Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2015: Committee Stage

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys.

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3
Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill".

I am sorry that amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order. It sought to exempt people who reach the age of 65 years after next January and qualify for jobseeker's allowance or benefit from the requirement to be available for and genuinely to seek full-time employment. The existence of the State pension is historical. Until the early 1970s, the qualifying age for the contributory State pension was 70 years of age. State pension transition, known then as the retirement pension, was introduced at that time to bridge the gap for employees who had to retire at 65 years of age. The qualifying age for the contributory State pension was subsequently increased over time to 66 years which left State pensions effective for just one year. The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided that the State pension age would increase gradually to 68 years. This began in January 2015 with the abolition of the availability of the State pension at 65 years, thereby standardising State pension age for all at 66. The State pension age will increase further to 67 years in 2021 and 68 in 2028.

Mandatory retirement clauses which force people to retire at 65 years, coupled with the abolition of the State pension transition, mean that people in this position do not qualify for a pension until 66 and, therefore, must sign on for a jobseeker's payment. We suggest that this is a ridiculous situation. After years of employment, people will be forced to endure a gap year before the State steps in with a pension entitlement. They will be considered too old to work by their previous employers but too young to claim a pension from the State. The failure to address this issue is just another example of how poorly the Government treats older people. There is no justification for it whatsoever. Despite claims to the contrary, older people have not been protected by the Government. We oppose strongly the continual attacks on the elderly which the Government has pursued since taking office. I will not go into all the details as I did on Second Stage, but the argument is that there is a need to look at this in the light of what we are saying and the practicalities of forcing people to retire at 65 years who then have a gap year before the State will step in. I would be grateful for the observations of the Minister of State in this regard.

I thank the Senator. I will not cause a row with him, but I do not accept that the Government has attacked older people. One need only look at the recent budget and the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill under discussion having regard to some of the cuts introduced by this and the previous Administration such as the Christmas bonus, 75% of which has now been re-established. We could have a long discussion about what happened prior to and after 2011, but the Senator knows well the situation in relation to the demographics of the country and where we are going. The likelihood is that someone born this year will be of pensionable age for a far longer period than that for which his or her working life contributions will provide. Our legislation and pensions will have to reflect this. We have seen in legislation the slow rise of the pension age towards 67 years in the last term. My access to retirement benefit will be at 67 years as I am a little younger than the Senator. There are supports from age 65 years. There is job benefit, which applies for nine months. There is no mandatory retirement age as the Senator outlined. In a lot of private sector jobs, people continue to work far beyond the age of 65 years. The point the Senator made about keeping this under continual review is well made. All these elements should be kept under review, not just in relation to pensions and retirement age but also in relation to social welfare legislation.

A Galway family has brought this issue to my attention. They are a husband and wife aged approximately 60 years. I was on the other side of the House when I voted for the extension of the retirement age to 67 years. The family has made a valid point to me which is that there was insufficient notice for people as old as 59 or 60 years to plan for their retirement when the pension age was moved to 67. They are retiring at 65 years. Will the Minister of State clarify for the House the supports that apply from 65 years to 67? I heard him refer to jobseeker's allowance, but it is not in the nature of these people to apply for that benefit. Can the Minister of State explain the qualifications for the transition pension? Is that from 65 years to 66 or 66 to 67? I have some concern. We made a mistake in government on that side when I was there. I voted for it, but we should not have introduced measures to move the age to 67 years for people who were over 50 or 55 years of age. Now, they are in trouble. As this man and his wife said to me, they will lose at least €40,000 if they live to the average life expectancy. Will the Minister of State clarify whether there is anything we can do to assist those people who did not get enough notice to make up the time? Can we amend the measure to help people recover from the change in the retirement age?

I agree with the Minister of State on the demographic profile of the population. We have a significantly ageing population that is not just living longer but is living more healthily. People want to engage in the workforce for longer. We have equality legislation and ageism is one of the grounds set out in it. There is evidence out there of ageism in the workforce and of people over the age of 60 years being discriminated against. The age of retirement for all State and semi-State employment should dovetail with any social welfare provisions. That is critically important. We should not have a scenario where people are obliged to retire from any occupation related to State activity that does not coincide with an entitlement to social welfare payments.

We need to review the equality legislation as it stands to ensure people are not only enabled to work to the extent of their capabilities but particularly to the age where they will be eligible for benefits. We must ensure they are also given access to all forms of training, further training and education, and I emphasise the word "education", to coincide with their benefits. A whole-of-life approach is needed.

I concur with the comments made by Senator Aideen Hayden. I have been asked what the Tánaiste's mood is. Previously people at 62 years of age did not have access to certain payments but they now have full access. On a voluntary basis, they can opt to avail of training, community employment courses and further education. We need to improve things. One can see from how the demographics of the population are changing that we must look at the whole range of life. A child born this year will work late into their 70s and he or she will want to contribute to society. Therefore, we must ensure that legislation reflects changing demographics. People who live a healthy life and wish to contribute to society should be able to do so. If we need to look at equality legislation, I would support such a move.

On many occasions in the past few years, people have approached me with complaints about being forced to retire. This issue must be addressed. People should not be forced to retire at 65 or 66 years of age when they want to continue to actively contribute. Forced retirement is in many ways ageism at its worst. Such people are fully engaged in the workforce, their communities and the network, and we must seriously consider the matter.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames asked about the relationship between having to retire at 66 rather than later at 67 years. These matters need to be addressed and will be addressed within the coming weeks. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames voted for the legislation which was created to flag that these changes were coming down the road and they are coming down the road. I know about making provision for a pension, having worked in the private sector for the vast majority of my life. The issue has been flagged and the ages have been increased. The age between 66 and 67 years will be addressed in the coming weeks. All short-term social welfare schemes, including jobseeker schemes, are payable up to the age of 66 years. Jobseekers whose benefit expires in their 65th year will continue to be paid benefits up until they reach 66 years.

