State Pension Age: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— in five weeks’ time the pension age is due to increase to 67 years of age on 1st January, 2021;

— legislation needed to stop the pension age increasing to 67 in January has not been published or introduced to the House;

— every worker in the State makes a considerable tax contribution throughout their working life and should have the right to retire at 65;

— some workers want to retire at 65, while others want to remain at work, where they are able and willing to do so;

— numerous employment contracts stipulate an end of employment date in line with when an employee turns 65;

— since the abolition of the State Pension Transition payment, thousands of 65-year olds have had to sign on for a Jobseeker’s payment;

— there are now over 4,000 65-year olds in receipt of either Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit;

— there is a difference of €45.30 between the Jobseeker payments and the State Pension leading to an annual loss of €2,355.60; and

— the pension age is scheduled in legislation to increase to 67 years in 2021, and 68 years in 2028; and

calls on the Government to:

— restore the State Pension Transition payment for those retiring at 65 years of age;

— abolish mandatory retirement (with exceptions for security-related employment) to give workers the choice to work or retire so long as they are fit to do so;

— make provision for those who remain at work beyond 65 to have their Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions counted towards their State Pension; and

— immediately introduce legislation to remove the pension age increase to 67 years and the further increases.”

I will make the Sinn Féin position very clear for the avoidance of any doubt. We want to see workers have the right to retire at 65 with their State pension, the pension for which they have worked all of their lives. It is not good enough to defer or postpone the rise in the pension age. I am glad the Minister has repealed this measure and that she has listened to an Teachta Kerrane and the Stop67 campaign. Workers deserve better than to be told that they must go on the dole, although they do not have to seek work, which is what the Minister has tried to tell them. That is the dole queue by another name and the Minister knows it. Sending people who have worked hard for all of their lives to the dole queue is not right. It is unfair and it is wrong.

If I were a Minister, I would ensure that workers would have the right to retire with their State pension at the age of 65. I have spent the vast majority of my working life defending workers and their rights. I came to the Dáil to continue that work. I sometimes wonder how connected to the real world this Government actually is. It does not seem to understand what it is like to have to work all day on one's feet or in a manual job before coming home from work physically exhausted. It does not seem to understand the dignity the old age pension gives people who have worked all their lives. These people can now say, that is it, their shift is done, they are going to get the pension they have earned and enjoy the time they have left because they are finished working and finished with any prospect of being unemployed. They have retired. That is why this motion is so important.

The pension age was one of the biggest issues in the last election in February. Voters across the State expressed their opposition to the increase in the pension age throughout the election campaign, so much so that they forced Fine Gael into a U-turn. I welcome the publication of the legislation, which was clearly a response to this motion. I welcome the repeal of the rise in the pension age to 67 and I commend the work of an Teachta Kerrane and the Stop67 campaign.

Workers make a considerable tax and PRSI contribution throughout their working lives. They should have the right to retire at 65. Some workers will not take that opportunity to retire. Some will want to remain at work because they are able and willing to do so. These workers should be allowed to keep working. The mandatory retirement age should be abolished so that workers would have the choice to work or retire as they wish.

Take, for example, plasterers, carpenters, cleaners, waitresses or barmen who have worked their whole lives. Their bodies are ready to retire at 65. They have been on their feet for all of their working lives. Their bodies have been through enough. This is the fundamental point of this debate. It is about the right to finish working after a lifetime of work.

At 65, one is finished working. One is not unemployed. In February, I spoke to workers on the doors in Fingal. They did not feel able to continue working but did not want to be sent to the dole queue or any queue like it. I spoke to a builder in Balbriggan. The conversation I had with him has stayed with me. I was thinking about him tonight while writing down a few notes before this debate. He was 64 and said that he was tired. He did not feel able to work to 66, much less 67. He should not have to draw on the dole or anything like it. This man has since turned 65 and has finished working. He has had to sign on. He paid every shilling, penny and cent he was supposed to. As my mother always says, workers of her generation paid tax when tax was tax. The Government is now saying thanks to them for everything they have done but telling them that, although they helped the State and worked hard all their lives, the State is not going to help them now. It is asking them to sign on for the next two years.

If people like this man want to retire at 65, they should be entitled to their pensions. They have earned that right. Sending people who have worked hard all of their lives to a dole queue at 65 is wrong and unfair. Unfortunately, due to pension changes over recent years, there are now more than 4,000 65-year-olds in receipt of jobseeker's allowance or benefit. These workers are retired, not unemployed. Telling them that it is okay because they will be given the dole, although it will not be called that, is not right. There is a difference of €45.30 per week between these payments. That is a hell of a lot of money. The Minister knows what the right thing to do is. Workers will not be fooled. They want the pension they have earned and the right to retire at 65. Giving it to them is the right thing to do.

The Minister will know well that there is not a country in the world that moves retiring workers onto a jobseeker's payment and which treats them as someone who is unemployed. Since 2014, more than 35,000 65-year-olds have been forced onto a jobseeker's payment at retirement. Not only did Fine Gael and the Labour Party abolish the State pension transition payment provided to 65-year-olds at retirement, but they also announced increases to the pension age. These increases go further and faster than equivalent increases in any other country of the EU, despite Ireland having the youngest population in Europe. Let us not pretend that these pension age increases were about ensuring the State pension remained sustainable or ensuring that we were protected against demographic changes. They were part of a deal done with the troika to save a few pounds. This deal told workers approaching retirement age that they could not continue at work because their contracts did not allow them to while access to the State pension into which they had paid for decades was cut. It was taken away and they were told that they should instead join the dole queue and seek new employment at 65 years of age.

A number of commitments on pensions were made in the programme for Government. I have read them many times. They might make it look as though the Government is actually doing something, but it is not. An example of this is its commitment to replace the jobseeker's payment for 65-year-olds with what it refers to as an early retirement allowance. This makes it sound almost as if the Government is doing people a favour when, in fact, it is nothing more than a name change. This allowance will be paid at the same rate as jobseeker's allowance.

This same commitment refers to the removal of the requirement for people to partake in job activation measures, a requirement that simply does not exist. Once a person turns 62, they are no longer required to partake in job activation schemes. In recent months, Fianna Fáil Deputies have been submitting questions asking where the State pension transition payment is. It is not coming. Despite being a commitment in Fianna Fáil's election manifesto just a few months ago, it has fallen by the wayside to be replaced by the promise of a name change.

In preparing for this debate earlier I was reminded of my parent's generation, including those who are seven or eight years off pension age. My father began working at 15 years of age for a local butcher. His parents thought he was in school until his father spotted him at the butcher counter one day. When he reaches 65 years of age he will have worked for 50 years. There are thousands more like him. Yet, in not one part of the Minister's long-winded amendment to the motion does she acknowledge that contribution of a lifetime of work. Some of those affected went out to work when they were only teenagers. They paid their taxes with the promise of a pension at 65 years only to have the rug pulled from under them. People from that generation do not now have the security or certainty they had once of a pension at 65 years, or of knowing that they would get the pension at 65. In fact, after a lifetime of work that certainty no longer exists. The pension age might be 66, 67 or 68 years.

Restoring the State pension transition at 65 years is the right thing to do. Failing to support the motion is to say to 65 year olds that their place is on jobseeker's support after retirement. My party and I believe that 65 year olds who have made such a contribution to our society and communities deserve far better when they hit retirement at 65 years of age.

I thank my colleagues, Teachtaí O'Reilly and Kerrane, for bringing this motion to the House. In 2011 in their first year in coalition Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party legislated for the phased increase in the age at which people could access the State pension. The age was increased to 66 years from 2014. It was planned to rise to 67 years from 1 January 2021 and to 68 years from 1 January 2028. This cannot be allowed to happen. We now have a Pauline conversion by the Labour Party, which seems to be opposed to the Government policy that it was happy to implement in 2011.

The 30,000 people who have reached 65 years of age this year must now apply for jobseeker's benefit before they can access the State pension. This is a payment available to people who are unemployed but have a consistent PRSI record. I have been assisting many people in recent months whose work record pre-1979 is incomplete through no fault of their own. This needs to be addressed urgently. To qualify for jobseeker's benefit, a person must be capable of work, available for work and genuinely seeking work. This is now what most people retiring are expected to have to do. If people wish to work, even part-time, while in receipt of the pension, they are allowed. With jobseeker's benefit, this is not an option. The maximum weekly payment under jobseeker's benefit is €203. That only lasts for nine months. After that, the payment is means-tested and with the State pension a person can receive up to €248 per week. The difference between jobseeker's benefit and the State pension is €45 per week or more than €2,300 per year. By not being able to access the State pension, a retiree is losing almost one fifth of the income he or she could expect to get. This is a great deal of money when a person is 65 years and struggling to make ends meet.

If a person retiring has an adult dependant, it gets worse. The maximum allowed for a dependant under jobseeker's benefit is €134. With the State pension it is €165. That rises to €222 if the dependant is 66 years of age or over.

Many people have worked all their lives without needing to rely on welfare. They do not see why they should be forced onto the dole and, frankly, I do not either since they have paid PRSI all their lives. I appeal to all Deputies to support this motion so that our older people can get what they deserve when they retire.

I commend my party colleagues, Deputies Louise O'Reilly and Claire Kerrane, on submitting this important motion which I am delighted to support.

