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Public servants 'in limbo' as law to change retirement age faces 'tight' Christmas deadline

Unions and politicians have expressed fears that many more will be forced to retire before new legislation comes in.

Image: Shutterstock/Timothy Dry

PUBLIC SERVANTS WHO are set to receive a way out of compulsory retirement could be forced to retire anyway with legislation to extend the age to 70 facing a “tight” deadline to get passed through the Dáil before Christmas.

The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Bill would increase the retirement age to 70, and follows an interim arrangement by government last year that allowed staff reaching 65 to be hired back for a period of one year until they turn 66.

However, these interim measures are just a few days shy of being a year old, meaning that if this new legislation isn’t brought in until after the New Year, public servants wishing to stay on could be forced into retirement just because they are a few weeks or months ahead of the change in the law.

Furthermore, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said, while it is his intention to pass the law as soon as possible, he said he wouldn’t be changing the legislation “to make it in any way retrospective”. 

‘Come and gone’

This week in the Dáil, Fine Gael TD Martin Heydon said that he had concerns for people who would reach their birthdays over the Christmas period were the legislation not to pass. 

“We are in the hands of the committee as well to try to expedite it through as much as we can but it is an issue that we should work on with all sides of the House to try to get it through as quickly as we can,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said he shared these concerns but that added that “many birthdays have come and gone and many people were forced to retire in the interim since the Bill was announced” in July 2018. He asked Donohoe if the law would be retrospective.

Donohoe said he had no such plans to make retrospective actions to reinstate those forced to retire, and said “unfortunately there will be some people who could be affected either side of it”.

‘In limbo’

The change will come too late for one civil servant, who turned 66 earlier this month.

He told TheJournal.ie that he fought tooth and nail to remain in the job, but wasn’t successful.

“Of course there are plenty of others in my situation too,” he said. “I’ve been bombarding those above me with emails in the run up to my birthday. The change to past 70 will come too late for me.”

The public sector worker said he was happy to go on for a few more years in the role, health permitting. 

“A lot of people are in this kind of limbo like me,” he said. “I feel very strongly about it, it’s about choice. I want to have the choice to carry on.

The system seems to ignore the human factor. There’s a lack of common sense, I think.

Another civil servant we spoke to turned 65 this year. He opted to be re-hired for the extra year, but was faced with no choice regarding their pension and lump sum which they received. 

“I would have forgone that lump sum,” he told TheJournal.ie. “As it is, given this law was expected to have been through already, I should’ve been given the option.

You don’t solve one mess by creating another.

While retrospectively applying the new Bill would be complex, this man said it would be a huge lifeline to him and others in his position. 

“At the minute, I feel like I want to work on a little while longer,” he said. “At the moment, I’m feeling on top of the world.”

‘Extremely disappointing’

Bernard Harbor, from the union Forsa which represents thousands of members in the civil, told TheJournal.ie the potential delay in getting this legislation passed in a source of huge concern.

“We understand that the legislation will go to committee stage in the second week of December, and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will become law this side of the Christmas recess,” he said.

This is extremely disappointing, and it has a massive impact on the individuals who are caught offside by the current legal retirement to retire at age 65 or, in some cases, before.

He said that each passing day will see more workers forced to retire and be caught in a situation where they might not be able to yet receive a State pension.

Harbor added: “I think most TDs and senators understand the urgency of the situation, but Fórsa would urge them, once again, to get this legislation on the statute book quickly.”

A spokesperson for Age Action Ireland told TheJournal.ie: “We want to see anything that gives choice around the age they retire on.

“For those people waiting, it is important it is expedited so that they have clarity over where they stand.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson at the Department of Finance said: “The Bill passed all stages in the Seanad on 17 July and completed Second Stage in the Dáil on 7 November.

Ultimately, scheduling of time for the enactment of legislation is a matter for the Oireachtas, but the Minister’s intention is to ensure enactment as soon as possible.

While Donohoe said that he is looking to get this through at the earliest possible opportunity, the committee stage date of 11 December comes during the week when the Dáil is due to break up for the Christmas.

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