Seanad Éireann - Volume 175 - 26 February, 2004

Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004: Committee Stage (Resumed).

SECTION 10.

Question proposed: “That section 10 stand part of the Bill.”

  Mr. McDowell: Subsection (2) deals with the Permanent Defence Force. However, when discussing section 8 of the Bill the Minister of State indicated that arrangements for the Defence Forces were still under negotiation and consideration by the Minister for Defence. However, there is a provision in section 10 that specifically provides for a pensionable age from 50 years. Is the matter still under negotiation and discussion? Why has the Minister for Finance chosen to make a specific provision in section 10 to deal with the Permanent Defence Force?

4 o’clock

Subsection (6)(c) allows any Minister in the future to ignore the provisions of this Act and to reach agreement to pay pensions earlier should they choose to do so under any scheme breached or negotiated after 1 April 2004. It is not necessarily making a nonsense of the Bill but it provides for the Bill to be set aside as part of some partnership arrangement or pensions scheme that may be negotiated in the future. One wonders what are we doing when this Bill may be entirely abrogated by industrial relations processes within the Civil Service.

  Dr. Mansergh: I agree with Senator McDowell’s analysis and for that reason I believe it is a sensible provision.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: Senator McDowell should address his question to Senator O’Toole. This was the precise point I endeavoured to make during the last debate. Specific arrangements will be made in specific contexts in the future. The purpose of the pension commission was to determine a pensionable age and make a recommendation, which the Government accepted. This was notwithstanding some degree of unease as expressed by Senator O’Toole within educational circles.

With regard to the Department of Defence, the provision for the scheme is within the overall limitation of 50 years as the retirement age. The schemes will be drawn up by the Minister but the overall retirement age for the Defence Forces will [1288]be 50 years under section 10(2)(a). No benefit would be payable in respect of a new entrant before he or she reaches that age. The Minister would then draw up the scheme for the release of the relevant payments in that light. The commission recommendation was that 50 years was the age of retirement for the Defence Forces, which the Government accepted.

  Mr. McDowell: The Minister of State has been helpful in clarifying the matter. However, it seems remarkable that the Bill will contain a provision which will, in effect, negate its impact. The purpose of the Bill is to do away with existing special arrangements. However, if the Minister for Education and Science decides on 3 April 2004 to put in place the arrangements for new entrants that already exist, then he has liberty to do so without having to change the provisions of the Bill.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: It would not be in the education sector but in a specific arrangement for a specific purpose.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 11.

Question proposed: “That section 11 of the Bill stand part of the Bill.”

  Mr. J. Phelan: The Fine Gael Party opposes section 11 of the Bill because of the overlap with section 10. I note from some of the amendments tabled that there is widespread agreement among all Senators that the position of politicians is different from all public servants. I am conscious of Senator O’Toole’s remarks and am thinking of myself and other Senators. I am 25 and 65 is a long way off but I hope to see it. This provision does not apply to me because I am here. It smacks of a self-serving attitude that would ignore the future generation of politicians. It is difficult to get people involved and legislation such as this will deter new people from becoming involved and will not be good for the future of politics. Senator O’Toole gave the example of the Tánaiste who came into politics in this House after graduation and has remained in politics ever since. She is unusual in that she has stayed so long in politics. If she were to leave politics now she would receive offers of other non-political positions.

Many who have been involved in politics have left because the electorate did not want them here any more and have ended up in unfortunate positions. Senator O’Toole said that the pension policy in other areas has not come about by accident and certainly it has not in politics, which is very different. There are many teachers speaking on this Bill but politics includes people from all walks of life. I agree with, and welcome, Senator Mansergh’s comments that politicians who do not have other businesses or fortunes to fall back on if they leave politics should be looked [1289]after. Most people involved in politics do not have any great wealth on which to lean if their situation changes.

I laugh every year when I receive the Standards in Public Offices Commission document to complete with questions such as how much property or land I own, or in how many companies I hold a directorship, and what other incomes I have because I have none. It is funny but serious too, if in less than five years time the people of Kilkenny or the councillors of the country, or whoever will elect the Seanad at that stage, decide that they do not want me here. It is a long way to 65 for me and others in my position.

  Ms O’Rourke: Presumably the Senator will not stay idle.

  Mr. J. Phelan: I hope I will be here. The Leader has been involved in politics for many years.

  Ms O’Rourke: I have no property or shares.

  Mr. J. Phelan: Did the Leader not win “the House of Love” from the TV programme in which she was a panellist?

  Ms O’Rourke: No, I did not. I received my salary and I was very happy to get that.

  Mr. J. Phelan: Raising the pensions age will not encourage good new people into politics. Reports of corruption and tribunals of inquiry deter many people my age and younger from involvement in politics. If we put another obstacle in the way of people who may want to take a career break and go into politics, knowing the risks involved it will be a negative step from the point of view of public service. Accordingly, this section should be deleted.

  Acting Chairman (Dr. Henry): Does the Minister of State wish to say anything more?