The issue of increasing the pension age energised people during the election campaign in February and that energy is still evident. Raising the pension age affects thousands every year. This number will continue to increase if it is not rectified. First, mandatory retirement at 65 years, except perhaps in some security-related employment, should be abolished. Everyone should be allowed to choose to continue working, if willing and able, past 65 years of age or, alternatively, people should be allowed to retire at 65 but with a pension. I am calling for the restoration of the State pension transition payment. No one should be forced to claim jobseeker's benefit after years of hard work. Older people in our society who have given so much over the years deserve better. They have worked hard and paid their taxes. They have had a particularly hard year this year. Older people were hardest hit by Covid-19. They were also discriminated against since employees and the self-employed over the age of 66 were not allowed claim the pandemic unemployment payment.

The plan to increase the pension age to 67 years may have been deferred but the Commission on Pensions that has been established to look at this issue does not have the confidence of the people affected by this since they are not represented on the commission. The commission should include people with the lived experience of being forced to retire without the security of a pension.

I want to refer specifically to carers and the need to find a pension solution that recognises their valuable work. Many carers, the majority of whom are women, most often fall into a pension gap. They do not qualify for the contributory State pension as most gave up work to care for a loved one and do not have the necessary credits. They do not qualify for a non-contributory State pension as they will be means tested and often, due to a partner's income or land, if living on a family farm, they will not receive it. After years of caring they are then told at pension age they do not qualify for a pension. This is an insult and is most hurtful.

The total contributions approach due to come into effect next year is welcome and will see the introduction of up to 20 years of credits for caregiving, but it is only granted to those who have accumulated 520 paid contributions. A person who has perhaps given up a job to care for a child with a disability or an illness may not have 520 paid contributions. I am calling for the issues around carers and access to a State pension be examined and rectified. I am calling for the pension age not to be increased to 67 years and the State pension transition payment to be restored.

This year, during the election, I met a man who told me that he had his first job when he was 14 years old. After working for 51 years, the Government put him on the dole, or the exchange as he called it. After 51 years of work, that was what the Government did to him. He was angry. He said the lack of respect shown to him demonstrated that all his years of service, his work and his contribution to his family and the State were not appreciated.

When people reach the age of 65, they want the choice to be able to retire if they wish. After working all their lives, people should have the right to retire at 65. They should be shown the respect they deserve. It really goes to show how out-of-touch the last Government was and this Government is. The Government does not understand what it means to ordinary people to have that right to retire at 65. How dare the Government take that away from people after all their years. These people have contributed. They have worked hard, many of them in hard manual jobs. This shows the broken promises of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party after the election. It shows how, at the first opportunity, they turned their backs on the promises made. They are selling out workers' rights. There is no problem finding money for their pay increases, but when it comes to other people, workers and those who want to retire at 65 years, the money cannot be found.

I do not believe it is right for a person to have to join the dole queue at 65 years and I hope the Minister and the Government feel the same way. What they have created is an us-versus-them situation where cronyism and politics do not respect ordinary people and families. People came out and voted for change this year. They wanted change because they were sick and tired of watching out-of-touch politicians make decisions that hurt ordinary people and families. I wish to support my colleagues. We are asking that everyone should have the right to retire at 65.

I commend my colleagues, Deputies Louise O'Reilly and Claire Keranne, on bringing forward this important motion. Throughout people's working lives, they knew the pension age always to be 65 years.

More than that, people were mentally geared up to retire at 65. The social contract which the State had with its citizens was broken by the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government when it brought into law increases in the pension age to 66 in 2014, to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028. It was a cruel twist of the knife in the backs of those who had worked all their lives, paid their taxes and followed the rules, only to be shafted in their autumn years. We see now that this law crafted by a Labour Party Minister is being stopped in its tracks, but only temporarily. We must now restore the broken social contract and remove the cruel unfairness from the future of our senior citizens.

When the pension age was first moved from 65 years old to 66, it was claimed that this was for budgetary reasons and financial hard times. Public service sector pay was also impacted at this time. Despite improvements in the economy, however, there was no talk of changing the pension age back to 65. Not only that, but it happened at the time when the Government also raided the private pension fund, which brought about a double whammy against older people who had worked all their lives trying to save for retirement. The Government put its hands in people's savings. One constituent wrote to me to say a massive lack of respect had been shown to people who had stayed at home and helped to build the economy through the bad economic times. It must be remembered that during the 1980s there were high incomes taxes and that during the crash of 2008 people like me were requested to take pay cuts, the universal social charge, USC, was introduced and part of our private pension fund was raided.

The reality is that our pension age of 66 is two years above the EU average of 64, despite us having nearly 30% fewer older people than other EU countries. In 2016, we spent 8% of our national income on public pensions, and this is to rise by less than 3% over the next 50 years, with us spending less on public pensions than most eurozone countries. Several months ago, an older man in my estate in Mervue in Galway city told me he had been working since he was 16 years old. He told me was in his 60s now, having worked all his life and he was being told, as he put it, by politicians in comfortable seats that he would have to continue to work for a few more years or go on to jobseeker's allowance. That man told me that had been running up and down ladders and doing hard physical labour. He had enjoyed it, made great friends and achieved a comfortable life for his family, but he said that he could not keep doing that now, because that level of physical labour takes its toll. The Minister is now asking that man to go on the jobseeker's allowance.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes that:

— the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’ has committed to maintaining the State Pension as the bedrock of the Irish pension system;

— this includes a commitment to establish a Commission on Pensions and pending the report of that Commission to maintain the State Pension age at 66;

— the Government has already established this Commission on Pensions;

— the Commission on Pensions has already conducted its first meeting, its second is scheduled for tomorrow the 2nd December, its third is scheduled for later this month and it will meet approximately every fortnight in the new year until it concludes its work;

— the Government has approved the Social Welfare Bill 2020, which in addition to giving legislative effect to a range of social welfare measures announced in Budget 2021 on 13th October, 2020, includes specific provisions to repeal increases in the State Pension age ensuring that it will remain at 66 pending the report of the Commission on Pensions and consideration of that report by Government;

— the Social Welfare Bill 2020 was published on 24th November, 2020;

— as set out in that Bill the Government is also repealing the planned increase from 67 to 68 which is scheduled to happen on 1st January, 2028, thus ensuring that the Commission on Pensions can consider matters in relation to the State Pension age unfettered by any prospective changes;

— the Government has noted the Minister for Social Protection’s proposal to sign regulations to formally remove the requirement for 65-year olds to be actively seeking work and to ‘sign on’, formalising an administrative arrangement which has already been in place for some time;

— persons aged 65 or over who retire and qualify for a Jobseeker’s Benefit payment may retain that payment in full until they reach the State Pension age of 66 assuming they don’t return to work;

— the payment rate of €203 is in fact higher than the rate available for the full State Pension in other jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland where the state pension age has been increased from 65 to 66;

— the Terms of Reference of the Commission on Pensions includes consideration of a range of pensions matters including sustainability, eligibility and cross generational equity issues, and consideration of options for the Government to address issues including qualifying age, contribution rates, total contributions and eligibility requirements;

— in addition, the Commission on Pensions will consider the issue of retirement ages specified in employment contracts that are below the State Pension age, including where contracts stipulate a retirement age of 65;

— section 34(4) of the Employment Equality Act 1998 (as amended) already provides that an employer has to prove a contractual retirement age that is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary, with recourse for employees to the Workplace Relations Commission in the event of breaches;

— to assist employers and employees in this regard and in respect of retirement ages, the Workplace Relations Commission has produced a Code of Practice on Longer Working, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has published guidance material for employers on the use of fixed-term contracts beyond normal retirement age; and

— the rate for the State Pension (Contributory) in Ireland compares very favourably with neighbouring jurisdictions where pension rates are significantly lower.”

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the State pension age. I am proposing this amendment, because the simple fact is that Sinn Féin has put down a motion calling for legislation to stop the increase in the State pension age to 67 when the Government has already approved and published legislation to do just that. It was done last week. As part of the Social Welfare Bill, which will come before the Houses next week, the pension age will be kept at 66 and the planned increases in the age, to 67 in January 2021 and to 68 in January 2028, will both be repealed. This will allow the Commission on Pensions, recently established by Government, to do its work and produce its recommendations independently.

From an adequacy point of view, the Irish State pension is excellent at protecting pensioners from poverty. Pension rates in Ireland compare favourably with other jurisdictions. For example, the contributory State pension here is more than €248. In Northern Ireland, it is considerably less, at £175 or about €195. In any discussion on pensions, we must look at one simple, inescapable fact - people are living longer. In 1971, the average life expectancy was 71, but by 2016 that had risen to 81. A person who reached 65 years of age in 1971 could expect to live to age 77, but in 2016 that has, thankfully, increased to about 84. It is hugely welcome of course that people are living longer, healthier lives, but it presents its own challenges. In 1997, spending on pensions was €1.7 billion. By 2010, this had increased to €5.8 billion, and by 2019, the cost had increased to more than €8.2 billion.

This expenditure increase is due in no small part to the ongoing increase in the number of pensioners. Approximately 743,000 people over 66 are expected to benefit from State pension payments next year. This is an increase of more than 150,000 people in ten years. As a result, spending on pensions accounts for about 26% of all income tax and PRSI receipts. About 40% of the total social welfare budget is spent on pensions, up from 28% in 2010. Whether we like it or not, this has obvious implications for the ability of the State to not only fund pensions but also to allocate resources to other priorities. It also has implications for inter-generational equity and fairness.

The Social Insurance Fund, SIF, operates on a pay-as-you-go basis, with today's pensions being funded not by past contributions but by the current contributions of today's workers. What this means, and what is often overlooked, is that the group in society which will be most impacted by the decisions which must be taken regarding the future structure of the State pension are not, in fact, current pensioners, or those approaching pension age, but the younger workers and students of today. For the sake of future pensioners and workers, we must strive to ensure the long-term sustainability of the pension system so that today's workers will be able to avail of an adequate pension when their time comes to retire. I was also a PAYE worker all my life before I entered politics and Dáil Éireann. As a working woman and a member of a trade union, I also understand the difficulties workers face. No party has a monopoly on the understanding of workers and the issues they face today.

