Seanad debates

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Employment Equality (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage

 

3:55 pm

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister to the House. I will not throw bouquets at him but I have watched his progress. Even though I am an Opposition Member I congratulate him on his awarding of citizenship to the large number of people from abroad. I am very impressed. It is the right thing to do.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Very nice words.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I am a constituent of the Minister's.

The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace on grounds of age. Over the past 40 years, the Oireachtas has introduced many progressive legislative measures to ensure that people in the workplace are not discriminated against on grounds of gender, race or sexual orientation. We all welcomed those measures but for some reason we have turned a blind eye to a far more prevalent form of discrimination in the workplace, namely, discrimination based on age - accurately described as old age.

Before I say why I believe this Bill is a good idea, I will explain what it does not propose. This is not a Bill that seeks to enable people in old age who no longer have the capacity to carry out certain employment functions to remain working and carrying out those functions. Accordingly, it is not a Bill that seeks to ensure that 80 year-old pilots with fading eyesight can remain in their jobs. As with all such important jobs, people should only be permitted to carry out those jobs if they have the physical and mental capacity to do so. This Bill seeks to achieve fairness and equality in the workplace. Why should able-bodied people, who have full mental capacity, be required to face compulsory retirement at 65 years of age? If a proposal were to be advanced prohibiting any person from being a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas if over 65 years of age, it would be rejected by both Houses.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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It may not be.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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If so, a few of the Minister's colleagues would have to go.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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It would not simply be rejected on grounds of fairness but also because some of the most effective politicians are people of maturity. Age is an advantage, not simply in politics but also in employment generally. I hope they will forgive me for doing so but I will cite Senators Quinn and Ó Murchú as proof of the point I wish to make.

People should be afforded choice and flexibility in respect of when they should retire. Many people will, no doubt, continue to wish to retire at 65 years of age. However, many people in both the public and private sectors who reach the age of 65 are desperately anxious to continue in work. We all know the heartbreak and trauma experienced by those who have to go over the cliff edge of compulsory retirement at age 65.

The law should facilitate those people by prohibiting discrimination based on age. This is not only a fair proposal but also a proposal that makes economic sense. It is apparent that public sector pension expenditure is very significant. If some public sector workers choose to stay on after 65 years of age, there would be no extra cost to the Exchequer if they work additional years. One of the arguments against this proposal may be that it will prevent younger people from gaining employment. I reject that argument and I believe it is unfounded.

First, the right to remain in a job after 65 years of age is not simply a right for those who have reached that age but it is also a right for all younger people who will reach that age in the future. Second, it is not an argument for the promotion of employment for young people to say that certain other workers should be forced out of the employment sector. A similar argument was made in the 1930s when the marriage ban for women was introduced. Married women were told they could no longer work because they would be taking jobs from men. It was a nonsense argument then and it is nonsense now. Self-employed people, politicians and members of the Judiciary, do not face mandatory retirement at 65 years of age. Why should people working in the public sector be forced to go at 65 years of age if they want to continue working and if they have both physical and mental capacity to do so? Why should employers in the private sector be entitled to dictate to an employee that he or she must cease work at a certain age? People are living longer and their health is improving. People in their late 60s and 70s are now well able to continue working. I believe the compulsory retirement age has a negative effect on the status of older people in Irish society. People over the age of 65 years should be allowed to continue working if they wish to do so. They should not be put out to pasture once they reach a certain age. Their employers should not be entitled to say that their service is no longer required. That is neither fair nor progressive. It is a brain-drain from public and private organisations of experience, judgment and expertise.

I ask Members of the House to support the legislation which will constitute a significant step to ensuring full equality in the workplace for all Irish citizens.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I have great pleasure in seconding this visionary proposal by Senator White. I hope it will be agreed to by the House and, if not, that it will spark a far-reaching debate. I refer to members of the Cabinet who will be in their 65th year if this Government runs it course. Some of them will be 65 years while others will be in their 65th year. For instance, if they were working in the health service they would have received their first letter notifying them that they were in their last year of work. The list of those in the category includes, the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who has already reached that great milestone. I am being ungallant by mentioning the age of the ladies but the list also includes Deputy Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Equality, and Defence. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has already reached that landmark age. Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, is in his eighth decade. The Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Barrett, has also passed the age of mandatory retirement.

I contrast these names with that of Professor Niall O'Higgins. His name will be known to many Members because he is involved in the report which is examining the reorganisation of hospital structures.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he has shown himself to be an energetic, capable, mentally acute and skilful person. I recall the sad day several years ago in St. Vincent's University Hospital when Professor Higgins who one minute was doing six or eight operations a day, running a vibrant research programme, receiving the accolades he deserved as the founder of modern breast cancer surgery in Ireland, teaching students and acting as a great role model for young doctors in training and those interested in health policy and the next was told he was dependent on the State and had no say in the matter. He had to go because he had reached his 65th birthday and had to become a burden on the State. Six months later I had occasion to attend a conference at the world famous Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard Medical School. During one of the down moments I was wandering around trying to find a quiet place to make some telephone calls and somebody said I could use a nearby office because the gentleman who used it had just retired that week. I wandered into the office which was full of cardboard boxes filled with his memorabilia which were awaiting collection. There were lovely photographs on the desk and the wall of an elderly gentleman with his family and a number of plaques. My little medical heart went all a flutter when I saw that the gentleman's name was Baruj Benacerraf who had won the Noble Prize. He was an extraordinary man. I am sorry but we doctors can get a little nerdy about stuff like this. Being in a Nobel Prize winner's office was a special moment. I found out that he was retiring at the age of 89 years and that he had been publishing papers, conducting research and was still actively engaged, although I am not sure whether he was seeing patients. I visited my former mentor, Dr. Jim Holland, one of the founders of American oncology, in New York a few months ago. He is still seeing patients four days a week and planning what research he will conduct next year.

Outside the world of science and medicine internationally, last night I saw Shimon Peres, the Israeli President, aged 89 years, being interviewed. We were all taken by the incredibly sprightly and energetic Queen Elizabeth II who went skipping through the English Market in Cork, bounced up the stairs in the National Convention Centre and looked longingly at that lovely pint of Guinness in the brewery and she is 85 years old. The time has come to examine mandatory retirement in the public service. It is inequitable. It is unfair that somebody who is still contributing and has not reached a milestone of infirmity or failed a test of ability is denied the right to work. As Senator Mary White said, this right will be denied to people entering the service at younger ages. It is incredibly irrational. Everybody understands in the context of demographics that an awful time bomb is brewing throughout the western world. Fewer people are paying taxes and insurance premiums than previously to support those who are "dependent" on the system. Having moved from a ratio of five or six taxpayers per dependant, we are rapidly approaching parity and in countries with low birth rates, coupled with longer life expectancy and early retirement ages, it is unsustainable.

