Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and his officials. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 which was referred to the select committee by the Dáil on 4 March.

SECTION 1.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I have received notice that virtually all of my amendments have been ruled out of order. Innocuous amendments seeking a report on the feasibility of certain changes have been deemed to be out of order. The Chairman is interpreting the rules which, as in the case of the Finance Bill, are bizarre. He is allowing Opposition Deputies to table amendments which would cost a fortune to implement, for example, by way of tax allowances being extended, while frugal amendments requesting an assessment of the feasibility of certain changes have been deemed to be out of order.

I am sure the Chairman will say he is merely interpreting long-standing rules but we are wasting our time coming to committee meetings if discussions will not be allowed on inoccuous amendments, similar to those tabled to the Finance Bill which sought an assessment of tax reliefs and the establishment of a commission on taxation, or in this case an amendment seeking a report on the feasibility of certain changes, especially when some of the changes proposed were recommended by the Commission on Public Service Pensions and which, to judge from the depth of the report, would cost the taxpayer a considerable amount of money.

To say the Oireachtas cannot debate modest reporting requirements on Departments because they might impose a charge on the Exchequer is a nonsense. The report was published four years ago. Umpteen man-hours went into its preparation. We have reached the last phase of the discussion on many of the issues involved and the Chairman will not even allow members a few minutes to debate amendments which reflect some of the core concerns raised by the commission. To call this a committee which will go through the details of such proposals is a joke, if the Chairman rules out of order amendments that seek to explore some of the issues assessed at enormous expense by the State.

I object to the Chairman's decision to rule out of order not only Deputy Bruton's amendments but many of mine. As many of the amendments are similar to ones tabled by Deputy Ó Caoláin, I assume that if he was present, he would have a similar story to tell, that many of his amendments have been ruled out of order.

I noted the proceedings at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis at the weekend. In a way this committee shows that the Government is letting power go to its head and it is unfortunate that the Chairman has decided to follow the same principles. Recent responses show that many Ministers are now spending more than €1 million per week on consultants and advisory reports an almost anything and everything. No matter what the issue, the Government has a batch of advisers and PR consultants. Whether to photograph Ministers in or out of a barrel, a lot of money is being spent by it. There is not one ordinary Fianna Fáil Member present. This is the point at which it stops being a Government and starts to become a regime. It seems as though the point in having an Opposition is extremely limited. With all due respect to the Minister of State, whom I am delighted to see, he has had no involvement in this escapade. He has just been told to come here.

Large numbers of nurses, teachers, doctors, gardaí, prison officers and other public servants will be affected by this Bill. Very detailed representations about its impact have been made on their behalf which are partially reflected in the amendments tabled by the Opposition. We know that the Government has the numbers to defeat them but it is a very sad day for democracy when we get to a situation where it is not even prepared to listen to the arguments made. It is the arrogance that comes from a feeling, as the exercise at the weekend clearly showed, that the Government will hold power forever. I can understand the reason it should feel like this at this high point but it should not forget about the thousands of unhappy public servants, students in training colleges and nurses undergoing training.

The Minister of State is mainly assigned to the Department of Health and Children. We all know about the crisis confronting that Department. Foreign doctors will have their rights severely curtailed by this Bill, as will Irish doctors who, because of our crazy medical structures, are forced to go abroad and come back in their thirties. The impact of the Bill on their future practice in their profession and their availability to work in the medical service will be severely limited but this will not get much of an airing because the Government has decided that the best thing to do is to close down the debate.

This is regrettable because we are talking about critical public services, including the medical service, the teaching profession and the prison service, which, as we all know, are at varying levels of difficulty, if not in crisis. Essentially, in an area as important as pensions, the Government is cutting down the opportunity to debate the impact of the proposed changes on these classes of public servant. We know it will vote down the amendments but to close down the debate is deeply regrettable.

I am sorry that the Chairman should be party to this. He has decided that from now on a report, whether it be two, 20 or 100 pages long, will constitute a charge on the Exchequer. Given that many Ministers are spending €1 million per week on all kinds of reports, it is ironic on something as fundamental as employment conditions in critical elements of the public service that the Chairman has decided to interpret Standing Orders in this way to rule out discussion or detailed examination of the impact. This is deeply regrettable.

While I welcome the Minister of State, it is regrettable that neither the Minister for Finance nor the Minister of State at that Department has made himself available. They hold the purse strings for these key elements of the public service but are not present to hear contributions about the impact the proposals made in the Bill will have on the public servants involved.

I have allowed a lot of latitude in comments that have nothing to do with Committee Stage. I have done so in the interests of letting members express their views on the fact that amendments Nos. 1, 3 to 10, inclusive, 14 and 16 to 19, inclusive, have been ruled out of order.

As they well know, I do not have discretion in this matter because Standing Orders clearly state that an amendment to a Bill which could have the effect of imposing or increasing a charge upon the Revenue may not be moved by a Member, save by a member of the Government or a Minister of State.

As Chairman, I am bound by Standing Orders. I do not have discretion. It is not appropriate, therefore, for a member to make the charge that, as a member of a Government party, I am not doing my job impartially. I am not here on behalf of the Government. I am following the rules, specific directions and Standing Orders as agreed by all parties in the House, not the Government parties alone.

Amendments tabled by Opposition Members are ruled out of order if, for example, they would create a liability on State funds. Some of the amendments which have been ruled out of order refer to a report. It is unfortunate they have been drafted in this way. They have not been ruled out of order on technical grounds. As is well known to all members, they have been ruled out of order because they would create or increase a charge on the Revenue. From that point of view, I do not have discretion in the matter.

We went through this two weeks ago on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2004, and the same applies here. I do not have discretion. If members are not happy with Standing Orders, there are mechanisms through which they can seek to change them but until such time as they are changed, I have no function in the matter.

I refer to the definition in section 1 of "new entrant" which shall be read in accordance with section 2. I express sympathy to those affected in the short time they have had to make contact with Deputies about its impact. In many ways it seems extraordinary. It provides that anyone who left the public service, other than on a career break or other statutorily recognised scheme, will be deemed a new entrant.

We have in front of us, for example, an e-mail from the IMO which reckons that its membership includes 2,500 junior hospital doctors, from whom, in the main, presumably, the Government in respect of the proposals made in the Hanly report will select 1,000, or whatever the number is, new consultants. They are the people to whom it will look in implementing the recommendations, yet having worked faithfully in the public service and recognised that the way to achieve excellence in the health sphere is to travel overseas to gain external experience, they are being told that following this arbitrary decision, as and from 31 March, they will be deemed new entrants.

No one in his or her normal senses would consider that those who have formed the core of the junior hospital doctor corp, the members of which worked 72 hours per week before the working time directive was introduced to restore order, should be defined as non-people as far as pension provision is concerned. It will be a whole new ball game for them.

The same is true of others who have taken career breaks for other than very narrow reasons. We know that there are many who have moved out of teaching for a period to do other things and who in many ways would be a valuable resource in the teaching profession. They have expanded their experience and would bring a new insight into the classroom. However, they will be told that they would be defined as new entrants and the ground rules on which their pensions would be based had changed. Other examples may be found throughout the public service.

There is the extraordinary anomaly of the way in which the Minister proposes to make fish of one and flesh of the other in respect of those studying to become part of the public service. We understand recruits in the Garda training college will be regarded as entrants in the system but that those studying in teacher training colleges as well as those studying to be nurses and other spheres will be treated differently.

It is significant that the Minister has recognised that this is anomalous in respect of Members of the Oireachtas. He has recognised that it would be anomalous to regard a former Member who had lost his or her seat and was re-elected as a new entrant but he is not applying the same logic to individuals who left other branches of the public service, often to expand their experience and knowledge and then return.

This is not a trivial issue. I am sure the Minister will give us a technical reason and make a narrow argument but the truth of the matter is that if we want a high quality public service, we need to encourage people to move in and out to gain private sector experience and bring it to bear on the public sector. It appals me that less than one in five posts of the top 75 Civil Service appointments made in the past five years were filled from outside the Department concerned and not a single post was filled from the private sector. This is telling us that in senior management in the public service outsiders are not to be considered. That is the message coming from the so-called Top Level Appointments Committee which was specially designed to bring in new talent.

In defining "new entrant" in the way proposed the Minister is trying to copper-fasten this closed approach to the public service. Once inside, one pulls up the ladder and does not dare try to expand one's experience by going elsewhere to improve one's knowledge and think one can return to the public service. That is a closed negative attitude, which is regrettable. It will throw up many anomalies that we could do without. The Minister ought to extend the concession he is making to Oireachtas Members to all those who work in the public service, that if they have served for a reasonable period, they can return and not be deemed as new entrants.

