Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions

Decisions on Public Petitions Received

4:00 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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We have had a chance today to deliberate on the four petitions before us and we will now deal with the decisions we have made. The first petition, No. 33/13 submitted by Mr. Henry Gaynor, relates to equality and fairness regarding the raising of the State pension age to 66 and beyond. The petitioner has an issue with having to sign on for jobseeker's allowance between the age of 65 and 66, from 1 July 2014. He feels any changes introduced in the interest of equality, fairness and justice should only affect new entrants into the workforce, not existing members. The petitioner also raises the issue that employers have no obligation to retain staff beyond the age of 65 should they wish not to claim jobseeker's allowance and, therefore, legislation needs to be introduced compelling employers to keep people on beyond the age of 65 as a result of the new changes.

The committee has agreed a comprehensive number of actions in this regard. First, we will write to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, asking him to outline the following: (a) the procedures that have been implemented to cater for employees who must retire at age 65 and who do not qualify for the State pension until age 66 and whether the Minister has instructed all Departments to award a one-year extension to these employees should they apply for one: (b) whether an individual's occupational pension, paid by the Paymaster General, will take into account the difference in payment paid to the individual between age 65 and 66. At 65, payment would be approximately €188 per week, whereas at 66 this payment could be up to a maximum of €230 per week; (c) whether a civil or public servant who has reached age 65 and is informed he or she must retire can take a case to the Equality Tribunal; (d) whether the Department has any statistics available as to how many civil and public servants have applied for a one-year extension to take them to age 66. Of these applicants, how many have been refused an extension; (e) in a response to the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on 30 October 2014, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation claimed that some employers are offering a one-year fixed term contract up to age 66 to facilitate employees affected by the pension changes. Will the Minister indicate, whether, since the removal of the ban on recruitment in the recent budget, there is any intention to introduce a fixed term contract for employees between the age of 65 and 66 who wish to have such a contract rather than rely on applying for an extension on grounds of hardship as is currently the case?

Second, we have also agreed to write to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation seeking clarification on the following: (a) why there is no legislation setting down a retirement age, as this could lead to inequality between employers; (b) the Department states in its response that in general employment rights legislation does not contain an upper age limit. Will it clarify what is meant by "in general"?; (c) why is it the case that an individual who has been informed he or she must retire at 65 may find himself or herself in a position where he or she may need to take a case to the Equality Tribunal under the Unfair Dismissals Act? Surely if a person has worked to the age of 65, there should be adequate legislation in place dictating whether he or she may or should be kept in employment until age 66.

Third, we will invite the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to appear before the committee to expand on its submission. Fourth, we will invite representatives from the interdepartmental committee on working in retirement, which was established to sort out these issues, to appear before the committee. Fifth, we will invite the petitioner to appear before the committee and, sixth, following presentations from these three groups or persons, we will prepare a report to be debated in the Dáil.

Finally, we will forward a copy of all correspondence previously sent to Ms Catherine Doran, in regard to the previous petition, 53/12, to the petitioner, including the latest correspondence received. It is also recommended that all new correspondence on this petition should be sent to Ms Doran to inform her that this committee is still trying to resolve the issue of the gap created by the introduction of this legislation. We have agreed this comprehensive set of actions as we are agreed this substantial issue needs to be addressed.

The second petition before us is petition No. 17/14, submitted by Mr. Eugene Mitchell, on the use by Galway County Council of public funds allocated for flood prevention in a specified area. We have agreed to defer this petition for decision next week.

The third petition before us is petition No. 19/14, submitted by Ms Marian Groome, on the issue of water fluoridation. She wants a review of the mandatory fluoridation of Irish Water, as she claims there are health issues associated with this practice. She has not raised this issue with any stakeholder as she is of the opinion the issue needs to be debated in the Dáil, which has happened in recent times. While the Department states there is currently no issue in this country with water fluoridation, it has engaged the services of a health research board to conduct a review on the effects on the public's health and the environment of water fluoridation. I invite Senator Ó Clochartaigh to propose what we have agreed.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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We debated a number of possible recommendations and have decided to keep the petition open while we await the outcome of the review. We will forward the correspondence received to date to the petitioner for her information and will also inform her of our future plans for the petition.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Our final petition today is No. 21/14, submitted by Mr. John Breslin, in regard to motor taxation reform. The petitioner seeks the introduction of pay-as-you-use type of motor taxation for haulage drivers as opposed to the current system where hauliers must tax their vehicles for a minimum of three months. Research by the committee secretariat has identified that an interdepartmental group with representation from a cross-section of stakeholders has been established. Does anybody wish to comment on this issue?

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I suggest we should liaise with the Department of Transport and ask it to provide us with a copy of the completed report of the interdepartmental group. We should also request the Department to bring the petition to the attention of the group for consideration as part of its review of the current form of taxation.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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We should also ask the interdepartmental group to report back to us on the specific petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.50 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 December 2014.