Plans for a higher pension for people who continue working beyond the age of 66 will unfairly discriminate against manual workers and people with health problems, Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman Willie O’Dea has warned.
The former minister also criticised other planned changes for voluntary enrolment in a top-up pension scheme, saying it is “deeply flawed” and being rolled out far too slowly.
He said this idea was first mooted in 2004 and will only be fully implemented in 2036 – a lead-in period of 32 years.
The scathing commentary is bad news for Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who already faces unrest among backbench TDs calling for a complete review of the Programme for Government, which underpins the three-party coalition.
Mr O’Dea has publicly said on many occasions that the party’s mismanagement of the pensions issue cost them dearly in the February 2020 general election.
The Government signed off in principle on dramatic pension changes in mid-July. While the pension age will remain at 66, a bonus will be paid for every year up to 70 that a person opts to continue working.
“For a start, the system is unduly complex – but it may be possible to get over that. The real problem is that the changes make people feel obligated to continue working beyond the age of 66 and it seriously militates against manual workers and people who, due to health issues, should not continue beyond 66,” Mr O’Dea told the Irish Independent.
He said the issue of such pension discrimination was a central human rights issue and he warned that it has the potential to further erode support for the Fianna Fáil party.
The man who has represented Limerick city for 40 years was also critical of the new voluntary top-up pension scheme aimed at tackling the upcoming “pensions timebomb” and reducing dependence on the state pension.
Mr O’Dea said this was first discussed when the late Séamus Brennan was welfare minister back in 2004 and would only now begin in 2024.
“But it will not be fully implemented until 2036, making a de facto lead-in period of 32 years,” he said.
“Another major flaw in the scheme is that it will leave the private sector [to] invest the pension funds.
“I do not believe they have a great record in this regard. Investment should be left to a State agency such as the NTMA (National Treasury Management Agency).”
In early July, Mr O’Dea and a number of other Fianna Fáil backbenchers publicly called for a complete renegotiation of the Programme for Government. They argued that the tailback from the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis made the deal done in June 2020 seriously outdated.
But Mr Martin utterly rejected this call, saying the deal was ratified by the overwhelming majority of the Fianna Fáil membership.
The Taoiseach can expect fresh backbench unrest as he approaches the date of a historic job-swap with Fine Gael leader and Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, on December 15.
Mr Martin, who has led Fianna Fáil since November 2010, will come under renewed pressure to stand down as leader. However, he has emphatically said he intends to lead the party in the next general election.