Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Shipping.


asked the Minister for Communications if he is satisfied that the State has met all its obligations to the employees of Irish Shipping, particularly in relation to pension rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Pension benefits for the employees of Irish Shipping Ltd. were provided for by means of pension schemes drawn up and operated by the company and/or by means of ex-gratia payments made by the company. No statutory function with regard to these pensions rested with the Minister for Communications until the passing of the Irish Shipping Limited (Amendment) Act, 1984, which provided, inter alia, that any alteration in the terms or conditions governing the grant of pensions etc., in force at the commencement of that Act would not take effect without the approval of the Minister for Communications given with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service. No proposal for any such alteration was submitted to the Minister during the life of the company following the passing of the Act.

While the State, therefore, had no legal obligations with regard to the pension provisions of the Irish Shipping employees, the Government, nevertheless, having regard to the plight of the pensioners, earlier this year decided that the ex-gratia payment formerly fixed by Irish Shipping Limited would be met from the Exchequer in respect of those Irish Shipping pensioners who had served aboard Irish ships during World War II. These payments have already commenced. Following further consideration of the matter the Government subsequently decided to extend this concession to all the Irish Shipping pensioners who had been in receipt of ex-gratia payments from the company. The necessary arrangements for these payments are being made by my Department.

Is it not time that this sanctimonious sympathy should be discontinued and an attempt made to pay to workers reasonable redundancy sums, seeing that the workers in Avoca Mines, Nitrigin Éireann, the Verolme Dockyard in Cork and port and dock employees have been receiving money in the range of £30,000 to £48,000 each?

The question deals specifically with pensions——

It deals with State obligations to employees.

As the Deputy knows, the obligations in this respect consist of statutory redundancy and I understand that is being dealt with in a separate question to the Minister for Labour.

I am talking of payments of £30,000 and £48,000 in other companies. Is the Minister still saying that justice has been done to the employees of Irish Shipping Limited?

I have said that is another question. This deals specifically with the matter of pensions. Obligations of the Government in regard to redundancy are statutory and they are dealt with by the Minister for Labour, to whom there is a separate question.

The question asks if the Minister is satisfied that the State has met all its obligations to the employees of Irish Shipping. Is he satisfied the State has met all its obligations to the employees of Irish Shipping? Will he explain to the House how the State regards itself as having obligations in Avoca Mines, to whose employees sums of up to £48,000 were paid, but not to the Irish Shipping workers? Is he still saying justice has been done to the employees of Irish Shipping?

That simply is another question. This deals specifically with the matter of pensions. Obligations of the Government in regard to redundancy are statutory. They are dealt with by the Minister for Labour and there is a separate question to him.

The Minister is not replying to the question. Why does he think the State has no obligation in regard to the workers of Irish Shipping? I will not be side tracked on this. In fairness, I have asked a supplementary question within the terms of the question on the Order Paper, and I want an answer to it.

The Deputy's supplementary, in the way he has framed it, is positively argumentative and of a contentious nature.

If the Ceann Comhairle rights in the House, and not for the first time. The question is about the obligations of the State——

It is in relation to pensions.

If the Ceann Comhairle will read the question he will see that it asks the Minister if he is satisfied that the State has met all its obligations to the employees of Irish Shipping.

If Deputy Wilson phrases his question properly I will consider it. Up to now it has been contentious, and an argument, and I do not think the Deputy would seriously deny that.

Will the Minister say how it is that employees in the various companies I referred to had State obligations to them discharged at the rate of £30,000 to £48,000 each, whereas the Minister is hiding behind the expression that there are statutory obligations——

As the Deputy is aware, the Minister is gravely concerned about this matter. In a recent statement he had arranged that the question regarding categories of pensioners not already looked after, who are getting ex gratia topping up of their pensions has been satisfactorily resolved and arrangements are being made for payments. The Minister has looked at all the other implications. Obligations come in in regard to statutory redundancy payments, and from his expert knowledge of English the Deputy, probably more than anyone else in the House, knows what obligations mean. Obligations in regard to redundancy payments are part of the statutory law and the Minister has gone as far as it is possible to go——

Victimising Irish Shipping workers.

The question originally included reference to redundancy payments but that aspect of it was transferred to the Minister for Labour. However, the question still relates to the obligations of the Minister to Irish Shipping. Regarding pensions, what is the ex gratia payment and are the former employees of the company satisfied with that payment in lieu of their pensions?

I understand that the ex gratia element represents the topping up that was being done by Irish Shipping on behalf of the employees. First, there were included those employees who had World War II service and now those who did not have such service are getting the payment. This is giving to them what they were getting from Irish Shipping.

I take it from that, that what they are getting is the equivalent of the employer contribution that should have been paid by Irish Shipping but which is being paid now presumably as a year's payment only. Is the Minister aware that 80 per cent of the employees of Irish Shipping who were sacked by the Minister are still unemployed? Is he satisfied that this tiny level of topping up is sufficient by way of payment to the people concerned and that it discharges his responsibility in regard to pensions? I am leaving the matter of redundancy out of it for the moment.

I understand that the arrangement is satisfactory all round. What is involved is an ex gratia payment in line with what Irish Shipping were paying in order to top up the pensions by way of meeting inflation and so on. This is now being taken on by the State. In other words, the pensioners are receiving the same level of pension as they would be receiving from Irish Shipping if the company were still in existence.

We have spent a long time on this question.

May we take it from the Minister's reply to the last supplementary, particularly, that the Government recognise that they had a moral obligation to these employees even if they did not have a statutory obligation to them? Perhaps the Minister would expound on the ex gratia payments and tell us whether these will continue as opposed to their representing once-off payments for just one year.

They are not once-off payments. They will continue for whatever length of time the pensions would have been paid anyway.

Can the Minister assure us that all pensioners of Irish Shipping are now in receipt of full pensions and can that position be guaranteed for the remainder of their pensionable years?

Another love-in.

Since the Government have found it possible, as so many of us have asked them time and again——

We must not have argument nor speeches.

I am not engaging in argument. As the Government have found it possible to go beyond the limited statutory obligations in the area of these ex gratia pension payments, can they give some commitment towards maintaining an open view on the possibility of making some move in the area of paying redundancy money to those who had many years service with the company? Perhaps my question relates to the first part of Deputy Doyle's supplementary.

It seems that the question of redundancy is not being dealt with so far as this question is concerned.

I can confirm that what is involved is a topping up of the pensions on an ongoing basis, the same as applied when the pensions were being paid by Irish Shipping. Regarding the reference to a moral obligation on the part of the Government, both the Minister on many occasions, and myself when answering on his behalf on another occasion, reiterated the concern of the Government in that area and the search for ways of surmounting the problem. The Minister has succeeded in resolving the matter satisfactorily.

How many ex-employees of the company are in receipt of this topping up pension?

I understand that the number in the first category, the World War II pensioners, totals 23 and that we have now brought in 25 more.

The number was 25 in the first instance.

How much will all this cost per year?

The amount in respect of redundancy would be £500,000.

I do not have the figure in that regard. Perhaps Deputy Wilson was right when he said there are 25 pensioners who had World War II service and that 23 is the number who have been included now.

This must be the final supplementary on this question.

We are talking about 48 ex-employees or one-tenth of the total workforce. What is the position regarding those employees who had made contributions but who are not included in this 48 in regard to pension fund payments?

I regret that I do not have the details in that regard but I will communicate further with the Deputy on the matter.