  Dr. Mansergh: May I say one thing?

  Acting Chairman: No, we are in a——

  Ms O’Rourke: I will not ask for a further extension of time.

  Dr. Mansergh: The Chair allowed the Senator before me to speak. May I just take 30 seconds?

  Acting Chairman: The Senator may speak but we have taken one extension already and I hate to see Bills guillotined.

  Dr. Mansergh: Yes, but I would like to make a response to the debate. I accept the argument the Minister of State put forward. The existence or not of pensions is not a substantial motive for people entering politics.

[1290]  Mr. B. Lenihan: I do not wish to add to what I have already said. I do not know whether Senator Phelan was present when I replied. We are discussing the issue again. It is important to bear in mind that the Minister for Finance has effected very substantial improvements in the conditions of service of Members. Senator Phelan was not here in the bad old days when salaries and expenses were not good. The Minister deserves credit for that.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 12.

Question proposed: “That section 12 stand part of the Bill.”

  Mr. Browne: I mentioned past members of local authorities and pensions for them in our previous debate on this Bill. This is loosely relevant to section 12 of this Bill and I hope the Minister of State will consider it again for people who served on local authorities when there was no salary. They spent many years, sacrificed a great deal personally, commercially and financially, to give public service. Perhaps the Minister of State would consider some sort of pension scheme for them, less for the money than as an acknowledgement that they gave public service and were not lucky enough to spend time in the Oireachtas.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to look at it.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 13.

Question proposed: “That section 13 stand part of the Bill.”

  Mr. McDowell: This covers the situation where someone is working beyond 65 and whether those years are taken into account for reckoning service. Is that a correct estimate? It brings into play the related situation whereby people have served 40 years and attained the maximum entitlement to a pension. Do they, or should they, continue to make PRSI contributions or contributions to a defined benefit or contribution scheme? The commission debated this issue but what is the Minister of State’s view of it?

  Mr. B. Lenihan: It is not covered in the Bill one way or the other. The staff have raised the question of payment of PRSI contributions by those over 65 in future, which will happen if the PRSI regulations are not amended in an appropriate fashion. Pension contributions arise too in the context of those discussions but this legislation does not deal with them.

[1291]  Mr. McDowell: Does that mean the Minister of State has made no decision on the commission’s recommendations?

  Mr. B. Lenihan: No.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 14 agreed to.

SECTION 15.

Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”

  Mr. McDowell: It would be useful, and we should provide in the section that there should be consultation with any trade union of which the individual is a member, rather than effectively leaving the decision to management.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: The Minister has the power to make the determination in the case of a dispute and the Minister would be obliged to follow the rules of natural justice and entertain any representations because he is vested with a legal power.

  Mr. McDowell: The Bill does not say that.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: It does not, but it can be reasonably implied. We will look into it.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 16 agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

SCHEDULE 2.

  Acting Chairman: Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and will be taken together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 11:

In page 15, Part 1, column 3, to delete lines 16 to 46 and substitute the following:

“‘(b) Subject to paragraph (c), none of the following persons are entitled to a pension under this section

(i) a person who is receiving a severance allowance under Part V of this Act, or

(ii) a person who has not reached 65 years of age, other than

(I) a person who was a member of either House of the Oireachtas, or of the European Parliament (within the meaning of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004), prior to 1 April 2004,

[1292](II) a person who held the office of Attorney General prior to 1 April 2004, or

(III) a person who has held the office of Taoiseach,

in which cases the reference to 65 years in this paragraph shall be taken to be a reference to 50 years.’.”.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: These are technical amendments and are proposed because the schedule as drafted does not fully reflect the purpose of section 2(5) whose intention and meaning is that all persons who held an office post before 1 April 2004 will not fall within the category of new entrant. This would include persons appointed as attorneys general who were not Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas at the time they held office. The current wording does not fully reflect the purpose of the section. That text would have the effect that a former Attorney General re-appointed as Attorney General in the future without being a Member of the Houses on either occasion would be treated as a new entrant.

  Ms O’Rourke: They are looking after themselves.

  Mr. B. Lenihan: The revised text fully reflects all the circumstances intended to be covered by section 2(5) of the Bill. The Government amendment stems from the need to clarify the position of former Attorneys General who were not Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 12:

In page 15, column 3, to delete lines 53 to 56, and in page 16, column 3, to delete lines 1 to 27, and substitute the following:

“‘(11) Except as provided by subsection (12), none of the following persons are entitled to a pension under this section—

(a) a person who is receiving a severance allowance under Part V of this Act, or

(b) a person who has not reached 65 years of age, other than——

(i) a person who was a member of either House of the Oireachtas, or of the European Parliament (within the meaning of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004), prior to 1 April 2004,

[1293](ii) a person who held the office of Attorney General prior to 1 April 2004, or

(iii) a person who has held the office of Taoiseach,

in which cases the reference to 65 years in this subsection shall be taken to be a reference to 50 years.’.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment.

  Acting Chairman: When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

  Ms O’Rourke: Now.