Thursday, 20 December 2018
Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Bill 2018: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
A number of points have been raised, and I concur with a lot of what has been said, but we have a legal bind. The Bill has gone through a fairly arduous process. Senator Horkan is right that if this had been done more quickly, we would not be in the situation we are in with a lot of people. We have people even in the interim arrangements who availed of this and who have fallen out of it recently while the Bill has worked its way through the Oireachtas. We do not order the business of either House as a Government; we rely on the Business Committee to do so. It is a pity that it has taken so long, and I accept that, but I had no control over that. I have listened to all the contributions made in the select committee, the Dáil and the Seanad. Even if we were able to look at this cohort of people, which we cannot, and we have sought advice from the Attorney General in this regard, which date would one take? Would one take the date of the policy announcement, the date of the Government's decision in Cabinet, the date on which the Bill was published, the date on which it was initiated? There are a lot of problems there.
Then there is a cohort of people who did not avail of the interim arrangements, and we must be equitable. We are very conscious that many people left the public service at the age of 65 in the full knowledge that there was an interim arrangement and they did not avail of it for a variety of reasons so their pensions were drawn down. Then people entered the interim arrangement in the full knowledge that it was to last for another year, until they were 66. A question was raised in the Dáil about whether there have been an interim arrangement at all. Should we have just said we will make 65 the new 70 when the Bill is enacted? We decided not to do this because we wanted to give people an opportunity in the interim arrangements, knowing that they were drawing down their pensions, such that their pensions would be offset against their salaries, in some cases continuing to make a very significant contribution.
To respond to a question Senator Paddy Burke asked, this affects about 450-odd people, I think. I will not guesstimate the amount involved because people are on different scales across the public sector.
I acknowledge they have made a significant contribution. I am waiving the commencement order required in the hope that the Bill can be signed into law five days after it is presented to the President. Every day that passes, another person is either falling out or entering the interim arrangement. I understand the concerns which have been raised. I am not immune to them but there are implications if we were to start unwinding this. The interim arrangement would then go on well into the new year. I would then have to withdraw the Bill. There are tax, social welfare and pension implications that would accrue to people who have entered the interim arrangement. The advice I have been given is that this is not possible.
I accept there has been much cross-party support for the Bill, which I welcome. However, we could wind up in a situation where I would have to withdraw the Bill. I do not want to do that because it would make a bad situation worse. There are people affected who are concerned that they will enter the interim situation in the full knowledge that they will not come out of it. There are others who are getting closer to the age of 65. That is why I accepted Deputy Cowen’s amendment.
I did so, however, making it clear in the other House that there may not be legislative remedies available without unwinding the whole structure. I do not want to be disingenuous. When we published this policy statement and the Bill, we made it clear at the time that an interim arrangement was available which would work along these lines. Many people decided not to enter that interim arrangement. I have to be equitable and fair to those people as well.