Saturday 18 January 2020

Pressure mounts on Varadkar for €5 a week hike in pensions

Leo Varadkar. Pic Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar. Pic Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

With one week to go to Budget day, Fianna Fáil has intensified its demand for a €5 per week increase in all pensions.

Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea has delivered scathing criticisms of Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, and accused the minister of "spinning" against his party.

Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea. Photo: Tom Burke

But Mr Varadkar has said that he would need up to €350m in total next year for the pension demands alone. The €5 per week demanded by Fianna Fáil would cost €150m, while the extra numbers qualifying for pensions would cost some €200m.

Fianna Fáil has challenged the suggestion that it would cost €200m to cover the increased numbers of pensioners, with Mr O'Dea saying the figure is "exaggerated", as many of the people qualifying for pensions are already on other forms of welfare payments.

"Anything less than a fiver extra per week would be seen as extremely mean, particularly in view of definitive commitments in the election manifestos of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael before the general election," Mr O'Dea said.

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The Fianna Fáil TD also accused Mr Varadkar of misrepresenting his party's position on self-employed workers. Mr O'Dea said that as far back as 2013 he had advocated better treatment of self-employed people under the PRSI regime, allowing them voluntarily pay higher contributions in return for better benefits.

"Mr Varadkar's comments about our party's stance on self-employed people is a complete untruth and he should stop this spinning. In fact the minister told me four months ago he was bringing forward something on the self-employed," Mr O'Dea told the Irish Independent.

But the minister countered that he is still considering the entire welfare budget and final decisions had yet to be taken.

He also insisted that he was standing by the €200m figure to cover the cost of extra numbers qualifying for pensions.

"The budget for social protection is still under discussion. The €200m figure comes from the Department and is correct," a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said. The spokesman denied that the minister had publicly criticised Fianna Fáil on the issue of self-employed workers.

"But if they want to raise the topic, it's worth pointing out that in 16 years in government, during which they had the Department of Social Protection, they did almost nothing for the self-employed sector. That is why Minister Varadkar is now planning to redress that," the spokesman added.

Bargaining will intensify across a range of issues in the final days before the Budget, which is being presented tomorrow week, October 11.

Mr O'Dea said it was "derisory" for the Government to be warning that fallout from Brexit, and/or the election of Republican Donald Trump as US President, were reasons for additional prudence.

"Brexit was on the cards as a possibility since the Conservative Party were elected with an overall majority in May 2015. The impact of Trump winning is not a major issue," he said.

But Mr Varadkar's spokesman said the Budget had to "add up" and stay within the additional €1bn available. He said all parties must be moderate.

Irish Independent

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