Yes. The Senator made a point about the transition from 66 to 67 years.

The matter will be dealt with and discussions will take place. The couple to which the Senator referred are now aged 62 years and they will have a retirement age of 66. Is that correct?

People must retire from private sector work on reaching 65 years.

The Senator talked about people who are now in their 60s and will retire on reaching 67 years. Currently, the mechanisms in place take a person up to the age of 66 years. I will give the Senator a note on the matter but I repeat that all short-term social welfare schemes, including jobseeker schemes, are payable up to the age of 66 years. Jobseekers whose benefits expire in their 65th year will continue to be paid benefits up until the age of 66. Therefore, the couple that the Senator mentioned are dealt with up to the age of 66 years. We will have to see how the retirement age of 67 years which applies to me and possibly the Senator will be dealt with.

When might that one year gap be dealt with?

In the very early term of the next Government.

That is not a promise.

It will be a Fine Gael-Labour Party Government.

I thank the Senator for his vote of confidence.

I am just going by what the Minister of State's party leader has said. We are very confident that the next Government will comprise the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party.

As I said in my last contribution in the Dáil, the Senator is the only one who ever seems to heckle in this House.

I did not heckle the Minister of State. He would know it if I had done so.

Perhaps the next Sinn Féin-Fianna Fáil Government will deal with the matter.

(Interruptions).

Yesterday the parties put themselves forward as an alternative. They have every right to do so, but it is the people who will decide.

It is not the Senator or I who will decide.

The people will decide. Anyone who has a vote will decide.

I remind both the Minister of State and the Senators that we are debating the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill and other matters that are ultra vires should not be brought into this debate. I call Senator Marie Moloney as she was first to indicate. Everyone will have time to speak and I urge Members to stick to discussing the Bill.

I will let the expert speak.

Senator Marie Moloney will be brief and to the point, as usual.

The Minister of State has covered many of the issues raised. We brought forward legislation here to deal with a shortfall in earnings for people who had to retire at the age of 65 years. They are the only people who can claim jobseeker's benefit for 12 months because of a gap of three months. We flagged the issue several times in the Seanad and the Tánaiste responded; therefore, that aspect has been addressed.

The next move on the pension age will be in the year 2021 and it will be dealt with by the next Government. As has been said, we must deal with the matter in terms of companies. Workers were contracted long before moves were made on the pension age, which means that many people in Liebherr in Killarney, for example, and in other places must retire on reaching 65 years of age. Home helps must retire at the age of 65 years, but some of them do not want to do so. Therefore, we must change employment law. I have no doubt that we will bring forward legislation to move the retirement age to 67 years in order to cover the year long gap that people must endure. Between now and 2021, some people could have a two year lead-in to their pension. I do not know if the Government of the day will decide to create a two-year jobseeker's benefit for them. I am doubtful that it would do so and, therefore, we must change company law now.

It is always a pleasure to listen to Senator Marie Moloney due to her vast expertise in the area of social welfare. I mean that sincerely. She is absolutely awe inspiring. I would not like her to be in the Minister of State's position because she seems to have garnered the market in that regard.

There seems to be an imbalance in the Government's thinking on pensions in general. I put forward the following view to the Minister of State. On the one hand, the Government has talked about extending the age of eligibility for the contributory and non-contributory old age pensions while, on the other, the Government's policy in the past five years has made it less attractive for younger workers to take out pension plans. I cannot see how the Government can square the circle in this regard.

The Minister of State has said that jobseeker's allowance will be provided. I fully agree with him that there should not be a mandatory age of retirement. The Minister of State and Senator Marie Moloney are right in terms of the private sector. In the public sector and semi-State bodies, once a person reaches 65 years, he or she must retire regardless of how much expertise he or she possesses. There has been an exodus of senior personnel in their late 50s from An Garda Síochána, which means expertise has been lost. I am sure there are many other professions that I could mention. There is something inherently wrong in this trend that has developed during the years. I applaud the Government when it takes initiatives along these lines but this issue seems to have fallen through the cracks. Perhaps that is due to addressing other pressures such as fire brigade issues, allowances and dealing with various sectors of the community.

The pension timebomb is very real and I will score a political point by saying the following. Charlie McCreevy, although criticised, should be complimented on introducing the National Pensions Reserve Fund, admittedly at a time when the economy was expanding. It was a brilliant initiative because it recognised, even in the early 2000s, that by 2025, 2030 or 2040 there would be a very real problem, for whatever Government, in addressing public service pensions as public servants pay less, apart altogether from the private sector.

I do not expect the Minister of State to wave a magic wand to deal with the issue, but I believe it has been folly in the light of the pension timebomb - I would say the same if a Fianna Fáil-led Administration had done so - to penalise younger workers who want to take out pension plans. The Government should encourage them to do so by having lower and less penal tax rates, thus making it more attractive for people to take out pension plans.

I remember being advised to take out a pension plan when I was in my 20s or 30s, but I did not do it until much later. On a personal level, I hope the Minister of State is back in government, but whatever time is left to him as a Minister of State I hope the issue of encouraging more young workers to take out private pension plans is looked at in the broadest sense. Otherwise we will go bankrupt. He gave us the figures on demographics and everything else and it is a pity that people who want to continue working are forced, under a mandatory company policy or something else, to retire. Not all people find themselves in a financially straitened situation because of one year and there is a safety net, but there seems to be an imbalance. If we are going to extend eligibility, year by year, in the next decade we should put mechanisms in place on the other side of the equation to address the pensions timebomb.

