I have been asked to raise this on the Adjournment as a number of Departments have been unable to reply to my question on whether it is constitutional to compel people to take out a private sector pension. First, I asked my colleague, Deputy McGinley, to raise the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by way of parliamentary question. The Ceann Comhairle replied: "The Minister has no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann for this matter which is one for the Pensions Board; you may wish to contact that body in this regard." I duly contacted the Pensions Board which replied: "I am advised that it would not be appropriate for me, as a member of the executive arm of Government, to purport to determine on the constitutionality of any legal requirement." I then wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who replied:
The provisions of the Employment Equality Act do not extend to pensions which are more properly dealt with under the Pensions Act 1990. Therefore the matter may be more appropriate to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. I have accordingly referred your correspondence to my colleague Ms Mary Coughlan, T.D., Minister for Social and Family Affairs, for consideration.
I then received a letter from the Minister for Social and Family Affairs stating:
Unfortunately, this Department cannot consent to your request to obtain a legal opinion on this issue. As you are aware, the Government's legal advisor is the Attorney General. Because of the doctrine of the separation of powers, the Attorney General does not furnish legal advice to the other branches of Government, that is to say to the legislative (members of the Oireachtas) or judicial branches or to the President.
What do I tell people who worked all their lives and paid contributions to a private pension fund or whose employer paid a contribution on their behalf? These people will not realise until they retire that their pension is worthless. The Government compelled these people to get involved in such pensions. It did not compel employers to do so. Surely somebody in the Government – the Minister for Social and Family Affairs has responsibility in this area – can say whether it was constitutional to compel workers to pay into pension schemes. A defined contribution scheme provides no guarantee of benefit; a defined benefit scheme provides no protection against inflation for early leavers. Do these people have to seek out somebody brave enough to go to the courts to find out if they have been wronged? Will we need another like Mr. Ross who was brave enough to go to the courts last week and win his case? The only people benefiting from this is the pension industry and it receives enormous tax benefits from the Government. People involved in the pension industry will not retire to discover their pensions have been eroded by inflation. We constantly hear of them bumping up their pension schemes to ensure they have a good pension when they retire.
I hope the Minister of State will not fob me off again today. It does not look good that the Government cannot give me a direct and honest answer to this question. I hope I will get a straight answer from the Minister of State.