The Commission on Pensions has been asked to examine a range of issues, including the State pension age, eligibility conditions and payment and contribution rates. The commission will also consider the issue of retirement ages, specified in employment contracts, which are below the State pension age and how the pension system can provide adequate cover for carers. It has been tasked with producing its report by June of 2021. The membership of the commission has been carefully chosen so that it can address these questions with an open mind and with the expertise and experience necessary to meet this deadline. Its members are drawn from trade union and employer bodies, civil society, academia and those with technical and policy expertise.

The Government was also keen to ensure that the commission had strong female representation in its membership, and I am pleased that the majority of members - six out of 11 - are women, including a female chairperson. I am confident, therefore, that the commission is well equipped to grasp the potential impacts of any pension reform options on affected groups, such as women, workers, and older people. In addition, and in order to give other interested parties an opportunity to contribute to the process, I have asked the commission to seek submissions from stakeholders and representative groups.

In addition to repealing the increase in the pension age, I will also shortly be introducing regulations which will formally remove the current requirements for people aged 65 and over to sign-on, participate in activation programmes or give an undertaking that they are genuinely seeking work. The idea, therefore, that any 65 year old will have to stand in a dole queue is absolute nonsense. I am formalising an administrative practice which has already been in place for some time. While the payment rate of €203 for 65 year olds is less than the full contributory pension rate, it is worth bearing in mind that a 65 year old receiving €203 per week here is still better off than any pensioner in Northern Ireland.

I assure the Deputies that the fundamental objective of Government pension policy is to ensure that pensions remain affordable, sustainable and retain their value into the future.

We want to maintain a fair balance between those who are contributing to the system and those who are drawing from it. The need to protect current as well as future pensioners, while at the same time protecting the most vulnerable pensioners, will remain at the forefront of any reforms in this area.

Rather than allow the Commission on Pensions the time and space in which to do its work, Sinn Féin has sought to politicise the pensions issue. The pension age was never 65. There is no mandatory retirement age. Retirement is a matter for individual contracts between employers and employees. This motion is another example of Sinn Féin saying one thing in this House while doing the exact opposite in Northern Ireland. I have asked the Deputies who spoke so passionately earlier if they had relayed those same comments and concerns to their colleagues in Northern Ireland. I do not believe their colleagues are listening in Northern Ireland where Sinn Féin is in government and where the state pension age has recently been increased from 65 to 66. Maybe before coming in here, the Sinn Féin Deputies should speak to Michelle O'Neill or Conor Murphy. While they are at it they can ask them if they have any plans to increase the pension in the North. The fact is that the maximum rate of pension available in Northern Ireland equates to about €195. As I have said, that compares with a contributory pension in the State of more than €248.

I am pleased to say that the Social Welfare Bill, which we will debate next week, also provides for an increase in the living alone allowance by €5 per week at a cost of more than €57 million per year, and in the fuel allowance by €3.50 per week at a cost of €36.8 million annually. These are all measures that will improve the welfare of pensioners and, in particular, those who live alone.

I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. This Government is supporting our older people and our actions clearly demonstrate that. I ask Sinn Féin to reflect on the adequacy of the supports they are providing for older people in Northern Ireland. I hear it regularly from people in Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone when they say to me that pensioners are far better off south of the Border and I have to say to them that I agree with them.

We look forward to-----

Sinn Féin would be better served working constructively to improve the conditions of those people rather than tabling motions on issues that this Government is already dealing with comprehensively.

I am not going to engage in some of the Minister's shenanigans here this evening. Maybe if her party was to start to run candidates in the North and maybe if she talked to her friends in her sister party, the British Tory Party, that is where the Minister will find some of the answers to the questions she has posed here this evening.

That is right.

There are now more than 4,000 people aged 65 in receipt of a jobseeker's payment. Many of those people were obliged by contract to retire at the age of 65. They are forced onto a jobseeker's payment for one year before their State pension is assessed at the age of 66. If the Minister's planned hike proceeds in January, retirees will be forced onto a jobseeker's payment for two years. This is a ridiculous and totally unacceptable situation for people who have worked hard and paid taxes for their entire lives. Retirement should be about choices. People should be entitled to the full State pension at the age of 65. People should also have the choice to continue to work if they wish to do so.

In 2016 I brought forward legislation to abolish the mandatory retirement age but the Minister's Government blocked that legislation. The pension age was one of the biggest issues in the election in February. Voters expressed their opposition to the pension age increase through their support for Sinn Féin and other parties who had opposed these increases in the previous years. We did not politicise the issue of pensions. That issue has long been politicised.

The facts are that the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government of 2007 and the Government in 2011 made a decision with their friends in the troika to increase the pension age to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. The subsequent Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition put this into law in 2011. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supported the increase in the State pension age and the parties were left scrambling on the issue during the election. As a result of how big an issue it has become, they have tried to kick it down the road with the establishment of the Commission on Pensions. For its part, the commission omits including any representative from civil society, thereby excluding the very people who will be most impacted by any decision made by the commission.

Ireland's current pension age of 66 years is above the EU average of 64. We have 30% fewer older people in Ireland than in other EU countries. In 50 years' time, Ireland will still have the lowest number of older people at nearly 20% fewer than in other EU countries.

I agree with the Minister on one point, that actions speak louder than words. It is time to take action, to stop forcing people to work for longer and to give them the right to retire at the age of 65.

The Minister expressed mild concern about how hard done by the people in the North are. If her expressions of concern are genuine she might join us and support our call for a referendum on Irish unity to bring about the unification of our country. Then we can have an all-island approach to the pension age and pension rates.

As we all know, this was a major issue in the election last February. People made it very clear how they felt about their right to retire at 65. My constituency office was inundated with calls and emails on the issue. There was significant union support for our proposals. Our position remains the same. People who have worked and paid taxes all their lives deserve the option of drawing down their pension at the age of 65. Some people will choose to remain in work, but we want to ensure that those who wish to retire at the age of 65 can do so. This is so important for those who have worked in hard, physical jobs for decades. It is also important for the worker who wants to retire and enjoy time with his or her family and friends while he or she is still in good health.

The Government's policy of having people sign on the dole for a year when they reach the age of 65 is, frankly, insulting and demeaning. It has to stop. Deputies can retire and draw down their pensions at the age of 50, so it is quite unbelievable that people in the Minister's Government, with those terms and conditions, seek to ensure that others cannot receive a pension until they are 66, 67 or perhaps even 68. Government Deputies and Ministers are happy to have one rule for themselves and another rule for everybody else. They have no respect for working people who look forward to their retirement at the age of 65, in particular those in physical jobs. The Minister wants to make their working lives even longer without giving them any options around their own lives and their own pensions. This is nothing other than a political decision. The Minister's Government and the parties involved need to stop flip-flopping and changing their minds. The Minister needs to stop referring the issue on to commissions and kicking this down the road.

Rather than keeping the retirement age at 66, I ask that the Minister brings it back down to 65 by way of the transition pension. We know what people want as does the Minister. We choose to act on what people want while the Minister chooses to ignore it. People made it crystal clear during and after the election that they want to be able to choose when they retire. That choice includes drawing down a State pension at the age of 65. Sinn Féin in government would do precisely that. If the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will not listen to the people, we certainly will.

The vast majority of people at the age of 64 and 65 are not going to get another job. Earlier today I talked to Tommy Nolan from Pearse Street who said his heart was broken from applying for jobs. It is demoralising for him. He knows he is being rejected for jobs because he is 64 years of age. At a time when citizens should be able to take the foot off the gas, this Government wants them to sign on the dole.

It is a charade and the Government is forcing older people to take part in it. To make matters worse, the Government wants them to take part in it for less money than they would get in their pensions. Talk about rubbing salt in their wounds. If people want to retire at 65 or 66 then that should be their choice and they should be allowed take into consideration their physical and mental health and family circumstances. They must also have the choice to work on if they wish.

Dr. Tony Fahey, professor of social policy at UCD, raised the issue of home ownership and pension poverty in November 2018. He wrote:

Householders aged 25-34 had a high level of home ownership for their age in 1991 (69%), but today that proportion has fallen to just 30% ... [Among] those aged 35-44, home ownership has fallen from 82% in 1991 to 62% today. If this growth in private rentals continues in its current form [which it has since Dr. Fahey wrote this], it is likely to cause many young adults to be worse off than their parents as far as housing is concerned.

He also made the point that the social welfare system in Ireland is based on the assumption that pensioners do not have to pay rent and do not have significant mortgage repayments. Bearing in mind Dr. Fahey's comments two years ago and the current generation not being able to purchase houses or purchasing them later in life, these people will have to pay rent or mortgages out of their pensions, something the current crop of pensioners does not have to do.

At the very core of this issue is choice. The Government had the choice to listen to the people in February when they made the retirement age an election issue. The Government chose to ignore them and chose to bulldoze ahead with a proposal to raise the pension age, right up to the eleventh hour. It chose to try to placate the public by kicking this issue down the road, a move that is swiftly becoming a recurring theme with this Government. The people who need and deserve choice are the workers, who have not only survived three recessions but worked damn hard to do so. These are the same people who sacrificed and lost the most when errors were made in this House, who rebuilt this country and were repeatedly critical to our social and economic recovery. Some of them are tired and they have earned the right to rest. However, the Minister and her partners in government are saying that they have not. They are saying that 47 years on a building site, 47 years of setting an alarm for ridiculous o'clock to work for ten hours a day in harsh conditions, is simply not enough. I mean no disrespect to the Minister personally, or to anybody in this House, but the only people who could have made this decision are ones who earn their money by sitting at a desk, because they certainly have never worked on a building site. As legislators, we need to be very careful of the rhetoric and terminology we use. Anybody listening here tonight would be forgiven for thinking that the Government, and the Department of Social Protection in particular, is burdened with looking after these workers. It is not. They have paid into their pensions and they are simply demanding they are given to them.