I will be brief because I have specific amendments regarding pensions which I will table later. This section deals with changes in the normal retirement age and I ask the Minister of State to consider airline pilots and others in non-public sector jobs who have to retire at 55 years. They now cannot access their pension, or any State benefits, until the age of 67 years. This is something that cannot be fixed in this Bill. I give pilots as an example because they are not allowed to continue flying for medical reasons but there are others and in the public sector we have the same situation with gardaí. At some stage we will need to grapple with compulsory retirement ages. As Senator Paschal Mooney said, many people want to continue working; why, therefore, do we make it impossible for them to do so? A late retirement option can be applied for through Revenue but that is on an individual case basis.

The overall pension provision is very worrying and most people will not realise that the pension liability coming down the track to us is multiples of what the banking liability was to the State. It will be a problem that will become far more apparent to people from 2030 onwards and it affects both private and public pension provision. I told the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection that never had so much been done to undermine the security of pensions and pension provision than has been done by the changes in pension regulations in the past couple of years, in particular the private pension levy whereby the pension pot was dipped into for some €2.4 billion. As a result of other changes in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2013, employers can extricate themselves from promises they made to employees.

I produced a paper in 2009 which I sent to the then Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, and which I also sent to the current Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, at the start of this Oireachtas term. It was on the subject of how we would actually fund public sector pensions. In the future, it will not be acceptable for public sector pensions to be paid out of current Government expenditure. At some stage we will have to set up a hybrid arrangement whereby new entrants' increments to existing public sector pensions go into a separate pension fund. Some investments will come back from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which was rightly used in our crisis, but we have to look at doing it again by starting a separate fund. I am not talking about changing existing benefits in the public sector and, as far as I am concerned, what one has one holds, but for those joining in the future we should move towards a hybrid arrangement with a mix of defined benefit and defined contribution in order that the State will at least have an idea of what its liability will be and can meet it into the future. It is not for this Bill right now but it is something all parties need to have a serious think about in the run-up to the general election and whatever the make-up of the next Government, it will need to prioritise pensions. We are proposing that there be a pensions Minister, even if it is at a junior level, to encourage a complete focus on the issue.

I will talk about the merging of the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Pensions Ombudsman later on. People who have to retire because of their employment are not dealt with in this Bill and we should look at including them in the future.

I joined a semi-State company at 20 years of age and it was compulsory to pay approximately 6.9% or 7% of my wages towards my pension. All of my colleagues were in the same position and the company paid a corresponding amount towards our pensions. My wife wondered whether we had to pay this phenomenal figure and when it comes to being paid my pension, I hope my colleagues and I will be rewarded. Should this be compulsory for a young man or woman or their company, whether it be private or in the semi-State sector? Could we make it compulsory for people to pay 5% or 6% towards their pension? Young men and women do not think of pensions at 22 or 22 years of age, but should we consider this?

Many points have been made on this topic. It is a small social welfare Bill and we are debating pensions, which I welcome. No political party has the answer on this and it will take some time to consider what is best for the State. We should certainly be building up a reserve. I sat on a finance committee on Dublin City Council and we met the Department of Finance. At the time, Dublin City Council was doing reasonably well and we wanted to make provision for pensions within the city council so that it would not come out of current revenue, but we were barred from doing it. I am not political point-scoring as this is an issue that will hit this country like a tsunami and we have to start planning for it now.

Senator Terry Brennan asked about compulsory enrolment. In England, one has to actually opt out of a pension to avoid automatic enrolment. Many of these issues have to be debated. A young couple in their late 20s or early 30s have a different set of priorities, such as buying a home, and this is something that will impact on them in 30 or 35 years time. They say they want to buy the house now and will worry about their pension in 35 years time. The State will have significant financial challenges and I agree with Senator Paschal Mooney that one of the good things Charlie McCreevy did was to set up the reserve fund. It was a good example of forward planning. As things are slowly getting better and the recovery is kicking in, now is the time to have the discussion but we should not be putting up party flags and having major disagreements over the issues. We want a good pension scheme that will provide for the citizens of this country for the next 30, 40 or 50 years and we need to plan for it now. Having a discussion on it now is healthy, but it needs to be discussed as a full pension debate, rather than under a social welfare Bill. I would be interested in listening to the contributions to that debate. Much work has been done by the Department of Social Protection to prepare us for the discussion. I believe automatic enrolment in a pension scheme for people joining a workforce will play a key role and we will have to look at how we provide for the pensions, in 30 or 40 years time, of new recruits into the public sector.

Senator Aideen Hayden raised some points regarding age discrimination and enforced retirement at particular ages. All that needs to be considered. Previously, regulations were made for gardaí, fire-fighters, airline pilots and so on - we can go through the list - to retire at certain ages. At that stage life expectancy was far shorter. I remember when my father retired. At that time, life expectancy was in the early 70s for men and was only tipping towards the late 70s for women. Now, men are expected to live well into their 80s and, as time passes, they will be living into their 90s. If current expectation for retirement continues, the likelihood is that we will spend longer retired than contributing to the workforce. All that needs to be addressed.

There is a great role for that debate to take place in this House or in committee in a non-party fashion. Everyone is interested in getting the best solution. When we talk about pensions, we are talking about is long-term planning. Part of the discussion relates to building up the pensions reserve fund again and discussing where it should be invested. It should be invested in Ireland in the State sector, but there are regulations relating to pension funds and where they can be invested. I am keen to see a wide debate on pensions.

