Reducing pension age from 66 to 65 would cost €127m, Sinn Féin says

Louise O’Reilly says people have told her they are exhausted at the age of 65 after a lifetime of work

Sinn Féin will table a private members’ motion on Tuesday calling for the Government to offer people the choice to retire at 65 if they wish. The cost of its proposal to reduce the statutory pension age from 66 to 65 would be €127 million.

 

Sinn Féin expects other parties and the public to judge them on “what they say they will do if they were in government in the south not what they actually do when they are in Government in the North,” Minister of State Damien English has said.

Mr English made the claim during a Dáil debate on a Sinn Féin motion calling for calling for the Government to offer people the choice to retire at 65 if they wish.

The pension age was a major issue during the 2020 general election campaign and Sinn Féin was one of the parties that campaigned against proposals to increase it to 67.

The party’s enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the motion was about “making a public declaration that we listened” to what voters said in the last election “and that we have not forgotten the message they gave us”.

“After a lifetime of work I and Sinn Féin believe that a worker should be able to retire on the full pension rate of pay,” she said, adding that workers should also have the choice to access the pension at 65 or “work on on the same terms and conditions of employment”.

Ms O’Reilly said the cost of its proposal to reduce the statutory pension age from 66 to 65 would be €127 million. That figure could be lower, however, depending on how many people chose to remain working, she said.

“You have to factor in that if you abolish the mandatory retirement age other people will be working on and will (continue to) make the contributions.”

Independent commission

But Mr English said that the deferral of the planned increase in the pension age from 66 to 67 while an independent commission examines the issue would cost €221 million in 2021 and about €453 ,million in a full year.

He added that in the North, where Sinn Féin is one of five parties in Government, the pension age rose from 65 to 66 last year and is planned to increase again to 67 by 2028.

He said the contributory State pension is more than €248 and in Northern Ireland “it is considerably less, at £175 or about €195”.

Mr English told Ms O’Reilly: “You’re not in government on your own there but you are responsible for decision making in the North whether you like it or not.”

Speaking to reporters in advance of the debate Ms O’Reilly said the pension in the north was set by Westminster and also by Stormont and it was not for Sinn Féin to set the cost there.

Asked was it enough to say it was Westminster when Sinn Féin was in the Executive in the North, Ms O’Reilly said: “We have one policy for the party north and south and we want to see that policy apply in both jurisdictions.

She said some of the pension was set by Westminster and some of it, when it comes to be voted in Stormont, it is part of a much bigger package.”

Asked about the unanimous backing for it to be raised to 66 in the North in 2012, Ms O’Reilly said. “It is 2021 and we have an Ardfheis position to allow people to retire at the age of 65.”

Mr English said however that “it’s easy to be populist on this but there is there are no easy options”.

‘A new approach’

The Minister acknowledged that the public was very clear in the general election last year that it wanted “a new approach” to pensions and that was why the Government established an independent commission on the issue to assess “what would be required to sustain the State pension system”.

But even those who raised concerns wanted to make sure the funding would be there “well into the future, not just for them”, he said.

Mr English said that in 1971 the average life expectancy was 71 which rose to 81 by 2016. In 1997 spending on pensions was €1.7 billion. By 2010 it had increased to €5.8 billion and by 2019 it was over €8.2 billion.

The Government will not oppose the motion but will allow the commission on pensions to finish its work, he said.

Ms O’Reilly and Roscommon-Galway TD Claire Kerrane argued that it was not just, to make people who had done a lifetime of work work an extra year, or to rely on jobseeker’s allowance of €203 per week.

Asked her party’s response if the independent commission concludes it is best to remain at 66, she said: “That’s not what people want…. I have had people telling me their body is exhausted at the age of 65 after a lifetime of work and they cannot live well on social welfare rate of pay, the Government has to engage with that.”