Other Questions. - Pension Provisions.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

107 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will respond positively to the concerns raised by the Self Employed Pension Association in relation to the prohibition on self-employed people born before 1932 being allowed to pay the necessary contributions required for a contributory pension when they reached 66 years. [20458/00]

One of the commitments made prior to the 1997 general election was to address the issue of people who narrowly failed to qualify for a pension. The group referred to by the Deputy was marginally excluded from entitlement to an old age contributory pension as those involved were aged 56 or over when compulsory social insurance was extended to the self-employed in April 1988. These people could not, therefore, satisfy the governing qualifying condition of having entered insurance at least ten years before pension age.

In delivering our commitment, I examined various options in arriving at a formula that would address the specific problem faced by this group of pensioners. Of these, I considered that a flat rate payment of a special old age contributory pension was the most equitable and practical way of addressing the situation, taking account of all the circumstances.

Since April 1999, a special old age contributory pension has been available to those self-employed people who were aged 56 or over in April 1988 and who have at least five years contributions paid since then. Payment is at a flat rate of 50% of the standard maximum rate with equivalent increases for adult and child dependants, where applicable.

It is important to stress that this special arrangement represents a positive and reasonable response to the situation in which this group of people found themselves. The rationale behind the five year paid contribution condition is to ensure that entitlement to a pension is limited to those who have made a reasonable level of contributions to the social insurance fund during the course of their careers. I consider this threshold to be eminently fair, reflecting as it does a certain consistency of commitment to the social Insurance fund.

With regard to the specific question asked by the Deputy, there is no provision within the social welfare system for retrospective payment of contributions to achieve entitlement to a contributory pension and I have no plans to change these arrangements.

I am disappointed at being effectively gagged by the Ceann Comhairle under rule 34 from discussing inflation, on which Deputy Fitzgerald and I had tabled a number of questions. We are not allowed to raise what effectively is the most important crisis facing this Minister. We will have an opportunity to question him only once more before the budget.

Deputy Broughan, you will be aware that this is the subject of a debate tonight and tomorrow night.

I am aware of that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

In accordance with long standing practice the Ceann Comhairle had no alternative but to rule out your questions.

It is related also to the fact that since last Thursday I am working out of a building site without a hard hat.

That has nothing to do with the issue.

I am falling over cables. We have got no glass in windows, etc.

We are on Question No. 107. If the Deputy wishes to deal with this question I suggest he—

This is the most important issue that faces poor people and you are effectively gagging me and not allowing me to discuss it with the Minister responsible, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs. It is an outrageous state of affairs.

Deputy Broughan, I would point out to you once again that the Ceann Comhairle ruled out your question in accordance with long established practice. Because of a debate tonight and tomorrow night in Private Members' time your question on inflation was not allowed. That is in accordance with long-established practice in the House. You are being disorderly now, given that we are discussing Question No. 107. If you have a supplementary question to the Minister you may ask it now, if not we shall move on to Question No. 108.

This shows the need for Dáil reform given that we cannot ask a question on inflation during social welfare questions.

It is the most important question of the day for the Minister responsible.

It is a key issue in social welfare and the Deputy is not allowed to raise it by way of oral question here today. I support Deputy Broughan in this matter.

Is the Minister prepared to again meet the Self Employed Pension Association? Many of our senior citizens who were born before 1932 are deeply affected by the situation. We accept that a reasonable number of stamps and contributions are necessary but there is a small group who feel hard done by as a result of the Social Welfare Act, 1988. Will the Minister look again at what the cost might be and give some relief to that group of senior citizens who were born in 1932 or before?

Lest my silence on the issue of inflation be taken as unwillingness to answer the question, I was more than willing to answer the question today but I do not make the decision on whether questions are taken. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has pointed out, those who framed the Private Members' motion should have thought about their ability to ask questions when putting down that motion. It is quite clear what attitude the Ceann Comahirle would have adopted to it. I will find out the cost for the Deputy but it will not include those people with less than five years contributions. However, I would not want that to be taken as an indication that I will not do anything about it. The Deputy will be aware that when his party was in Government, Deputy De Rossa was Minister and refused quite blankly to break the principle of the ten years.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): The Celtic tiger is roaring.

When I announced a change in the rules for those people with less than ten years contributions he expressed absolute disbelief because as far as he was concerned that principle of the ten years should not have been broken. Because of advice received I have made a decision, given that we have made a commitment to facilitate those people, and that there were people who lost out when brought into self employment in 1988 because they were of a certain age and could not qualify. I made it clear that no matter where one draws the line, whether at nine years, eight years – ultimately we chose five – there would be people at the wrong side of it. Deputy O'Keeffe and others had examples, as I had, of people who were ineligible by two days and one day. It was clear that no matter where we drew the line there would be people—

They still only got half.

This Government delivered on the over 56 issues. No other Government did.

Only under pressure.

We stand on our record.

It was Deputy Jim O'Keeffe who forced the Government into that.

It was not. He might have claimed credit.

Allow Deputy Browne to speak without interruption.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe was in Government when it was a live issue and did nothing about it.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): It is not easy to get a word in here.

He was not in Government. It did not kick in until 1998.

He was a member of a Government party who—

I would prefer if the Minister did not respond to questions arising from interruptions.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Has the Minister got the figures for those who paid four years', three years', two years' and one year's contributions in his file?

That would be impossible to get. Even for those over 56, those people with between five years' and ten years' contributions, it is a matter of asking people to apply because of the numbers. We estimated but I cannot recall the figure. The reality is that there has been a tremendous response. One as late as yesterday was from a man who did national service during the emergency and went into the Army and had paid no stamps. He qualifies. This decision has had a number of effects which even the Department did not visualise. The vast majority of those who qualify under the change I made are women. It is helping women who had stamps pre-1953.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): A woman constituent of mine has four years' stamps paid. I do not think it should be difficult for the Department to know how many people have four years' contributions made. Why should it be? If they can be turned down—

Because most of them are pre-1953 it is not on computer. It is not a matter of pushing a switch. It is all on file and it would be a matter of individuals coming forward.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): The Minister is broadcasting non-stop. This woman has paid four years' stamps. She worked in the home as well as on the farm. Why can she not get credit for even one lousy year? She is 73 years of age. Given that the Minister was beating his heart a while ago that he was so generous in comparison with this side of the House, let this be a test of his generous heart and consider those who have paid four years' stamps in the forthcoming budget.

It is stretching the imagination in relation to people making contributions to the social insurance fund that they would be entitled to even a half rate pension for a basic four years' payment. All the advice to me was that once one starts to change the ten year principle there will always be somebody who will lose out. The fairest proposal is to take account of contributions for five years. That was a significant change and one that no other Government contemplated.

It only arose—

Deputy De Rossa in opposition was apoplectic.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): They should not have been made to pay originally.

They could not believe it when Deputy Ned O'Keeffe announced it on "Saturday View" one day. He actually contacted my Department immediately afterwards for the statement to be approved.

I am calling Question No. 108.