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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Apr 1980

Vol. 320 No. 2

Local Government (Superannuation) (No. 2) Bill, 1979 [Seanad]: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): This section gives authority to the Minister for the Environment, with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service, to make superannuation schemes for employees of local authorities and certain other bodies specified in the section.

On the Second Stage of the Bill I criticised its retrospective nature and pointed out that the Bill seeks to validate schemes which as far as I know were drawn up years ago. Section (2) (a) provides that schemes which may be drawn up shall have retrospective effect. My understanding is that this Bill in effect has been in operation for years and that what we are being asked to do now is to validate pensions that have been in payment for quite a while, to validate and give legal effect to lump sums, gratuities in lieu of pensions that have been paid. Could the Minister say how many schemes this Bill will validate, if any, and how many such schemes we are dealing with, how long they have been in operation and if he will give particulars of them?

The position is that people were looking for improvements and a good deal of work had to go into the framing of the Bill. In the early stages the Deputy's Government were involved in the framing of the Bill and we took it up from there on. All the schemes that have been notified, that come under the usual Acts, are being validated. All the health boards and so on come under this scheme. I admit there has been some criticism of the Bill being brought in although payments have been made well before now. This was in the interests of all the people benefiting.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I have no objection to new schemes having been drawn up and people getting pensions who were entitled to get them. What I am trying to find out —and I propose to keep at it gently until I get the information I am seeking—is the principle involved, the principle of retrospection, doing things on the assumption that the Dáil will rubber stamp them. I agree that this may have begun during the Inter-Party Government's time. I understand it began as a result of a working party. I believe that a working party reported shortly before Deputy Tully left office as Minister for Local Government. It should have been obvious from my remarks on Second Stage that I would be seeking this sort of information. I fully appreciate that all the old schemes under the various Acts which are being repealed will be brought in under this scheme. But I think that certain schemes were drawn up and certain pensions and lump sums paid that could not be drawn up or paid under the previous Acts; that schemes were drawn up and pensions and gratuities paid in anticipation of this measure. How many schemes were drawn up and how many payments were made?

About four or five by circular letter issued to the authorities in that respect. I know that the bone of contention is in regard to backdating these payments. I am not responsible for legislation that was held up in the other House. The business in this House is worked out between the Whips. Four or five extra were actually brought into the new scheme.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Could the Minister give particulars of the type of things that were done?

About 30 amendments of the superannuation scheme were made and a number of improvements were made in existing schemes also, a vast amount of improvements.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It is very hard to debate the Committee Stage of a Bill like this without giving the impression that one is being obstructive. I am not, nor do I want to be unhelpful, but when the Government bring in a Bill which is obviously validating and making legal things that have been done perhaps several years ago, I think the Minister should have a brief which would enable him to tell the House that the Bill is necessary in order to give legal effect to schemes and payments that have been negotiated. He should tell us when they were negotiated and the amount of money involved. I believe this goes back several years. The whole principle of the running of Departments comes in. For years back, I imagine that the local government auditor must have found pensions and lump sums being paid by several local authorities without authority to pay them. I want to know in such cases does the local government auditor surcharge somebody or does he go to these local authorities armed with an authority from the Minister to pass these payments in anticipation of legislation which is to be passed. I raise this very deliberately and I want an answer. I am surprised that the Minister has not been briefed on it.

I do not wish to withhold information and I also accept that the Deputy is not being awkward, but in all schemes that were brought in or amended improvements were made especially in the widows and orphans pension scheme. These schemes were all updated. I have had no complaints about this being done but there was welcome for it as a step in the right direction. There were two options: you could wait until the Bill went through the House and not give the benefits or backdate the benefits as we have done and we are now about to put the legislation into operation.

We cannot have it every way. As I said earlier, I am not responsible for the way business is conducted, be it in the Seanad or here. As far as I know from the documentation that I have there have been no complaints on any of this. These improvements have been worked out very satisfactorily, by the working party and others who were concerned in this. I am glad to be able to say that we were able to bring in these improvements immediately the working party and others decided that these were the new amounts that we were able to make.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister of State makes a very good political reply and I would be very surprised if he did not. I have no complaint at all about increases in pensions or adjustments in superannuation which have been made and are an improvement. What I am objecting to is Departments anticipating authority from this House for some years after it is done, and this I emphasise. I do not know when the five-day week came in, but I pose one question now. Are we validating amendments and schemes now that became necessary immediately the five-day week was introduced? There is a yes or no to that question.

No, it has nothing to do with it.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Has it nothing at all to do with the five-day week?

(Cavan-Monaghan): Has that been validated under some other Act?

It is paid leave. Saturday is paid leave.

(Cavan-Monaghan): I understood that in order to qualify for superannuation certain categories had to work a given number of days in the year and that on the coming in operation of the five-day week it had to be assumed that the person would have worked on Saturday if that was necessary and that the regulations had to be changed. Is that so?

(Cavan-Monaghan): If that is so, may I take it that it does not go back as far as that? May I take it that the introduction of the five-day week did not necessitate the changing of any regulations, good, bad or indifferent?

