Thursday 17 October 2019

Pensions farrago just gets worse and worse

We have known about Ireland's 'pensions timebomb' for quite some time. Stock Image: Getty Images
We have known about Ireland's 'pensions timebomb' for quite some time. Stock Image: Getty Images


We have known about Ireland's 'pensions timebomb' for quite some time. Successive governments have talked their way through a series of reports and reviews, inching towards some half-hearted, eventual would-be remedy.

In the meantime, the scant occupational pension cover for private sector workers has become afflicted by problems associated with under-funding and inadequate rules of governance to protect workers' and pensioners' rights.

One by one, the small number of gold-plated defined-benefit schemes, which guaranteed pensioners' incomes in relation to salary, have been scaled down or wound up. Today, we learn of an even more ironic twist: Irish Life, that self-styled synonym for pensions probity, is to wind up its own employees' defined-benefit pension scheme.

The irony is threefold. Firstly, the scheme has never been in deficit and is backed by a strong asset base. Secondly, it was research for Irish Life that told the trade how debased the term 'pension' had become in public esteem. Thirdly, the firm is cited among those likely to take a leading role in a new State-backed pensions regime aimed at tackling that 'pensions timebomb'.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty's own actions in this realm equally have done nothing to inspire confidence. Last November, she suggested that she could fix the "bonkers pension anomaly", which deprives up to 35,000 pensioners of some €30 per week. Then, Ms Doherty revealed that she could do no such thing.

So what hope can there be for widespread pension reform tackling that pensions timebomb? Given the non-stop bad news revelations, it is hard to be optimistic here. It is time for leadership on this issue.

We need to hear far more about that, Mr Craughwell

Gerard Craughwell announced several months ago that he wanted to be the next President of Ireland. "Who? What did he say again?" We can already hear many people asking those questions right across the country.

So let's slow things down a little here. President Michael D Higgins's seven-year term is due to end in November.

President Higgins is entitled to a second term - but his intentions, and the main political parties' plans, remain unclear. There is every chance that we will have a presidential election later this year.

Already, the Independent senator Gerard Craughwell has said that he wants to become the nation's first citizen, titular commander of the Defence Forces and our key international ambassador.

Mr Craughwell reached Seanad Éireann via a by-election win in October 2014, when Fine Gael bizarrely botched a contest that it should have easily won. In April 2016, he held that seat in the Seanad elections and last August he announced his presidential ambitions.

Today, in an interview with this newspaper, Mr Craughwell treats us to a range of eclectic and zany political views, which merit closer scrutiny.

Among these is his dismissal of his oath of allegiance to the British monarch, which was taken in order to join the crown forces, as "just a few silly words".

It is reminiscent of Éamon de Valera's talk of an "empty formula" - but Mr Craughwell is no Éamon de Valera.

Irish Independent

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