I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following new subsection:
"(6) Subject to subsection (7) when a teacher is a new entrant, no superannuation benefits shall be paid before he/she reaches age 60, other than the death benefits.”.
The two groups that are most disadvantaged by the legislation are teachers and politicians. We have been through a number of special arrangements for gardaí, members of the Defence Forces and fire officers. Nobody disagrees with those arrangements being made. In raising the compulsory retirement age to 65 for all public servants with all the bells and whistles we talked about earlier taken into consideration, the minimum age at which a politician can retire at present is 50. It is 55 for teachers and 60 for civil servants.
It is important to remember that this did not happen by accident. I can go back to 1895 on the pensions arrangement. I can go back to the foundation of the State to the time when politicians were paid an allowance as opposed to a salary, which in fact, is still in the Act. Certain things developed from all of that. Teachers had their own pension scheme until a Fianna Fáil Government, I am sorry to say, grabbed it when things were bad and said it would supply pensions on a pay as you go arrangement. This was despite the fact that teachers, being prudent people with a broader view of the world, were making a saving in order to look after their future. We should never have agreed to that. I was not around at that time in the 1930s and would never have agreed to it.
At the time there was a pension fund. I tried to find the exact basis on which the Government of the day dealt with that and what kind of commitment was given. All manner of hoops have been jumped through until we arrived at the situation where in 1992 when I was involved in the negotiations, a minimum age was introduced for the first time for politicians, so that no matter what their situation they could not draw a pension earlier than the age of 50. There was no objection to that in either House. People thought it was a reasonable thing to do. As part of a national negotiation and agreement in 1996, early retirement for teachers on a reduced pension at age 55 was extended to second level teachers. I repeat, "extended". The matter was examined by the Department of Education and Science, the school management authorities, the Department of Finance and the Department of the Taoiseach. It was done on the basis of consistency. I failed to convince the Commission on Public Service Pensions of the importance of that. There is at least one person in this room who was there when I made that argument on a number of occasions. To my immense frustration, I failed to convince them.
I will use examples for both teachers and politicians. We are now saying that every teacher should work until 65 years of age. We are all agreed that teachers be allowed to work beyond a certain time, if they feel healthy and energetic enough to continue. That is the positive side. The down side is that every 64 year old teacher, irrespective of how they feel about it, should be well able to cope with a classroom of 35 mischievous, energetic four year old junior infants or a challenging group of 17 or 18 year old students. It does not make any sense that we should have that same arrangement. Over a period of 100 years we came to recognise that some people would not be physically able to continue teaching. Apart from the intellectual demands, teaching is a physically demanding job. The concept was that they could leave on a reduced pension at an earlier stage. It is important to note that a small number of people took up that option.
I have no interest in this matter because, as the Minister of State is aware, this does not affect me in any way in terms of my personal pension, nor does the position in regard to teachers' pensions. I am interested in the professions of teaching and politics. I have a responsibility, as we all do, to protect the profession of politics. I previously used the example of the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, who I know will not mind me using it in an objective fashion. She left college in her early 20s and went straight into a life in politics, which is a very demanding life. She went on to become party leader and Tánaiste. I do not agree with many of her political views, but I admire her work and commitment as a public servant, as we all do, irrespective of our opinion on her views. I am aware that what we propose will not affect her. When the new system we are discussing is in place somebody in that situation would now be in his or her early 50s after giving 35 five years to politics. He or she would not have any source of income if the electorate were to decide to elect somebody else, which it has a perfect right to do. It is appalling that politicians in that position would not have any source of income for the following ten years. This is, effectively, handing politics over to people with their own source of income.
Most people enter politics in their late 30s or early 40s, although many people start at an earlier age, as evidenced by the two young men on the benches in front of me. It is also the age at which people might well be looking at their teenage sons and daughters looking forward to going to college or there may be other commitments. It is a hard enough decision in terms of the work-life balance to decide to enter a life of politics and work seven days a week with the impact that has on families, besides also going into one that may be insecure in terms of continuation of income.
The Minister of State cannot disagree with me on these points. I accept that he cannot publicly agree with me because he has been given a clear Government line to follow. If we have to raise the age at which people get a pension, I accept the arguments for that and I always have, instead of pushing everybody up to 65 which disadvantages politicians by 15 years, teachers by ten years and everybody else by only five, surely we can show some level of equity and raise everybody by five. This is a fair and honest compromise attempting to meet the Government's needs and also to address the needs of the political and teaching professions.
Somebody said to me earlier that the House has strong advocates, which I know was a reference to me in regard to teachers. I will fight for teachers. I know the profession well, but I promise I will also fight for any other group. There is no great media support in putting forward a proposal that tends to look after politicians. If any journalist is still awake one can imagine the great press I will get on this one; "They are lining their own pockets again" even though this has no bearing on my income or pension. We have a duty and responsibility to debate these matters honestly. We should bear in mind future Members of the Seanad and Dáil and we should be trying to attract people into politics and presenting it as a career. Just because we are protected by this Bill, which will not come into operation for a couple of decades, does not mean we should ignore the issue. What has made this country poor is the fact that people say they are all right without bearing in mind the next generation. This is to the detriment of politics and education and is not a good idea. I am putting forward a fair proposal and I ask the Minister of State, having listened to the arguments, to accept it and take on the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy.