Saturday 20 January 2018

Minister rejects any remedy for pensioners hit by unfair rules

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Older women suffering pension cuts due to a controversial rule change in 2012 cannot expect any early remedy, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has made clear.

Ms Doherty has rejected a Fianna Fáil move to revert to the old pension regime, arguing such a move would be too costly and risks causing other problems.

The minister said pensions cost €1.7bn per year in 1997, and now cost €7.3bn, and there was a 76pc increase in the past decade alone, during Ireland's toughest economic period.

The Social Protection Minister said 680,000 people qualified for the pension next year and the numbers would continue to grow.

She said this money came from current revenues and the future was uncertain without major pension reforms.

"As important as it is to try to ensure equity in the treatment of today's pensioners, it is just as important that we strive to protect the long-term sustainability of the system, so that today's workers will themselves be able to avail of an adequate pension when it comes to their turn to retire," the minister told the Dáil.

Ms Doherty said the Fianna Fáil remedy would cost €73m in 2018, €85m in 2019 and again rise in subsequent years. She said the 2012 changes were aimed at ensuring future affordability and minimising hardship.

Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea said the system was extremely unfair, and his party had opposed the rule changes every year since they were introduced in 2012.

Because pensions are now calculated on a yearly average basis, somebody with a total of 520 PRSI payments could get a full pension, but someone with three times that amount could qualify for only a partial pension.

Mr O'Dea said women were unduly disadvantaged due to childcare duties and caring for sick relatives, which led to an enforced absence from the workforce which diluted their yearly average PRSI contributions. He rejected a suggestion by the minister that they would study the issue and assess potential remedies for people losing out.

"The time for action is now. Give us an indication now of the timescale for reform," he said.

Fianna Fáil's Fiona O'Loughlin said people were appalled at the level of discrimination against women.

"I am appalled that the Government is doing nothing to end this discrimination," the Kildare South TD said.

Sinn Féin welfare spokesman John Brady said his party had moved last year to end the rule. He and party colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin accused Fianna Fáil of taking up the issue belatedly for publicity.

Labour TD Willie Penrose, whose former party leader Joan Burton introduced the 2012 rule changes, backed the Fianna Fáil motion. He advocated other pension changes, including abolition of mandatory retirement at 65.

Irish Independent

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