Fianna Fáil backs keeping State pension age at 66

Age ‘should not go beyond 66′, that ‘modest’ PRSI rises could fund this, says Taoiseach

Fianna Fáil has voiced its support for keeping the qualification age for the State pension at 66.

In an intervention, as Coalition considerations continue on the matter, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Friday the pension age “should not go beyond 66”, adding that “modest” PRSI increases over time could be used to fund this.

A Government decision on the future of the pension age is not expected for months.

Allowing people to be able to continue to qualify for the State pension at the age of 66 was not ruled out by Coalition partners Fine Gael and the Green Party last night.

Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said a “flexible pension age” is under consideration, while the Green Party said it looked forward to discussing all options proposed by the Pensions Commission set up to look at the issue, including one to keep the age at 66 through increases in PRSI.

Competing political promises over when someone should qualify for the State pension became one of the key battlegrounds in the 2020 general election after Sinn Féin pledged to lower the age to 65.

The resulting Coalition deferred a planned rise of the pension age to 67 — due to happen in 2021 — and establish the commission to consider the issue. Its main recommendation was a gradual increase in the qualification age from 66 to 68 over the next 17 years.

Ms Humphreys was to bring a recommended response and implementation plan on the commission’s report to Government by the end of March, but this has been delayed. A decision is now not expected until autumn.

Mr Martin’s remarks came at Fianna Fáil’s pre-budget parliamentary party meeting on Friday where TDs Jackie Cahill and Barry Cowen, as well as Senator Ollie Crowe, raised the issue, expressing support for the age to remain at 66.

The Taoiseach said afterwards that party members wanted clarity on where Fianna Fáil stood and he told them “we didn’t see the age going beyond 66″.

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He said Fianna Fáil would have to work with its Coalition partners on the final decision.

Mr Martin denied he had undercut Ms Humphreys on the issue, saying: “We had a discussion in the parliamentary party about it, that’s it.”

Ms Humphreys last night said she agreed with the Taoiseach that there “needs to be flexibility”.

She said: “Depending on your job some people aren’t physically able to keep working while there are others who are quite happy and want to work a bit longer. So I think we need to strike a balance here and we need to give people options so that they can make decisions which best suit their own circumstances.”

Ms Humphreys added: “There are a lot of countries who have a flexible pension age and I think that’s a model we need to look at here in Ireland.”

She expressed confidence that the Coalition parties will “be able able to reach agreement on a way forward”.

In its report, the commission recommended the pension age should rise in steps to 67 by 2031 and then to 68 by 2039. A subsequent report from the Oireachtas committee on social protection said the age should not rise beyond 66.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times