(Cavan-Monaghan): Could the Minister give me an example of the type of thing that has been validated by this and of the type of scheme that this Bill will make legal?

The widows and orphans pension scheme from 1969 when that was introduced. I do not mind obliging the Deputy but if I were to read out to him all that concerns various improvements that have been made such as lump sums for servants, the co-ordination of sociál welfare pensions——

(Cavan-Monaghan): Could the Minister give me the dates of a cross-section of about a dozen of them?

Nineteen seventy seven.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Have they all come in since 1977?

Yes, all these under social welfare, widows and orphans and so on came under that in 1977.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Does this Bill cover any changes that were made prior to 1977?

It does, it covers the widows and orphans.

(Cavan-Monaghan): That is 1969.

Yes, and temporary service is given also in 1971.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Are there any others?

(Cavan-Monaghan): Is that temporary service?

Yes, and broken service would come into that as well.

(Cavan-Monaghan): When changes are made in that way the authority of this House should be sought immediately for those changes. I do not believe that the delay is all attributable to the delay which took place in the Seanad and here after this Bill was introduced. This Bill was not introduced in the Seanad until 14 November 1979 and the Seanad is not the most overworked arm of the Oireachtas as far as I know. I am complaining that as far back as 1971 authority to make changes was assumed in the Department of Local Government. It is true that the National Coalition were in power since then and I will not be put off my argument on that account. The authority of the Oireachtas should be sought where it is necessary to seek it and if a complicated Bill is necessary and enough research has to be put into it, then interim authority should be given. I assume that since 1971, which is the date given to me by the Minister, claims have been made or things have been done which were irregular, in anticipation of authority from this House and the Seanad. I assume that since then the local government auditors have visited various local authorities and have seen that these claims were made. Did they OK them or did they draw the attention of the public bodies to the fact that these payments were being made irregularly? Are the local government auditors told in such terms that we will be seeking statutory authority for these things and that everything will be OK later on? I would like that clarified because it is important and this is the only opportunity that a Member of the Oireachtas gets of raising these things. In a nutshell, I want to know were things done from 1971 up to 1977 which needed legislation? How did the local government auditor get over it?

The improvements in the scheme were backdated to 1971 and the money has been paid to all categories that come under the Act under the usual regulations. It was approved by the Government and then the usual circular letter went out to the various authorities involved in the schemes. These payments have been authorised and paid. In relation to the local government auditor, he raised no objection that I or my Department know of.

I recall a superannuation and pensions Bill being moved by Deputy Fitzpatrick, when he was in office, for the Minister for Finance in June 1976. All these regulations have been backdated ten years and the improvements have been granted retrospective to those who are entitled to them. Deputy Fitzpatrick asked why the payments were made before this legislation came before the House. A lot of work went into the drafting of this Bill and it was decided to make these payments in that way so as not to hold up those who were entitled to the benefits. There have been no complaints. People were well pleased with the improvements especially the widows and orphans. These schemes have been backdated approximately ten years.

(Cavan-Monaghan): The schemes covered by this Bill?

(Cavan-Monaghan): The fact that I might have moved a similar Bill for the Minister for Finance in 1976 does not worry me in the slightest. We had not as many Ministers of State as we have now and Ministers still had to go to Europe. I stood in on several occasions for the Minister for Finance but that does not affect my argument in the slightest. The authority of the Dáil and of local authorities is being gradually downgraded and this is the sort of thing that gives rise to that. These pensions should have been regularised and the Government are to blame for the fact that they were not. The Minister tells me that the Government approved this. As far as I know the Government have not the authority to approve it. The Government are not God Almighty—the Government derive their authority from this House which in turn derives authority from the people. What would happen if there was a change of government since these regulations were authorised?

What would happen if the Government in power now did not agree with this and if a majority of Deputies in the House did not agree to pass this Bill. I am concerned that the local government auditor apparently took this sort of thing for granted, apparently closed his eyes to it and considered that just because a circular came from the Custom House that everything was all right. I do not agree with that and it is time people woke up to what is happening. We know that this is happening here because it is necessary to bring a Bill into the House and because somebody raised the matter but it is an insult to parliament, to authority in general, and is something that should be discontinued. I am convinced that if a situation arises where a Minister wants authority to give legal effect to pensions or grants or something like that he will get it in the House but it should not be assumed that he will get it and certainly not assumed that he will get it for ten years.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

(Cavan-Monaghan): What is involved in section 3? It is a section which enables the Minister to amend certain existing local government superannuation provisions.

Section 3 will enable the Minister with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service to amend or repeal the existing superannuation provisions by regulations. Such regulations will require to be made in the period between the passing of the Bill and the total repeal of the existing enactments being provided for in section 11. This total repeal will be effected with a consolidated scheme replacing the existing enactments as made under section 2. The regulations may only be made in the interval before the consolidated scheme is made and they are in effect a transitional device in conjunction with the initial schemes which will be made under section 2 to provide statutory authority for the improvements in superannuation conditions already introduced with Government approval in anticipation of amending legislation. Similar arrangements were provided for in the Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1976 in relation to civil service pensions.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
Business suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.