Perhaps the best argument is the pure, mind numbing, anachronistic quality to this issue. What is the origin of retirement ages? The person generally credited as being the original auteur of social democracy, although he is remembered for other aspects of his curriculum vitae, is Count Otto van Bismarck in Germany. To pre-empt what he perceived as the increasing threat of Marxism in Europe, he introduced a wide range of social reforms. One of the jewels in that crown was retirement. People could retire at 65 years having paid throughout their lives into a pension fund. The reality was the average age of death was 48 years in Germany at the time. That was accounted for by a high rate of child mortality, maternal mortality, a topic which, sadly, has become a major issue for us again, and people dying younger from diseases such as tuberculosis. They also died from poor nutrition and in wars. If they were still alive at 65 years and reached retirement, on average, they lived for another three years. The average person who retires in Ireland today is likely to live for between 20 and 25 more years. The proportion of one's life that one spends as a contributor as opposed to a withdrawer from the social welfare system has been incredibly and vastly distorted.

This is critically important legislation which presents us with an opportunity to light a light in other parts of the world. As Senator Mary White said, no one will deny the right to retirement. People should have that right and I suspect many will exercise it, while others will not. It should not, therefore, be imposed on them. I urge support all round for this forward-thinking legislation. I commend my young colleague, Senator Mary White, for advancing it.

4:05 pm

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Mary White for bringing forward the Bill and her kind remarks. I also thank Senator John Crown for his contribution and assure him I have been in age denial for at least 20 years. I do not care what he says; as far as I am concerned, I am still 39 and intend to retain this mental approach. I have a great deal of sympathy on this issue and would like to emphasise my continued commitment and that of the Government to promoting good employment and equality practices by all employers in Ireland. I appreciate Senator Mary White's initiative and intentions in bringing forward the Bill for discussion in this important debate and share her concern that we facilitate the active participation of older workers in the labour market in a manner that benefits society as a whole. It is right on an individual level. We live in a different era in which we have a healthier society, as Senator John Crown correctly said, and people enjoy greater longevity. Many in their 60s and 70s have the alacrity and mental capacity to make a continuing and substantial contribution to their lives and those of others and to remain in the workforce and be innovative. We must address these issues. I am not sure what Senator Mary White has against 80 year old pilots, but I came across someone in the United States who, in his 83rd year, was still piloting a private aeroplane. He does it for his own enjoyment but with great aplomb and expertise. He could not be remotely described as frail.

I have listened carefully to the points made. It is clear to us all that this is a complex issue which involves many aspects of the employment relationship and the relationships between workers and employers with the State. What is not clear, however, is how this is solely an issue of age discrimination. As Minister, my specific remit in this issue is promoting equality of opportunity and combating discrimination against individuals in employment on the grounds of age. Much of this debate, however, rightly revolves around sustainable pensions policy and policies on access to work and retirement. Senator Mary White correctly made reference to both the public and private sectors. Individuals in the public sector welcome the fact that they have reached retirement age because it gives them the opportunity to engage actively in the private sector with the security of the pension they have earned as a financial backdrop. In the private sector people often enter into contractual relationships in their employment which specify a particular age by which they must retire. We have to be legally careful about how we deal with those in circumstances where there are contractual arrangements with which the State cannot arbitrarily interfere.

In addition to the anti-discrimination legislation Senator Mary White has highlighted in her Bill, the matter of encouraging and facilitating longer working lives also involves fundamental aspects of pensions policy and State pension reform, public sector employment and pensions, workplace relations, workforce activation and lifelong learning and national active ageing policy.

This debate is not one limited to these shores; it is a live issue in every state in the European Union. Senators will be aware of the EU Commission's White Paper on pensions, published last February under the title An Agenda for Adequate, Safe and Sustainable Pensions. A stated goal under this agenda is the support of longer working lives. The Commission also proposes to consult the social partners at EU level in regard to the general issue of mandatory retirement ages in collective agreements.

Ensuring the effective right of citizens, free from discrimination, to contribute to the economic, social and cultural life of the nation is high on the Government's agenda. We have set challenging targets in this area but are preparing to meet them head on. The Oireachtas has already ensured that there are substantial protections in law for older workers that can be enforced. It is important to emphasise that. The Equality Act 2004 removed the original upper age limit of 65 years for bringing complaints of age discrimination under the Employment Equality Act 1998.

In general, the employment rights legislation administered by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation does not contain an upper age limit. In particular, there is no legislation in place imposing a particular retirement age in the private sector. As I stated, this is frequently a contractual position of individuals in employment but it is not required by legislation. The upper age limit for bringing claims under the unfair dismissals Acts of 1977 to 2007 was removed by a provision in the Equality Act 2004. The effect of that amendment was that a person aged over 66, when dismissed, may now take a case under the unfair dismissals Acts unless he or she has already reached the "normal retiring age for employees of the same employer in similar employment", if one exists. Of course, apart from being included in a contract of employment between an employer and employee, the "normal" retirement age may be a matter of custom and practice that has developed in a particular sector or workplace.

I have concerns about the concept of a "normal retiring age". It is a very amorphous concept in the context of employment. What might have become by custom a normal retiring age in a particular area of employment and what might have been normal 20 years ago may justifiably be regarded as abnormal today in the context of the substantial improvements to people's health and a broad range of other reasons. I refer not only to the assistance provided through our health service and the health checks that so many people get which offset potential health difficulties, but also to the increased standard of living that a great many people enjoy, even in a time of austerity.

The upper age limit of 66 years for receipt of statutory redundancy payments was removed by the Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Act 2007, which is very recent legislation. There is now a range of mechanisms and protections for older people if an employer simply decides to terminate the employment of an individual on grounds of age. The difficulty arises where there are contractual arrangements and public service regulatory provisions that apply and which specify retirement age limits.

The Government is also ensuring that access to and enforcement of the rights I have described is made easier. As Senators will be aware, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, is engaged in streamlining what is currently a very complex infrastructure for asserting employment rights and for seeking redress in cases of discrimination, to form a coherent and customer-focused workplace relations service.

A key component of the programme for Government in regard to older people is the reform of the pension system to progressively achieve universal coverage and better risk sharing, and to provide for greater flexibility for those who wish to retire on a phased basis. Work in this area is being led by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. Her Department has convened an interdepartmental working and retirement group to examine the issues related to longer working and the cross-departmental policies to support it. This group will shortly be consulting with stakeholders to enable the representatives of the various Departments, social partners and other interest groups to engage and consider the issues involved.

It is my view and that of my colleagues in Government that this complex area requires a coherent and co-ordinated approach and that legislating for piecemeal change in one area, as proposed in this Bill, is ill-advised. For that reason alone, I consider the Bill premature. However, I regard this debate to be of great value and importance. I thank Senator White for introducing the Bill.

I have a few brief comments concerning the specific provisions of the Bill. Two amendments are proposed to the employment equality Acts, the first relating to retirement provisions for over-65s and the second abolishing any upper age limit on recruitment. On the first point, the existing protections under the Acts for employees against arbitrary or discriminatory dismissal on reaching a set mandatory retirement age are, in fact, stronger than Senator White's Bill would suggest. The Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2011 give effect in national law to the framework employment directive, Directive No. 2000/78/EC, which prohibits work-related discrimination on various grounds, including age. The European Court of Justice may provide guidance on the approach to be adopted by national courts in considering national and EU legislation. It has done so in its rulings in a series of age-discrimination cases concerning this directive, and clarified that mandatory retirement ages must be set down within the context of national law and be objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate social policy aim, with the means of achieving that aim being both appropriate and necessary. The court has considered ensuring the dignity of older workers and the promotion of inter-generational fairness to be among the legitimate aims of such measures.