I thank Senators for raising this important issue in the context of the section. However, discussing it in the context of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill is probably somewhat disingenuous on the issue. I am not referring to anyone in the House when I say that. The question really needs extensive discussion and considerable expert input.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

I thank Senators and Deputies in respect of the change in name of the respite care grant to the carer support grant. That is an important change and should be widely publicised. If Members are talking to people, they should discuss it with them because it is a fundamental change. It has, however, been passed over in the media.

I welcome the change. On Second Stage I remarked that this side of the House applauds the Government for having restored the payment in its entirety. It should never have been reduced in the first instance. This move has been met with universal welcome. I am also keen to express - I should have done so on Second Stage - my appreciation for the great work Senator Marie Moloney was doing within the Labour Party rooms in respect of this matter. She would have been as annoyed and angry as ourselves and everyone else about the reduction. All is well that ends well.

We have already discussed section 5. I understand Senator Marie Moloney wishes wish to make a brief intervention.

I have a question on the payment, the period of 12 weeks after a given date and the carer's allowance. Does the arrangement for carer's allowance relate to carer's benefit also or is it simply for the carer's allowance?

I believe it relates to the carer's allowance, but I will clarify it with the Senator before we finish this session.

There is a reference to carer's benefit.

I apologise for interrupting, but are we on section 5 or section 6?

Section 5 was passed, but as the Minister of State wanted to come in, we reopened it.

I am sorry. I am not trying to stop you. I am simply trying to keep up.

We are sitting beyond midnight and we keep reopening things. The Minister of State reopened it and it has now been debated.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 6

Amendment No. 2 involves a potential charge on the Exchequer and has been ruled out of order on that basis.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

Unfortunately, the amendment was ruled out of order. It sought to reverse many of the cuts or changes made to the one-parent family payment and raised the cut-off age to 12 years. We believe the lowering of the age will make it far more difficult for many lone parents to get back to work.

It was interesting to read through the Dáil exchanges on the issue. The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, when she was defending her position, said there would be an immediate incentive to increase the number of hours worked each week and that those involved would be financially better off than at present. That was her justification for raising it, as if it were as simple as that. We know and the Minister of State knows that we have a major problem with underemployment. We have a problem with many low-paid workers, particularly women. Many are low-paid workers in the retail sector and other sectors. They want to work more hours but cannot get the hours and are not in a position to get them. It is not fair to say that many lone parents are going to be better off because of these changes. That is simply not the case. Certainly, they can speak for themselves and they have been clear advocates for their circumstances in recent years. What we were trying to do with the amendment was reverse the changes. Unfortunately, the amendment was ruled out of order. In any event, I was keen to raise the point again.

Like Senator Paschal Mooney and other Senators, I support the thrust of the Bill. It does not go far enough from our perspective but it does give something back to people on social welfare that was taken from them in recent budgets. One of the cuts which was most unfair was the change to the lone-parent family payment. We are being told we have a recovering economy. Figures out today suggest there is plenty of money about the place. The Taoiseach's comments in the Dáil also indicate this to be the case. If there is loads of money about the place, why are we not reversing these changes? When we put questions to the Tánaiste on this issue, we were told it would cost approximately €21.7 million to fully reverse it. Like many things, that should be considered by Government. I was keen to raise the point again under the section, although the amendment was ruled out of order.

I will try to be brief. I thank Senator David Cullinane for his contribution. He referred to the Central Statistics Office figures and the number of people who are underemployed or working part-time. I welcome the CSO figures indicating the number of part-time workers moving to full-time work.

The whole thrust of the amendment was to remove welfare dependency and the poverty trap. It is important to highlight that as a result of this, no lone parent with a youngest child aged under 14 years is required to take up employment to receive income support from the Department. The Tánaiste made that change. Moreover, the back-to-work family dividend has been most successful. A substantial number of the people who have taken up the back-to-work family dividend are lone parents. They have been able to increase their hours and gain from that. Let us consider the statistics. This will be seen in future as a progressive move to assist lone parents back to the workforce and proper employment. The early indications from the back-to-work family dividend and the Central Statistics Office figures on people moving into full-time employment have been heartening.

This is about choice in the first instance. It is about whether women can work and whether they have the opportunity to work. The Minister of State must realise that many parents have two, three or more children and it may be difficult for them to get a part-time job. Many of them want to work and do work. Those not in a position to work because work is not available or because they cannot get sufficient hours are being penalised. No one wants to see people dependent on social welfare, least of all, the people who are dependent on social welfare themselves. There will always be a tiny minority in any state or population who might depend on welfare. However, the Minister of State will agree that is only a small percentage of people.

The reality is there are many lone parents who either want to work or are not in a position to work because of their circumstances and who have been penalised and are worse off because of the changes. They have suffered more hardship because of changes that were made. If one listens to lone parents and their advocate groups, that is what they are telling us. That is what they are telling the Minister of State. They do not have a difficulty with being able to work. They want to work. Many of them will, if they can get more hours if they can go back to work. When we debated this with the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection in 2012 when she first mooted this in the Dáil and the Seanad, she was clear and unequivocal that none of this would happen until we had proper so-called Scandinavian child care. That never materialised. That is why many of these women feel betrayed. With the absence of supports, it is not even financially viable for them to work. Many of them, as I said, are in low-paid jobs. Many of them go to work anyway, even though there may not be any significant financial reward for them. They still get up and go to work and do all of these things, but they struggle in low-paid jobs with the cost of child care. These are the ones about whom I would be concerned.

I am not supportive of those who see themselves as dependent on social welfare, but that is not how the majority of lone parents see themselves. I think the Minister of State would acknowledge and accept this and I am not saying that is how he would see it.

