Farm wife forced to repay €20,000 in pension U-turn
AN elderly woman who had her pension stopped is now facing demands to repay almost €20,000 to the Department of Social Protection after it did a U-turn on her entitlements.
Margaret Ryan of Cleariestown, a village about 25 minutes drive south-west of Wexford town, Co Wexford, is one of 268 farm wives who have had their pensions disallowed after the department backtracked on a deal to allow them to get a contributory pension for years of work on a family farm.
Mrs Ryan (71) said she had been receiving a pension for the past two years and was shocked to receive a letter in January telling her the pension would be stopped and asking her to repay the €19,875 she had already received.
Having paid hundreds of euro in retrospective PRSI contributions to qualify, based on her years of work as an equal partner with her husband on the 99-acre mixed farm, she was shocked to be told there was nothing for her to collect at her local post office.
"I worked morning, noon and night on the farm, and then just after Christmas I'm told that I'm not entitled to anything," she said.
"It's not like this was a slip of the pen, I went through a thorough four-stage investigation for 10 months before they established I was entitled to it, and then they took it away and now I don't get anything at all."
Mrs Ryan and her husband Christopher said they simply didn't have the €20,000 to repay.
Mrs Ryan attended yesterday's Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs which called on the department to rescind its decision to stop the pension payments to farmers' wives, saying it would only cost half a million euro to honour the agreement to all those affected, compared with the billions being spent on NAMA.
IFA president John Bryan said the average age of the 268 women who had their pensions stopped was 72, but some were in their 80s. They had now been forced to live off their husbands' pensions or were dependent on savings or charity from family and friends, but the cost to the state of honouring the agreement was just €570,000 he said.
Margaret Healy, chair of the IFA Farm Family committee, said she knew one 82-year-old who was afraid she might have to go to jail because she could not repay the money being demanded back from her.
Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright accused Fianna Fail of engaging in a "vicious and unjustified attack on hundreds of farming families".
"What makes this truly galling is that outgoing Social Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin told the Dail this was a technical error, but gave a different reason to the Irish Farmers' Association," she said.
She called on new Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv to start his new job by making a fair decision on this matter.