In circumstances where ambiguity arises, the Equality Tribunal, Labour Court and courts are obliged, where possible, to construe national legislation in the light of the obligation under applicable EU law, which includes judgments delivered by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

It is clear from recent decisions of the Equality Tribunal and of the courts that they have experienced no difficulty to date in applying the guidance provided by the Court of Justice of the European Union in its rulings to the Irish cases before them concerning retirement age. For example, in a 2008 decision in the Donnellan case, the High Court considered the justifications for and overall aim of the compulsory retirement age for assistant commissioners within An Garda Síochána. In that case, the applicant or plaintiff was unsuccessful but he was not unsuccessful simply by virtue of the fact that he reached a particular age. The judgment considered the background justifications and why it was considered appropriate to have a specific retirement age within the Garda Síochána in the context of the evidence heard. These decisions indicate that Irish employers, while they may set a retirement age for their workers, must be prepared to justify their choice to the objective standard set by the Court of Justice of the European Union. This is not an unusual set of circumstances in a common-law jurisdiction such as ours, where the applicable law is sourced not only in the text of legislation but also in the precedents created by previous court decisions.

Senator White proposes to eliminate completely the right of employers, whether in the private sector or in the public sector, to set an upper age limit for the recruitment of workers. While I understand her concern that older people should not face barriers to employment which are not shared by younger jobseekers. I must highlight that this specific amendment has other, quite serious and unwelcome consequences.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has considered the appropriateness of upper age limits in recruitment in a number of cases and determined that, in principle, such limits are capable of being justified. Senator White gave an example of an 80-year-old pilot. Upper age limits on recruitment are operationally necessary in some instances. For example, in essential and physically demanding emergency services, such as fire fighting and policing, professions which require significant investment in training, such provisions allow for flexibility in recruitment so as to ensure a reasonable period of effective service from workers before retirement, and the long-term viability of the service. The employment equality Acts already set very strict bounds on the situations to which such age limits apply. Further detailed consideration of the matter is required before making a case for further safeguards for the employment of older workers, such as removing the upper limit on recruitment. As I explained, the issues involved in encouraging longer working lives raised by this Bill are among those to be considered by the interdepartmental working and retirement group convened by the Minister for Social Protection. Advocating at this point any particular remedial measure, such as proposed in this Bill, is premature. For this reason, the Government cannot support the Bill. However, this is a genuinely important issue. It affects thousands of people throughout the country and it will affect many more.

Indeed, I should offer a declaration of interest based on Senator Crown's contribution and point out that, at some stage in the future, it could affect me. All of us hope to benefit from the longevity which would result in this being relevant to our lives.

This is a very useful and valuable debate. I want to apologise to the Senator because, due to other commitments, I cannot stay for the entirety of the debate. However, I will certainly follow the transcript with interest and, as I noted, my colleagues in government are undertaking work in this area and will be very interested in what is said in the House this evening.

4:25 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for staying for part of the Bill and for delivering his speech. I compliment Senator Mary White for putting forward a very comprehensive and thought-provoking Bill. She and her seconder, Senator Crown, both made wonderful contributions to the House and the Minister's speech was also worthwhile.

Circumstances change. When I came into the House first, I was in favour of early retirement for all politicians.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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In Roscommon.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I raised this issue back in 1978, when retirement was compulsory for people in the public service and I felt there was a certain discrimination against them in that politicians did not have this requirement. I thought it was a reasonable point, particularly as I was 33 years of age. I was very impressed with my speech but, afterwards, Pádraig Faulkner, who was a very senior Fianna Fáil politician, came down to me and said, "That is not Fianna Fáil policy". I said it was my view and, at the time, I was a Minister of State. However, we all change our attitude as time goes on, and we all have a right to review the position or look at the situation. Nonetheless, I did make the point that, up to the age of 65, if one ran for election, one could get another five years out of it, so there was a little get-out clause. In fairness, the Minister outlined that there is no retirement age for Members of this or the other House, which backs up Senator White's point of view.

Senator Crown outlined the many people who are effective at a particular age and who would be a great loss. For example, in sport, Giovanni Trapattoni is the manager of the Irish team-----

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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Is that the best example?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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-----although some might say that is a bad example of a person of mature age, although Alex Ferguson certainly has a good reputation. Gay Byrne has reinvented himself and made a marvellous contribution to the Road Safety Authority, which gives an indication of a person of great ability who has provided great service to the State as well as being a wonderful broadcaster. As Senator Crown said, we had the opportunity to meet the Queen a year ago. It was great to see her so active and we wish her well in her 60th year on the throne. Certainly, there are some below her who might want her to leave, including Prince Charles, but that is another day's work. He might not agree with the longevity of residents in Buckingham Palace. There is also, of course, the Pope, who, with 1 billion Catholics in the world, is doing very well at a very mature age. There are plenty of examples of such people.

When Senator White came into the House, she raised the case of a lady GP who was forced to retire despite being an excellent diagnostic doctor providing an excellent service. She wished to continue to serve her area-----

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Particularly with public patients.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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------and her public and private patients, yet she was forced to retire at that stage. I believe that was the genesis of Senator White's idea of bringing forward this Bill which is, as the Minister agreed, a great opportunity for the Government to discuss the issues involved in this very interesting area.

With regard to the Garda, the Minister himself has extended the time of the Garda Commissioner for an extra two years to 62 years of age. Unfortunately, there were many defects with the early retirement scheme, which should have been far more discriminatory as regards those who were really required to stay in the service. We have lost numerous gardaí, sergeants, detectives, superintendents and others who left due to the attractive offer, with all of their knowledge being lost.

Some say that older people could become job blockers for younger people. Similar arguments were used before the abolition of the marriage bar for women in the public service in 1973, following our entry to the European Union that year. That was terrible discrimination. Women in the public service actually had to retire when they got married. Only for-----

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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Some in the private sector too.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Yes. The fact we joined the European Union was a great boost. The UK brought in a similar Bill last year outlining this as discrimination, as has Canada. There is great movement throughout the world in this regard.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator has one minute.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry to hear that as this issue is so interesting. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. He is a very fresh Minister. I wish him well and hope he will not have to retire until he has been in the Cabinet a few years, which he will be, having been Deputy of the year some time back.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. I will make him a Senator for life.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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He already is.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I remind the Minister of State that the Magill book made him Deputy of the year some years ago, which led to his elevation to a ministry. I wish him well in the future.

I thank Senator White, who might even run for the Dáil and become a Deputy, given the interest she has. It is very refreshing to see somebody who is prepared to prepare a Bill, bring it before the House and have it discussed. This is a great day for Senator White. It is on the record of this House that she put her thoughts together, brought forward a Bill and provided this opportunity. I do not think the Senator will press it to a vote. It would be worthwhile to allow this to be discussed again and worked through as the issue is evolving as we go along. Well done to her. I also thank the Minister and the Minister of State for attending.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the publication of the Bill by Senator White. I hope we will find the parliamentary process open enough and generous enough to ensure the idea will remain at least on the table. The Bill is about older people. I hope we will look at the Bill not through the prism of old politics because, as we know, in the old politics that has ruined this country, the Government proposes and the Opposition opposes, and no matter what the Opposition will say, the Government will say it cannot be done.