For clarification, are we on section 6 - carer's support?

We have strayed into a number of areas on which I was expecting to make a contribution.

We have strayed in and I allowed Senator David Cullinane to make a brief contribution.

That is why I am asking the Chair.

Previous to this, everybody strayed in.

In fairness, we did not.

We had a Second Stage-style debate on section 3.

Senator Paschal Mooney is not in the Chair. If he read the Bill, he would see that my contribution was entirely relevant.

With respect, I do not have a disagreement with the Senator, but we are talking about section 6, which has to do with carer's support grant, not child care.

We are on amendment No. 2 to section 6.

For the record and to clear this up, amendment No. 2 was ruled out of order because it provided for a reversal of cuts to the payment of the one-parent family payment which had been introduced in recent years.

It is to the wrong section.

It is amendment No. 2.

Section 6 concerns carer's support grant, on which the amendments should be based.

Amendment No. 2 was ruled out of order as it would have imposed a charge on the Exchequer.

It is to the appropriate section. The Senators should settle down for a second.

The Senator stated he would be brief. Please allow him to conclude.

For the past half an hour I have had to sit through long rambling speeches by Senators on pensions and many issues that had no relevance whatsoever to the section.

I am very settled.

I am finished. I have made my contribution.

I am aware of my failings in that regard.

Very good. I am glad that the Senator is.

Ba chóir don Sheanadóir Mooney a scíth a ligean. Senator David Cullinane should try to concentrate. I have ruled in his favour for the moment.

Very good. As I stated, I am finished. I have made my contribution. The Minister of State has responded.

I thank Senator David Cullinane. I do not want to portray the Senators as a family at war before they even reach an agreement.

I represent a working-class area. I accept the majority want to work and contribute to society. I outlined the amendments the Tánaiste made where a lone parent whose youngest child is aged under 14 years is required to take up employment to receive income support from the Department.

There are a number of areas within social welfare that cause poverty traps and intergenerational poverty. For example, the housing assistance payment, HAP, is starting to prove to be very successful in allowing tenants to continue to get assistance with their rent when they return to employment whereas under the old rent scheme, if one took up employment, one lost the rent allowance completely. There have been some very positive changes. I outlined the back-to-work family dividend.

I hear what Senator David Cullinane is saying. His amendment has been ruled out of order. However, this will be seen as quite a progressive step in future years because it will break down that intergenerational unemployment. It will result in a role model within the family who is going out to work. I accept the majority want to go out to work and it is about ensuring supports are provided for them.

Question put and declared carried.
Sections 7 and 8 agreed to.
SECTION 9

Amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order as involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 3 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

The only way we can even talk about the issues we wish to raise is as part of the debate on the sections. I am sure the Fianna Fáil will have to do likewise because its amendments have been ruled out of order also. I will take the opportunity under the section to deal with the issues.

What we were seeking to do was to increase the family income supplement by 10%. These are measures that my party proposed in its alternative budget that the Government should have introduced. We are being consistent with what we put forward. I have acknowledged there are some positive elements of the Government's budget in terms of social welfare payments, but a 10% increase in the family income supplement would have benefited tens of thousands of low-income families who need it.

Is the Senator referring to the correct section?

I apologise for interrupting Senator David Cullinane. There might be a bit of a mix-up because we are on section 9, payment after death – carer's allowance. I am aware it reads slightly differently on the amendment.

I imagine that what is happening is that these are the sections to which my party tabled the amendments.

I ruled amendment No. 3 out of order, but I am allowing the Senator to speak to the section, which he is entitled to do.

That is where the confusion arises. The amendments seek to alter the sections of the Bill to make them about something else also. Obviously, that is where the confusion arises.

The amendments are to the wrong section.

I have made my point. The same may happen for amendments proposed by Fianna Fáil as well because they have been ruled out of order also. One can amend the Bill any way one wants.

In fairness to the Senator, the amendments were ruled out of order as they involved a potential charge on the Exchequer. They made no mention of whether he was right or wrong on the section on which he is entitled to make a contribution. My speaking notes confirm that they are to the right section, but they have been ruled out of order.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

For the record, it was in section 8 we increased family income supplement. We need also to be careful that family income supplement would not become a disincentive to employers to increase their earnings through increased hours or higher wages. This would leave recipients trapped on low incomes over time. We need to be careful on family income supplement. It is worthy of further study to determine that employers are not manipulating their payments to ensure employees qualify for family income supplement and restricting the opportunities of employees to increase their income and hours. We all need to be careful of employers exploiting family income supplement. It is something that has been brought to my attention in recent months and it needs further study. As I said, the amendment has been ruled out of order. I merely highlight in a non-political sense that we all need to be careful with family income supplement that we want recipients to maximise their earnings and we do not necessarily want to subsidise employers for low pay.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 10 to 20, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order because it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 4 not moved

Amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 15, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

"21. The Minister shall, within 4 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas, reviewing all expenditure reductions or the ceasing of payments in relation to the household benefits package, including the gas allowance, electricity allowance, telephone allowance since 2011, and setting out the options for restoring those payments to their previous levels.".

The amendment is self-explanatory. The related amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would also require the Minister to "within 4 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay out a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas". I would be grateful for the Minister of State's observations on these linked amendments.

I second the amendment. I would like to set out the context for the amendments. The Minister of State mentioned certain labour activation measures on Second Stage. We have discussed them here. We can argue the toss on this issue. We will know the position in due course.

Amendment No. 5 specifically looks for a report to be produced within four months of the passing of this Act which would review "all expenditure reductions or the ceasing of payments in relation to the household benefits package, including the gas allowance, electricity allowance, telephone allowance since 2011, and setting out the options for restoring those payments to their previous levels". This is very important.

I do not want people to forget what is involved. The telephone allowance, for example, was worth nearly €29 a month, in effect. It was reduced to €9 during the term of the Government before being abolished entirely. It is a matter of grave concern. I am sure it is raised with the Minister of State, particularly by elderly people, when he is out and about in his own constituency. The abolition of this allowance raised various issues with regard to alarms, etc. That is just one example.

At the very least, we should review the impact on stakeholders of the various cuts, including the cuts in the electricity, gas and household package. I suggest the abolition of the telephone allowance, in particular, is one of the biggest mistakes made in this area. Amendment No. 6 calls for a report to be prepared within four months of the passing of this Bill "reviewing all expenditure reductions or ceasing of payments in relation to the treatment benefits package since 2011, and setting out options for restoring those payments to their previous levels". I think these amendments should be accepted by this or any future Government on the basis of a specific commitment to look at how these benefits can be restored to previous levels.

The abolition of bereavement grant payments was one of the most bizarre cuts imposed by the Government. When it was going after the elderly, it decided to go after them after they have died as well. Amendment No. 7 proposes to review this atrocious cut by calling on the Government to look at "options for restoring those payments to their previous levels". I am talking about options. When the Tánaiste came in here to debate the abolition of the bereavement grant, she gave all types of reasons for it. She suggested that undertakers were increasing fees, for example. It was all the usual nonsense we hear from time to time. There has been nothing to back that up.

If the Government commits to a proper review of the particular cuts that are mentioned in amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, at least we will know whether I was talking rubbish, or the Tánaiste was talking rubbish, at the time of their abolition. I might be proved wrong after four months, or the Government might have to face the option of accepting it was wrong to cut the telephone allowance. I know from meeting elderly people and others in north County Dublin that its abolition has had an impact on senior citizens, in particular. The bereavement grant was seen as very important for people with no income who were not able to make the necessary provisions. Many elderly people are concerned about how they and their families will be able to afford to bury them. It was right that the State made some contribution towards these costs in the past, and it is wrong that this Government has abolished the grant. That is what the amendments seek to address. That is my view. I am seconding all three amendments.

I do not propose to accept the amendments. Perhaps they should have included references to cuts were made prior to 2011.

These allowances were still in place at that stage.

I do not accept the Senator's flippant remark about the Tánaiste talking rubbish.

I said I could be talking rubbish also.

I suggest the Senator have a look at the variations in charges arising from the bereavement grant.

There are enormous variations across the State. The Department of Social Protection makes provision for payments to be made through the community welfare officers to assist people who are without means with the cost of burials. The Senator knows that well. I am not proposing to include the amendments in the Bill before the House because it would not be right or proper to do so. This is a social welfare Bill. We have loads of opportunities to discuss these matters. I will be quite happy to come to this House in four months time to debate the impacts of these decisions and the options we have for the future. I would welcome an opportunity to have such a debate with the Senator in this House. I look forward to the opportunity to debate the future impacts of the decisions that have been made.

These are budgetary decisions and options. The Department of Social Protection carries out a detailed formal engagement with people in all the different areas. The changes in the social welfare Bill before the House were influenced by the forum we held with all the stakeholders in Dublin Castle. It is very much the case that the changes prioritised by those stakeholders are those set out in the Bill we are debating. I believe the avenues available to us to debate these issues are more than adequate. People are able to make pre-budget submissions. This House has ways of holding us to account. I am more than happy to come back in here in four months time to debate the impact of the social welfare Bill. There is no need for that to be consolidated in legislation. It can be agreed by the House. I have come to this House on many occasions to debate issues. In the Dáil, the Whips can agree for time to be allowed for debate on studies as they come in. Equally, they can refuse to do so. I am not accepting this proposal because I do not believe it is proper or right to embed it within the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.

I completely, totally and utterly disagree with the Minister of State on this matter. I will debate with him on it in any House in four months time. Perhaps neither of us will be in any House. Perhaps the Minister of State will be in this House.

I said I would be happy to debate it with the Senator now. I hope both of us will be here to debate it.

I hope the Minister of State will be here in the Seanad after the next general election. Setting all the other cuts aside, no one can tell me that the abolition of the telephone allowance was the correct decision. The Minister of State said when explaining the abolition of the bereavement grant that families can always go to community welfare officers. I suggest that the period after a loved one has died is not a lovely time for family members to be going to a community welfare officer with their hands out seeking some assistance with funeral arrangements. The bereavement grant and the telephone allowance were there, but this Fine Gael-Labour Party Government got rid of them. Those are the facts.

The amendments would tie any future Government into reviewing of the household benefits package and the treatment packages. I have given some specific examples. We will not agree on this issue. I would like to clarify that I was not rubbishing the Tánaiste. I was saying that after the reviews we are calling for have been carried out, we will know whether I was talking rubbish or the Tánaiste was talking rubbish. That was all I said. It was no personal slight on the Tánaiste. Perhaps I should have referred to knowing whether the Tánaiste was correct or I was correct. That might suit the Minister of State better. It is good of him to protect his party leader. We intend to push the amendments because we believe the reviews we are seeking should be provided for in the Bill. We are pursuing them, regardless of whether the Minister of State believes they would be appropriate to the Bill.

Will the Minister of State not concede in general terms that Governments should be held accountable for their decisions and actions? That is all these amendments are seeking to do. We are asking the Government to account to the Houses of the Oireachtas, within four months of the passing of this Bill, for the adverse or positive impact on the general population of certain policy and monetary decisions that it made. I refer specifically to the impact on the particular categories of the population that have been affected by these cuts.

