Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

State Pensions

11:00 am

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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22. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person will be entitled to a State pension when they turn 66 years of age before a review is completed by the commission on pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17967/20]

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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26. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the commission on pensions will be established; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18964/20]

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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81. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of plans to set up a commission to review the pension age; if the details of same and clarity will be provided in relation to the matter; her plans in relation to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18472/20]

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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92. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the required amending legislation to postpone the rise in the qualifying age for the State pension up to 67 years of age due to take place in January 2020 will be published in order to comply with the commitment in the programme for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19023/20]

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I am in the cheap seats in the back. The Government has decided to defer the issue of the pension age and commission a review. Before the review of the commission on pensions is completed, will a person be entitled to a State pension when they turn 66?

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 26, 81 and 92 together.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Government stated in the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future that the increase in the State pension age planned for next year will be deferred.  This will require the amendment of primary legislation. The Government will bring the necessary legislation before the Oireachtas later this year.

The public policy and social issues related to funding a sustainable and adequate State pension system are complex.  We are therefore establishing a commission on pensions to examine a range of issues including contributions, calculation methods, sustainability, eligibility and intergenerational fairness.  Intergenerational fairness concerns how the decisions we make will impact on the young people of today by the time they reach pensionable age.

The terms of reference for the commission on pensions are currently being developed and options for its membership are being considered.  I will bring proposals in that regard to the Government as soon as possible.  It is anticipated that the commission will be considering submissions from a wide range of stakeholders, including key NGOs in the area.

Once it has concluded its deliberations, the commission will report to the Government by June of next year.  In the meantime, pending this report and decisions taken on its recommendations, this Government has clearly stated that the State pension age will remain at 66 years and will not be increased to 67 in January 2021 as currently legislated for.

This Government is acutely conscious of the need to consider the sustainability of the State's finances.  However, this is not the only consideration when thinking of the State pension age.  The State pension is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland.  It is extremely effective at ensuring that our pensioners do not experience poverty.  The Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister. Let us be honest. The Government has kicked the issue of the pension age down the road. It became such a hot potato during the February election that neither Fine Gael nor its coalition partners could handle it.

Fianna Fáil flip-flopped on increasing the pension age to 67, while Fine Gael, as we heard a few moments ago, wanted to cobble together an idea for an early retirement allowance, which would have hit people in the pocket by up to €2,000 a year. There was no consensus from the Government. What Sinn Féin wanted to do was reduce the pension age back to 65 so that people who have worked for their entire lives can retire with the dignity they deserve. That is without the indignity of having to sign on for jobseeker's allowance for a year prior to going on the State pension or being forced into job activation measures.

When will the review be complete? Will the Government consider bringing back the State pension age to 65?

11:10 am

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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To clarify, if someone reaches the age of 65 and has to retire for whatever reason, he or she does not have to sign on, as is the requirement for jobseeker's allowance. He or she has just to fill out an application form. Furthermore, such an applicant does not have to be actively seeking work and he or she will receive a payment of €203 for the duration of the year before going onto the State pension.

I too have been on the doorsteps and I also listen to people. We are taking a fresh look at everything, which is why we are setting up a commission. This is in the programme for Government. We have all signed up to it and we have collectively agreed to it.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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From personal experience, I have a different view on the matter. I would like to tell the Minister about my father, who started work at the age of 12, having left school very early, as was par for the course back then. He joined the Defence Forces at the age of 17 and served the State for 25 years, both here and abroad. He then, ironically, started working for the Department with responsibility for social protection, which he worked for up to the age of 65, when he retired last April. After spending 53 years working in the State, instead of being allowed to retire with dignity and with a State pension, my father was forced to go onto jobseeker's allowance for a year. That indignity was not unique to my father; there are thousands like him.

When a person reaches the age of 65, he or she should have a right to the State pension. For Sinn Féin, the idea that somebody would be forced to continue working until almost 70, or that people of 65 or 66 years old would be sent down to the dole queue, is absolutely disgraceful. Has the Government any plans or intentions to reduce the pension age back to 65, to allow people to retire with the dignity they deserve?

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I reiterate that that has been changed. If someone reaches the age of 65 and is going to retire, he or she must fill out one form and that is it. He or she will not be asked to sign on again and will receive the payment for the full 12 months prior to reaching the pension age at 66. That is an improvement.

Nevertheless, I accept what the Deputy is saying. For people who have worked all their lives, it was unfair that they had to sign on for jobseeker's allowance. That has been changed and such people will now be able to get that payment for a full 12 months. They do not have to be actively looking for work.

The pension age is currently 66. As I said earlier, we will be setting up a commission on pensions. This is a complex area. The commission on pensions will review the whole matter and I will then bring a report to the Government.