On Second Stage I put a number of questions to the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to which I hope the Minister of State is in a position to respond because the short response given by the Minister certainly did not answer the queries put to him.

I will deal first with the position in which primary teachers find themselves. In the Bill provision is made for a specific exemption for gardaí in training in Templemore. The Minister's defence in not applying it to nurses, teachers or doctors is that trainee gardaí are already contracted for employment and, therefore, have to be included. That is extremely unfair because the reality is that in teaching, nursing, medicine and becoming a garda — all forms of dedicated special service employment — one is trained to do a particular job. Should one decide on qualification, as happens regularly, not to do the job, one would need to undergo further training or do something specific to change career or profession. This happens not only in the case of teachers, student doctors and nurses but also gardaí. Why the Minister has chosen to grant a specific exemption for gardaí and not to extend the same consideration to other professions is beyond belief. While I welcome his decision in the case of gardaí, it seems unfair to the other three categories of public service worker.

One must bear in mind that as and from 1 April there will forever be a difference for those who by choice deferred for one year in medicine, teaching or nursing. People are encouraged to do this in order to be sure that it is what they want to do. The Government is banking on the fact that in 40 years' time the teacher, nurse or doctor who joins after 1 April will be severely disadvantaged compared to the person currently in training as a garda who will have a much more generous pension arrangement. This seems unfair. I presume it is an arbitrary political decision made by the Minister who obviously believes teachers, nurses and doctors do not count for much, that their political influence is dissipated, whereas annoying gardaí might have more direct political repercussions.

Like a lot of legislation produced by the Government, this Bill, section one of which I oppose, arises from the partnership process. As it stands, it sets a bad example for the process because the report on pensions highlighted about ten separate issues which were to be dealt with and on which there were broad levels of agreement. Nobody objects to the raising of the upper retirement age which everyone sees as positive as lifestyle and health patterns have changed. There are many who would be willing and able to work after the age of 65 years and who would want to remain either partial or wholly active members of the labour force. They should be able to do so. Therefore, this provision has been universally welcomed.

We are familiar, however, with the concept of burn-out within a number of professions. We are familiar with the fact that a secondary school teacher in his or her mid to late fifties teaching a group of hormonally active teenagers may not be comparable with a 30 year old who is probably getting great satisfaction and enjoyment out of the challenge. In some cases teachers in their late fifties are no longer able to do this and need to be encouraged to move into areas where their talents could be more successfully used. The Bill does nothing positive to help them to do this.

The various public service bodies involved in the partnership process made detailed proposals to the pensions commission and the committee studying the matter that there should be new arrangements to enable persons to make enhanced contributions if they entered a profession late. This applies particularly to medical doctors. In this way, if a person changes career and becomes a teacher or nurse in his or her late twenties or early thirties, something we are trying to encourage, there would be enhanced arrangements under SPEARS or similar scheme. This would allow him or her to make additional contributions where he or she will not meet the full 40 years requirement. If he or she and his or her employer paid enhanced contributions, he or she could gain additional pension rights which would offer him or her a much more attractive public service employment package. This has been agreed by everyone.

A great deal of rubbish is written about public service employment. Mandarins at Secretary General level or at the top of the public service in the Department of Finance, for instance, are very well paid for the work they do. They do not usually have to work weekends or long hours all year around unlike those in private industry. Their pensions are also extraordinarily good. By and large, they will not be disadvantaged by this provision because, under the seven year appointment structure, when they reach the highest echelons of the public service, effectively director level in a private company, they have enhanced pension entitlements. They are also encouraged to resign after their seven year appointment and most go on to serve with distinction in a variety of public bodies and boards where they continue to be well remunerated for their service. They are well looked after. In this instance, the Sir Humphreys have looked after themselves.

We are talking, however, about ordinary teachers, nurses and doctors who will not be paid a fortune. They may be paid well for which they and we will argue but this Bill does not allow them the same enhanced pension entitlements which the mandarins at director level and above in the Civil Service have built into their contracts over the past ten years.

I am a strong supporter of the partnership process but those who negotiated this failed to extract from the Government a guarantee that arrangements would be put in place to allow atypical entrants to the public service to build sufficient pension entitlements. While it may be a good public service job, it may not be massively well paid or attract a great pension. This goes to the heart of the failure of the Bill. While it has many good aspects such as the extension of the retirement age, which I endorse, there are many defects. For that reason, I oppose section 1.

As I understand it, we are addressing the definition of "new entrant" in section 1, the interpretation section. It states "new entrant" shall be read in accordance with section 2. In anticipation, Deputy Burton has dealt with many of the arguments which will arise. She made a political charge that I was new to what she described as an "escapade". I had a substantial "escapade" in Seanad Éireann in which I piloted the Bill through all Stages. I will address the merits of the points raised by Deputies.

The definition of "new entrant" is found in section 2. The guiding principle and heart of the Bill is that a "new entrant" is a person appointed as a public servant, as defined in the Bill, on or after 1 April 2004. I am glad to agree with Deputy Burton that its provisions will, for practical purposes, begin to click in around 2044 for most public servants. The new arrangements will not apply to public servants serving on 31 March. The commission did not propose a three month gap, rather it stated there should be a due date on which this arrangement should be put in place. The Minister gave notice that 1 April would be the due date. Therefore, there has been ample time to make plans on foot of the proposals he announced in his Budget Statement last winter.

A broad scope has been given to the word "serving". The general principle is that anyone who has an employment relationship with the public service on 31 March will not be deemed to be a new entrant. This means that staff on paid or unpaid leave or on secondment from public service bodies will not be regarded as new entrants on their return. It also means that a person who has received a written offer of employment before 1 April but has not yet taken up duty will not be regarded as a new entrant. It further means that persons admitted to training in the Garda college before 1 April will not be regarded as new entrants on completion of their training.

While I welcome and acknowledge the specific provision for members of the Garda Síochána, Deputy Burton regrets and criticises the fact that primary teachers and members of other professions now in training have not been included within the ambit of the section. The difficulty the Minister had in addressing these issues was presented by the employment relationship which is fundamental to the definition of "new entrant".

In the case of a person training in the Garda college there is an implied contract of future employment in the Garda Síochána, subject to satisfactory completion of training. This is not the case in respect of a person in a teacher training college or a student teacher undertaking the higher diploma in education in a higher education college or a person undergoing a degree course in nursing. In all these instances there is no contractual commitment, no undertaking to engage the person. For this reason, the Minister has not extended the category beyond the Garda Síochána.

Garda members enrolled for training in Templemore are seconded and perform the tasks and duties of peace officers in the field with Garda units as part of their training. Equally, the Garda Commissioner has the final say on whether they pass out. Once in the college, they are assimilated for all purposes into the force and there is an implied contract that they will be engaged on satisfactory completion of their training. This is an unusual status beyond that of the other groups to which the Deputy referred. I understand and share to some extent her concern about them but the Minister gave due notice of this provision in his Budget Statement which he decided to bring into operation on 1 April. This gave those already in the service a substantial period within which to plan for the future.

Staff employed in the public service in a temporary or seasonal capacity will not be regarded as new entrants if they resume duty within the same employment relationship. There are certain categories of public servant who will not be engaged in actual duties on 31 March but specific provision has been made for them to ensure the legislation does not mean a cesser of their employment relationship.

I am going through the definition in detail because it is at the heart of the drafting of this measure and based on the employment relationship. Many of the decisions about the drafting and the amendments which will be argued and discussed today turn on the fundamental distinction in an employment relationship, namely, whether there is an employment relationship and whether there is a right which we must safeguard and accommodate in legislation or a mere expectation. Understandably, Opposition members will argue for the expectations of groups not referred to in the measure. However, none of them is in an employment relationship.

Provision has been made to ensure any serving public servant who leaves employment and subsequently returns within a period of 26 weeks will not be regarded as a new entrant. The stipulated period of 26 weeks reflects analogous provisions in employment law generally. For the purposes of mobility, staff serving in the public sector on 31 March who subsequently take up another appointment in the public service will not be regarded as new entrants.

Deputy Bruton raised the general question of that period and was unhappy with its short duration. However, the fact remains there is a fundamental distinction between resignation and leave of absence, paid or unpaid. In the case of leave of absence, paid or unpaid, there is no final intention to cease or end the employment relationship with the public service. However, in regard to the category to which Deputy Richard Bruton referred, in respect of which he argued that a public servant should have a right of re-entry into the public service as an old entrant rather than under the new terms prescribed in this legislation, such a person would have resigned from the service. There would have been a final dissolution or termination of the employment relationship. Presumably such a decision is not taken lightly and is weighed up by the person concerned before he or she takes it. Under existing arrangements, such a decision has serious implications for pension arrangements. I take it that such a person would be aware of those before he or she would make a decision to resign from the public service. Deputy Richard Bruton is arguing that we should make a further special provision for this particular group of public servants and exempt them from the recommendations of the commission before us.

