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Pensions €3.1bn short

SEMI-STATE companies in Ireland have pension deficits which surpass €3.1bn, with ESB recording a €2.2bn shortfall.

Analysts said that the deficits are likely to pose a major stumbling block if buyers emerge in the future to buy the assets.

CIE Group recorded a €567m deficit and An Post, €403m.

The Government recently said it would undertake a "stock-take" of State assets, including the balance sheets of semi-State companies.

Workers in the ESB, who are among the highest paid in the State, are to be consulted on the changes to their pensions, which are being mooted as a means to plug the deficit.

Up to now they enjoyed a defined benefit pension where workers with full service get a retirement income of half of their final salary.

But from 2012 on, pension benefits will be accrued on the basis of the average salary earned by the worker in the remainder of their years to retirement.

It is believed that the ESB is making a multi-million euro input into the pension fund, while workers are putting a 2.5pc pay rise into it.

The semi-State sector reaches a total deficit larger than €3.1bn if the pension liabilities of the Dublin Airport Authority, SR Technics and Aer Lingus are included.

The workers at these companies subscribe to the same airport workers' scheme and there is no agreement as to which company or employees should close the deficit at the Irish Airlines (General Employees) Superannuation Scheme.