Varadkar requests AG to consider intervening in INM pension row

Minister to ask Máire Whelan if possible to intercede in forthcoming High Court case

Leo Varadkar: Said he had not spoken to INM directly. Photograph: Alan Betson

Leo Varadkar: Said he had not spoken to INM directly. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has asked Attorney General Máire Whelan if it is possible to intervene in a forthcoming High Court case surrounding the winding up of the Independent News and Media (INM) defined pension benefit schemes.

Pensioners at the company are facing a further cut of up to 30 per cent to their entitlements in the move announced by the company.

Mr Varadkar has held discussions with the Attorney General and officials over what steps might next be taken in response.

He said two actions were now under way. The Pensions Authority on Tuesday invited the trustees of the two schemes for discussions to “give them advice and support,” he told RTÉ’s Prime Time programme.

“And secondly, perhaps more importantly, this does have to go to the High Court because what the company is trying to do in restructuring its balance sheet requires the approval of the High Court.

“So I have asked the Attorney General if I can intervene on behalf of the public interest in this case to essentially ask the courts to do what was done previously in relation to Aer Lingus for example where the company would have to engage and negotiate with the trustees before going ahead with this.”

Mr Varadkar said he had not spoken to the INM directly but added “that may happen”.

The company on Tuesday said it was engaged in discussions with the trustees and could not comment on details.

However, it wished to provide context in response to comment that had arisen on the issue.

It said it will continue to make a “significant annual ordinary contribution of €3 million” to the scheme.

“Furthermore, the existing funding proposal contributions to the defined benefit scheme, of circa €8m per annum from 2013 to 2023, will continue to be paid. They are being switched to the defined contribution scheme, and will continue to be made under that scheme on the same terms as currently.”

It said the interest of members would be “better served” if pension resources were directed towards the defined contribution scheme where they can be “specifically allocated to the retirement savings accounts of individual members”.

Pension savings

This would allow for a more sustainable pension arrangement, more equitable outcomes and would give members greater security and control over their pension savings, it said.

“These changes are not unique to Independent News & Media, many companies, including other media organisations, providing defined benefit pension plans have experienced similar pressures. In a 10-year period the number of defined benefit schemes in Ireland has reduced from 2,000 to circa 600.”

INM pensioners lost about 40 per cent of their entitlements in a 2013 agreement under which the company undertook to put €5.6 million a year into the schemes for 10 years.

However, it has now renounced that agreement and pensioners face a further cut of up to 30 per cent. INM’s balance sheet will be about €24 million better off if capital restructuring ratified by the High Court and there will be a projected end of year cash reserve of €86.4 million.