I am aware of the views of some of the public service unions. Discussions have taken place between officials of the Department of Finance and the unions on this issue. In drafting the legislation, the Minister has been as sensitive as possible to the unions' concerns in regard to the definition of new entrant. He is confident that the definition contained in the Bill is fair, sensible and workable. The approach adopted is a balanced one, allowing for a reasonable interim period within the overall context of a clear and practical definition. Account has been taken of the position of part-time, temporary, seasonal and contract staff.

Deputy Richard Bruton also referred to the provision that was made for Members of the Oireachtas and Ministers and said that an analogy should be drawn from that in these provisions and in the definition of a new entrant. There is a fundamental distinction in that regard. The great bulk of Members of the Oireachtas do not voluntarily resign from office or membership of the Houses. Having regard to the differences relating to security of tenure, it was considered appropriate to make a specific provision for public representatives. We will not develop that point in the present company, but we are well aware of experiences in this regard, and we may return to this point during the discussion.

The Minister would not accept the proposition that doctors and teachers have no clout or that he should have no regard for them. I must defend him on this matter; he has had an ambitious view about our public service pension arrangements. That is a matter of public record. He put in place the national pension reserve fund. He is conscious of the long-term implications of what we do today. The Minister has shown an insight and a concern, which is not often found in public figures, about what will happen not only this year or next year but in 20, 30 or 40 years' time when many of us will not grace these chambers.

Deputy Richard Bruton has raised a serious point. The discussion on a new entrant touched on the Second Stage debate. There is a fundamental issue here, as the Minister said in his reply to the Second Stage debate in the Dáil, we cannot continue with thestatus quo. The commission was asked to do a job. It did it and made a recommendation. It made a general recommendation in regard to pensionable age and it made a number of other recommendations, to which Deputy Burton referred and with which I would like to deal.

As indicated by the Minister for Finance in his budget speech, it is hoped to introduce additional changes as recommended by the pension commission. The officials in the Department of Finance are in discussions with trade union representatives on various items. These include the commission's recommendations onpro rata pensions for part-time employees and the reckoning of the best three consecutive years in the ten years preceding retirement in the case of variable pensionable allowances. There was a core recommendation of the commission in regard to pensionable age. It made another core recommendation which the Minister did not accept following consultation with the public service unions. However, the core recommendation regarding pensionable age is at the core of this measure. It is a recommendation that the Minister believes is in the public interest to put forward at this stage.

An important point was raised by Deputy Burton, which was also indirectly touched on by Deputy Bruton, namely, the question of burn-out. Special arrangements must be arrived at from time to time in regard to particular classes or categories of public servants. Under this Bill, there is no change in the current practices that obtain in that area and for the future there is a legislative foundation for such arrangements to be agreed through negotiation, if required.

I have three specific questions for the Minister of State. I found some of what he said helpful, but in other respects I have become more confused. My first question relates to the definition of new entrant, as it pertains to people currently on leave or who wish to go on leave. I raised this point during my contribution on Second Stage. I was a former volunteer worker in Africa for three years. I pointed out to the Minister that when there, one lost one's pension entitlements. When I was Minister of State, this was one of the areas I addressed. If a person volunteered to work on the Irish aid programme or with a recognised Irish agency such as Concern, Trócaire or Self Help, such a person was entitled to get leave of absence. The leave of absence structure became much more developed and it then passed into other occupations, including work which might be done from time to time in Ireland.

I am not clear about the impact of this legislation in regard to the definition of a person leaving the service. I refer to the situation where if another crisis was to occur in Rwanda tomorrow as happened there this time ten years ago. People from the fire brigade, the Army, nurses, doctors and teachers were released to travel and work in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda. Where such transfers are for short periods, the 26-week period if appropriate, there is not a problem in that regard. I do not mind if it takes the Minister of State some time to work out this issue, but I would appreciate a written reply on this matter because it is important. If Concern or Trócaire places an advertisement today for a doctor, a water engineer and so on, many of those personnel are likely to be recruited from our local authorities, and the likely appointment time is to be two to three years, what does that constitute in terms of leaving the service? If somebody travels, as has happened frequently in regard to these agencies, what will happen if that person is asked to stay on and the planned six months stay extends to a number of years? That happens in the case of perhaps 100 or 200 Irish people a year. Part of our best contribution in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World is these people transferring skills and technology. I do not mind if the Minister of State supplies me with a written response to this question. It will be vital to Trócaire, Concern and the Irish aid programme's capacity to recruit and to know that the existing arrangements are being maintained intact.

This brings me to my second question in respect of which I will give the example of a young doctor who comes from the constituency I share with the Minister of State, who works in geriatric medicine. That person did his training in an Irish university, went on to do various specialties and worked under the hospital doctor system in a number of our hospitals. He did very well and proceeded up the ladder but came to a point, and this is typical of this type of person in our medical structure, where he could only progress further in his career to ultimately becoming a consultant by leaving the country and working abroad. This is a typical experience for this type of person. This person is working in the field of public medicine. There is very little private medicine involved in geriatric services in this country. We are talking about somebody who is not going to come back and be a multimillionaire obstetrician or something like that but about somebody working in the public medical service.

As I understand it, in future those entrants who come in and then break their service under the terms of this Bill to go abroad to do further training, and then basically sit outside the country until an appropriate appointment at their level arises, will not have their previous service and subsequent experience recognised. They have to break their service, and under the Bill their breaks in service will now be clearer than ever. The same applies to nurses, but I think it is particularly acute for doctors.

There is no question that they are definitely breaking their service but, and this is part of what Deputy Bruton and I wanted reviewed, there is no structure to recognise, when such persons comes back, probably in their middle to late 30s when they finally get the coveted appointment, they have given previous service. When they come back they will be new entrants even though they have been in training, completed their university education and probably served eight, nine or even ten years in the Irish hospital structure.

I asked the Minister this the last day and, again, I did not get an answer. Why is no provision being made for, or will the Minister of State give consideration to looking at, structures which will allow these people to either buy extra service or allow them and the public services to contribute? As a matter of public policy we want these people to come back. We want them to come home and give service in Ireland. We are not talking about a doctor who is likely to go into a highly lucrative area of private medicine. Many areas of medicine are public service areas.

The same would apply to public health service doctors, many of whom are women. They also have broken service because they often have family commitments and take time out. I ask the Minister of State to give us a more specific reply on that issue.

I take the Minister of State's point about how Deputies do not voluntarily resign, but the same is true of people who go overseas in the medical or other professions. It is effectively a condition of appointment to certain posts of advancement in the medical professions that one does have overseas experience. Distinctions are being made, and I know the Minister of State has to draw a line somewhere, but his attempt to suggest a clear line based on a legal interpretation of an employment relationship does not really stand up to scrutiny.

Equally, just a few lines down we see that the Bill is making exceptions for the Judiciary, which apparently is not to have any such obligations. The new entrant policy does not apply to the Judiciary. Other exceptions are listed, including county registrars, taxing masters, masters of the High Court and the President——

All lawyers.

Indeed. It is a bit of a mystery.

Pension provision for the Judiciary is written into the Constitution.

That may be an issue, but the issue of retirement dates for members of the Judiciary and issues in regard to continuing competence to carry out duties and so on are important. I have an amendment later regarding the extension of retirement and people continuing to work in their positions. There ought to be some proper system of assessment. If we are exempting the Judiciary from certain requirements there needs to be proper cause and proper consideration of that in public policy terms. Just because there are constitutional rules does not mean that good practice ought to be abandoned.

I welcome one thing the Minister of State said. My amendment to section 1 was ruled out of order because of the huge burden of preparing a report on some of these issues, but it seems that the Minister of State is already shouldering this burden, which I am glad to know. It is important that these things are done because it is another feature of this lock-in. People are locked into hanging on to positions because of fears about their pension rights. The flexibility of taking the top three earning years or other ways of promoting mobility is very much to be desired. The last thing we want, and this will come up again when we talk about extending the retirement age from 65 to an indefinite date, is that this should end up keeping people who are past their competence hogging positions of responsibility. That is certainly not what we want to achieve, so it is important that we have these kinds of flexibilities.