I am not accepting the amendments. I am quite happy to come in and debate these matters at any stage.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 12; Níl, 19.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 15, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

“21. The Minister shall, within 4 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay out a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas, reviewing all expenditure reductions or ceasing of payments in relation to the treatment benefits package since 2011, and setting out options for restoring those payments to their previous levels.”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 12; Níl, 22.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 15, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

“21. The Minister shall, within 4 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay out a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas, reviewing the abolition of the bereavement grant, and setting out options for restoring those payments to their previous levels.”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 23.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, not moved.
SECTION 21
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill."

We propose that this section delete section 4 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act. It relates to the change in the one-parent family payment and reducing eligibility for the payment to when the youngest child is seven years old. We have debated this at great length, both with the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, and in the other House. This amendment would reverse that change.

Fianna Fáil believes it is time to support one-parent families, not punish them. The cuts to their allowance are unjust and unfair. We have made that argument time and again. As a first step, Fianna Fáil would increase the maximum child age for the one-parent family payment scheme from its current threshold of seven years to 14. Lone parents are at risk of poverty and social exclusion and the changes introduced have been unfair.

In the context of the earlier amendments for which Senator Darragh O'Brien was eloquently arguing, I have no doubt whatsoever that if any impact study were carried out, this is one area where the Government would end up with a red face. Lone parents have been adversely affected financially by this particular proposal. Those living in households with one adult and one or more children had an at risk of poverty rate of 31.7% in 2013. In the same year, those living in households with one adult and one or more children had the highest deprivation rate, at 63.2%, and those living in households with one adult and one or more children had the highest consistent poverty rate, at 23%. Maybe the Minister of State can point to some improvements in the past two years.

I hope there will be improvements because it is unacceptable in a modern society like Ireland. These figures are a stark reminder that there are people on whom the economic recovery is not impacting in any beneficial manner.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Section 22 agreed.
SECTION 23
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

As I said on Second Stage, the logic of merging the office of the Financial Services Ombudsman with the office of the Pensions Ombudsman is a retrograde step, particularly in the light of all us agreeing the importance of pensions into the future. That is why I said we will oppose the section. I do not think it makes any sense. If anything, we should be better resourcing the office of the Pensions Ombudsman.

This arose following a critical review of a recommendation. We are moving more rapidly to defined contributions. There is a crossover of expertise. In respect of the schemes in operation, my officials have informed me that there are more than 62,000 schemes in Ireland and there are approximately 700 defined schemes so there is a certain amount of logic following the review carried out. That was one of the recommendations and it was dealt with in the heads of the Finance Bill. This is an enabling provision but they will operate separately for a period until the Finance Bill has gone through.

Question put and declared carried.
Sections 24 and 25 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendments Nos. 11, 13 and 14 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 16, after line 35, to insert the following:

"26. The Pensions Act 1990 is amended by inserting a new section 48A as follows:

"48A. A solvent firm shall not be allowed to close a defined benefit pension scheme except where the scheme has reached a minimum 90 per cent funding standard.".".

I referred to this issue on Second Stage. The purpose of the new section and the amendments is clear given what has happened with some pension schemes already when we relaxed the funding requirement for employers and pension scheme trustees. In effect, these amendments would remove the single insolvency introduced by the Government. We can understand why a pension scheme might have to be wound down if the company and the scheme were insolvent. We have the example of the IAS scheme where a profitable employer with hundreds of millions of euro in cash reserves ran down its pension scheme and doubled its deficit from €350 million to €760 million in two years by starving the scheme of funds. The employer told existing scheme members not to contribute to the scheme and doubled the deficit. The Government introduced legislation under the Social Welfare and Pensions Act and the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act that actually showed a roadmap to Aer Lingus, the DAA and former SRT as to how they could back slide their way out of the commitments they had given to the detriment, in particular, of long-standing deferred members who had not drawn down their pensions. People lost up to 60% of their promised benefits, retired members lost at least six weeks pay and active members have been put into an inferior pensions scheme. That legislation allowed members of a pension scheme to be unilaterally moved out of a scheme without their permission. That never happened before. The single insolvency is a retrograde step. It was a mistake and it should be fixed. My amendment No. 11 seeks that a solvent firm should not be allowed to close a defined benefit pension scheme except where the scheme has reached a minimum 90% funding standard. That is what it should be and that is what it is in many other developed countries across the world and in most European countries.

Amendment No. 13 is specific to the IAS scheme and would reverse the scheme brought forward by the Government. It states that the IAS scheme shall not be allowed to close its pension scheme except where the scheme has reached a minimum 90% funding standard. Amendment No. 14 seeks that the IAS scheme shall not be allowed to close its pension scheme except where all pension scheme members are treated in an equitable manner on the winding up of that scheme. Those amendments are clear.

I would like to quote some figures from Lane Clark and Peacock's pension account and briefing of 2015 which are particularly interesting.

As most people know, equity markets in managed funds have been the subject of substantial growth in the past two years. However, Senators might be surprised to learn that the deficit in the defined benefit schemes of the State's largest private and public sector companies increased by 50% in 2014 and that the average level of the equity markets in those schemes decreased by 49%. In the same period, there was average pension scheme growth of double digits in standard managed funds, yet the level of funding of the underfunded schemes increased by more than 90%. Only one company reported that it had sufficient funds to meet its funded liabilities. The average funding level of schemes fell from 86% in 2013 to 83% in 2014. This is in the context of a market that is on its way up.