I welcome the Sinn Féin motion before us tonight and the fact that we are debating this issue. It is probably the first time we have been able to hear from the Minister formally on the establishment of the pensions commission, outside of the normal parliamentary questions process. I welcome her clarification on the income supports for people retiring at age 65 and I welcome her statement that she will be introducing regulations to formally remove the current requirements for people aged 65 and over to sign on.

Everybody involved in the Stop67 campaign made a strong impression on all of us during the election campaign through their own stories. I would go so far as to say that that campaign has been quite influential in bringing about an outcome that ensures people do not have to face the ignominy of appearing before a social protection office when they have 35, 40, or 50 years of labour under their belts. That will be finally and formally be done away with now. I put great store in the fact that the Stop67 campaign had a big influence or impact on that decision.

I stand before the House as someone who was a member of the Government when the decision was made on the State pension transition payment. I am deeply regretful about that decision. I heard from people after that, the very people about whom we are talking tonight, who had put such time and effort into their life's labour and had to suffer indignity at the end of their working lives. That is something I will always regret. The decision was made at a time when there was economic retrenchment but it now has to be reversed. As Deputies, we deal with social protection issues every day of the week and have an intimate knowledge of the workings of the social protection architecture. We must ensure that the State pension transition is restored because the certainty it gives would mean much to people at the end of their working lives. I do not say that seeking to score political points. I say it because we hear from people about this, day in, day out, and we all bought into the Stop67 campaign and heard what those people had to say. The system worked very well for people, by and large. I do not see why it could not be restored or at least looked at.

I welcome the establishment of the pensions commission. I do not necessarily see it as kicking the can down the line. I welcome it primarily because of how it is constituted. There are members on that committee from the trade union movement, as well as former civil servants and so on, who are robust people. I do not want to speak to gender per se, but they are all decent people, men and women. I have no doubt that they will be cognisant of the issue of gender as it relates to low-paid working women in this country, about whom we all know. I could give chapter and verse of examples of low-paid workers but I am not going to do that tonight. We all deal with this issue. Sometimes people come into this House and articulate examples but we all deal with this across the House, no matter who we are. We must be conscious, through the pensions commission, of the issue of gender and set up a system whereby women, particularly those in labour-intensive jobs or precarious employment, who come to the end of their working lives do not have to go through another firewall or have to knock down another door to get to that restful period, to which everybody expects to get when they retire from their years or decades of labour.

The pensions commission will hopefully come up with a set of recommendations that speak to flexibility and the issue of people who work in labour-intensive or extremely stressful jobs. I think of front-line workers, nurses and doctors in the current climate. If these people have done so many years' work and are retiring well in advance of 65, a framework should be set up to protect them in order that they do not lose their entitlements. We need a system that reflects the new paradigm in Irish society. There is a pensions time bomb but we also need to allow for flexibility, in order to reflect the new realities of people's working lives. If the pensions commission deals with that it will have done a good day's work, but only if the Minister of the day does not put its recommendations up on a shelf to gather dust. Nobody wants that and that is not what anybody is suggesting. The composition of the commission itself is of robust, august people who will not be found wanting when it comes to exploring all of these issues.

I note that the terms of reference make specific mention of gender and to demographics.

I support the motion. It is important that we discuss this issue because of the differential that exists between jobseeker's allowance or benefit and the pension. As a society, we want to ensure that the very people who contacted Deputies through the Stop67 campaign and outside of that campaign, such as the citizens who come through our constituency office doors with their own testimony on this issue, as well as the people one meets on the street, men and women, have available to them a mechanism that allows that transition to take place as seamlessly as possible, that recognises the dignity of their labour and toil and sets up a pensions architecture that is realistic, that speaks to the cost and the demographic fact that Irish people are getting older but also to the need to ensure we look after these people when they come to the end of their working lives. While I say "these people"; ultimately, we are all these people across professions.

I will say one thing on the composition of the pensions commission. I do not want to strike a discordant note about it. We are all very mindful of the Stop67 campaign and its constituent parts, as well as the role of the National Women's Council of Ireland in advocating for women and I was hopeful that they would be part of this because of their advocacy. We must recognise their role, as well as that of organisations like Age Action, Active Retirement Ireland and SIPTU, that were all under the umbrella of Stop67. The decision is made and I accept it but its mandate under that umbrella should be recognised through the work of the commission. I think it will be but we should not lose sight of that campaign's work because it was vital.

I stand before the House and acknowledge the decisions that were made in the past that led to the scenarios that left people with a loss of dignity after their years of labour. I was part of that Government and speaking personally, I am deeply regretful. Perhaps we should have revised that. The beauty of politics and policy is that policy can be reversed to reflect new realities. If one devises a policy one should not sit on it until kingdom come. If it needs to be changed and circumstances dictate, then one can always change that policy.

Particularly when one is on the Opposition benches.

There is the great Denis Naughten, who was a Minister for two years and is now on the Opposition benches. I wish him well.

I actually made decisions when I was there.

The Deputy did and he just apologised for them.

Deputy Naughten is welcome; he has made his voice heard.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward the motion, which we in the Social Democrats will support. Ireland's State pension age was 65 years from the 1970s until 2014. Reforms motivated by pressure from the troika led to legislation which increased this to 66 years in 2014, 67 in 2021, and 68 in 2028. If these increases come to pass, it will leave us with the highest State pension age in the EU 27 by 2028, despite having one of the youngest populations in the European Union.

Changes to the State pension age are happening faster in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe. The changes here have been blunt, brought in quickly with no consultation with unions or civil society and with little consideration for the knock-on effects, most obviously the current situation where normal retirement ages for workplace pension schemes are out of sync with the State pension age, and it could get worse.

Increases to the State pension age have a disproportionately negative impact on the least well-off. Poorer people usually depend entirely, or almost entirely, on the State pension as their main income source in retirement. They are less likely to have the resources to retire early and tend to have shorter life expectancies, so each one-year increase to the State pension age disproportionately affects them compared to people who are better off.

I welcome the motion because it provides an opportunity to reflect on just how important the State pension is to ordinary people. Older people in Ireland have the lowest rates of poverty of any age group. The State pension is solely responsible for this. Poverty among those over 65 years fell from 27.1% in 2004 to 10.5% in 2019. This was driven by sustained and substantial increases in the amount of the State pension during the mid-2000s and underlines the importance of a robust state pension system in keeping older people out of poverty. At any one time, approximately 85% of older people in Ireland would live below the poverty line were it not for the State pension. Instead, that number is generally between 9% and 11% and has been for the past decade. That is not to say that these are acceptable numbers, and the Social Democrats wish to see the gaps in coverage closed, especially for carers and other vulnerable groups that fall between the cracks. However, it is important to emphasise that the State pension is the main source of income in retirement for all but the most well-off retirees. Even for people with decent levels of pension from their previous employers, the State pension still provides the majority of income. The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice calculates the minimum essential standard of living, MESL, amount for a pensioner living alone was €250 and €312 in urban and rural settings, respectively, in 2019, and €315 and €386, respectively, for a couple. I mention this because the core social welfare payment for older people is in most cases much closer to, or greater than, the MESL for older people, which helps explain why older people experience a far lower rate of poverty than adults of working age and children.

Maintaining the State pension close to the MESL is vital to maintain a decent living standard for senior citizens. The Social Democrats would like to see the politics taken out of the State pension, by having the amount linked to 35% of the average wage.

More must also be done to improve pension outcomes for women. Women are more likely to have to rely on the lower means-tested social welfare pension. When they do qualify for a pension from the State based on their social insurance contributions, they are more likely to qualify for lower amounts than their male counterparts. As a society we systematically undervalue what has traditionally been considered women's work and the role that this vital work plays in our economy and society. Workers in low-income jobs and precarious employment are most likely to be women. While I welcome the gender balance of the newly established Commission on Pensions, gender balance does not equate to gender expertise. Once again we see an unwillingness to engage with civil and social organisations and their knowledge. It will be important that the commission consults as widely as possible, both with pensioners and their representative groups. Any data that are gathered and all submissions should be made public for transparency.

The pension system must allow for great flexibility for those who may not wish to retire, either fully or partially, at the State pension age, in order that they may keep working, defer their pension benefits, continue to make social insurance contributions and build up pension benefits if they wish. The adequacy and sustainability of the State pension must be prioritised over all else. All statistics point to its primacy in keeping our elderly out of poverty. Research by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, TILDA, indicates that it is actual income in retirement, rather than the percentage of pre-retirement income that most dictates quality of life after retirement. It found that all aspects of quality of life, including control, autonomy, self-realisation and pleasure increase consistently with household income. This suggests that policies aimed at achieving a certain rate of replacement to pre-retirement income should not be given as much priority as providing a minimum income floor for retirees, something that the State pension is best positioned to provide.

I acknowledge the incredible work by the Stop67 coalition of SIPTU, the National Women's Council of Ireland, Age Action Ireland and Active Retirement Ireland, which made this such an important issue during the general election in February.

There is a danger in the Government's policy of setting up a commission to review the pension age.