Taking the points in turn, Deputy Burton firstly raised the whole question of a definition of "new entrant" in the context of leave arrangements and volunteering service overseas. Of course, in the employment relationship many expressions are used informally in correspondence. Often it is simply a matter of words or a note or acknowledgement, whereas the legislation will have to apply to all of those arrangements. This legislation means that leave with or without pay, secondments or career breaks are not captured by the provisions. If that is the arrangement, one does not become a new entrant. There must be an unequivocal departure from the public service. In other words, there must be no right to return. That is the position.

The Department of Finance, which has carriage of the State's personnel requirements, has no difficulty in agreeing that when a person from, say, a local authority goes on leave with the right of return, to volunteer in Africa or any other part of the world for an Irish aid programme, Concern or Trócaire, the legislation does not affect that person's position. That is as clear as I can make it for the Deputy. Does the Deputy wish to comment on that before I go on to her second question?

This will cause problems. It is often quite a complicated issue when the public service allows a person to depart. If it is a time of cutbacks in public appointments, very often it may effectively be a condition to have the subsequent vacancy filled for the departure period. The Department of Finance often has other requirements, particularly at a time of cutbacks. This issue will have to be explored. We will probably only find out about this in detail when somebody like an engineer goes to a local authority looking for leave or when somebody is, say, headhunted by an agency to do a specific job for a period of time and where it may be necessary to step down.

People in the Department of Finance often take important jobs in international banks and so on. That always seems — and I suppose it is the Department of Finance people looking after themselves — to be easier to sort out. I will come back to this because I am not happy that the whole situation is accounted for in this Bill. Unlike me, the Minister of State is the lawyer, so if he thinks it is accounted for I accept his word but I would be concerned.

I am here as the Minister of Sate, not as a lawyer, so the Deputy is more than——

Yes, but the Minister of State is a lawyer, so I have to——

The Deputy is more than entitled to draw out this matter but I do want to try to resolve it. Of course it is often the arrangement where a person takes unpaid leave that it is subject to there being a vacancy on that person's return. That is the concern that the Deputy has expressed. Where that is the situation the employment relationship is not severed. That is the key. For the purposes of this Bill, therefore, the employment relationship of such a person with the public service is not severed. There is still a right of return and once such a right exists, the person does not become a new entrant, irrespective of whether——

Since 5 December have many people applied to return to the public service in order to keep open their pension rights?

They would be well advised to write anyway.

I am trying to obtain that information. I must return to the Deputy on that subject.

I am heartened by the comments of the Minister of State. It is clearly stated in the legislation. Those of us who have worked in the public service and who have availed of leave of absence, either with or without pay, know the system that has operated to date. From my reading of the legislation, the person can come back and still not be declared a new entrant even if the position he or she left is not the one to which he or she returns. I am very pleased that it is clearly stated in section 2.

Down through the years people who have worked in the public service have made a contribution on a voluntary basis or whatever, either at home or abroad. Is it not often considered that there are many people who join bodies which are not public service employers but which provide a public service in so far as they may have been established as voluntary groups, and the expertise is taken from the public service, either in the medical, nursing or administrative sectors. They go on leave of absence, without pay in some cases. It is important that this legislation accommodates those people in the future. The Bill, in section 2(3), states that where a person stands seconded from the public service to a body not in the public service, either within or outside the State or both, or is absent on leave with or without pay from the public service, and that person is entitled to resume his or her office or position or another office or position within the public service, then that person shall not be treated as a new entrant if he or she resumes.

I have known scores of people who have been involved in the areas of secondment and taking leave of absence without pay. While positions may have been filled, they were all accommodated by the public service afterwards. I am pleased this is stated in the Bill because there is a tradition of people giving of their service and expertise in particular areas. It is important that this legislation covers it, as it does. I am also heartened by what the Minister of State said.

The second matter raised by Deputy Burton was the case of a doctor who had considerable experience as a junior doctor in the Irish hospital system and believed that the only way that his or her career could be progressed was through engagement in hospitals overseas and that would create an expectation or a hope of an appointment in Ireland as a consultant. Undoubtedly that is a feature of the hospital and medical landscape in Ireland. The question is whether there is a break. As the Deputy outlined, of course the doctor would opt to resign in the great majority of cases from his or her current position. Therefore, it is correct that such a person on his or her return to a consultant position in the Irish health service would be arriving as a new entrant. It is most unlikely that one would get unpaid leave of absence to be a doctor in a hospital overseas. It could happen in some special cases.

It would be very unusual.

Yes, it would be very unusual. In the great majority of cases there would be a resignation. In those circumstances, the basic pension entitlement already accrued would be preserved and would be transferred on to his or her service on his or her return as a consultant, and the option of purchasing extra service would be available. In addition, because the person arrives back as a new entrant consultant, he or she is now free to work beyond 65, which otherwise would not have been the case.

As the Minister of State will be aware from his experience in the Department of Health and Children, there is a disturbing number of quite senior doctors, including ones from our own hospital in Blanchardstown, who are retiring early. We lost some very valuable people last year perhaps because they simply could no longer take what was happening in the health services. I would be concerned that the conditions are being altered in a way which makes it much less attractive for such people to return.

For instance, a person in his or her 30s in mid-career, who is based in the UK or the US, and hoping to come back might have 11/40ths of service as a junior hospital doctor. These doctors might not even have that much service because much of it would be broken by study. They would be coming back and might then spend another 20 years as a consultant. The Minister of State is obviously hoping that they would work as consultants until their late 60s or early 70s. Considering the level of litigation in the medical system, I am not sure how feasible that will be in terms of insurance, although it is fine if people are capable of doing it.

It is quite a loss. It is certainly one more nail in the coffin of people who are working in either the UK medical service or medical institutions in the US, which are making considerable efforts to retain such people.

The Government needs to set out a clear alternative for people like this — the same is true of nurses — to encourage them to come back and work in the service. The main failure of this Bill is that it has not provided an alternative. The alternatives were indicated in the pensions report but they are not set out here. It is well and good if the Minister of State is now stating that the Minister is commissioning such a report which will allow for enhanced contributions and enhanced rights.

The Minister of State indicated that he could not touch people who get legal service appointments because judges and their entitlements are written into the Constitution. It is ironic that the rights of judges and legal people are fully preserved above everybody else. People like doctors, nurses and teachers make as important a contribution to society as judges. In this partial and bitty reform, there are few gains for these new entrants coming back. I hope the Minister of State and the Minister for Health and Children can address the serious negative change in the career structure of doctors returning after 1 April.

Let us look at a number of the issues raised. First, judges other than judges of the Circuit Court serve for a minimum period until they reach the age of 70. Therefore, in one sense they are entirely outside the scope of the legislation because they have always been engaged on their duties up to the age of 70. In the case of judges of the District Court, the applicable age is 65 but then there is a facility where the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform can extend their period of service from year to year until they reach the age of 70. In a sense they are not captured within the scope of this legislation.

Second, I would not like it to be suggested that I am hoping that consultants will work after the age of 65. What I am saying is that if they are new entrants, they will have that option which is not open to them at present. It is an option of which some, but not all, might wish to avail.

The question about doctors relates to a suggested prejudice in their pension arrangements. As I pointed out already, there are arrangements for enhanced pension rights and for buying service, and discussions have already taken place with the unions about other recommendations of the pension commission, including the SPEARS arrangements to which Deputy Burton referred. That was intended to be a more flexible system of purchasing additional benefits but public service staff can already avail of purchase schemes and other such arrangements. The earlier pension that has accrued and is preserved, can be added.

We should not lose sight of the fact that this legislation, far from being partial or limited in scope, is setting down a fundamental rule on retirement age which is one of its core purposes. It does not mean that other arrangements cannot be negotiated or arranged, but the fundamental point is that the Government decided to accept the recommendation of the commission on the pensionable age being 65 and that is the core provision in this measure.

Some of the concerns raised by Deputy Burton are raised in other ways. Deputy Bruton acknowledged a line had to be drawn somewhere but queried whether it should be drawn at this particular point in the case of doctors. Were a special arrangement to be made for doctors and they were to be given a continuity denied to other groups, we would immediately be departing from that core recommendation that 65 should be the pensionable age and that a regime for new entrants has to be introduced accordingly.

In the case of the Judiciary there are no new entrants. However, as I stated already, the retirement age varies from 65 to 72, depending on the court.

What is the retirement age for county registrars?

A decision was taken that they were quasi-judicial positions and that, given their degree of independence and the judicial functions they exercise, they should be treated on the same basis.

What is it?

Their current retirement age is 65.

Must they retire at 65?

No, the new legislation will not apply to them.

No, it does not apply to them. They continue to be regulated by the Courts of Justice Act. On the constitutional point, traditionally the courts have been regulated under the Constitution by the Courts of Justice Act. The view was taken that amendments to their terms and conditions of service should be dealt with through that legislation.

