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Varadkar won't support motion which reverses pension cut for taking time out of the workforce

Many are angry that their State pension payments are significantly smaller than they would have been before 2012.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

THE GOVERNMENT IS likely to lose the vote on a motion correcting inequities brought about due to government changes to the State Pension in 2012.

The 36,000 people impacted, mainly women, lose out on €30 per week under the measures.

The issue was under the spotlight last week when Paschal Donohoe, fresh from announcing his first budget, took a call from a Longford listener on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke show yesterday.

The caller, Eamon Tynan, said his wife is losing out on €35 a week on her State pension because she had a summer job in the 1960s when she was a secondary school student.

Minister Donohoe described the situation as ‘bonkers’, though the Taoiseach has since clarified that the minister was referring to the law which forced women to leave the workforce when the got married.

The National Women’s Council, Age Action Ireland and the ICA have all called for a reversal of these changes.

Reversing 2012 changes

Fianna Fáil has taken up the issue, which has been highlighted in the Dáil many times prior to the budget, and tabled a motion for tomorrow evening.

The party is calling for these pension anomalies to be corrected, the current eligibility criteria for pension entitlement to be examined and the band changes from 2012 to be reversed.

As it stands, the government is likely to lose the motion, due to an unusual move where Sinn Féin is likely to back the Fianna Fáil motion.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended his rejection of the motion today, warning that a change should not be done “in isolation”.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil she “welcomed” the motion, though she questioned why Fianna Fáil decided to pick up on the issue now.

Using the Minister for Finance’s own word, she described the situation as “bonkers and unbelievable” that the issue was not addressed in the recent budget.

Cost of €70 million

“In our budget, Sinn Féin did provide for this reversal. It would cost the Exchequer €70 million but the Government chose to ignore this proposal,” she said, adding that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against a Sinn Féin motion in the Dáil last December that called for the 2012 changes to be reversed and for a remedy to be implemented.

“The Taoiseach, therefore, has had two significant opportunities in the past ten months to demonstrate he is on the side of these women, and he has reneged on both, leaving the women high and dry.

“It seems that something happened at the weekend for the ‘Soldiers of Destiny’ – not an epiphany or genuine realisation that they were wrong on this matter. Put simply, what happened was that the issue hit the headlines. Along came the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis and, lo and behold, despite passing on every opportunity to right the wrong, Fianna Fáil announced a change it its position,” she said.

Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis 

The issue was highlighted at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis last weekend, with Sean Fleming TD stating that he could not understand why any member of Dáil Eireann would vote against their motion.

“It has now tabled a Dáil motion, which I welcome and which sets out to achieve the very thing it opposed last December,” continued McDonald, who said ”there is more brass on the necks of the Fianna Fáil leadership that one would expect in a marching band”.

Despite her criticisms of the party, McDonald said she wanted the full pension entitlements to be restored.

In any case, can we welcome Fianna Fáil to the corner of these women, no matter how late, cynical or self-serving its arrival might be? Here is the rub: the Taoiseach will lose the vote on the motion tomorrow night as I believe the Dáil will vote in support of the women.

The government will oppose the Fianna Fáil motion, due to be voted on on Thursday, though it will be putting down a counter motion.

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‘It’s complicated’

The Taoiseach said the it is a “very complicated area”.

“It is an area that took me quite some time to understand when I was Minister for Social Protection… People who understand the pensions system will know that any public servant hired before 1995 pays PRSI at a lower rate, the 0.9% rate, and that rate does not entitle any public servant hired before 1995 to the State contributory pension, whether married or single, male or female, marriage-barred or not. It is important, therefore, not to confuse the 2012 change with the marriage bar because they are quite separate issues,” he explained.

With regard to the changes of 2012, he said they did not just affect women, but he acknowledged that women were disproportionately affected.

Varadkar said going right back to the pre-2012 system is not necessarily fair.

“If a change is to be made to these rules, it should not be made in isolation because all one would do is throw up new anomalies and injustices,” he said.

He said any change to the pension system needs to be carefully considered and should not be done in isolation as it may create “new injustices or new anomalies”.

“We should understand the full costs. We should answer the question of retrospectivity and whether it would apply to people who are already retired or just to people who are retiring now. We would need to understand who may gain and who may lose out from any change in the rules,” he said.

He said the Department of Social Protection is currently reviewing the Irish pension system and is due to publish a review on social insurance soon.

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