This commission, chaired by a senior civil servant at the Revenue, will examine the sustainability and eligibility issues and outline options for the Government to address issues, including qualifying age, contribution rates, total contributions and eligibility requirements. One would have to be naive in the extreme to believe that this commission is not going to offer a fig leaf to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who intend to do what they were going to do before they realised during the previous general election that raising the pension age to 67 was an issue for their voters.

I want to make a more general point about the way the pensions issue is often framed. We continually hear that there is a pensions time bomb, that pensions are unsustainable and the Social Insurance Fund will run out if we keep paying at the present levels. To many economists and experts, the fact that people live longer seems to be a disaster. Longevity seems to be a problem. I find that amazing. We in People Before Profit start from the position that the fact that people live longer is a huge plus and should be celebrated. Commentary often forgets or conveniently ignores the fact that although people in this generation are living longer than their forbears, almost all of them were much more productive during their working lives. Any sane society would see longevity and increased productivity during working life as balancing out, but that is not the case here.

The second scare story around pensions relates to the Social Insurance Fund. Supposedly, if we do not extend the working life of ordinary workers beyond 66 years, the fund will not meet its obligations to pay the State pension contributory. It is hinted that unless we massively increase workers' pay-related social insurance, PRSI, contributions, we will have to extend their working lives. There is a second option, which is rarely mentioned by any Government Minister or economist. We could increase the employers' contributions to the Social Insurance Fund. Our fund has one of the lowest employer contribution rates in Europe. Anything seen as a cost to employers is frowned upon, regardless of the level of profits in the country. Ireland's social wage is still the poor man of Europe. Moreover, the National Pensions Reserve Fund was raided in 2009 and 2010 to the tune of €20.7 billion. The Government raided it to bail out private banks. It is now saying it cannot afford to maintain this fund and so people will have to work longer.

I would like to address the idea that this crisis is happening because pensions are expensive and paying pensioners is a burden, whether in the private or the public sector. It is often presented as a straightforward question of maths. It is not. The never-ending pension scheme crises in the private and semi-State sectors are not natural events caused by longevity or the underfunding of the schemes concerned. A large part of the crisis is caused by the fact that the returns on private investments made by the schemes have been declining over the decades. They have been declining because of the fall in yields on the bonds, equities and even property in which many of these funds are invested. This is not a natural occurrence, nor is it the fault of the workers who suffer as a result. The fall in yields is a deeper sign of the malaise in the system of capitalism.

Workers see pensions as deferred wages, and they are right. It is ironic that the early struggles of the labour movement in this country were fought over the right to a pension and some security on retirement. The attack on pensioners today is part of a war on workers and ordinary decent people. In the past few months, Covid-19 has exposed the many deficits in our system of income supports. It has simultaneously revealed what can be achieved when civil society makes a collective effort to ensure those social supports. We support this Bill wholeheartedly. We reject the idea that any commission observing the pretence of independence will come back with anything other than a fig leaf for what the Government intended to do in the first place.

The Minister stated that there is one inescapable fact; people are living longer. In 1971, we had an average life expectancy of 71. That figure has now reached 81. It is great news that people are living longer. People should be able to enjoy a longer retirement as a result. I want to introduce the Minister to another inescapable fact which she chose not to mention. Productivity tripled between 1971 and now. Workers today produce 300% of the wealth they produced in 1971, while their real wages have only increased by about 50%. The difference went into massive and bloated profits. The attempt to increase the pension age is purely and simply an attempt to rob workers of their deferred wages by refusing to make corporations pay for them through taxation.

The Government was prevented from increasing the pension age to 67 and then 68, as written down in law, by the outrage felt during the election campaign and the results of that election. Now it is attempting to sneak that increase in through the back door. That is the purpose of the pensions commission, which is headed by the person responsible for ramming through the hated local property tax. We do not need another commission or another report. We need the Government to respect the workers who helped to build this society and their right to retire in dignity at 65. Rather than increasing, the retirement age should be brought down to 65 at the highest, so that the wealth created by workers can be used to improve their lives.

As a result of the decision of Fine Gael and the Labour Party to raise the age to 66, 4,000 65-year-olds in this State are out of work and unable to get the State pension. They have to sign on for jobseeker's allowance and are losing out on more than €2,000. People who have worked all their lives and left their jobs at 65 have been left to twist in the wind. They are unable to get a job but are not allowed to get the State pension. Ireland is a wealthy country. We are the fifth richest country in the world per capita. One would not think it from how workers, particularly older workers, are treated. We can afford a decent retirement for all workers. The problem is that we have a Government of millionaires who are more concerned with protecting billionaires from taxes than supporting the workers who created the wealth.

I was not here for the event but I learned on the way over that at the start of his speech, Deputy Sherlock apologised for having supported the increase in the pension age. Someone told me he repeated the apology at the end of his speech. I do not know whether the Labour Party as a whole intends to follow the example of Deputy Sherlock on this issue and apologise to the people of this country in the next day or two. I do not expect any mass celebrations on the street. People will not be overjoyed that the Labour Party has changed its position. They will not rush out to thank its members for the change of mind. The people listening to this debate on the radio or watching it on television will be thinking about the fact that they will be forced to work until they are 67 or 68 years of age. The Labour Party had a major hand in that move back in 2014. The apology has been given but I do not think there will be much forgiveness, and that is completely understandable.

The Labour Party are not the only ones whose fingerprints are all over the plan to increase the pension age beyond 66 to 67 and 68. It was a Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government which signed up to it in the first place in 2010. This move was backed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in 2014. Apologies from the Labour Party or any of those parties will not sort this issue out. We saw how it will be sorted out in the general election, when it bubbled up from below and people on the doorsteps angrily raised it with political canvassers. We have seen it in France and Belgium, where trade unionists have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands and millions against what is called pension reform but is really pension counter-reform. That shows how this will be sorted out in this country - through people power, not apologies from Deputy Sherlock, the Labour Party or any of those parties whose fingerprints are all over this disgraceful policy.

I am sharing time with Deputy Tóibín.

If people pay into pensions in good faith, they have a legitimate expectation as to when they will receive their State pensions. No one should be forced against his or her wishes to retire at the age of 65 or, alternatively, forced to work on until the age of 68 in order to receive a pension to which he or she has made the contributions. Such people are legitimately entitled to their pensions, having completed those contributions. There are, however, also people who want to work until the age of 68 and to pay additional pension contributions, and they should be facilitated in doing that. One cohort of people who traditionally fell into that position were the women who left employment to rear their families or to care for a sick person. They ended up with reduced contributions.

In fairness to the Minister's predecessor, Senator Regina Doherty, she was the first Minister in nine Ministers with whom I took up this specific issue who actually addressed it. I worked very closely with Senator Doherty when she was Minister in addressing this anomaly, something her predecessors had very neatly brushed under the carpet. I can understand Deputy Sherlock being sensitive earlier about the issue of pensions because a former Minister of his party, Joan Burton, when she was in the Department actually magnified the problem with the changes she made at the time and compounded an already difficult situation for those women.

I wish to take up a couple of issues with the Minister. The first is the pension entitlements of community employment scheme supervisors. This issue has been ongoing for a considerable period, and we have all received representations on foot of a Labour Court ruling on it back in 2009, 11 years ago. I know the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, has been engaging with the supervisors and their representatives on this, but it is a long-running and contentious issue and I hope the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, will provide us with an update on progress on the matter. I know from our discussions in Cabinet that this is not an easy issue to resolve but it is one that we all are determined to see resolved once and for all.

The other issue I wish to take up with the Minister - it is a perennial one that I have raised previously in the House - concerns people who have already reached pension age but have not made enough contributions to acquire a State pension. As a result, they have continued working beyond their 66th birthday. It is Government policy to encourage people to work later in life, but this cohort has been penalised as a result of that. These people, most of whom are self-employed, have been denied access to the pandemic unemployment payment. They are being told they are being denied access to the payment because they are eligible for a State pension, but they are not eligible for a State pension. They have commitments in respect of mortgages and repayments they are making and rent they are paying for their businesses, yet they are being denied access to financial support. It is not good enough to tell them they can go to the community welfare officer and access supplementary welfare allowance because the Minister and I know they will not do that. We are talking about a small cohort, and there is provision under social welfare legislation that one cannot receive two social welfare payments. Surely that should be invoked to allow this small group of people who are not entitled to a State contributory pension, who are over the age of 66 and who have been forced out of employment due to Covid-19 to access the pandemic unemployment payment.

Fair play to the Minister for staying this long into the debate. Often we see Ministers run before parties such as ours get to contribute, in fairness to her.

The prospect of the pension age being raised to 67 was widely touted before the election and hammered the appeal of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael among the bracket of voters who were affected. Before the election, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael decided to put the pin back in the grenade and oppose in that election the pension age being raised. However, like so many of the commitments of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Government before the election, that commitment has disappeared like snow off a ditch. When the immediate fear of losing votes dissipated, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reneged on their commitment once again.

The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, has announced that a can-kicking commission will be created to consider the issue of pensions and whether the age should be raised to 67. Why can Governments not make decisions? Why can they not fulfil commitments they make in election cycles? The idea that this decision cannot be made by the Government on logical, ideological and policy grounds is a nonsense. The fact that it is being kicked to a commission is as per the age-old tradition, as old as this House itself, that when a decision gets hard to make the Government kicks it down the road to a committee of some sort. If both parties were truly committed to the pension age staying at 66, it would have been in the programme for Government and that detail would have been in the budget. When politicians talk about this being a time bomb, do they mean the ratio of workers to pensioners is a time bomb or that this is a time bomb in political terms that will blow up in their faces yet again? I fear the latter is the Government's biggest concern.