I listened with interest to the response of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, who has outlined some clear issues which arise and which would have to be dealt with, but I am glad to hear he and his Government colleagues remain open to the broader concept of the ideas being suggested by Senator Mary White. Of course, Senator White's proposal speaks for itself and it has to be seriously considered into the future.

The statue of Charles Stewart Parnell in O'Connell Street quotes him as saying no man should put a halt to the march of a nation. What right do any of us have, politically speaking, to put a halt to the working life of a man or a woman who wants to work beyond the age of 65? Society has evolved so much, and work-life balance has changed so much, that we must respond in a meaningful fashion. We have all heard the very sad stories of people whose lives, physically as well as mentally, almost end when they reach so-called pension age, when a person goes from being a valuable contributor to society to being simply described as a pensioner.

Senator White mentioned the inconvenient fact that we, the politicians, have no retirement age - across the globe, one can point to François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl or Ronald Reagan. Those three gentlemen, among others, were working to rid the world of the scourge of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union when they were all of pension age or beyond. What is good enough for politicians, sports stars and television personalities may just be good enough for the so-called ordinary man and woman.

We must keep our minds open to this type of proposal. The trade unions must also be open to thinking afresh and realise it is not the aspiration of every worker to reach 65 years of age and claim old age and work pensions. Many see possibilities beyond that deadline. I hope we will find, from a parliamentary perspective, a facility to keep this item on the agenda because as a society we have changed so much, including in term of life expectancy. Fortunately, everything is changing in a favourable way and we must think along these lines.

An argument being made about jobs - in fairness, not by the Minister - is that the old person must resign or retire in order that a young person can get the job. That is the politics and economics of musical chairs. The argument is that there can be only so many jobs and the economy can only be so large; therefore, one person must go in order that another can take the job. I am not trying to get rid of the Minister just yet. Let us think a little beyond that towards a society where we can aspire to create the extra job for the young person without the older person being pushed out the door.

I thank Senator Mary White for bringing this interesting and thought-provoking Bill before the Seanad. She has heard what the Minister said and probably knows what will happen to the Bill now from a parliamentary perspective. Like her colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, I hope she will park the matter today. I certainly would feel very embarrassed if I had to vote against her proposal. This goes back to the notion of new and old politics. What a joke it is that we have to vote "No" to a proposal to which we want to vote "Yes". I ask Senator Mary White not to include me in that regard. I hope we will keep the issue actively on the agenda, in conjunction with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. I also hope we will reach a stage in society where we will not call a halt to the march of 65 year old men and women who have an enormous amount to offer our society and the economy.

4:35 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I congratulate Senator Mary White who has opened a discussion of the kind we do not have as often as we should. When I first came to the House, almost 20 years ago, within a few weeks the then Minister, Mrs. Mary O'Rourke, had introduced an unfair dismissals Bill. For a number of months beforehand she had raised the subject with trade unions and employers to discover what they would regard as an unfair dismissal. They provided a number of instances, for example, that it would be unfair to dismiss a person because he or she was a Traveller or had a particular sexual orientation. I tabled an amendment to the Bill proposing that age be regarded as such a ground. At the time I was not thinking of the age of 65 years. However, I knew of a hotel where one of the board members had said to the manager, "Would you get rid of that aul wan in Reception and put a bright young attractive woman behind the counter?" The manager pointed out that the woman in question was very good but was told by the board member that he wanted to walk in and see a bright attractive young woman. I do not know what age the woman was, but the manager refused to act against her. That was the reason I introduced the amendment which the Minister was able to accept because in her view the issue was very easy to define. If one is born on a certain day, one has a birth certificate to that effect.

Our policy in Superquinn was to say "goodbye" when staff reached 65 years, congratulate and tell them we would love to think they would return, even if it was not every day or for the entire working day. We told them we did not want to lose their experience and talent or the example they could set for new, younger staff. That was always our policy, of which many did not avail but many did. I think of one person, Betty O'Reilly, whom I meet regularly and whose 80th birthday celebration I attended five years ago. She works a few days a week in the bakery in our Sutton branch and just loves coming to work. She is energetic and sets an example for younger staff. I was delighted to be in Superquinn in Blackrock last Friday. There has been a major renovation project and I had not visited the store for some time. The first man I met was John Hammond, a butcher, who told me that when he had reached at the age of 65 years, I had shaken hands with him and presented him with a token in recognition of the years he had worked with us. He is now 76 years old and still comes to work. I do not think he comes every day, but he comes on a regular basis, which he values. Every year he asks the manager if he is still wanted and told that he is because of his energy, enthusiasm, effort and the example he sets for others. I offer these stories because the benefit is not only to the employee but also to the employer. The State will lose a great deal if we continue with the policy of compulsory retirement at the age of 65 years. It would be a real error and I would hate that to happen.

Having mentioned two Superquinn employees, I will mention Aidan Brogan who works in our Sutton branch and tells me he is 78 years old. It is a joy to see people like him still working. I am enthusiastic about the concept and also about what Senator Mary White has proposed. If there is a danger the Government might turn it down, I hope the debate will be adjourned without a vote. What Senator Paul Bradford observed is correct. A great number of Members are not only sympathetic to the motion, they also actively recognise the benefit of taking such steps. I would like to think this would happen and I am confident that something of this nature will happen in the very near future when we recognise that we should not be obliged to dismiss people.

I have found many examples throughout the world. A couple of years ago my wife and I missed a flight in Pittsburgh. We went to a restaurant for something to eat. As I was hungry, I cleaned my plate. The lady who had served us said, "I see you are part of the clean plate brigade." I asked her what that meant and she asked me if I remembered that during the war children were told to clean their plate because people were starving in Europe. She was talking about the Second World War; she was more than 80 years of age and running the restaurant. It is that talent, skill and ability we must not lose. I would hate to think we are merely helping people to work. We are also helping employers and the younger employees who learn from them. It would be a shame to lose all of these benefits and I hope we will not.

Last year we lost my mother-in-law in her 102nd year. When President McAleese attended the House about three years ago, I told her that we were coming up to my mother-in-law's 100th birthday and that she was looking forward to receiving a letter from her. The President asked me if I knew what she would receive. I do not know if the Members present know how much a person receives on his or her 100th birthday. The President had spoken to the Minister of the day in 2000 and pointed out that the tradition of giving £100 had been followed since the time of Queen Victoria. I believe it was Bismarck who introduced the old age pension in 1904. The President asked the then Minister who I understand was Charlie McCreevy if he would consider raising the amount. She had intended to suggest a figure of £500, but decided to aim for £1,000. He made the sum £2,000. Therefore, my mother-in-law received a cheque for ¤2,540. I say this in praise of President McAleese. On my mother-in-law's 101st birthday, she received another letter and a token - a shield or a medal. I received a letter halfway through last year asking how my mother-in-law was, but I had to reply that she had died in her 102nd year. President McAleese recognised the value of age, with the result that recipients - I believe I am the oldest Member of the House - will continue to receive a letter every year after their 100th birthday.

