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Sinn Féin criticises new weekly payment of €203 introduced for 65-year-olds

Mary Lou McDonald said the plan would cost individuals more than 2,000 euro a year.

Image: Oireachtas.ie

SINN FÉIN HAS has criticised government plans to introduce a new welfare payment  for 65-year-olds who are no longer employed.

Plans for such a payment were announced in the Programme for Government after the pension age was raised to 66.

The rate of payment is €203 per week (the same rate as the Jobseeker’s Benefit) with an increase for dependants, if eligible. Eligibility for the payment is determined by a person’s PRSI contributions.

A person in receipt of this payment will not be required to be available for full-time work or genuinely seeking work and they will not be required to sign on the Live Register.

Mary Lou McDonald said the plan would cost individuals more than €2,000 in that year, and condemned Fianna Fail for an apparent u-turn on a pledge made at the last general election.

The Sinn Fein leader referenced a statement by Fianna Fail’s then social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea three days before the election last February.

Reading from his statement, she said: “Under our proposals people aged 65 will receive a state pension, which will be held at the same rate of the state pension of €248 per week.

“This payment will not be means-tested, entitlement will be based on an individual’s employment record.

“In contrast, Fine Gael will only pay those who are 65 a payment of 203 euros a week, which will result in an annual loss of €2,340 for this age group.”

She told the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions: “You knew at that time the strength of public feeling as regards the access to a state pension for workers when they reach the age of 65.

“But you seem to have forgotten that in the meantime, because your Government’s announcement on state pensions on Monday is exactly what Fine Gael proposed in the course of that election, 12 months ago.”

She said only “enormous public pressure” prevented the Government from raising the state pension age to 67, as had been proposed under Fine Gael.

Sinn Féin proposes to bring the pension age back to 65.

McDonald added: “You have adopted the Fine Gael policy hook, line and sinker and this is a real blow for 65-year-olds who will rely on a decent pension to get by.

“The lack of fairness, the lack of respect, is absolutely breathtaking, particularly in these times when people are under such enormous pressure.”

The Taoiseach accused McDonald of “extraordinary two-dimensional thinking”, raising Sinn Fein’s record on pensions in Northern Ireland.

He said: “They say one thing in this house and they do the exact opposite in Northern Ireland on the executive.

“You call for a pension age of 65 here. And yet, last October, the exact opposite happened after your party voted for the pension age to be increased from 65 to 66.

“So everything you’ve thrown at us here clearly can be thrown at yourself in respect of what you’ve supported within Northern Ireland.”

Martin said Sinn Fein proposals on fuel allowance and pensions would amount to 4.5 billion euro in spending.

“That’s just in seven days and that’s just in one Government department” he added.

He said the proposals on the state pension had been negotiated with Fine Gael and the Green party as part of the Programme for Government during the talks that formed the current coalition.

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The Taoiseach said it was important to be honest with people that the sustainability of pensions will provide huge challenges to the state in the future.

He said: “The Department of Social Protection this year will spend about €25 billion – over 40% of that, 9 billion, will be spent on pension payments alone.

“That is why a commission in respect of pensions has been established.

“It’s looking at the issue of mandatory retirement ages and employment contracts where that age is below the state pension age. It’s due to report back to Government later this year.

“I think it’s important to be honest with people – the sustainability of pensions over the next number of decades will be challenging for the state.”

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

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