Decisions on Public Petitions Received

We will continue with the meeting and consideration of public petitions received. Petition No. P00020/19 is from Dr. Minal Jagger. The petition concerns travel between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The petitioner would like to see UK visa requirements abolished for Irish residence permit holders. Does any member wish to contribute on this matter? I recommend that we forward a copy of the response from the Department of Justice and Equality to the petitioner and close the petition when that is completed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. P00040/19 is from Mr. Oliver Fay. This petitioner would like to see harmonisation of annual leave for all staff in the public sector. Does any member wish to contribute on this matter? I recommend that we forward a copy of the response from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Petition No. P00045/19 is from Ms Susan Anthony who wishes to have an early retirement option introduced for people receiving long-term unemployment or disability benefits who are 60 years of age or older. Does any member wish to contribute on this matter? Deputy Cassells would like to respond.

I thank the Acting Chair. This is a very interesting petition and is very timely in terms of the debate going on around the raising of retirement ages. The petitioner talks about the fact that many older people who are employed but who lost their jobs through redundancy during the financial crash have been unable to find work because, according to the petitioner, companies do not want to employ older people and that forcing people in that age bracket to re-educate, upskill or change career is just not viable and that no matter what people do, some remain unemployable. The petitioner is seeking this early retirement for those who are forced into a situation of being effectively on the dole. People come into our offices in respect of this. Those who are forced to retire early find themselves in that one-year or two-year gap, where they have to claim jobseeker's benefit. They find that a huge blow to their pride and morale and that it is insulting and depressing. Only in the last week we heard the Taoiseach speak about this in the Dáil. When he addressed the matter last week, rather harrowingly, he quoted life expectancy 30 years ago, in particular of males. I would not have much left based on life expectancy a few decades ago. I thank God life expectancy of males and of females is rising but in tandem with that, it will place pressure on the Social Insurance Fund.

The Department of Employment Affairs of Social Protection was before the Committee of Public Accounts Committee a number of weeks ago and it espoused the fact that the fund was in a positive place, but based on the trends in respect of ageing and the demographics, it is not going to continue in that space and hence, one has this debate. The crux of the issue is around the funding of this based on life expectancy in the future. The State is faced with this in terms of where it stands and how it is going to continue to be able to fund this, based on an ever-increasing life expectancy.

Conversely, we have heard from people who want to work longer and who find it infuriating that they are not allowed to continue to work in the workplace. It is a broader societal debate that is going to have to be had because, as in so many countries, if the fund is not there to pay pensions, it is a huge issue.

I do note the response from the Department in which it stated that an ambitious target had been set under Future Jobs Ireland to increase labour force participation rates among people over the age of 55 years from 34.5% to 38%, and that is considered ambitious. That is depressing in itself.

To go back to the central point, the petition is reflective of something that emanated in the years after the crash, when a huge cohort of people were caught in that gap. It might not be as prevalent now but it is worthy of recognition that that happened to people and that it was extremely hurtful to and hard on many people. The wider debate is whether we are going to be able to fund the Social Insurance Fund in the future. While things are positive at the moment, based on an ageing population, that may not always be the case over the next couple of decades.

I thank Deputy Cassells. I agree with everything he said. In regard to life expectancy, if we look at some cohorts of people, whether the Traveller community or the long-term homeless, their life expectancy is so much lower and they should be able to access retirement and packages that come with care, including nursing home care. It is an area I have been looking at in other committees.

In regard to this petition and the role of our committee, I recommend that we forward a copy of the response we received from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to the petitioner and that when this is completed, we close the petition. Is that agreed?

On the point the Acting Chair raised, it proves the point that an average is an average and that if one starts to drill down into the statistics, there are those within those averages that drag it one way or the other. The point the Acting Chair raised that certain demographics have a much lower life expectancy should not be glossed over either.

It is definitely something we should ask the members of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection to take on since they have a greater ability to change a policy in that Department. Is it agreed to send the petitioner the response from the Department? Agreed.

I thank you for your attendance.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.03 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 December 2019.