Varadkar defends rejection of FF motion to tackle pension anomaly

McDonald welcomes motion to reverse cut ‘no matter how late, cynical, self-serving’

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald: “There’s more brass on the necks of the Fianna Fáil leadership than we would expect in a marching band.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald: “There’s more brass on the necks of the Fianna Fáil leadership than we would expect in a marching band.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned against a change being made “in isolation” to the pensions anomaly affecting 36,000 people.

He said amendments should be comprehensive, “so we don’t create new injustices”.

Mr Varadkar was defending the Government’s decision to reject a Fianna Fáil motion calling for full pension entitlements to be restored to 36,000 people, 60 per cent of them women, who took time out from the workforce before 1994 or who worked part-time.

The 2012 budget change resulted in them getting reduced payments – in many cases €30 less a week.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the Fianna Fáil move to introduce a motion in support of the women, “no matter how late, how cynical or how self-serving their arrival might be”.

She asked when Fianna Fáil had raised the pension issue with the Taoiseach in the budgetary process.

Mr Varadkar told her that Fianna Fáil had not raised the pension issue with him but nor had any other party. He said it could have been raised with the Minister for Finance but he was not at those discussions.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said later that many groups and parties, including his party, had been raising this issue consistently.

In a sharp attack on Fianna Fáil, Ms McDonald said that “there’s more brass on the necks of the Fianna Fáil leadership than we would expect in a marching band”.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against a Sinn Féin motion in December to reverse the changes to pensions.

But she said something happened at the weekend for the “soldiers of destiny” at their ardfheis – “not an epiphany, not a genuine realisation that they were wrong on this matter but simply what happened was that the issue hit the headlines”.

“And along comes the Fianna Fáil ardfheis, and lo and behold, despite passing on every opportunity to right the wrongs, Fianna Fáil announced a change in their position.

“They’ve now tabled a Dáil motion to achieve the very thing they opposed last December.”

Cut reversed?

Ms McDonald said the Government was likely to be defeated on the motion and asked if the cut would be reversed in the Social Welfare Bill.

Ms McDonald also pointed to remarks by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe describing the situation as “bonkers and unbelievable” but not bonkers enough to address it in the budget.

But the Taoiseach told her that Mr Donohoe was referring to the marriage bar, which has not existed since 1973 and which he said was indeed “bonkers and unbelievable”.

He said any changes had to be carefully considered. “They should be done comprehensively and not in isolation so we don’t create new injustices.”

The Taoiseach said that the pension system before 2012 also contained unfairness.

They had to understand who would gain and who might lose out.

He said that men were also affected by the pension change; it was 60:40 women to men and he added that pension poverty among men was higher than among women.

Ms McDonald said NGOs, including the National Women’s Council, Age Action Ireland and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association had called for it to be reversed.

But the Taoiseach said he disagreed with some NGOs who said they should move away from the contributory principle altogether and that everyone should get the same pension regardless of contributions.

Mr Varadkar said Sinn Féin should “tell the people of Ireland” if that was their principle, too.