I realise I am not on-topic, for which I apologise. There is huge value in appreciating the skills, ability and talent of older people, as well as in the way they can pass on these qualities to the next generation. It is a win not only for the person who has reached the age of 65 years but also for the employer, be it the State or an entrepreneurial business. I congratulate Senator Mary White on introducing the Bill.

4:45 pm

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State. As a young person I would like to be part of the debate. I join others in saying, "well done" to Senator Mary White for bringing the matter to the House. As Senator Bradford has said it is not a matter of politics, our age affects all of us. As Senator Quinn has said we all had a birthday, we all have a birth certificate and we know where it is heading. The generosity of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, is something we can embrace and we all understand this is a debate to which we are contributing. The spirit of the Bill is welcome. We are talking about the right to retire, the right age at which to retire, the growing aging population and that the considerable number of people who have already expressed an interest or a desire to work beyond the retirement age of 65 is quite high. It remains to be seen how many people on reaching the age of 65 years might still hold that view. Obviously there is much for us to discuss in this area.

I acknowledge the work being done by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, with the interdepartmental working in retirement group. She is looking across all the Departments that are intertwined, Departments of Social Protection, Health, Jobs. Enterprise and Innovation, Public Expenditure and Reform, Justice and Equality and Education and Skills. The coming together of so many Departments is evidence of the complexity of the issue. The group is set to consult with all the relative stakeholders and all those who have a say in the matter. On the face of it, it may appear relatively easy to legislate and change the rules. I like the sound of that. It appears as if we are doing something, that we are responding and ironing out rules we have inherited from an earlier time; I had not realised it was from Bismarck which is a long time ago. In essence, we must not be fooled by the sound of it. As legislators we are heading for the substance with the interdepartmental group. As we are engaged with it I hope we will wait for the interdepartmental group to report. However, the Minister has said he will take on board the contributions made in the House.

I have three notes of caution to sound in this area. When we start to change the retirement age, it will inevitably change our culture and our attitude to work in general. We know, for example, that the American work ethic is a very powerful one and the people there tend to work more days and longer days than in Europe. It is part of the culture to work hard. If we go down this route and push out the retirement age to 67 or 68, will people feel obliged to work? It will change the culture and that is something we need to think about. Ill health is a rising issue with increased age. The 2005 CSO figures show that more than 51% of people over the age of 65 years reported a chronic illness or disability. Senator White made the point that she hopes people who are in ill health will not continue to work. However, some people may feel the pressure to work in a changed culture. If their chronic illness is at a particular stage it may exacerbate their health in the longer term and that is not acceptable. Some of those people who have said they want to stay on until they are 65 years of age may be the knowledge workers for whom their career and their job is one that interests and stimulates them. For those for whom work is more of a chore or is physically difficult would they share that same view about retiring at a later age?

Senator Bradford and others mentioned the issue of jobs for younger people. Youth unemployment is a very serious concern across not just Ireland but Europe, the US and the world. Therefore, any discussion about changing the retirement age here would have to take that into account. The European Court of Justice referred to this particular point in Torsten Hornfeldt v Posten Meddelande AB in July and stated specifically that encouragement of recruitment undoubtedly constitutes a legitimate aim of member states' social and employment policy in particular when the promotion of access of young people to a profession is involved. The court said that the retirement age must be objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate social policy aim. The Bill does not quite strike the balance that is at stake in respect of young people and the labour market. In time that can and will be teased out in debates in this and the other House and with the interdepartmental group.

The third reason is that from much research we know that the disadvantaged who live on a low income have a shorter life expectancy. The HSE said in 2008 that despite the rise in prosperity and overall improvements in the health of the Irish population, rates of mortality and morbidity are consistently higher for lower socioeconomic groups. Barnardos said the link between poverty and ill health was clear. The Institute of Public Health research estimates that around 6,000 premature deaths are due to poverty and inequality in Ireland. The reason that is relevant is that every increase in the pension age essentially redistributes money from poor pensioners with a shorter life expectancy to those from professional backgrounds who live longer. If one retires later and lives only to 75 years, one has less time to live on one's pension. I do not think that is an intended consequence of the Senator's Bill. We must ensure in the legislation that cannot be an unintended consequence. We already know from the UK that the average age for those who die earlier is 79 years and an additional 17 years is estimated for those who have a relatively healthy life and who have had a higher income. That is a considerable number of years.

We will have a broad and reasonable discussion on the issue. I welcome the Minister's intervention on the matter and I look forward to being part of the discussion because it will affect all of us at some point or another.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate Senator White on bringing the Bill forward. From what we know of the Senator, she has a habit of doing things like this. She finds an issue that is logical and credible but which has remained dormant and she brings it forward for debate and, suddenly, we are all energised about it because we see the significance of what she is trying to achieve. In her case, it has been in gestation for some time. It is not a knee-jerk reaction. She has done much research on the subject and has published a report on ageism, therefore I see this as an extension of work she has already done. I am sure from the research and analysis she has done that she sees a particular glitch that needs to be examined. It was evident from the Minister's response that the issue was not far from his attention and that he could see the need for it. This is in the context of a simple human right, where a particular restrictive code is put on one section of society but there could be several other areas where the same restrictions were not applied. It was evident that the Minister could see that. He was right in saying that it is a very complex area. The complexity of the issue has to be dealt with in the context of a partnership between the young and those who are not so young.

When people of a certain age speak, there is a vested interest if one is reaching a certain age. For those who have not reached that age yet, it is interesting that when one does reach it and people are discussing ageism, one looks around and wonders about whom they are speaking, because it does not hit one in that way. We should bear that in mind. It has to be a partnership between young people and older people. It is interesting to note that people of an older age always encourage young people to do things, whether in organisations or communities. How often does somebody stand up and say a young person is needed? We must hear that from the other side as well. It is not the fault of young people, they have not reached that particular attitude as yet but it would be helpful to the debate if we expanded into that area where young people also see the aspect of wisdom and so on.

In the past in Germany, grandparents were close to the family unit and many lived with their children and grandchildren. This began to disappear, however, when people put grandparents into care homes. After several generations, research showed grandchildren had lost out in the important experience of growing up with a grandparent, gaining wisdom and so on. We must keep this in mind when we consider this legislation.

One problem with this type of legislation is that we start weighing up its effects. For example, if this happens, then people say X number more young people will not get jobs. As has been pointed out already, when the marriage bar for women in the Civil Service was removed, a similar effect did not occur. Years ago, we would not believe people with a physical handicap could be in a normal workplace. Now, there is no issue with it. It took someone to pioneer this and it is now seen as a plus rather than a minus. It does not automatically follow that if one allows people to stay at work after 65, then everyone will do so. A friend of mine who worked in the public service as a nurse was due for retirement. On the day he was retiring, he telephoned me at various points to say, ?Two hours to go?, ?One hour to go? and finally, ?I am free?. In his case, he wanted to be with his grandchildren. However, in the case of those who want to remain on in work, it might follow their experience and wisdom might create jobs rather than the opposite.

