Sunday 23 April 2017

Minister wants to intervene in INM pension dispute

Review: Leo Varadkar Picture: Gareth Chaney
Review: Leo Varadkar Picture: Gareth Chaney

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has asked the Attorney General if he can intervene on behalf of the public interest in the pensions row between Independent News and Media and defined-benefit pension holders.

Mr Varadkar said last night he has not spoken to INM ­directly but he has had discussions with the Attorney General and the chairman of the Pensions Authority, David Begg.

The move by INM to stop contributions to its defined-benefit pension scheme was raised in the Dáil and Seanad yesterday, with accusations that the company is leaving journalists "desolate" in their old age.

If the payments stop it will result in the closure of the scheme, which has a deficit of €23m, and leave several hundred people with massively reduced pensions.

"This does have to go to the High Court, because what the company is trying to do in restructuring its balance sheet requires the approval of the High Court," Mr Varadkar told RTÉ's 'Primetime'. "So I have asked the Attorney General if I can intervene on behalf of the public interest in this case to essentially ask the courts to do what was done previously in relation to Aer Lingus, for example, where the company would have to engage and negotiate with the trustees."

The Pensions Authority is to review the operation of certain pensions schemes amid claims INM has exposed "a gap in the law".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted there was "no law, no legislation governing this, in respect of Ireland".

He noted that there were laws in place when a company went insolvent - but that was not the case here.

INM, which publishes this newspaper, last night said it was "engaged in a discussion process with the trustees of the company's pension schemes".

A spokesperson said he could not comment on the nature of those talks but the ­company would continue to make a ­"significant annual ordinary contribution of €3m" to a defined contribution (DC) scheme.

"Furthermore, the existing funding proposal contributions to the defined-benefit scheme, of circa €8m per annum from 2013 to 2023, will continue to be paid."

Workers affected will be transferred to the DC scheme after INM "reached the necessary conclusion that the interest of members would be better served if the resources available to provide for pensions were directed towards the company's DC scheme where they can be specifically allocated to the retirement savings accounts of individual members".

The company said this would lead to "a far more ­sustainable pension arrangement, more equitable outcomes between members generally, and most importantly will give all ­members greater security and control over their pension ­savings".

The statement came after Mr Varadkar revealed the Pension Authority would now invite the trustees of the INM scheme to discuss the row.

Mr Varadkar has also raised the issue with the Attorney General, but a spokesperson said: "While the law is under constant review, any changes could not be retro-active".

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea questioned whether it was acceptable that "a solvent, profitable company in this country can change and close down a defined benefit pension scheme on a whim - to the detriment of their pensioners and deferred pensioners and there is no provision in Irish law to deal with it".

The Social Democrats' Catherine Murphy said: "There's an urgency about this and other companies doing exactly the same thing. Taoiseach, do you not see that there is a need for urgent legislation in respect of this gap in the law?"

In reply, Mr Kenny said that the last submissions filed by defined benefit schemes with the Pensions Authority show that more than 60pc meet the standard required while the remaining schemes had recovery plans.

Irish Independent

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