once held. In most advanced economies,public sector pensions rise with inflation (though not private sector pensions) and an increase above inflation is given depending on circumstances, which helps prevent runaway pension costs.
In Ireland, the government can't be trusted to prevent runaway pension costs because the salaries of government ministers are tied to the salaries of civil service department heads. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.
So only a referendum is likely to prevent runaway pensions. In the future, a threat of sovereign debt default would allow the government to plead fiscal necessity and cut pensions under the constitution but it is best to avoid that.
The referendum should abolish the pension entitlement to pay increases in line with the job once held, to be substituted for pension increases in line with the old age pension or general inflation at the discretion of the government. Trade unions shouldn't get too militant over that.