Is the Minister of State indicating that the Government will introduce amending legislation? They are getting an advantage over other categories of public servants. I do not see why a teacher, a doctor or nurse is not as deserving of consideration as a lawyer who enters the public service.

They do not get their pension until 65 in any event, or until 70 or 72 as the case may be.

The new entrant conditions do not apply to them.

I do not know if it ever happened that a judge has resigned and then been re-appointed. That is an unusual circumstance. There is no real analogy with the medical profession.

There are younger judges. There are judges taking on jobs at tribunals and so on. It is quite likely in the future that some of them may do that.

That would not be a break in service because it is all within the jurisdiction.

I apologise to the Minister of State and to the committee. My journey through city traffic to the 9.30 a.m. start was more difficult than expected and I misread it. I am picking up on what has been said between the Minister of State and Deputy Burton about the case highlighted by the Irish Medical Organisation of non-consultant hospital doctors who take up positions overseas and then seek to relocate here in the future. Indeed, this applies to NCHDs from other states who had served here and who find themselves eligible to take up a permanent posting with all of the pension entitlements arising therefrom. It is important that the particular case highlighted is taken on board by the Minister of State.

Apparently all we can do here today is ask the Minister of State to take it on board because, whether he is aware of it or not, every amendment I have submitted has been ruled out of order. I refer to amendments Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9 and 18.

We are dealing with the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004. After all, we are talking about pensions. We are talking about people's entitlements in terms of monetary reward after their years of service in paid employment. How is it possible to avoid amendments that do not, as the Chairman suggests, involve a potential charge on the Revenue? It may well be possible.

I highlight this again. No doubt my colleagues have probably already done so. It is absurd that we are dealing with pensions and we cannot seek to amend this Bill because the effect of any given amendment would be to alter the potential charge on the Revenue arising from the Bill. I highlight again the difficulties that Opposition Deputies have in trying to properly engage in the detail of these Bills. That has been the pattern of our experience here for some considerable time. Important amendments have been dropped and not discussed because of this very ruling. There is a requirement to revisit this.

It is not that we, through committee, can impose our will on any of these matters. The Minister and the Government parties have an in-built majority in all committees. Either they support the proposition or they do not, but to have it ruled out completely is unacceptable. It impairs the quality of debate and certainly renders the input of Opposition Deputies to a cursory engagement on all that is involved here.

Having mentioned the point about the Irish Medical Organisation's specific case of NCHDs, I will briefly refer to the teaching situation. We are talking about equalisation and the Minister of State is responding that the age for all will be 65, but not everybody is being affected equally in bringing the age to 65. Teachers, in particular, are finding a ten-year addition to their existing contract arrangements instead of the five-year change as applies in each of the other cases. I do not accept that the changes mooted here necessarily must happen but if they are to happen, at the very least the teachers should be affected only to the same extent as others, that is, by a five-year change. That is something I am not comfortable saying but I want to point out that they are being singled out for a very severe measure which impacts on their terms and conditions of employment. These terms and conditions of employment were hard won through INTO actions, representations and negotiations with Ministers for Education down through the years. It is absolutely outrageous to see such a draconian change in the terms of their employment in one fell swoop. It is important, if we are talking in terms of equalisation, that we talk about the effect and not just the number 65. That number is not of any import. While we are talking about people exercising their option, as the numbers demonstrate many teachers would continue in service up to the age of 65 in any event. However, to penalise those who cannot do so, for a variety of reasons, or who wish to exercise their rightful option to take earlier retirement without penalty in regard to pension provision is unacceptable. In the current situation, a retirement option between the ages of 55 and 65 would be more in line with the figures and intended effect in the other sectors. Regarding the point about the age requirement of 60 for education, the argument that the sector would put forward is for an age requirement of 57. I accept and understand that but, in regard to the Minister's commentary, if we are looking at equalisation, then the correct methodology is to look at the equalisation of effect rather than this notion of a number or age.

I have no doubt that the situation of nurses has already been reflected here, but only recently in the course of an exchange in the House between the Taoiseach and I, he described the nursing profession as a transient one globally in terms of the market for nursing. A situation will obviously present itself whereby those who have served for certain lengths of time within the nursing profession will take up posts overseas and then come back after 1 April 2004 only to find themselves being adjudged as new entrants.

I also wish to mention the situation of psychiatric nurses. Again, those attending the training school at St. Ita's in Portrane will be in the same position as nurses within the mainstream medical area. Those who are already in training or at teacher training school will all be adjudged, I understand, to be new entrants after 1 April 2004, and their years of training are not being credited or acknowledged. That is a further discrimination or disqualification from a commitment to a career choice that they have made. Some of them may be into their third year of training for a profession that they chose based on information then presenting, namely, the terms of pension. That is what we are specifically referring to here.

All that will be changed before they leave their respective training institutions. This includes those in acute hospital nursing and the psychiatric services as well as those in teacher training, as has been highlighted to me in correspondence. These are just a number of the examples on which I would have liked the opportunity to expand in terms of the amendments I have tabled. However, I now find that these will not be addressed.

I did not hear the Minister of State's initial response, and perhaps a copy of his remarks are available so that I can inform myself of what he has said to the committee. However, I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to reflect on these important areas and underscore the importance of them to the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. If we cannot effectively address these matters on Committee Stage because of the Chairman's ruling, we must depend on good sense showing through the Government ranks in adopting amendments and presenting them at Report and Final Stages that will cater to the areas to which I have referred. Will the Minister of State indicate whether any of these points will be reflected in Government-sponsored amendments on Report Stage.

I have ruled that 14 of the 21 amendments tabled are out of order as they are potentially a charge on the Revenue and thus may not be moved by any Member save by a member of the Government or Minister of State. I have no discretion in the matter as these are the Standing Orders of the House. If Members are not satisfied with Standing Orders, there are procedures in place outside this committee by which they can be dealt with, and I shall not discuss that matter further. In regard to the final points raised, does the Minister of State wish to make a final response before I put this section to a decision? We have had a long debate on it.

Is oth liom seo a dhéanamh ach tuigim cén fáth atá sé ag tarlú. We have had an extensive discussion on the definition of "new entrant," which is the core provision of the interpretation section. The whole Bill, in a sense, is predicated on it. I must disappoint the Deputy by informing him that we are not bringing forward amendments on Report Stage, but we did have a considerable exploration of the rationale of the definition. We will have an opportunity to return to it in the course of the discussion to examine the particular context of teachers and medical personnel. With the concept of a new entrant, it is important to illuminate the fact that this does not apply to any existing teacher. I think the Deputy accepts that, although his remarks were ambiguous in this regard.

What about those in training?

Those in training do not have a right of employment as a teacher, unlike a person who is established in a teaching position, hence there must be a commencement date. The Minister made his intentions clear in his budget speech and, in the absence of a vested entitlement, the legislation should not cover expectations as distinct from rights. A case was made for medical personnel, and I responded by making the point that a person who leaves the medical or nursing profession to serve overseas may have an accrued preserved benefit which can be transferred onto their new arrangements in the event of re-engagement in a different position. The person going overseas would generally have resigned rather than taken leave of absence. There would therefore be a severance of the employment relationship.

Question put and declared carried.

Amendment No. 1 is out of order.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
NEW SECTIONS.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

"2.—The power purportedly conferred on the Minister by section 3 of the Superannuation and Pensions Act 1976 to provide for the cesser of, or otherwise amend, any enactments relating to the superannuation of civil servants shall cease to be exercisable.".

The purpose of this amendment is to highlight the constitutional issues which I raised on the Second Stage debate on this Bill, namely, that the power of the Minister to make regulations to amend acts is unconstitutional. I reiterate the point I raised before in this regard.

The superannuation Acts — there are many of them — govern most public service pensions. There are many of these Acts and a great deal of regulations. The Superannuation and Pensions Act 1976 was described as an Act to amend or repeal the Superannuation Acts 1834 to 1963. Section 3 of the 1976 Act provides that the Minister may by regulation provide for the cesser of, or otherwise amend, any enactment relating to the superannuation of civil servants. The Minister can also provide by regulations for the cesser of, or otherwise amend, any provision in any statute or statutory instrument where it appears to the Minister that the provision is inconsistent with, has become unnecessary or requires to be adopted, modified or otherwise amended in consequence of any provision of his regulations. The Civil Service (Superannuation) Regulations 1980 set out the bulk of the amendments which were purportedly made to primary legislation in the exercise of this power to amend statutes by ministerial order.

