Pension win for farmers' wives
Elderly celebrate after Government U-turn
MARGARET Ryan was one of more than 250 farmers' wives celebrating victory yesterday after the Government announced its decision to restore their pensions.
The 71-year-old from Cleariestown, Co Wexford, said she was thrilled with the decision as the sudden loss of her pension earlier this year -- coupled with a demand to repay €20,000 -- had been a huge blow.
Newly appointed Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv yesterday reversed the decision by his predecessor Mary Hanafin to withdraw pensions from 268 elderly women who had been receiving contributory pensions based on belated PRSI payments for years of work on their family farms.
Mrs Ryan said the removal of her pension had driven her to protest on the streets for the first time in her life.
She also participated in a sit-in at the Department of Social and Family Affairs last month, and attended a Dail committee last week where the problem was aired.
Mr O Cuiv said his decision to restore the pension followed a review by his department and advice from the Attorney General's office.
The decision would be backdated to the date on which pensions were withdrawn or reduced and all arrears due would be paid.
Previous demands that the women reimburse payments had also been withdrawn.
"I am delighted that, based on further legal advice, it has been possible to make this decision. I am aware of the distress this issue was causing and I am pleased that the matter has now been brought to a satisfactory conclusion," said Mr O Cuiv.
Mrs Ryan said she felt Mr O Cuiv had been more sympathetic to the concerns of farmers' spouses than Ms Hanafin.
"He's a country man, so maybe that made him more sympathetic to us. She was really very stubborn and didn't even want to meet us," said Mrs Ryan.
"The main thing is, though, that it's an injustice that has been righted, and I'm very grateful to everyone who supported us, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) and Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association and local politicians, the senior citizens and the Irish Independent," she said.
The IFA welcomed the decision and estimated it would cost the Government around half a million euros.
"This swift decision by Eamon O Cuiv is the mark of a caring minister who was not prepared to stand over the injustice that had been done to these women whose pensions were taken away in January," said IFA president John Bryan.
IFA farm family spokeswoman Margaret Healy said the decision "recognised the lifetime's work of these women in farming in partnership with their husbands".
Fine Gael also welcomed Mr O Cuiv's U-turn on the issue, which followed a unanimous call to do so by the Social and Family Affairs Dail Committee last week.
"The Government's track record on this matter has been one of deceit, subterfuge and sleight of hand," said Fine Gael social affairs spokeswoman Olwyn Enright.