Let us be open and honest here. Fine Gael is seeking to raise the pension age to 68. That is incredible. Fine Gael is seeking that Irish men and Irish women be forced to work an additional three years before they are able to retire. This makes Ireland an outlier in European terms. Even in Britain they are not seeking to raise the pension age to 68 until 2046. That is 18 years later than in this State. The truth of the matter is that when establishment parties are in a fiscal squeeze, they often see that they should go down the path of least resistance to raise funds or to save money. I think many in the political class see pensioners as a path of least resistance, but I assure the Minister they are not. If there is one group of people in this country who will fight for their income and their standard of living, it is pensioners. They have led the way in showing my generation what is important and how to fight for it.

The Fine Gael and Labour Party Government raised the pension age from 65 to 66 to pay for its austerity economics, and the squeeze is still on. Those obliged by contracts to retire at 65 have to go on jobseeker payments for one year before they can access the State pension. The new total contributions approach has been brought in to replace the old averaging system and means that people now need 2,080 contributions, the equivalent of 40 years of PRSI contributions, to qualify for the full State pension. What are the ramifications of this Fine Gael policy? The truth of the matter is that many of the people in this age cohort do heavy physical work, and many of those people will be forced to do that physical work in the future until old age, literally. As a result of the housing crisis, many people now either have mortgages with super long terms or are renting accommodation because they cannot afford to buy any more. These individuals will be hard-pressed to pay for either pensions or rents in later life. Let us compare this to what happens to Teachtaí Dála. Deputies leave this House - through resignation, retirement or whatever else - and get a golden handshake first of all and then an extremely high pension for the rest of their lives, while working men and women are left in fear and anxiety, wondering how and at what age they will be able to retire.

All this time, one of the biggest sins in the Irish political system is the over-concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. In international terms, 62 people have as much wealth as half the population of this planet, and similar trends are happening in this country because of tax injustice. The Minister should look elsewhere in trying to find the path of least resistance.

I am sharing time with my colleagues. I too am delighted that the Minister has stayed in the Chamber to listen to Deputies. My delight was premature. Tá sí ag dul amach anois. Cén fáth? I will tell all of my in-laws in Monaghan and Cavan that she ran away when I stood up to speak. I am glad she stayed for most of the debate anyway. It is a pity when Ministers do not do so.

I fully support the motion. We need certainty around this issue. The Taoiseach can mutter in the Dáil that Fianna Fáil and the Government is doing this or that but we need certainty because people are worried about this issue. The current pension age has to stay. We cannot have people working until they are unfit to work and unable to work.

During the pandemic, the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, has been denied to pensioners. Pensioners in that gap between the ages of 66 and 70 may drive taxis or buses, do school runs for their grandchildren, run pubs, play in showbands, work as bookmakers such as mobile bookmakers who go to shows, drive a truck or do a plethora of other things, but they cannot get a shilling. All they wanted was parity of esteem and to get the difference between their pension and what everybody else was getting. Even people who only worked seven or eight hours a week were getting it. It was totally unfair and discriminatory to pensioners. I wish to mention community employment, CE, scheme supervisors. They run every operation in every community council. They are the go-to people for everything in parishes, the sports scene and communities. They are entitled to a pension. Some of them worked for 20 or 30 years but have gone off without a pension. They have no certainty. That must be sorted out for those people.

One cannot expect local authority employees, other public servants or anyone else who is forced to retire at 65 to have to go and sign on for 15 months. I heard a Deputy stating earlier that they do not have to do so. They do have to go and sign on. It is humiliating and degrading to send those people into that kind of situation when they wanted to work all their lives, did work all their lives and would continue to work if they were allowed to do so, rather than having to sign on at the labour exchange like the unfortunate people who cannot get work. These people are proud and they want to keep their pride and dignity. Fine Gael does not have a good record of looking after people like that.

I too fully support the motion. The attempts by the previous Government, made up of Fine Gael backed by Fianna Fáil - the same crowd - to increase the pension age of 66 to 67 and maybe on to 68 really backfired prior to the general election. There was palpable anger on the doorsteps in my constituency and, I presume, those of other Deputies. People were rightly angered. They may have spent 50 years working and felt that their little time of relaxation after giving so much to their country was slipping out of their hands due to an unscrupulous Government.

It is sad to see that after years of work people have to go on the dole for 12 months before they can get their pension. Good God, do we have any respect for people of pensionable age?

The new Government has continued that approach with the Covid-19 payment. Those over 66 have been excluded. They have been out working all their lives and continue to work and pay their taxes. I acknowledge they were getting their pension but surely they were entitled to the difference between the pension and the Covid payment. However, the Government refused to give them anything. It gave them absolutely nothing. I spoke to publicans today who are over 66 and have a pension. They got no Covid payment. The doors of their pubs are shut. The Government has ruined their businesses. It is quite happy; it thinks we do not have a problem in the world. The longer those pubs are shut, the happier the Government is.

I refer to the apology offered by Deputy Sherlock this evening. It was a Labour Party Minister who destroyed women's pensions. The hurt the Labour Party - my father used to call it the party of the workers but that is not the case now - caused to women will never be forgotten in this State. Those women had their pension rights destroyed. It was an absolute catastrophe. More than one apology from one Deputy is needed from the Labour Party for those actions.

Not everyone went to college. The people who left school at 18, or even earlier, like myself, would have to work for 50 years to get a pension, yet I am here today speaking for the self-employed. I am self-employed. There are people who, under the guidance of the Government, will have to work for 50 years to get a pension. These are people who will build houses, people in all types of trades, whether it be hauliers or whatever, who would have to work for 50 years under the Government's regime to get a pension. The Government was looking for the pension age to go to 67 in January and to 68 by 2028. That is an absolute disgrace.

There are many people who are still working at 66, 67 or 68 in the pub industry or other jobs and whose livelihoods were put on hold as a result of Covid. The Government would not increase their pension to match the PUP. They are still paying their taxes into this House but the Government would not increase their payments up to the level of the PUP. The Government has no clue what it is like to be self-employed or to live without something. It has no clue how to look after the vulnerable in this country and it has no clue how to subsidise people to give everyone a level playing field. That has been clearly shown here today.

I fully support the principle of the Private Members' motion and, in particular, those workers who have been looking forward to being able to retire in peace and security at a time of their choosing. The motion notes that "every worker in the State makes a considerable tax contribution throughout their working life and should have the right to retire at 65" and that while some workers want to retire at 65, we also need to acknowledge that others wish to remain on at work when they are able and willing to do so. Unfortunately, a policy is creeping in whereby some companies are not allowing workers to remain on. That is something that needs to be addressed. We should be able to find a means of facilitating a happy medium whereby workers who have given long service are not compelled to keep working, but those who wish to remain on are allowed to do so.

Last year, the then Minister for Social Protection and Employment Affairs stated that the rationale for the increase in the pension age is twofold. First, to recognise that due to improvements in health and working conditions, people have the capacity and desire to work beyond what was traditionally seen as retirement age and, second, as life expectancy increases, to help maintain the sustainability of our pension system. However, that statement is open to wide interpretation. One could just as easily read it as meaning that workers are being penalised for being able to grow old in good health. Surely if a worker has reached 65, is in good health and wishes to retire with a reasonable expectation of being able to access contributions built up over a lifetime, he or she should be able to do so.

I wish to conclude by making the point that the issue of CE scheme supervisors' pensions has dragged on and on. It needs to be resolved. These people need to be respected.

I too was very disappointed to see the senior Minister running out the door the minute-----

In fairness, the Minister did not run. She had to leave.

She is gone anyway. I am not belittling the junior Minister who is present in any way but this is a serious issue. Fianna Fáil knows well what happened on the doorsteps before the general election, as do all the other parties and candidates. Commitments were given by certain parties that if they got into power, they would rectify the situation and ensure the pension age remained at 65. There are many public servants who have to retire at 65. It is absolutely ridiculous that they have to go on the dole for a year. There was talk about increasing the pension age to 67 or 68. I will not be supporting that at any time while I am a Member of Dáil Éireann. I refer to people who have done hard physical work all their lives and who are strangled and torn from it. I am thinking of farmers, plasterers and all the others who do physical work. Without a shadow of a doubt, they are entitled to get the pension at 65 years of age.

Very little has been said about the people who create employment. It is very difficult and onerous to ensure one has workers' pay ready and on the table for them on a Friday evening.

I want to mention the community employment scheme supervisors. I remember a particularly emotional night in this Chamber when Fianna Fáil Deputies promised that if their party got into power, they would look after the supervisors. Those supervisors are in the very same place tonight as they were on that night.

The women in 2012-----

I am very sorry, A Chathaoirligh, I was left short of time, but I am finishing.

The women in 2012 were actually assaulted by the then leader of the Labour Party. I cannot think of her name-----

-----but she ensured that the women of Ireland-----

-----are still without their proper pension. I am sorry, a Chathaoirligh, for going over time.

We are all very fond of the Deputy but that does not entitle him to any more time than any other speaker.

I am sharing time with Deputies Joan Collins and Fitzmaurice.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this motion. I welcome the opportunity to speak on it and I have no problem supporting it. I welcome that the Minister has responded by saying that legislation will be introduced to abolish the pension age increase. However, her speech was somewhat contradictory and reflected some of the problems there are with how we look at pensions. As previous speakers noted, we have been looking at our ageing population as a challenge and a problem rather than a joy and an asset. There is no recognition in the Minister's speech of the amount of work done by my father and all the other fathers and mothers. They paid their taxes, for 50 or even 60 years in some cases, only to be faced with an increase in the age of pension eligibility.

