New minister Regina Doherty to fight for old age pension hike
Doherty says people who 'invested in the State' should be looked after first
Newly appointed Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has given the first clear indication that she intends to fight for an increase in the old age pension during this year's budget negotiations.
Ms Doherty told the Sunday Independent her priority in the new ministry was to protect the interest of pensioners who "invested in the State and have us where we are today".
"The crucial thing for me is that they can't get a part-time job on a Saturday. They get their weekly pension and that's it. The only people who can make their lives better is the State," the minister added.
The Sunday Independent last year revealed how Fianna Fail intended to force the Government to increase the pension by at least €5 a week.
The pension was increased by €5 but the payment only came into effect in March, so pensioners missed out on the pension hike for two months.
Yesterday, Fianna Fail's social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea said he would again be pushing for an increase in the weekly pension when budget negotiations started later this year.
"Fine Gael has a commitment in their election manifesto to increase the pension by up to €30 a week during their term in Government, so there will have to be further real increases for pensioners this year," Mr O'Dea told the Sunday Independent.
The Limerick TD said the increase last year amounted to around €3.75 a week over the year because the then social protection minister, Leo Varadkar, insisted on delaying the payment until March to allow increases in other benefits.
"The blows pensioners have suffered since the savage cuts from 2011 to 2016 haven't been even nearly addressed - they have only barely scratched the surface," Mr O'Dea added.
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Ms Doherty said our ageing population means her department would need additional budget funding even before pension increases couldn't be considered, but insisted she was anxious to protect the interests of older people.
"The most important job is to make sure I look after the vulnerable people of Ireland who have nobody to look after them except me or the department.
"I need more money and the department needs more money in order to invest in those vulnerable people.
"I definitely need to look after the people who have invested in this State and who have fixed-rate incomes and they are our old age pensioners," she added.
"There are very vulnerable sections of our community. There are people who are on illness and disability pensions as well as those on non-contributory old age pensioner and contributory old age pensioners.
"They do need to be minded because they have no other income.
"Other people in that bracket who receive maternity benefit or children's allowance or any other social welfare have the opportunity to increase their weekly income. The people I'm talking about have no opportunity.
"If you are on an illness benefit pension you are never going to work one day a week.
"If you're on disability, you are not going to work. They are the vulnerable people who have no recourse to work to increase their income," she said.
In March, the State pension was increased by €5 to €227 per week. All other social welfare payments, including the job seeker's allowance, were also increased following tough budget negotiations between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
The Christmas bonus payment for social welfare recipients was restored to 85pc. All these measures cost the State around €300m.
The €880m public sector pay deal recently agreed by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has greatly reduced the amount of funding available for investment in other areas or for tax cuts.