Regina Doherty defends State pension cuts for 36,000
Willie O’Dea accuses Sinn Féin of being ‘snipers behind the ditch’ in heated exchanges
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said reversing the 2012 pension changes would unnecessarily benefit people who have access to other resources. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has defended the pensions changes made under the Fine Gael-Labour government which most affected women.
The measures introduced in 2012 reduced the State pensions of those who took time out from the workforce before 1994 or who worked part-time.
The real anomaly, she told the Dáil on Wednesday, “is not that the pension paid to the person with the partial history is too low but is that the person with a short contribution history does much better than is really justified”.
Reversing the 2012 pension changes would unnecessarily benefit people who have access to other resources, she also said.
She was speaking during a debate on a Fianna Fáil motion to reverse the cuts that affect 36,000 people, 62 per cent of whom are women.
There were sharp exchanges between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin over the anomaly.
Sinn Féin’s social protection spokesman John Brady accused Fianna Fáil of crocodile tears and said it was “little more than a PR stunt by Fianna Fáil who only chose to raise the issue now after it was brought to the media’s attention last week”.
Not to be trusted
His party colleague Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said he had heard Ms Doherty’s comments on radio that Fianna Fáil were not to be trusted. “And so say all of us,” he added.
But Fianna Fáil spokesman Willie O’Dea hit back and said that his colleague Michael McGrath called Sinn Féin “hurlers on the ditch. I prefer to call you snipers behind the ditch.”
He added that “you may bully young women but you won’t bully me”.
Mr Brady called on him to immediately withdraw the comment. He said he had never bullied anyone in his life.
Ms Doherty pointed out that Fianna Fáil’s proposal would cost almost €73 million extra in 2018. It would increase to almost €85 million extra in 2019 and backdating the homemaker’s scheme to before 1994 would cost €290 million extra.
Both reversals would “significantly impact the affordability and sustainability of pensions paid from the Social Insurance Fund in the medium-term”.
Defending the 2012 approach, she said the changes “resulted in a system that more closely aligns a person’s pension benefit with their social insurance contribution history”.
The Minister also told the house that if the government of the day had chosen to cut pensions across the board instead, “the hardest hit would have been pensioners with no additional incomes, and widows and widowers living alone on only one pension payment”.
The then government had to ensure the solution did not exacerbate the underlying inequity and “impose unnecessary and unjustifiable costs on current and future workers”.
The Minister has asked departmental officials to “carefully examine approaches that may help to address the issue raised in relation to the averaging approach as it affects people with a short work period early in their career followed by a long-break”.
Introducing the Fianna Fáil motion, Mr O’Dea said it was designed to deal with a blatantly unfair and overtly discriminatory measure against a clearly identifiable group of people.
“I am talking about pensioners, many of whom struggle to survive from week to week and many of whom depend on their pensions wholly or mainly to survive,” he added.
Mr O’Dea suggested the anomaly was possibly unconstitutional because Article 40 provided that all citizens should be treated equally before the law and not just those born before September 1946.
He said what he was proposing was not a panacea, given the old system, prior to 2012, also gave rise to anomalies and injustices but these were massively exacerbated in 2012.
His party had doggedly opposed the changes which were stoutly defended by the previous government, mainly the then minister Joan Burton, who now repudiated the measure, he said.
Mr O’Dea found it impossible to explain to people how a person with 520 contributions could possibly qualify for a full pension while somebody with three times that much might qualify for a lesser pension.