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Further calls for handlers to be paid back for pension contributions

Northern Ireland Trainers Association have backed the handlers in continuing confusion

There continues to be discontent in the north that stable staff there weren’t entitled to benefits. Photo: Inpho

A spokesman for the proposed new Northern Ireland Trainers Association has said almost 40 years worth of contributions made by handlers in the north into racing’s old pension fund should be paid back.

There continues to be discontent in the north that stable staff there weren’t entitled to benefits from the scheme that officially wound up in 2010 because they were in a different jurisdiction. That was despite Irish racing having always been administered on a 32-county basis.

Earlier this week it emerged that full-time employees in the north have been covered for life assurance for the last five years under the Death Benefit element of the old scheme. Many trainers in the north said they were unaware of that development.

That confusion has added to the focus on racing’s proposed new non-contributory pension scheme which intends to cover workers in the north despite different pension and employment laws there.

A road-show to illustrate the new scheme was held in Newry on Thursday night and significantly Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh attended.

He was joined by the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association chief executive Michael Grassick and the chairman of the Irish Stable Staff Association, Bernard Caldwell, as well as Margaret Davin who is set to chair the committee in charge of the new fund.

Co Tyrone based Mervyn Torrens has been a prime mover in the formulation of a new trainers association in the north which has threatened to split with the IRTA over unhappiness at how their concern at the pensions situation has been handled.

Torrens said on Friday a “big majority” of the 33 trainers in the North of Ireland have signed up to the new body and that its first priority when officially established will be to look for free legal aid to help address their concerns. However he appeared to row back on talk of splitting.

“I would like to think that we could work with them (IRTA) and not split for the time being anyway. If we get on well with them, and there are no problems, there’s no point in splitting. If we don’t we’ll have to. But at the moment I can’t see why we would,” Torrens said.

However he added there was some unease at the Newry road-show about the lack of detail in regard to the new pension and an apparent unwillingness generally to address issues about the old scheme.

“They wouldn’t answer any questions at all about the old scheme or the death benefit. They just said they weren’t involved in the old scheme and didn’t know anything about it,” said Torrens who added that Brian Kavanagh was keen to find a solution to their concerns.

“He gave no indications but he did say he would like to sort it out. What I would like is to pay back Northern Ireland trainers what they paid into the old pension fund.

“What way they’re thinking of sorting it out I don’t know but that would be my thing, if they could do something; people in the north paid into it for 40 years and not got anything.

“It was interesting to see Brian Kavanagh there and it was good to see him there. I had a discussion with him and I thought it went very well. With his skill and knowledge of the racing industry I think he could sort it out,” Torrens said.

Michael Grassick agreed that Brian Kavanagh’s presence was helpful and said there was general satisfaction among the relatively small number present in Newry at the proposed new pension arrangements.

“I think they were happy they’re included in the new scheme and that everything is being done and that everyone is being treated the same.

“It was a help that Brian Kavanagh turned up. I think at times they feel they don’t get the recognition they deserve up there. But as far as we’re concerned that was our third meeting and we have tried everything to facilitate them.

“There were still a few questions about the old scheme but that’s behind us now and the people on the new scheme had nothing to do with the setting up of the original scheme. And all the people entitled to get money got the money out of that,” the IRTA spokesman said.