The expertise that is leaving the Garda Síochána is a matter of concern. Senior people are leaving the force when we are challenged by crime. The only way this can be handled is by allowing people to continue in work after 65. We should also remember that there is an attitude of mind. I remember the story of the television crew interviewing a man about his lifestyle. The man used two sticks, his back was bent over, his voice shaky and he was hard of hearing. The interviewer explained they just wanted to ask a few questions as to how the man attributed his age to what happened in the past. When asked did he drink whiskey, the man replied he did, even for breakfast. When asked did he smoke, he replied he always smoked. When asked did he diet, he said he ate anything that came his way. Finally, when asked what age he was, he replied he was 29.

4:55 pm

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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The attitude that goes with age can be like that. This Bill is a starting point. We should not always see the obstacles but find the solutions first and base it on the rights of the individual.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join with my colleagues in complimenting Senator White for bringing forward this legislation. She has done the Seanad a great service by doing so and has stimulated an interesting debate on the subject. I was encouraged by the Minister's response to the legislation. While he will not accept it in its current format, he gave the indication that he is open to looking favourably on it in the future when further debate had taken place. I was impressed with the case made by Senator Crown regarding the contribution that could be made by prominent medics after they reach 65 rather than the loss of their experience to the health services due to compulsory retirement.

Many are delighted to retire when they reach 65. Others would like the option to stay on in work which is what Senator White is trying to achieve. This legislation is also opening up a greater debate on the retirement age. There are varying ages at which people can retire across the public service. For example, a garda can retire at 57. Senator Ó Murchú raised the matter of the loss of experience in the Garda. I have been informed that in one of the major Garda divisions in Dublin, the officer with the most experience has only seven years' service. It is crazy, particularly considering our public finances, that we allow people to retire at such an early age. I recall the Minister had to bring the retirement age to 62 in the case of the current Commissioner. I cannot see why he cannot continue on in his role until he reaches 65 or even beyond. Psychiatric nurses can also retire when they reach 57 on pretty good pensions. In my opinion, they could contribute positively to the health services for many more years. As well as allowing people to work beyond 65, we need to look at those who can retire at an earlier age.

Doctors can work in the GMS up to the age of 70 and can continue in private practice up to 80, provided they have a fitness to practise certificate.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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They cannot treat public patients, however.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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Yes, it is another anomaly in the retirement rules. Many people will want to work beyond the age of 65 because of the significant deficit in public and private pensions. The whole loss of experience in the public and private sector makes the case for allowing people to work beyond 65. Another reason to allow it is because people are living longer. It has been pointed out that many people want to pursue other activities when they retire. Many of them make fantastic contributions to business, local communities and charitable causes.

Many of them decide to go overseas and work with some of the NGOs. Against what Senator White is trying to achieve is the whole issue of opening up opportunities for our young people. Some may agree and some may disagree. A poll was carried out by Journal.ieon Senator White's proposal. Some 49% were against it, 25% were for it and 24% were in the "don't know" category. The jury is out on it but the whole pensions area and the issue of retirement age require further discussion. Following our deliberations this evening, I hope the Bill will remain on the books and that there will be further opportunities to tease out the matter. I welcome the work of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, with the interdepartmental group. This is the way to go and all Departments should be involved. I hope that in years to come people will be able to work beyond the age of 65 if they so wish.

5:05 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Bill and the spirit in which the House has approached it. This is when the Seanad is at its best. One wonders what the view will be when the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, is next discussing with Niall O'Dowd what it would have been like in Ireland if Ian Paisley had retired at 65. We only saw the best of him afterwards when there was peace on the island. The later retirement age for the Reverend Ian Paisley was of great benefit to everyone on the island and great credit is due to everyone who facilitated that process. I would hate to think what he would have been like if he had retired at 65 with the work undone.

I recall Frank O'Reilly and Mr. Justice Henry Barron adjudicating on student cases in Trinity College Dublin. Both were 75 years of age when they visited the college but no one ever said they had lost the run of themselves. The very old and the very young have a good deal in common: the enemy group in the middle. The old and young get on well together and it can be a stimulating relationship. The current target is for 70% of people to go on to third level education, and if they live until 80 years of age instead of three score and ten, there will be a considerable cost. Part of this can be alleviated by allowing those who wish to stay on to do so, so that they can continue to contribute. Part of the IMF programme here is to raise the retirement age. The retired bankers are certainly convinced that the Government would be ¤64 billion better off if they were still running the banks. After they were compulsorily retired, a far lesser breed took over and bankrupted themselves and the country. I recall some people coming to Trinity College in their 90s, including A. A. Luce. Alfred Kahn, the leading airline deregulator in the Unites States, was still fulminating against airline cartels when he was 88 years of age. Lawyers mature with age, as do general practitioners and people working in shops.

There will be a different job for human resource departments to do in future, but that is a good thing. It is about time human resources departments did something useful in all aspects instead of waffling, which is what I usually identify them as doing. The culture of work could change and we could see it as a joint effort between generations.

The Minister for Justice and Equality referred to the Donnellan case. I thought that was a bizarre judgment on policing. There are young policemen running around after criminals, using all of the intelligence available. As per normal, I presume the judge who gave the judgment for early retirement was older than the policeman in question.

Would such a provision interfere with the rights of employers? Yes, it probably would, but we have been doing that anyway. One cannot sent children down coalmines or up chimneys or tell married women to retire. I do not mind at all if we interfere with the rights of employers. They should cultivate better relationships with their employees and, as Senator Quinn noted, appreciate the good ones.

The Court of Justice of the European Union may provide guidance on the approach to be adopted by national courts in considering national and EU legislation. The alternative is for judges to tell us to legislate. Everyone in the House will do so when this Bill gets going but we can also tell the judges how we want policy to be. It seems the whole drift of this discussion is towards inclusiveness, a goal of the President, and a more flexible labour market for those who want to work.

I have seen people almost disintegrate upon their so-called retirement. Unintentionally, one may have wished Tom all the best in his few remaining years and only then did poor Tom begin to shake because he realised that he was about to be put on the scrap heap. We must ensure we do not do this to people. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and the Minister for Justice and Equality. There is an openness to this motion and it is a wonderful motion, ably seconded by Senator Crown. It will be on our agenda for some time ahead.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I commend Senator White, who has raised an important issue which should be addressed. I support the broad thrust of the Bill and I commend her constructive contribution to the House. It goes to show the value of this House and I hope this will be taken on board by everyone. I have read Senator White's policy paper, into which she put a great deal of work and research, and I commend her on it. She has introduced this Bill with her homework done.

We meet people every day who are affected by this and we come across cases of inequality. I know of one man who was in great shape. He was healthy, happy, active, intelligent and a valued colleague in the workplace. He was happily working away until one week before his 65th birthday, when he was called in by the boss and told that he would be finishing the following week. It came to him as a bolt out of the blue. He never foresaw it and it affected him in the long term. When he retired he no longer felt he was making a contribution and he went into a state of depression. Early retirement may not be good for some people's health; it may have the opposite effect. On the flip side, I know a man in Killarney, now in his 70s, whose wife is begging him to give up work, but he blankly refuses to do so because he loves his work. This is stressing her out. There is a flip side to everything. However, I believe choice was taken away from the man to whom I referred earlier. Choice is a fundamental right, but it was taken from him. He did not have the choice to continue working.