There is a division built into the Minister's speech in the statement, "We want to maintain a fair balance between those who are contributing to the system and those who are drawing from it." If anything, that sentence captures the completely mistaken approach by this Government and every previous Government to pension provision. Pensions are a necessity and are based on solidarity within a civilised society and taking people out of poverty. For a very long time, we have benefited those who are richer by facilitating them in availing of tax reliefs and credits. The Green Party should be a major leader in moving to introduce a universal pension. Perhaps I am a little naive in asking for that, but I aspire to seeing a Green Party that is capable of leading and insisting that we treasure everyone including, in particular, our older people, because of their contribution to this State and what they did for us. I am standing here today because of my father and mother and the background from which I came. I am sure it is the same for all my colleagues. We should treasure our older people and stop this idiotic division that is reflected in the Minister's speech.

I welcome the establishment of a Commission on Pensions and the Minister's confirmation that at least six of its 11 members will be women. However, this does not mean that the commission's terms of reference will capture the problems with gender inequality in the area of pensions. In fact, gender equality comes in only as an afterthought. In the two-page document issued by the Department, I see seven terms of reference. The first one states that, where relevant, account will be taken of "socio-demographic characteristics". The sentence ends with the inclusion, in brackets, of the words "for example, gender". Nowhere in the terms of reference does it say that this commission will look at pension inequality on the basis of gender. That is very worrying.

In the short time remaining to me, I will provide a little background information. According to EUROSTAT, 9.9% of Ireland's population aged 65 and over are living in a dwelling with a leaking roof. That is 69,000 older people. Research by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, TILDA, shows that 57.8% of people aged over 50 are living in substandard accommodation, with the most prevalent housing condition issues being those relating to damp, mould or moisture. It makes sense to have a universal pension payment and I wish it was included in the commission's terms of reference. As other speakers mentioned, people aged over 65 are a finite group. The ESRI tells us there are 65,000 people who have been completely excluded from any assistance. On the one hand, we are telling people to work until they drop at 68 and, on the other hand, when they do keep working, we make no provision for them.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing this motion to the House. It is important that it did so because there seems to be a dragging of feet by the Government in introducing the legislation that is needed. I welcome the statements by the Taoiseach and the Minister that the promised legislation to defer the increase to 67 years of age for State pension eligibility is to be introduced next week. It is better late than never. With only four weeks to go, people due to retire next year have been put through an unnecessary period of extreme anxiety. I have had many people contacting me to ask what is going on and whether they can retire next year. That uncertainty was absolutely unnecessary and the matter could have been dealt with well before now.

The difference between the full State contributory pension and a jobseeker's payment is more than €45 per week, or €2,300 per year. It is a considerable difference. While I welcome the deferral in the increase in the pension age, what is really needed is to scrap the proposal altogether and return the pension age to 65. The deferral is for six months to allow for a report by the commission on pensions. It is extremely disappointing that the Minister did not see fit to include any representation for the Stop67 campaign on the commission. That campaign is made up of the National Women's Council of Ireland, Age Action Ireland and Active Retirement Ireland. Those organisations, representing pensioners, had called for a stakeholders' forum made up not of people appointed by the Minister but those who depend solely on the State pension for their income. As Age Action Ireland put it, the proposed commission on pensions is a commission "about us but without us".

The roadmap for pension reform introduced by the previous Government included a commitment to benchmarking the contributory State pension at 34% of the average weekly wage by the end of 2018. That commitment has not been implemented and the current value of the pension is 32% of the average wage. The proposal by Age Action Ireland for a €5 increase each year for three years was ignored in the budget. I support the proposal in the motion, first raised in the national pensions framework, to reduce tax relief on private pensions to 33%, thereby freeing up funds for the State pension and helping to reduce the high levels of income inequality among older people. I also support the motion's call for the abolition of mandatory retirement and for those who continue working after 65 to have their PRSI contributions taken into account in assessing their pension entitlements.

The increase in the age of eligibility for the State pension was a huge issue during the election campaign. We all know that from knocking on doors. Fine Gael and the Labour Party felt the brunt of it because it was they who introduced the increase. I warn the Green Party Members to think about that. People are still watching and waiting and they will take them on at the next election if they do not bring the pension age back to 65.

I welcome and support the motion. A radical review of the whole system of pension provision is needed. One sees people who have worked and grafted hard for 50 years and who come out with €248 a week. In other sectors, workers are entitled to a pension after 30 years. We need to ensure we look after all our people and all sections of our communities. It is well known that the changes introduced in 2011 had a huge impact. Some of that was subsequently addressed by the previous Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Senator Regina Doherty. What the former Minister, Joan Burton, did in 2011 was scandalous. A lot of people, including a lot of mothers, throughout the country were left with small pensions as a result. Some of that has been rectified but there are still problems in this regard.

My view is that people who want to keep working beyond 65 years of age should be allowed to do so. Nobody should ever be stopped from working. However, we need to look at the situation of workers in different sectors. In the case of plasterers and pipelayers, for example, their shoulders or hands are usually gone by the time they are 57 or 58, whereas people who are at lighter worker would not be as battered coming out of it. These are the facts of the matter. For blocklayers and tilers, their knees are gone and many of them are not fit to keep going until they are 70 years of age.

It is great if somebody can keep going. That person should be let continue. I have no problem with that.

It is absolutely scandalous, however, that over the last few months people who have borrowed money and kept businesses going, especially in the pub sector, were not given the PUP because they were of pension age. Some of these people were employing others in their communities. The Government should re-examine that for people in the private sector. People who have been working in the private sector all their lives have quite average pensions. We must examine that side of the issue to try to ensure there is balance and that people are treated well, regardless of whether they are in the private or public sector.

I am pleased to speak on this motion. It is important that we debate pensions as it is one of the fundamental structural issues of our time. It would be a better debate if it was based only on facts because otherwise it does a massive disservice to people on pensions, people expecting to get pensions soon and those working to fund the pensions of today in the hope of receiving a pension later. I am particularly concerned about women who have taken time out of work to raise children and who have been penalised for having done so. The Commission on Pensions is due to examine that as a matter of priority.

The motion tabled by Sinn Féin is purely political. It would have people believe that if Sinn Féin was in government it would reduce the pension age and reinstate a right to retire at 65 years, a right that never existed. It is not a vision about how pensions are to be funded over time or how workers of today are to pay for them or to get one. Of course, what Sinn Féin does in Northern Ireland is completely different.

In Ireland, the pension age is 66 years and the contributory State pension is over €248 per week. In Northern Ireland, the pension age is 66 years, but the pension is considerably lower at only €195 per week. In Ireland, we must consider the pension age increasing over time to ensure today's workers will get a pension in the future. It is dishonest to suggest otherwise. In Northern Ireland, the same change is being made. Presumably, Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland recognises the same risk of the pension age remaining at 66 years for the young people today. It is not a risk to those in receipt of the pension today or about to get the pension, but it is to the younger workers who are funding pensions and hope and expect to have a pension of their own.

The new law agreed by Sinn Féin in 2012 explicitly states it is a change to increase the pensionable age for men and women progressively. Age Northern Ireland and the Age Action NGO comment on the state pension in the same way:

There are more changes planned. From 2019, the age will increase for both men and women to reach 66 by October 2020.

The Government is planning further increases, which will raise the State Pension age from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

The State Pension age is going to be kept under review, which means that it could change again in the future, depending on different factors, such as changes in life expectancy.

Indeed, we know it is planned to go up to 68 years in the years beyond that. The next increase in the pension entitlement age in Northern Ireland is scheduled to come into effect in 2026. It will go up again, and I can go through it all, month by excruciating month. That is the law in Northern Ireland as agreed by Sinn Féin there.

In the Republic, Deputy O'Reilly and her colleagues argue it should be 65 years even though in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin is in government, it is 66 years. The party will put out videos, press releases and so forth stating that if the Deputy is a Minister in the next Government, she will restore the right to retire on a pension at 65 years, notwithstanding that this is not the case where Sinn Féin is in government and that no such right ever existed in this State. The pension age was never 65 years. There is no mandatory retirement age. It was always a function of employment contracts, and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has asked the Commission on Pensions to examine it.

Given the difference of €53 per week between the pension in Northern Ireland and here, I would prefer to be under the arrangements of this House. There are other benefits here that, again, are unmatched by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. There are significant differences in the supplementary benefits for pensioners in Ireland and Northern Ireland related to energy costs. The household benefits package here is completely different from that in Northern Ireland. There is a different arrangement in respect of important supports such as television licences and a different structure for fuel allowances and cold weather payments.

In Northern Ireland, one can get a cold weather payment of £25 per week from when there is very cold weather. It is payable when the temperature is or is forecast to be 00 C or below for seven consecutive days, as defined by the Met Office. Since the start of the 2020 to 2021 season, no cold weather payments have been made. It has not been a very cold year so far, although I saw a worrying forecast on the news this evening. Regardless, I would not like to be planning my winter heating on that basis and I expect that pensioners in Northern Ireland who depend on it do not like it either. Where would one prefer to be? Would one prefer to be on a higher pension here or with milk and honey in Northern Ireland where one can get a cold weather payment after seven days of freezing weather?

I thank the Deputies for an engaging discussion on this important issue. As already said by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, the fundamental objective of the Government's policy on State pensions is to ensure that pensions remain affordable, sustainable and retain their value into the future. We want to maintain a fair balance in the system. We must protect current as well as future pensioners, while at the same time protecting the most vulnerable pensioners who will remain at the forefront of any reforms in this area.

Discussions on State pension policy issues can be complex. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that our system provides a broad series of supports for older people, beyond the State contributory pension. These include other primary payments such as the non-contributory State pension and the widow's, widower's and surviving civil partner's pension. Additionally, we have targeted allowances such as the fuel allowance, over 80 allowance, living alone allowance and the living on a specified island allowance. Finally, we have service supports such as free travel.

