SF rails over ‘big boys’ pensions but ‘crumbs’ for ordinary people

McDonald and Martin engage in heated exchange on pension age and entitlements

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused each other of hypocrisy in a Dáil row over the right to a State pension at the age of 65.

Ms McDonald said the failure to restore the transition payment to workers who retire at 65 but receive the pension at 66 meant a loss of more than €2,000 a year when compared to the State pension rate.

The Sinn Féin leader said Fianna Fáil had pledged before the general election last year to restore the full State pension to those who retire at 65.

She told Mr Martin that “you have adopted Fine Gael policy hook line and sinker” in not paying the additional €45 a week to those who retire at 65, which would bring their payment to the same rate as the State pension. And she accused him of hypocrisy, claiming his “gold-plated pension” and that of his predecessors would not be touched. It was a case of big pensions for the “big boys” but “crumbs” for ordinary people.

But the Taoiseach rounded on Ms McDonald accusing her of hypocrisy in seeking the State pension at 65 for workers in the Republic while her party in the North voted to increase the pension age there to 66.

“Everything you throw at me can clearly be thrown at your party,” he said.

The issue was raised following the announcement on Monday that employees who retire at 65 will no longer have to seek jobseeker’s benefit or sign on the live register while they wait to become eligible for the State pension. They will receive €203 weekly, the same amount as the jobseeker’s benefit.

Ms McDonald said “many of those who now look for pension entitlements at 65 may have begun their working lives at 14 or 15. They have more than paid their way.”

She said the Taoiseach is “either for or against the State pension at the age of 65”. People on the transition payment between 65 and 66 would be out of pocket by €45 a week.

“How do you stand over this given your commitment at the general election?”

Taoiseach’s response

Mr Martin said his party did not win a majority in the general election and the pension issue formed part of Government-formation negotiations.

He said that the increase in the pension age from 66 to 67 that had been legislated for, did not go ahead and the pension age was kept at 66. That was the outcome of negotiation of three parties and that decision would cost €453 million annually.

He said “there is a wider issue in terms of pension sustainability” with €9 billion annually going on pensions and that was why a pensions commission was established.

Ms McDonald then claimed the Taoiseach was “in no position to make arguments to working people about the sustainability of very modest pension payments”. The “central hypocrisy” in his argument is that his “gold-plated” pension would not be touched while workers would only be treated to “crumbs”.

The Taoiseach responded by accusing her of hypocrisy and told her “you failed to justify your voting for 66 pension age in Northern Ireland”.

He said Fianna Fáil had been responsible for significant increases in the State pension down through the decades. And he added that the State pension age has been 66 since 1977.

“That is the reality. We need to change a broad range of areas around pensions and the pensions commission will bring forward a range of recommendations to respond to people’s needs in this area.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times