Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 25 February, 1997

Adjournment Debate. - Teachers' Pensions Entitlements.

Mr. Lawlor: I regret it is necessary to take up the time of the House on an issue that should not have to come before the House — that is, the most unsatisfactory position of Irish missionaries particularly in African countries over many years. We are proud to be associated with the tremendous commitment of Irish missionary efforts. As one who has had two uncles in the Irish Christian Brothers who taught in South America I had the opportunity to visit the area and see some of the work. Also in a number of African countries I witnessed the commitment, dedication and vocation of these men and women to teaching those in need of their services.

After giving a life's commitment to that work they cannot obtain their full entitlements under the pension scheme, despite their understandable belief that this would not be the situation. It is unacceptable that, for a small number of dedicated Irish teachers who went abroad and gave of their time in underdeveloped countries in Africa, there is a threat to their full pension entitlements. I hope the Minister will inform the House that the matter will be fully addressed and that these missionary teachers will not be at a disadvantage. They risked life and limb and the potential of contracting various tropical diseases was enormous. This is deplorable. In terms of costs it is not a matter of any great significance.

What action is proposed? There is incremental salary recognition for these teachers but they wish to purchase back pension rights, under a special scheme where a 6.5 per cent rate has been established. To facilitate those who remained teaching in Ireland at the time and who had not joined a voluntary pension scheme, there will be no pensionable recognition from the African Government. Based on the information that has come to hand these teachers should be given the opportunity to purchase those years for pension purposes at the same favourable rate. I sincerely hope the Minister can give a commitment to address this human and unacceptable anomaly which has arisen for those who have served in difficult circumstances and would be justified in receiving the full pension entitlement. I trust the Minister will give full recognition for that period and that the teachers' pension rights will be fully honoured.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Deenihan): I commend teachers and others who have devoted some of their working lives to service in underdeveloped countries. This invaluable service [747] makes an outstanding contribution to the welfare of people in less well off nations.

The matter of incremental credit for teaching service abroad and relevant non-teaching experience has been the subject of discussion at the conciliation council for teachers on a number of occasions over the years. Agreed Report No. 9/79 provided that incremental credit be allowed in respect of approved teaching experience abroad up to a maximum of five years subject to a maximum of four years in respect of service given prior to 1 June 1979. This provision applies to all whole-time permanent teachers in primary, secondary, community, comprehensive and vocational schools.

The matter was raised subsequently and these discussions led to Agreed Report No. 4/85 which provided that incremental credit be allowed for approved teaching service abroad up to a maximum of seven years subject to a maximum of four years in respect of service given prior to 1 June 1979. There is provision also for the award of incremental credit in respect of non-teaching experience, up to a maximum of five years' credit. In the event of a teacher claiming credit for a combination of teaching service and relevant non-teaching experience, the maximum credit which may be awarded for incremental credit purposes is seven years. The teachers concerned should apply to the Department of Education for the appropriate incremental credit if they have not done so already. Teachers in vocational schools should apply to the appropriate vocational education committee.

The superannuation of all primary and secondary teachers is regulated under the Teachers Superannuation Act, 1928. As a result of this Act, separate statutory schemes were made for both sectors. Both principal schemes, and their subsequent amendments, set out the basis for the qualification, award, calculation and payment of pension and put in statute form some general administrative arrangements to this end. Under the terms of these schemes, there is no provision to make pensionable any teaching service given outside the State. Such a policy would not be confined to superannuation schemes under the control of the Department as it would form part of an overall public sector policy on this issue.

It is a standard feature of public service superannuation that service purchased must be paid for in full. In this context there are two options available to teachers who may wish to improve their level of pensionable service: a scheme for the purchase of notional service which is operated by the Department — this allows teachers to voluntarily purchase additional years for calculation of superannuation benefits — and superannuation arrangements for public service volunteers with the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, APSO. Approval for this arrangement was given by the Department of Finance to allow APSO, subject to certain conditions, to purchase the period [748] of volunteer service given after 1 January 1995.

In the case of the first option, it would be open to any member of the appropriate scheme to apply for the purchase of notional service. This would include the group of teachers to whom the Deputy's request relates. I wonder if the Deputy is confusing this matter with a recent proposal made in the context of negotiations with the teacher unions on their PCW claims. The revised proposals for agreement on the pay and conditions of teachers under clause 2(iii) of annex 1 of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work include a proposal for the purchase for superannuation purposes of incremental service given by teachers when they were eligible to join the secondary teachers superannuation scheme but did not do so. The proposals provides for the purchase of such service at the normal contribution rate of 6.5 per cent — 5 per cent for teachers who are not members of the spouses scheme. That proposal is confined to actual incremental service given in secondary schools and would not apply to the purchase for superannuation purposes of any other service.

There is no threat to the present incremental or pension entitlements of teachers who gave voluntary service abroad.