As I stated on Second Stage, in the recent Carrickmines case and the case dealing with the Aliens Act, the courts have struck down as unconstitutional the purported power to amend legislation by order. Even if it were permissible to vest in the Minister a power to amend a statute by order, the exercise of the power is not limited by reference to guiding principles and policies set out in the parent Act. Effectively the Minister is at large and is able to act as a legislature with power to override Acts of the Oireachtas. The courts, in two recent judgments, have chosen to say this is not so.

The problem with this Bill is not that it repeats the error but that it decides to ignore the error. Sooner or later the problem with the 1976 Act and the 1980 regulations will be stumbled upon. Someone will litigate in the courts and, going by the judgments in the Carrickmines case and the Aliens Act case, the law will be struck down.

I asked the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, a specific question, namely, whether he had received detailed advice from the Attorney General's office on the points which my legal advice made. These points are well made. What we are going through today with this Bill is neither here nor there if the fundamentals of elements of the legislation are profoundly unconstitutional because this will end up in the court.

The Minister gave a summarised reply. I repeat that I am not a lawyer and I bow to the greater wisdom of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in this area. I am just an accountant. In two recent judgments the courts have shown in their independent way that they are not happy with Ministers making law by regulation and order. They have stated that clearly. Unless the Judiciary indicates a clear change of mind, we are in the same territory in respect of this legislation. This is unlikely to last the test of constitutional time.

As the Minister of State said earlier, this will affect people in roughly 40 years' time. There is a deal of time for legislation and getting this wrong is really not defensible. The Minister, Deputy McCreevy, did not reply to me as to whether he had received the detailed advice of the Attorney General. There was a bit of this and that in his reply, and he slid over the issue. He is also only an accountant. It was two accountants talking legally to each other based on advice that was made available to us. I was not convinced by the confidence of the Minister's reply. He is normally clear about what he says. He most definitely was not in this case.

We saw the difficulties that arose recently when the Garda lost the power to ask for documentation from people who had no status in Ireland and the panic caused by the implications of the Garda losing its powers. What will happen if, in future, the State loses the power to pay pensions to retired civil servants in accordance with their pension schemes? This is what is at stake in this. It is an important constitutional point.

An aggrieved person may challenge this legislation. It will not necessarily be all left to Civil Service trade unions trying to do well by their members. As in the case of equality legislation, people may go to court for another reason and come out finding that the judges in their wisdom take another view.

I asked the Minister if he had received the advice of the Attorney General and I was not convinced by the reply. I ask the Minister of State to comment on it now. It is folly to have the Oireachtas make legislation in this way. When we have a written Constitution, we must respect that. We have no choice. It is foolish to whistle in the dark and claim that we can confer these powers on the Minister when the judges say that he cannot take certain actions under them.

Section 3 of the Superannuation and Pensions Act 1976 is not part of this Bill but is part of the superannuation code. Some of the regulations which have been adopted under section 3 of the 1976 Act are referred to in the Schedule containing the consequential amendments to pensionability age. The draftsman is to be commended on including these with the Bill because this is not always done. In addition to providing for a main section prescribing the new age, there has been an exhaustive examination of the relevant primary or subordinate legislation, and the consequential amendments to those items of legislation are set out in the Schedule.

The Deputy asked whether, in the light of recent court decisions, we should act on the assumption that the regulations — the most important of which in this context are the 1980 superannuation regulations — are now unconstitutional andultra vires the power of the then Minister to adopt. As I well know, Deputy Burton sits here as a representative for a constituency known as Dublin West and not as an accountant. I do likewise and not as a lawyer. The Attorney General’s advice is that we must act on the assumption that these regulations, adopted under an Act of the Oireachtas passed since 1937 and by a Minister apparently acting within the scope of his power, are constitutional and there is no court decision impugning or setting aside the validity of these regulations. These regulations confer positive benefits on public servants regarding their superannuation and pension entitlements. Were we to proceed along such lines, we would tacitly accept the fact that they are ultra vires or unconstitutional in a context where there is still an outstanding appeal on these questions before the Supreme Court where the State has not unequivocally abandoned its rights to confer upon Ministers the power to amend primary legislation by subordinate legislation.

The Minister is whistling past the graveyard and hoping for the best.

That said, I assure the committee that the Minister does not intend to rely on section 3 to make further regulations. The practice of the draftsman has been, as I understand it, in the case of new legislation to exhaustively set out the principles and policies in the legislation since the relevant court decision.

In the case of this Bill, the Attorney General, who has specifically considered the issues raised by the Deputy, is of the view that an examination of this issue would have to take place in a wider context, presumably of all previous legislation where this form of power was used so that a comprehensive resolution of all the issues involved could be arrived at in the legal sense. This Bill, while related to superannuation, is limited in its scope and purpose, as clearly set out in the Long Title. I am not appealing to the Chair to rule the amendments out of order, but the Long Title makes it clear that, first and foremost, the Bill is concerned with the compulsory retirement age for certain categories of new entrants to the public service, the increase of the pensionable age and consequential provisions. It does not really relate to the corpus of superannuation legislation and to provisions which might be contained within that corpus which may now have a legal cloud over them as a result of recent court decisions.

Amendment put and declared lost.
SECTION 2.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 9, inclusive, have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 9, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

One of the issues that was suggested was an extension of time to give an additional 26 weeks beyond 31 March 2004. Some of the unions concerned felt that the publicity surrounding this Bill is only beginning to be noted and that the budget announcement may have passed unnoticed. Giving an extension of 26 weeks would be fair and reasonable. Would the Minister of State comment on that? I know that most of the other amendments that were ruled out of order have been discussed in the context of the definition. Will the Minister of State also comment on another unusual circumstance for those who are employed as teachers in good faith? It has come to my attention that there are many art teachers who do not seem to have the sort of contract of employment that gives them benefits under these pension entitlements.

Has the Minister of State had an opportunity to examine some of the anomalies? I know that he relies heavily on contracts of employment and employment relationships. Will he assure us that those who have been working on a temporary or part-time basis in State employment but nonetheless providing key education facilities are not being disadvantaged in any way and that anomalies in regard to those groups are being addressed either here or elsewhere?

Three issues were raised by Deputy Richard Bruton. First, the Minister's view about the 26 week period is that there has been ample notification since the budget announcement in early December 2003 that the period of 26 weeks now runs from 31 March 2004, which brings the matter forward by another substantial period of almost six and a half months. There is a substantial extension period, and his judgment was that, while 26 weeks is often used in employment law as a general period for continuity of employment, its specific application in this legislation is a liberal interpretation of that concept. It extends it by a further 26 weeks in the case of a person who has, in effect, relinquished his or her status as a public servant. A right of return is written into the legislation.

I wanted to ask the Minister generally——

Has the Minister of State concluded?

I have not concluded. We can return to that but I am anxious to clarify the situation regarding the other question raised by Deputy Richard Bruton about persons in temporary or seasonal employment in the public service. There are specific provisions for the definition of such persons in the definition of "new entrant" in section 2(4)(b)(i) under the same contract of employment.

Will the Minister of State obtain clarification between now and Report Stage? I have a letter from people who have worked as art teachers in vocational schools and prison systems. According to this letter they are only now being accepted by the Department of Education and Science into the pension scheme. These are people who have given substantial service but who, it would appear, are deemed not to be pensionable. It appears that there is something amiss there.

Are they employed now?

They are now.

If they are employed now, they are not new entrants.

No. Obviously the Department has got its house in order just before, but they have effectively been left for long periods of their public service——

Is the Deputy postulating the possible existence of other categories in this position?

This is not directly related to the entrant date but to people who have only now become new entrants, as defined by the Department of Education and Science, even though they had been giving service for years in the prison system and the VECs. I am not 100% sure about this but the education sector appears to have a great deal of these irregular employment arrangements, and this letter appears to suggest that not all of them are deemed pensionable. If we are tightening up this area, there ought to be a review of these cases to see if we are being fair to people.

This category is accepted as pensionable.

It would appear now that they have been admitted.

The Deputy's concern is that there are other groups which may not be pensionable

Yes, my concern is that the treatment of this group suggests that the State's approach to its servants was not humane or positive.

In a sense, however, the Bill is concerned with the terms and conditions of pensionability and not with those who are pensionable.

These are people working in the public service who were not deemed pensionable for a long period of the public service that they gave. Now, for whatever reason, the Department has decided that they may be pensionable. Perhaps it has been triggered by this new legislation. It appears that there are such categories in education, especially because of the secondary relationship of employment law whereby schools are deemed to be independent employers and the Department is not the direct employer. It appears that anomalies have arisen in the way that some of those categories of people are treated. Some of these hard cases ought to be addressed in this general restatement of pension provisions.

I would prefer an opportunity to examine this first.