Let us consider the quality of our public representatives. I believe they are of the highest standard. Many of them have worked and been elected well beyond their 66th birthdays. We need only consider our President, Michael D. Higgins. Those who have been in the Houses for some time will remember another great man, the late Michael Moynihan, from my constituency, Kerry South. He was one of the best and most decent politicians that ever stepped over the threshold of Leinster House. He worked well into his golden years and made a great contribution to Kerry South and to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I wonder how these men would have felt had they been told they could not come here because they were over 65. It would have come as a terrible blow to them. Thankfully, that did not happen and they made a great contribution here.

This debate brings to mind the words of a song. I am unsure whether those here know it, but it is about a Belfast mill as it was closing down:

I'm too old to work and I'm too young to die,
Tell me where will I go, my family and I.
Senator White is here to try to change the words of that song to the effect that one is never too old to work. I admire the work Senator White has put in. It is terrible to be considered to be on the employment scrap heap at 65 years of age despite one's ability, experience and what one still has to offer society.

I am glad that this Bill has been brought forward. A similar inequality happened long ago with the marriage bar. Women were denied a career, a livelihood and a responsible job simply because they got married. How unjust was that? This came back to bite them in the last budget when those women who went back to work after they had reared their families and had qualifying contributions could not get their full pension entitlements because of the gap in their employment. Those women are now on a reduced pension but they should be awarded home-maker credits for the time spent at home because they were barred from working. They wanted to work but were prevented from doing so. I have written to the Equality Authority on this matter and will continue to pursue it. It is also incumbent on the Government to engage on this issue.

In the last budget the transitional State pension was abolished which means that people under contract to finish work at the age of 65 will be left without an income. It is incumbent on us to put legislation in place which protects those people. They should not be left without an income just because the Government moved the goalposts. I am sure there are young graduates tuning in today to hear what we have to say who are thinking that if these people retire then they will get jobs but they must bear in mind that some day they may be faced with the same dilemma. They will be old one day too. Young people always think that these issues are way down the road but old age has a habit of creeping up on one. I urge them to consider what older people have to offer society. I wonder has any evaluation been done on the age profile of those who voted in the Journal.ie poll. I suspect a lot of them were young people who are looking for jobs and I am pretty sure that those on the wrong side of 50 would have voted differently.

5:15 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I thank Senator White for bringing forward this important Bill which we will support, with some conditions. As somebody who has ambitions to be elected to the Lower House, I thank the Minister and his party for making that challenge a little easier for me. If I do get to that House, however, I am not sure I would still want to be there at 70.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The Senator thought he would get there the last time.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I did indeed and I live in hope.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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He should not be arrogant about it.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Choice is a word which is front and centre in Irish politics at the moment, in terms of the forthcoming budget decisions and also the motion being discussed in the Lower House this evening. This legislation also relates to choice and I wish to lay out the Sinn Féin position clearly, lest Government Ministers or parties misrepresent or misunderstand it. I will set out our position so that there is absolute clarity about it and no misunderstanding whatsoever.

I welcome the debate that is happening as a consequence of this Bill and I commend Senator White for introducing it. Equality must be enshrined in our employment laws and that includes outlawing discrimination against older workers. There are a number of issues that require further examination, however. Older workers, like all workers, need protection and in no way should we tolerate the exploitation of older workers, including pressurising them to work beyond the accepted retirement age. Workers who decide to work beyond the normal pension age should do so entirely voluntarily. That is where the issue of choice comes in. Some professions are more physically demanding than others and this should be taken into account. Workers doing any job must be physically capable. There is also a danger that by allowing some workers to work longer, the pension system becomes more skewed and other workers find themselves under pressure to worker longer to maintain the status quo vis-à-vis their pension rights, which would not be a tolerable position. Provided those issues can be resolved through proper maintenance and crucially, the provision of a sound pension scheme, there can be no objection to workers who choose to do so working beyond the normal retirement age, as a point of equality.

However, it is unacceptable to Sinn Féin to see an increase in the age eligibility for the State pension. This is due to rise to 66 in 2014 under the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 and to rise further, incrementally, over time. Workers who have put in the best part of a lifetime at work will find themselves having to work a year more than planned to receive a pension, which is unfair. Workers struggled long and hard to get what rights they have and they should resist attempts to backtrack on those rights. In addition, in raising the pension age to 66, this Government is potentially freezing out up to 10,000 young people from the labour market, at a time when youth unemployment is running at 30%. This makes no sense. The right to a pension has been a long-standing Irish Republican principle and even the Minister can claim it as part of his roots because it goes back to the Democratic Programme of 1919. That promised to provide for "the care of the Nation's aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration.".

The change to the State pension age will have a worse effect on low-income people who have no occupational or private pensions or savings and who will have no choice but to continue working until a later age. Wealthier people will still have the option to retire on their own private savings or pensions. Lower income workers tend to be in more manual or blue-collar employment as we know, which takes a greater toll on the body, particularly in later life. Some people's contracts are scheduled to conclude at the age of 65 but it is madness to expect these people to go on jobseeker's benefit at that stage in their lives. That will happen and every politician will be lobbied on this issue when it happens. Forcing older people to remain in employment means that there will be fewer jobs for young people and for those who are forced to emigrate. It is not possible to make 50 year predictions on the ratio of pensioners to workers in terms of the State pension affordability. There are simply too many volatile factors to consider, including levels of employment, migration, birth trends and economic growth. The change to the pension eligibility age is utterly opposed by lobby groups for the elderly such as the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, Older and Bolder, Age Action and also by trade unions, most notably, SIPTU. According to the document "Measured or Missed? Poverty and Deprivation among Older People in a Changing Ireland" published by Older and Bolder in October last year, 84% of older people, aged 65 to 74, are in relative poverty before social transfers, that is, the State pension and associated benefits, are factored in.

I reiterate - so there is no misunderstanding of my party's position - that we are not in favour of increasing the retirement age from 65 to 66 or higher because it is not just but in situations where people do want to work longer and their decision is entirely voluntary, then of course that option should be open to them.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. It would be remiss of me not to congratulate my colleague and friend, Senator White, on the great work she has done and the time and effort she has put into formulating this Bill. When I got married, fadó fadó, it was the custom then that one's wife did not work.

In my case, my wife went back to work when our children were in their teens. She was always a good friend of Senator White. I recently spoke to two men, one of whom was 51 years old. I was surprised to hear that he was retiring at the end of the year. He worked in a semi-State company for 33 years and he got a good offer. He plans to continue working but he wanted to retire from his current job. His departure will make room for a younger person to take over his job. There are people who want to retire before they reach the age of 65 or 66 but others want to continue working. Last Sunday I met a man who was 83 years of age and had just purchased a new car. I asked him why he did not wait until the new year but he could not wait to get a car. I suggested that it would be his last car but he pointed out that he hoped to go on a lot longer. He asked me if there was an age limit beyond which one cannot get married and I told him I could not answer that question for him. He has aspirations to get married and purchase another car. One's age is simply an attitude of mind.

I hope Senator White perseveres with this Bill. Age is honourable and I hope everyone who was here for this debate will reach the age of 100 and that whoever is President at that time will be presenting cheques for ¤4,000. I commend Senator White on the Bill.

