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Sunday 20 October 2019

Doherty keeps €5 pension hike on table for the Budget

Regina Doherty (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)
Regina Doherty (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

Anne-Marie Walsh

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has not ruled out an extra fiver for State pensioners for the fourth year in a row, but warned she has to factor in the cost of a hard Brexit.

Ms Doherty said Budget deliberations began only in the last few weeks and there was still a long way to go.

"I'm always one of the very last people to sign over on the Budget in the last - probably - hours before Paschal takes to his feet on the morning of Budget day," she said. "So we've a long way to go yet."

She said she expected that, in a hard-Brexit scenario, tens of thousands of people would lose their jobs.

This would mean an extra €110m cost for every 10,000 people unemployed.

"And because all of our schemes are demand-led, that can't be a surprise to me next year," she said. "I have to finance and factor that in.

"But I know there are really vulnerable people in our society. A lot of them are children, a lot of them are people who are living with disabilities and a lot of them are pensioners and my job is to make sure I look after all of them."

Meanwhile, she denied she was trying to undermine the State data protection watchdog in a row over the controversial Public Services Card.

She said it would be a pity to "pit one woman against another" following criticism of her rejection of a damning report by Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon.

The commission is expected to issue an enforcement order against the Government if it continues to process data.

Ms Doherty warned that the Government wpi;d "probably have no choice" but to take legal action, but had no idea what it might cost.

She said it was a pity that Micheál Martin "chose that route" after accusing her of trying to demonise the office.

"I would certainly hope that this isn't about Helen Dixon as a professional because I actually think she is a real professional," she said at the launch of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed's 'Working for Work' handbook in Dublin yesterday.

"I think it would be a pity if you tried to pit one woman against another about something that's just a legal technicality. And there are very few women that we have at such a senior level in this country the last thing that anybody should want to do is to undermine her."

However, she said the Government could credibly challenge Ms Dixon's view as it was allowed in legislation.

"If the enforcement notice is similar to the findings as have been issued in the report, then we don't agree with the findings and so we'll probably have no choice but to take a legal action," she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Doherty backed comments by the President that the Defence Forces should have a sufficient income. "President Higgins has always had a view regardless of the position that he's held," she said. "If I'm to be honest with you, I think I agree with him."

Irish Independent

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