Following up on that, I have a general query to which the Minister of State might like to come back with an answer. It concerns the changes being made in conditions of employment in a number of areas in the public service, such as the public service appointment and recruitment legislation. I understand that there is a general intention to apply ordinary labour legislation to the public service in the future, that is, the part-time working hour legislation and unfair dismissals legislation. My general understanding is that this structure is now being established.

Under those areas of legislation applying to future recruits into the public service, especially in part-time and contract work, people accumulate rights. That is the EU approach. This has relevance in particular to people in both the medical and nursing professions because short-term contracts and part-time work are a feature of many medical and nursing jobs. The art teachers might be the same. People take much temporary wholetime work before they finally get a permanent position. Clarity is needed from the Department of Finance. In many cases, people who have accumulated blocks of part-time hours and so on will have worked up service over a long period.

Would the Minister of State be prepared to concede that there is a case to be made for a mix of public servants who work up their arrival or permanence in the public service because of the nature of their jobs? Would he be prepared to concede that, as hard cases arise, and I am sure they will, the Minister of Finance will look somewhat sympathetically on these? Would the Minister of State be prepared to give an undertaking that the Government will advertise and have some kind of campaign to advise people about these changes? Many young people are abroad for study or work experience purposes or travelling. In a number of cases their entitlements will be effected by these regulations and they will not know unless information is put onwww.ireland.com or sites that people may read. Many doctors and nurses read The Irish Times on the Internet on occasion and look up job vacancies and so on, but they will not necessarily know about these matters unless an information campaign is undertaken. Will the Government undertake such a campaign? These people will literally pop up. Some of them will be out of the country and would have an entitlement to seek re-entry to the service. However, if they have taken a year or two to go to Australia or wherever they will not know unless they go to www.ireland.com or their mothers and fathers know about it. I still have people coming to me who did not properly apply for a new house grant because everything had been left in train. I am sure other Deputies have had this experience.

There will be a need to make information available. In some cases some Departments are sympathetic to the transitional periods, while in other cases Ministers take a very hard line and people lose out in unfortunate circumstances. Will the Minister of State in conjunction with the public service unions, especially the nursing, teaching and medical unions, undertake some kind of information campaign to say that, when this legislation is passed, we will be in a transition period and that certain people should obtain advice on where they stand.

I wish to revisit Deputy Richard Bruton's point about art teachers first. In dealing with that I will, in a way, be able to deal with the first of Deputy Burton's queries as well. It is important to realise that the legislation deals with pensionability, not with the question of whether there is a contract of employment in the first place. To take the example of the art teachers, let us suppose that they were accepted for pensionability after 31 March. They would still not be new entrants because they have an existing contract of employment. That is the position under this legislation. The contract of employment is the decisive issue.

The Deputy will note the definition of "public servant" in the interpretation section as a person who is employed by a public service body. A public service body is defined as a body wholly or partly funded out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and in respect of which a public service pension scheme exists, applies or may be made. In other words, the person does not have to be part of an existing public service pension scheme. It suffices that they are employed as a public servant in a public service body. To take Deputy Richard Bruton's example of the art teachers, those teachers were in a public service body and did not have a pension scheme. They are nevertheless existing public servants for the purposes of this legislation. They do not become new entrants in consequence of the fact that it is decided to accord them pensionability——

Unless they break their service.

Yes, precisely.

That is why I say that we need this advisory campaign. Like with the medical doctors and nurses who go away, travel is part of the nature of the job. Often these people are practising artists, so they are doing and studying other things. That would suggest that the information campaign is even more important because it is a much greater decision than it once was.

It is the intention of the Department, in the event of the Oireachtas enacting this legislation, to advertise in the national newspapers about the impact of the legislation. That is planned by the Department.

Would the Government assist the unions that are most affected? In practice, they often have contact networks. In the nursing, medical and teaching unions there is a great deal of personal contact with the members. Both doctors and nurses tend to go abroad often. Some scheme ought to be worked out with these unions. It will be an onerous responsibility to put together a package which will properly advise people on the implications of this legislation in a way that allows them to make appropriate choices.

I assure the Deputy that the Department is happy to work with the relevant unions in highlighting the implications of this measure for their membership.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 3.

Amendment No. 10 is out of order.

Amendment No. 10 not moved.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) For the purpose of implementingsubsection (1), the Minister shall introduce a system of assessment of performance and a policy of facilitating the transfer of persons to alternative responsibilities within the public service where appropriate, in their later working years.”.

I know that this is not central to the Bill in one way but, if we are deciding that people are going to work beyond 65 and it is correct to move away from compulsory retirement at that age, there is a genuine fear that those who will decide to leave are those who would be best staying on and those who decide to stay are those who would be best to leave. A compulsory retirement age has traditionally been the method of creating promotional opportunities and ensuring that new, more dynamic people get into positions of responsibility within the public service. If that is now being abandoned, as it rightly is, we ought to have a more consistent system of assessment of performance and a policy of facilitating transfer of persons to alternative responsibilities.

The Minister of State said earlier that he is considering introducing the scheme whereby people can take the three best of their previous ten years. That sort of scheme, and enhancements of it, would be good because it would encourage people to decide to work until they are 70 but to take a position of lower responsibility. The pension scheme should obviously support that sort of choice. The system has in the past been too rigid.

My one misgiving about the Minister's approach is that he is bringing in the retirement age changes but telling us that we must wait to see the new flexibility that he is interested in introducing. There is the danger that we will get a system that, for some time at least, creates a tendency for some people to hang on in positions to preserve their pension rights rather than moving on to the best use of their skills and allowing others with new and dynamic ideas to come forward.

I do not think the Minister would dispute the worthiness of this amendment. It is more the appropriateness of it that would be an issue. I agree with the Deputy that the sentiments outlined in the amendment are worthy and would be appropriate to any proper personnel management policy in any large organisation. I assume that the intended effect of the amendment is to ensure that, where it became clear that staff were not performing adequately in their later working years, it would be possible to transfer them to less onerous work.

Again, the Minister is of the view that it is not appropriate to include detailed personnel questions in a Bill of this nature dealing with pensions. It is not clear whether personnel management issues can ever be legislated for in express terms in a statute, but it is accepted that, with the removal of the compulsory retirement age for new entrants, the general issues behind the amendment may become more significant in the longer term. In light of section 3, it is a long term. The majority of new entrants recruited this year will become eligible for this extended period of service in the public sector at some stage around 2044. There will be some new entrants who will have returned following their retirement from the public service to whom this could apply much more quickly. I accept that.

Am I correct in saying that the provision regarding retirement at 65 comes in with immediate effect, so that people will be able to work on to the age of 70 now——

No, the Deputy is not right in that respect. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I made the point when discussing doctors earlier that the doctor whose continuity of service was broken and then returns will then, as a new entrant, have the option of working after the age of 65. This great change of public policy takes effect in 2044 or thereabouts, depending when the particular public servant attains the age of 65.

It would be better to move sooner than later with my amendment because it would have great benefit——

A distinguished former public servant like the Deputy might, on the possible determination of his political career, become a new entrant and extend into the immediate future as a civil servant who could work beyond the age of 65. In other words, there will be a limited category of returning public servants——

I could be like a Chinese mandarin.

——who could become fully fledged mandarins very rapidly. They will be a select class because they must already have served as public servants and unequivocally departed from the service with no right of return whatsoever, and then be viewed as persons suitable for appointment to the public service, and eligible but they may qualify before the due date. The concerns the Deputy raises here are why the Government decided not to introduce immediately the concept, or option, of working beyond the age of 65. There are serious personnel and promotional issues in the introduction of a provision of that type for which plans must be made, although there is the interesting loophole of a person who can return to the public service following her or his unequivocal departure.

I accept that this is not the appropriate place for the amendment. It is not entirely satisfactory that in effect for the next 40-odd years we will have a compulsory retirement age of 65 and will not move to more flexible systems whereby people can work beyond that age and continue to contribute, while also having a system that allows people to make room. While the Minister's proposal as it now stands may apply only to those who are new entrants there is much unfinished business in this area. For example, my father is 95 years of age and still capable of doing excellent work in certain areas so we ought to recognise that people can continue to contribute in the public service and try to find flexible ways of allowing that contribution continue.

I agree with the Deputy and the Minister has indicated that he is preparing a civil service regulation amendment Bill which will attempt to address the issue of the general modernisation of the civil and public service resulting from strategic management and the programme agreed under Sustaining Progress. He is confident that these reforms will address the issues raised by the Deputy.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 3 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 10, before section 4, to insert the following new section:

"4.—All public bodies shall adopt an accrual based approach in accounting for pension costs.".