5:25 pm

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator White, for taking on this issue. As someone who is driven more by policy than by anything else, she has done a lot of good in this and other areas. It is timely that we are debating this Bill. When the economic crisis first occurred there was a rush to increase the age of retirement in the public service. Recent advances in medicine suggest that one in two girls born now will live to the age of 100. It is also suggested that the girl who will live to the age of 150 has already been born. We cannot identify the specific individual, of course, but longevity is increasing. This change gives rise to a number of economic, social and health challenges. Advances in medical science, and particularly in the area of DNA, will allow interventions at an early stage to anticipate serious medical issues that might arise in later years.

When people reach the age of 65 or more, they should have accumulated extensive experience and wisdom, although the latter does not always apply. They are assets that should be put to use to benefit society as well as the individuals concerned.

We are debating this Bill in the context of the biggest economic downturn any of us has seen in our lifetimes. It has affected everybody but the major casualties are in the 18 to 24 age bracket. Across Europe, one third or more of young people are unemployed. This is an affliction for the individuals concerned, their societies and the global economy. We need to find ways of managing this challenge. When people reach the age of 65, their energy levels are not what they were at the age of 30 and their productivity might have decreased. One must consider issues relating to productivity as well as health. Fundamentally, however, Senator White's Bill is correct in principle in terms of enabling individuals who have energy and vision to continue working. The idea that one should work full-time until the age of 65 and then retire completely is not sensible.

This country has a tremendous record of volunteerism. People across the country give up their time on a voluntary basis to enhance the opportunities and quality of life for others. This area should be developed further so that people can be channelled into these organisations. Women seem to be more adept than men at finding useful occupations and activities in later life. In this regard I applaud the initiative by Senator McAleese and the GAA in regard to the conference they held on this issue several years ago. The GAA has become actively involved in encouraging elderly men in communities across the country to interact with each other and become involved in social activities. There are mental health benefits from such initiatives.

The Bill raises an interesting and important topic and I commend Senator White on introducing it. I hope the Government will continue to develop this area so that we can provide opportunities to our citizens and utilise the talents and experience of people who still have an enormous contribution to make as their age increases.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I commend Senator White on bringing forward this Private Members' Bill, which allows us to debate the topic. Senator White is known nationally for her work in this area.

She quite rightly insisted that she should lead the charge in respect of it. The Senator has written many policy papers on this topic and I would recommend them to any Member of this or the Lower House, particularly as the level of research, encompassing both national and international best practice, which went into them is extraordinary.

The Bill before the House stems from a policy which, of all things, was created by the Germans when the wily Bismarck decided to create a retirement age of 65. This was by no means an arbitrary choice because Bismarck new, as a result of the statistical evidence, that most people in his time died before reaching the age of 65 and, therefore, the state would be obliged to pay out very little money. This was a very good election gimmick of the type with which some of those present in the House might be familiar.

5:35 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Yes, we all remember 1977.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Very good election gimmicks are in short supply. We will not discuss the five-point plan in that regard, the implementation of which we are still awaiting.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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It is still a great plan.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If only it could be implemented.

To return to the topic under discussion, a retirement age which was fixed over 100 years ago has been adopted, without question, by all the states in western Europe. Most of those states have not, however, adopted either a more gradual or a more voluntary approach to retirement, particularly in respect of the public sector. Many people who retire from the public sector proceed to play very active roles in the private sector. This shows that they are quite capable of continuing to work. As Senator Walsh stated, perhaps the Minister might consider adopting a gradual approach to retirement. Many of those who retire from the private and public sectors find that they have too much time on their hands and this can give rise to their developing mental health issues. The latter is due to the fact that for many people, their work is their life. As the saying goes, those who enjoy their work never work a day in their lives.

We must consider taking a more modern approach to how people work and to retirement, particularly as arbitrary retirement can lead to serious problems for particular individuals. There is also the huge loss of corporate knowledge to consider. If a retiree is willing to work for a few days a week and give of his or her time, he or she could show the ropes to new employees such as newly-qualified graduates or whomever. While this is done in some cultures and corporations, there is certainly no formal structure in place. Such a structure should be introduced by the Government, which should lead by example.

As Senator White pointed out, there is a proud history of volunteerism and active citizenship in this country. The cohort of those who are heading towards retirement must be encouraged to be active volunteers and to continue to contribute to their places of retirement when they have retired.

These are the possibilities which are contemplated within the Bill before the House. If it so wishes, the Government could introduce amendments in order that a more modern approach to retirement might be taken in Ireland. As Senator White has done, the Government could consider best practice in other European states to assist it in this regard. The arbitrary approach to retirement first introduced by the Germans now goes unquestioned because everyone is used to it and that must change. Senator White's previous policy documents on ageing highlighted many of the difficulties that arise when people are not given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves and are forced into retirement.

I commend Senator White and all other colleagues who contributed to the debate. Regardless of whether the Minister accepts it, retirement is an issue for every one of us. Although I accept that, perhaps, Europe awaits him when he is finished with the Oireachtas.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is only a young fellow.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, but he has been in the Oireachtas for a long time. I am of the view that we need to tackle this issue and move away from the notion that a date which was set in stone over 100 years ago should continue to inform policy in what is a modern European country.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators for their exemplary and eloquent contributions. The sense of bipartisanship in the Chamber during the debate was just fantastic. We are all of the same mind on this matter. Everyone who participated in this debate will be privileged to be part of the drive to bring an end to discrimination whereby older people are obliged to retire at 65.

This is the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity. We must work harder in order to bring younger and older people together in order that they might understand each other better. There is certainly a divide and young people think one thing, while their older counterparts think something completely different. In that context, we must enhance the dialogue between the two generations. In the 1960s I was involved in the youth culture. It was an exciting time.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I do not remember that.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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We now have the opportunity to make elder culture both cool and exciting.

I thank the Minister for his generosity and those of my colleagues who are still present, including Senators Barrett, Daly and Walsh. Senator Mullins made some progress and his human resources, HR, experience was of assistance to him. He listened to proceedings and eventually moved from the anteroom and into the Chamber. I congratulate Senator Moloney on the contribution she made.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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It was an extremely interesting debate.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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It was certainly enjoyable. This has been a great occasion.

I have been involved with this matter since 2006 and the abolition of mandatory retirement is now an official Fianna Fáil policy.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I do not normally agree with Fianna Fáil policy but I am glad this one has been put forward.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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In 2006 I produced a policy paper on a new approach to ageing and ageism. I held public meetings throughout the city and I just could not believe the response of members of the public. Their horror when it came to facing up to retirement was brought to my attention for the first time at that point. Many women who had been obliged to stop working when they got married stated that they were facing the same prospect again. These women did not want to give up their jobs and they wanted to have the choice to continue working. The Journal.ie recently highlighted the fact that the Eurobarometer survey on active ageing, which was published in January and February, indicates that 46% of Irish people declared that they would like to work after the age of 65. The percentage in this regard is one of the highest in the EU. It is about choice rather than forcing anyone to do anything.

As stated earlier, a cliff edge exists in respect of this matter and it does not suit many people from a mental point of view to be obliged to give up their jobs. What we are trying to do is make a better and more just society. I am delighted by the fact that in just six years I have reached the point where I could introduce legislation on this matter.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I propose that we adjourn at this stage.

Debate adjourned.