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Pension age increase continues to cause controversy

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Pension age increase continues to cause controversy

There is a real sense of déjà vu about it.

The pensions and perks of politicians are always a lightning rod for public anger, particularly when they are held up as a comparison to how others are treated.

On Monday, we highlighted in Campaign Daily analysis how certain groups were insulated from the changes to the pension age from 65 to 68, namely politicians themselves.

We described how TDs and Ministers, and indeed many public servants, whose service began up to 2013 will continue to be entitled to retire at 65.

This is in sharp contrast to the majority of private sector workers who will be contractually forced to retire at 65 but will not get their pension payments until the age of 67. From 2028, they will have to wait until they are 68. The current age for entitlement to the State pension is 65.

The anomaly means that they have to apply for Jobseeker’s Benefit, which would leave them €45 a week worse off, compared to if they were getting the pension, and subject to what many describes as the “humiliation” of meeting the conditions of the payment, including having to prove they are actively seeking employment.

The comparison with how politicians themselves are treated was highlighted starkly in this morning newspapers, with the Irish Independent splashing the pension entitlements of a number of retiring TDs including former taoiseach, Enda Kenny, the former finance minister, Michael Noonan, and former Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, across their front page.

This is reminiscent of the 2011 general election campaign when there was a mass exodus of Fianna Fáil TDs, 21 announcing they would not be seeking re-election. Reports about their pension entitlements caused huge public anger at a time when the pain of the financial crash and consequential austerity programme was felt most acutely.

Of course, it was that very austerity that instigated the changes to pension age that are now the subject of so much controversy. The increase in the pension age was part of the agreed programme in 2010 with the bailout Troika. Remember them?

That agreement was drawn up by an outgoing Fianna Fáil/Green government at the time, and the pension changes were legislated by the Fine Gael and Labour coalition just months after being elected to office.

Who would have thought that the shock of the bailout would still be sending reverberations through the political system three elections later?


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The difference in treatment between private and public sector workers dates back to a deal struck in 1995 with public sector unions, which entitles them to a supplementary pension if they retire before their State pension kicks in.

In 2014, a statutory instrument was signed by the then minister for public expenditure, and now Labour Party leader, Brendan Howlin that ensured “uniform implementation” of the 1995 scheme, which had the effect of insulating public servants from the changes that are now the centre of controversy.

As the backlash intensifies, parties have been scrambling to offer a solution to the thorny pension issue, which all sides say is a big one on the doorsteps.

Fianna Fáil, after saying on Sunday that it would outlaw contracts that force workers to retire at 65, said today that it will postpone the rise of the pension age to 67 planned for next year.

And, it will pay sums equivalent to the old age pension for those over 66 in the meantime.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said on Tuesday evening that Fine Gael would pay a “transitional payment” for those retiring at 66 until they reach the new pension age of 67.

The Taoiseach has previously suggested that an early retirement payment for those who are contractually obliged to retire earlier, which is usually 65.

The Labour Party has, since its party conference in November, promised to reverse the increase in the pension age.

Sinn Féin has also said it would bring the pension age back to 65, with its party’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty pointing out that those involved in labour-intensive work in particular should not be asked to work until 68.

There are some other stark comparisons that exist between the pension entitlements of politicians and many of those who they’ll be seeking votes from in the coming weeks. Politicians who entered public service before 2004 are entitled to their pension from the age of 50.

And remember how those outgoing TDs and Ministers’ pensions were published back in 2011? It will not be happening again. The practice has been stopped by the Department of Finance because of data protection laws introduced two years ago.