Thursday 19 September 2019

Government will shrug off pensions defeat in Dáil vote

Dáil Éireann. Stock picture
Dáil Éireann. Stock picture
John Downing

John Downing

The minority Coalition is preparing to just shrug off another embarrassing defeat in a Dáil vote and carry on.

Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea will tonight table a motion condemning pension rules that reduce the entitlements of workers, especially affecting women who took time out of the workforce. The move will have the backing of most other parties, including Sinn Féin, which had already campaigned against the measure.

Last night, it was accepted that the Government does not have the numbers to oppose the motion that calls for the restoration of full pension entitlement to some 35,000 women who are paid a lower rate. Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty's counter-motion, which proposes dealing with the problem via broader, longer-term pensions reforms, will lose.

Announcing Sinn Féin backing for the Fianna Fáil move, Mary Lou McDonald said her party got no such backing late last year for a similar measure. She said Fianna Fáil's change of heart had more to do with publicity opportunities in the wake of its Ard Fheis last weekend.

"There's more brass neck in the Fianna Fáil leadership than in the ranks of a marching band," Ms McDonald said.

Replying to Ms McDonald, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended comments on the issue by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Mr Varadkar said the minister's use of the words "bonkers and unbelievable" referred to rules in force up to 1973 obliging women to quit public service jobs once they married.

The Taoiseach said he had received no lobbying from Fianna Fáil on the issue during preparations for last week's Budget. He said that the issue is complex and required a broader pensions reform because trying to fix one problem risked creating other anomalies.

"It must be done comprehensively. It cannot be done in isolation," the Taoiseach argued.

The pensions rule change was made by then-minister for social protection Joan Burton back in 2012. It had the effect of averaging the number of pension contributions over an entire working lifetime.

In practice it meant people who worked in holiday jobs or as part-timers, decades previously, found themselves losing out. It also hit women who opted for years out of work as mothers and people who took time out to be carers for a sick relative.

Mr Varadkar said any remedy must address the cost of increased pensions and back payments. The cost is estimated at €70m in 2018, rising by €10m a year in future.

Irish Independent

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