This is happening because all of these employers - public, private and semi-State commercial - have seen what has been allowed to happen at Aer Lingus to the Irish aviation superannuation scheme, IASS, and spotted a way out via single insolvency. If profitable companies run down their pension schemes, they can extricate themselves and write off the schemes' deficits. This is happening on the Government's watch. Private schemes are preparing to boot members out of their defined benefit arrangements and place them in inferior schemes. It will happen wholesale. Under my first amendment, what occurred with the IASS could not happen again unless a scheme reached a 90% funding rate, at which point it would be more equitable and a lesser reduction would be vested upon its members.

The other amendments relate specifically to the IASS. I do not want to delay the House. I do not know how many times I have raised this issue but no one can stand over what has happened to the 15,000 people in that pension scheme. It was done to permit the sale of Aer Lingus. The Government could not sell Aer Lingus with a pension deficit of €700 million plus. Instead, facilitating legislation was introduced and the State received a paltry €342 million, none of which is legally allowed to be invested in the pension scheme to reduce its deficit. The people who have paid for the sale of the State's share are the 15,000 IASS members, in particular the 5,000 retirees, many of them in their 80s, who have lost six weeks' pay and the further 5,000 members who have lost significant benefits. The active members have significantly inferior pension arrangements with lesser benefits for them at retirement.

The same company that advised the trustees of the IASS in Aer Lingus is advising other semi-State commercial companies on their pension arrangements. They will do the same thing. It is also happening with private pension schemes. I have the details but I will not mention the companies' names because it would not be appropriate to do so in the House. All of this will make it more difficult to provide for pensions in the future and to entice people into schemes. I have mentioned a number of other reasons as to why I believe this will be the case. I am speaking as someone who worked for 15 years in the pension sector before entering the Oireachtas. I would not advise anyone to take out a pension now. The situation is insecure because the foundation of pensions as a secure form of savings has been badly undermined by the private pension levy, what happened with the IASS and the changes to legislation that allow profitable companies to wind down their schemes instantly, high-tail it off and write off the deficits. People would be better off putting their money in post offices. Until we change pensions to become lifetime savings plans from which individuals can access funds at certain times, for example, to buy a house, get married or pay down debt via specific arrangements, I would tell people not to go near a pension based on what has happened in the past three or four years. We have failed miserably in that regard.

What can anyone say to the members of the Tara Mines pension scheme who lost more than one month in benefit payments to pay for the private pension levy? Ironically, the IASS which was effectively wound down with the assistance of the Government had to pay the pension levy in cash. The scheme's members are suffering for this. Many joined the scheme because it was compulsory while some made additional voluntary contributions and did what Governments of all hues told them to do down the years, namely, provide for their retirements. They made their sacrifices. They did not blow it all on a horse. After making that provision, they found that their legs had been taken out from under them. It was wrong.

I will not delay the House further. I will continue to fight on this issue. However, we should ensure that what occurred in this instance never happens with any other pension scheme. Whoever is in government next should give a commitment to the members of the IASS that the savage cuts to their scheme will be reduced, be it by way of a levy on other arrangements or a special payment. I hope I have made my point.

The Senator is correct. I have heard him debate this issue many times with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection. I will not go over the details again. In fairness, the Senator has told me that he does not wish for me to do that. A few brief comments have been made several times. It is important to note again that the decision to wind up defined benefit schemes does not rest with the sponsoring employer but with the trustee. We have also debated the trustee's responsibilities, engagement and consultation.

Generally, there is merit in the Senator's proposal. However, it would give rise to unintended consequences. As we exit the recession and enter recovery, we need to be careful in the context of how we balance measures. Many of the Senator's points need to be considered as part of an overall review of pensions. I look forward to starting that process with him as early as possible in the term of a new Government. It would be an excellent debate to begin in committee hearings, from which a strong report could be produced. Like the Senator, I believe that pensions will present one of the next Government's greatest challenges. How we deal with it will be important and affect the country for decades.

The policy on defined benefit schemes has been to nurse them back into compliance. We are getting there. The average level of funding for non-compliant schemes was approximately 78% of the funding standard. This figure is based on a review of 140 of the 300 schemes. Work and research have been done but there is much that needs to be addressed. Some of it can be handled through guidance from the Departments of Finance and Social Protection on how trustees should operate. The statistics are new to me. There are approximately 62,000 schemes, each of which has a set of trustees and governance measures. The number of trustees must run into the thousands.

I will be brief because the Senator asked me to be civil. I cannot accept his proposals.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 21.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

I propose to extend the time by five minutes to allow us complete Committee Stage.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 16, after line 35, to insert the following:

"26. The Pensions Act 1990 is amended by inserting a new section 48A as follows:

"48A. An appeals mechanism for pension scheme members shall be put in place where trustees have decided upon reduced benefits for members, and such appeals mechanism shall ensure that any category of such pension scheme members have not been unfairly treated in any restructuring arrangement.".".

I thank the Minister of State for his time. The amendment proposes an appeals mechanism for pension scheme members to ensure no category of such members would be disproportionately affected on the wind-down of a scheme. For the purpose of today's debate, I will withdraw the amendment and reintroduce it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 16, after line 35, to insert the following:

"26. The State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 is amended by inserting a new section 34A as follows:

"34A. The IAS Scheme shall not be allowed to close its pension scheme except where the scheme has reached a minimum 90 per cent funding standard.".".

I will also withdraw this amendment and reintroduce it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 16, after line 35, to insert the following:

"26. The State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 is amended by inserting a new section 34A as follows:

"34A. The IAS Scheme shall not be allowed to close its pension scheme except where all pension scheme members are treated in an equitable manner on the winding up of that scheme.".".

I have spoken about this matter already. I will withdraw the amendment and reintroduce it on Report Stage when there will be more time available for discussion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 8 December 2015.