Thursday 21 June 2018

Pressure mounts on Government to solve issue over pensions

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty Photo: Tom Burke
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Pressure has intensified on the Government to urgently amend the State's pension rules, which have left thousands of women out of pocket and been the subject of days of political controversy.

The Government yesterday suffered a series of embarrassing Dáil defeats, most notably on a Fianna Fáil motion that proposes an end to the pension anomaly.

In a move that will heap future pressure on Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, her Cabinet colleague Katherine Zappone yesterday said she expects that the 2012 rule that led to the irregularity will be changed.

She added that she and her Independent ministerial colleague Denis Naughten expressed the view at Cabinet that the issue needs to be tackled.

"She (Ms Doherty) is going to do some research and come back to the Dáil in relation to the two issues in terms of the pre-1994 and also the 2012 reversals," Ms Zappone told the Irish Independent.

"I think she has indicated that she is going to take a look at that in a realistic way," she added.

Asked if Minister Doherty's intentions were sufficient, Minister Zappone said: "I think it's a reasonable way to proceed for now.

"But, clearly, I am on record for being in favour of equality between women and men, particularly in relation to the pensions issue.

"But I think this is a reasonable way to proceed in order to ascertain, before any decisions are made, what the costs are involved and then make decisions on the basis of that.

"It's taking steps and I agreed to that. Myself and Minister Naughten's contributions to the debate in Cabinet brought us to that," she said.

In the Dáil yesterday, Fine Gael suffered a defeat on the issue of pensions with its counter-motion being rejected. The Fianna Fáil motion that passed proposes to revert to the old pensions regime prior to the 2012 changes being introduced.

Ms Doherty this week 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.

Yesterday the Government suffered defeats on the return of town councils, the appointment of a directly elected mayor for Dublin and on the issue of animal welfare.

The bill on councils and the mayor was carried by a single vote.

The previous government abolished town councils - with several ministers saying since the move was a mistake. The loss of this vote was unexpected and is being put down to the fact Fine Gael had too many absentees.

Despite the number of defeats in the Dáil, there is a growing view within political circles that private member motions are not taken seriously enough. A number of motions have gone against the Government in recent months.

Irish Independent

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