As outlined by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, the State pension age will not increase to 67 years next year. It will remain at 66 years, pending the report of the Commission on Pensions. The necessary legislative amendment is contained in the Social Welfare Bill 2020 which was published on 24 November 2020. This Bill will give legislative effect to a range of social welfare measures set out in budget 2021 and is scheduled to be debated in the House next week. I hope there will be cross-party support for the legislation. The Bill had to compete for Oireachtas time with the Brexit Bill. However, sufficient time has been scheduled in the Dáil and Seanad for debate on the Bill before the Christmas recess. It must be enacted by the end of the year so important payments can be made to social welfare recipients, such as the living alone allowance. The subject of this debate is also contained in the Bill.

Its members are drawn from trade union and employer bodies, civil society, academia and those with technical and policy expertise. To address a point made earlier that there was no civil society representation, that is not the case. The Irish Hospice Foundation, the CEO of SpunOut and ICTU are on the commission. The Government was also keen to ensure that the commission had strong female representation in its membership, and I am pleased that the majority of members, six of the 11, are women. The commission is well equipped to grasp the potential impacts of any pension reform options on affected groups, such as women, workers and older people. In addition, and to give other interested parties an opportunity to contribute to the process, the commission will seek submissions from stakeholders and representative groups.

In addition to repealing the increase in the pension age, the Minister has also committed to change the requirement for those who retire from work at the age of 65 years to sign on to a jobseeker payment in order to receive a State income support. She will shortly introduce regulations which will formally remove the current requirements for people of this age to sign on, participate in activation programmes or give an undertaking that they are genuinely seeking work. This will formalise an administrative practice which has been in place for some time.

It is clear that the Irish pension system faces demographic and sustainability challenges. While Ireland currently has a more favourable demographic position than many of our European peers, all EU member states, including Ireland, face many fiscal challenges relating to long-term ageing and its associated risks. Due to demographic pressures, the number of pensioners in Ireland will continue to rise. Population projections indicate that Ireland will undergo considerable demographic changes between 2020 and 2050. This has significant implications for the future costs of State pension provision.

Today, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council published its latest fiscal advisory report, Sustaining the Economy through Covid-19. In the report it welcomes the establishment of the Commission on Pensions. It also, however, cautions that significant demographic-related pressures are projected over the medium term in respect of pensions expenditure.

Assuming that service levels remain constant and social payments such as pensions rise in line with wages, the council estimates an annual increase in State pension payments of €370 million, on average, over the years 2021 to 2025 based on increased numbers alone.

This Government is acutely conscious of the need to consider the sustainability of the State's finances. However, this is not the only consideration when thinking of the State pension age. The State pension is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland. As the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, highlighted, it is extremely effective in ensuring that pensioners do not experience poverty. This Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case. That is why it established the Commission on Pensions and is determined to give it the space and time it needs to evaluate and recommend an appropriate approach to sustain the system over the decades to come.

I thank all Members for their time and engagement this evening. I emphasise how important it is to ensure the State pension system provides adequate support to people in retirement and continues to do that over the long term. Accordingly, I strongly commend the Government's amendment to the House.

Tá áthas orm a bheith ag caint ar an rún seo ó thaobh pinsean de atá curtha chun tosaigh ag mo chomhghleacaí i Sinn Féin anocht. Tabharfaidh mé glór do chuid de na daoine ó Thír Chonaill a bhí i dteagmháil liom agus a thuig tábhacht an rúin seo

The motion before us has two principles, the principle of equality and the principle of fairness. It calls for the restoration of the right to retire at the age of 65. It also calls for the abolition of mandatory retirement so that workers have the right to continue to work beyond the age of 65, if that is their wish. It further calls for immediate legislation to stop the pension age increasing to 67 in January and to ensure that it is not subject to any review or scrutiny later.

The motion calls for the restoration of the right to retire at the age of 65, a right that is earned by those who have worked their entire lives. They have paid their taxes. They have earned their pension. In 2012, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, with the support of Fianna Fáil, pushed changes in the State pension through the Dáil without any consideration of the impact they would have on those who rely on the State pension. In 2014, the pension age effectively rose to 66 when the State pension transition payment was abolished by Fine Gael. At the same time, many employment contracts stipulate the end of employment when the worker turns 65. Thousands of 65-year-olds have been forced to sign on for jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit since Fine Gael abolished the State pension transition payment. That is fact.

I was talking today to one of those workers affected by Fine Gael's policies. She has worked for a well-known bank since 2001. She was told by her employer that she would be laid off on her 65th birthday on 15 October, a nice birthday present from the Fine Gael Government. She told me that she had no choice but to sign on the dole for jobseeker's payment, another nice present from the Fine Gael Government. More than 4,000 65-year-olds are denied their State pension and are currently in receipt of jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit. The difference is €45. That is more than €2,300 per year. It is unacceptable. It is unfair and it must stop. Those people are not unemployed; they are retired.

Some workers want to retire at the age of 65. Others want to work beyond the age of 65. They deserve a choice and they have earned it. I commend the motion. Sinn Féin is very clear. We believe that the increase to 67 should not happen ever. We believe that the right to retire at the age of 65 with a pension should be granted. That is what we would do and what we are committed to doing.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, said earlier that she understands the difficulties workers face. She also said that politicians and political parties should be judged on their actions and not their words. So, let us judge this Minister and this Government and Fine Gael on their actions when it comes to workers. What about the Debenhams workers who are striking at the moment in the cold and rain and who have been abandoned by the same Minister and by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. What have they done for the Debenhams workers? Precious little.

Let us judge this Government on what it did for those on the minimum wage. It gave them a lousy 10 cent an hour increase, yet there were three pay increases in two years for politicians and Members of this House. That is what people outside this House will judge Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the Green Party on. There is only one reason the Government climbed down on the pensions issue. I debated it with Fine Gael Ministers months before the general election. They were enthusiastic supporters of increasing the pension age to 67. Fianna Fáil was a bit more sheepish, but it supported it nonetheless. The closer we got to the election, the more its position started to soften and then after the election, the party did a somersault and a U-turn. It did it because of the way people voted and because it saw the writing on the wall. The party got a proverbial kick up the backside from the electorate, rightly so, because it was betraying them. It was saying to construction workers, those who work on the front line and those who work in really difficult jobs that they must work until they are 67, but politicians can retire on a big, fat pension at the age of 65. People saw the hypocrisy for what it is.

This will come down to an issue of trust. The Minister has set up a commission and, in so far as it goes, we commend it, but I do not trust Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. I know the same enthusiastic Fine Gael members that debated with me and other members of my party and wanted to enthusiastically support increasing the pension age to 67 have not gone away. They will be back, but we will ensure that does not happen. If people really want to ensure the pension age does not increase, they should continue to vote for my party, Sinn Féin, and others.

I have heard a lot of talk in here and, to be honest, a lot of guff as well. The Deputies on the Government benches should be entirely ashamed of themselves. Workers watch what goes on in here. They see the pathetic attempts by the Minister and her pal on the backbenches to deflect and avoid talking about the fact that this means €45.40 a week to workers. That might not mean an awful lot to the Minister. It probably does not. It is probably just pin money to her, but not to people who have worked all their lives in low-income jobs, for whom she has precious little understanding. The Minister said she was a working woman, but as my colleague, Deputy Clarke, pointed out, the decision to increase the pension age and tell people to go on the dole at the age of 65 comes from people who sit at a desk. Builders, plasterers, waitresses, barmen and anyone else who has worked hard doing manual, physical labour deserve the right to retire at 65. They have damn well earned it. They have worked harder probably than any person in here. Sometimes there is a little bit of a gap in the Government's understanding of what is going on in real life.

I spoke to a builder in Balbriggan who is 64 years of age. He told me he had worked all his life and he was tired. The man could not face the thought of working to 67. He is retired now. I say he is retired but the Minister says he is on the dole. She can call it anything she likes, including an administrative arrangement or whatever the hell else she wants to call it, but that man is on the dole. This year, he will get €2,355.50 less than he would have got if he had the pension that he has earned. That is the disconnect. That is why the voice of the working people is missing at the Cabinet table. That is why we have to come in here and listen to the people on the Government benches deflect, try to change the subject and talk about something else. They talk about a place that until recently they thought was overseas. That is what is going on here. Workers see what is going on and they know who is on their side. They know who will stand up for them. Workers know that they deserve the right to retire at 65 and they know that the only party that is committed to delivering that is Sinn Féin and that only Sinn Féin in government will deliver for those workers who have worked tirelessly all of their lives.

When I worked in a trade union I presented a man with a 50-year pin. It is very rare for someone to have 50 years continuous union membership. He had started work at the age of 15 and at the age of 65 I presented him with his pin. He was told he had to go down to the labour exchange and sign on for the dole. He had never been there before. He had worked and paid tax and PRSI all of this life, and at the end of his working life, having worked hard, he was told to go on the dole.

The Minister stated that these people would not be made to look for work. They are still only getting the dole, which is what the Government does not understand. It is the dole by another name and only a Government that is massively out of touch with what goes on in the lives of working people would suggest something as ridiculous as that. This is the dole. It is 50 years of work and then there is the dole queue. These people have earned the right to retire at 65. They have worked hard and paid their tax and PRSI. I can give this commitment because if I had the opportunity to sit on the Government benches or if I were a Minister in the next Government, I would damn well ensure that people have the right to retire at 65 and access the State pension they have worked hard for and in respect of which they have paid contributions. That is no less than those people deserve.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 2 December 2020.