Written answers

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Waterways Ireland Staff

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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210. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the steps he will take to reply to and take cognisance of the concerns of employees of Waterways Ireland in respect of proposals concerning increased employee contributions (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38203/14]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Five of the six North/South Implementation Bodies, including Waterways Ireland, along with Tourism Ireland, operate the North/South Pension Scheme (N/SPS).  The Scheme is unique in covering public service staff employed on both sides of the border; staff of the affiliated employers in this jurisdiction ('southern members') are automatically members of the Scheme.  The Chief Executive Officers of the relevant N/SPS bodies and Tourism Ireland meet as the N/SPS CEO Pension Committee, which exercises trustee-like functions in relation to the Scheme.

As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I am jointly responsible, along with the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance and Personnel for the rules of the N/SPS, and, in particular, for approving amendments which may be proposed to those rules.

Review and reform of existing pension arrangements, including public service pension arrangements, has been an ongoing issue in both jurisdictions over recent times.  In exercise of my responsibilities in relation to the N/SPS, I and my officials have engaged in correspondence and discussion about reforms to the Scheme rules with my counterpart Northern Ireland Minister and his officials.

I consider that the current reform package, the 'Hutton Reforms', which includes proposed increases in pension contributions, is appropriate and proportionate, particularly having regard to the desirability of maintaining a common pension scheme for N/SPS employees in both jurisdictions.

You may be aware that officials from my Department have met with Union interests under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC)  in relation to the issue of increased contribution rates.  Following these discussions it was agreed that all members of the N/SPS would be given an option to either stay with that Scheme (with the proposed higher contribution)  or, if they preferred, to revert to what is called 'Reserved Rights' status which is effectively the standard southern public service terms. In certain instances the benefits payable under the N/SPS would actually be more beneficial for individuals, but it will be a matter for each employee to make a decision based on the information they will be given on their own pension position. The options process will start shortly. Contribution increases have not been implemented, in respect of Southern Members of the N/SPS, pending completion of this process.

Finally in relation to the commitment in the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA), cited by the Deputy, I do not believe that this provision should impede the changes envisaged for the N/SPS. That commitment is instead a high-level affirmation by Government that, during the lifetime of the HRA, it plans no further general public service pay cuts following the reductions carried through in 2013 via the HRA and the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013. I do not believe that this commitment should be stretched to become a veto on objectively warranted reforms to pension schemes rules, including the N/SPS rules.

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