I was surprised the Minister's announcement did not address this in any shape or form. This was one of the interesting proposals in the report of the Commission on Public Service Pensions, which made the point that many public service bodies do not look at the long-term pension implications of their recruitment decisions. As a result the commission proposed that they should move to an accrual basis. In other words, when they recruit someone as a new entrant they should look to the true pension costs, as set out on page 166 of the pensions commission report of which the Minister of State likely has a copy. It is quite significant. Some of the contributions required to fund a pension are set out and run to 30% in the case of commissioned officers, 25% for the Garda and only 8% for an unestablished public servant. The commission made the sensible point that in general, public service bodies do not consider these implications when they make recruitment decisions and this is not desirable.

The corollary to this is that where a public body takes on extra pension liabilities on an accrual basis the Minister will make more public savings because to balance the books he must take this into account in deciding the current budget surplus. This will have two effects: to make people look more realistically at long-term pension costs and higher savings to attend the higher liabilities taken on. In our "pay as you earn" basis for pensions the higher savings rate is important because it makes more money available to invest in infrastructure in various capital facilities, and the economy and public service is capable of paying the pensions in future years when those fall to be paid. This is an interesting, positive and very valuable recommendation of the commission and I would like to see the Government adopt it.

The Deputy is correct that the commission recommended the adoption of an accrual based approach to accounting for pensions costs under Government financial systems. My understanding of the commission report was that the motivation for the recommendation related to the transparency of the information concerned and its value in that context rather than as a contribution to savings in pensions costs. The primary motive of the commission in making the recommendations——

The Minister of State misunderstood me. If one moves to an accruals basis the State increases its rate of savings in a balanced budget. It is making provision for more and using those savings to invest in our hospitals and roads.

I apologise. I thought the Deputy was making a point of political rather than financial economy point. I am on the back foot here as I am now a jurist arguing with an accountant. I take it that was the point.

I am an economist actually.

An economist, worse again. I acknowledged that a moment ago, I apologise to the Deputy. The commission also recommended that implementation of accrual accounting for pension costs should be addressed in the context of reforms in Government financial management procedures. It stressed that there is a wide range of important issues to be considered in this regard. It did not recommend a detailed system of accounting for pension costs. It stated, for example, that it was essential that any changes in this area should take account of relevant developments in financial management systems in the different parts of the public service. For that reason the Minister does not accept that it would be appropriate to deal with this issue in this Bill. Therefore, he does not accept the amendment.

I did not read this large document in the week we had to prepare for Committee Stage but the commission published a scheme in appendix 24.1 which provides a model of how this would be done. This is not a half-baked idea that needed a great deal more work. That would be an unfair interpretation of what the commission has done. There is real value in this. It is not central to the Minister's theme but there is merit in changing the way in which public bodies account for pensions. While I agree we should not move to a pension fund but should continue to fund public service pensions on a "pay as you earn" system, public service bodies must face the true costs of their decisions on recruiting and the Minister should take this into account when deciding his overall budget strategy. He should consciously make an allowance for growing pension liabilities when he decides what is to be his budget surplus in any given year. The Minister is being selective in his attitude to the commission's report. He chooses to ignore things that go to the heart of changing the operation of public service funds and financial management decisions but he pushes ahead with the things that he wants to do in a rush before 1 April. The commission put a great deal of work into this and we should not shrug it off as something that in the fullness of time might happen.

I accept that the commission did outstanding work in this context as well as others. The commission said the implementation of accrual accounting for pension costs should be addressed in the context of ongoing reforms to governmental financial management systems.

I have not seen a single proposal for public accounting management since I became a member of this committee.

I am advised that the reform of these systems will take a number of years.

Due to the complexity of issues involved and the different accounting systems in operation in different branches of the public service.

Last week, the committee had a simple proposal before it that capital projects would be tabled to the Oireachtas so as to see cost overruns. The Minister rejected this. Public service financial reform is not a high priority of the Government. The Minister of State could make a significant name for himself by accepting this amendment and kick-starting this process.

I could make a significant name for myself accepting this amendment. It strikes me as being a worthy one. There should be legislation on the whole subject of financial accountability.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 4 and 5 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 11, before section 6, to insert the following new section:

"6.—All pension contributions of public servants shall be placed in a designated public service pension fund to be managed by the National Pensions Reserve Fund.".

This is another recommendation on which I wish to explore the attitude of the Minister of State to public service pensions. The pension commission envisaged that there would be an additional 1% contribution by all in the public service to take account of the linking of pensions to serving officers. Allied to that was the idea that there would be a separate public service pension fund within the National Pensions Reserve Fund and that this money would go into that fund.

The purpose of this amendment is to explore the Government's attitude to the idea that there should be an explicit public service pension fund which would carry with it the notion of trustees and give public servants more structured input into decisions about public service pensions. The pension commission's proposal was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it asked people to contribute more and, on the other, it gave them greater say in the development of public service pensions.

The Deputy goes a step further than the Minister for Finance. The Minister has established the National Pensions Reserve Fund. Deputy Richard Bruton wants to go a step further and treat the public service pension fund as a private one with a ring fence fund with the contributions, together with whatever the Exchequer contribution is. It is an interesting proposition.

However, the introduction of the National Pensions Reserve Fund has marked a radical departure in policy already. I do not believe the Minister for Finance has entertained that one step further which the Deputy advocates, as the Minister is satisfied with the current arrangements for the fund. He established the National Pensions Reserve Fund to meet, as much as possible, the cost to the Exchequer of social welfare and public service pensions from 2025. The National Pensions Reserve Fund Act further provides that the annual contribution to the fund by the Exchequer shall be an amount equivalent to 1% of the GNP. There is no provision to lodge pension contributions of public servants into the fund, as such contributions fall into general taxation.

The public sector pensions schemes are financed on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. In other words, they in turn are funded from the general fund. The purpose of the National Pensions Reserve Fund is to move form a complete reliance on the "pay-as-you-go" basis for pension funding to a position of partial funding of future liabilities. The pensions reserve fund will not meet the full cost of future Exchequer pension liabilities. However, the annual contribution of 1% of GNP was considered to be the most appropriate, feasible and efficient way to make the necessary Exchequer contribution to the partial funding of all future Exchequer social welfare and occupational pension schemes on an ongoing basis. The commission report summarises the present position on the pension contributions:

Usually pension contributions by public servants are recorded under the appropriations in aid heading of the appropriate Vote rather than let off against pension payments. It should be noted that this approach underpins the pay-as-you-go principle which applies to most public service pension schemes.

It is an indirect answer to the question posed. The Deputy is asking about the ministerial thinking of whether we should move from the current arrangement where we have partially funded future liabilities through the pensions reserve fund, and partial payment on a "pay-as-you-go" basis to the central fund on the basis of receipts from the taxpayer, to a position of a completely ring fenced fund. The Minister believes he has carried the matter as far as he can through the establishment of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. He has no plans to go down the route envisaged by the Deputy.

It is a pity the Minister is not in a position to debate this more. The present provision is anomalous in that there is a pensions fund, as such, but for those contributing to the costs of their pensions, their money does not go into the fund. Instead what goes into the pension fund is a general tax levy on all of us. The pensions commission made an interesting observation on this notion of funding. It said that the funding of public service pensions would not of itself reduce the costs of pension schemes except to the extent that the returns on moneys lodged to the fund would be greater than the returns the Government could otherwise get. The corollary of that is that the only benefit the National Pensions Reserve Fund is bringing is the extent to which the investments it is making in overseas stocks and shares are more valuable than the investments the Government might make in infrastructure. The Minister for Finance is asking us to accept that it is a good policy to go for overseas stocks and shares but it is not a good policy to take the pension contributions people make and put them into a fund that would provide for the future.

It is a strange anomaly the Minister is creating. It is particularly strange in the past two years where all the contributions net are actually being borrowed. Money is being borrowed to buy these foreign shares. It is an unusual form of prudence. Anyone who told his or her stockbroker that he or she proposed to borrow €1,000 to speculate on the stock market would be advised not to as it is a strange investment. The pension commission explicitly recommended that a partial pension reserve for public service pensions be created. However, the Minister for Finance is rejecting this proposal. It adds to the curious nature of the Minister's stance in this area. I am in favour of making long-term pension provision for the future. However, the way to do it is through accrual-based funding, ensuring that public saving is increased and use that public saving wisely by putting it into infrastructures and, only then, overseas stocks and shares.

However, we have the worst of all worlds. We are borrowing and not using that money for infrastructure needs but putting it in overseas stock markets. I know the Minister of State does not want to rewrite his senior Minister's policy. However, he may permit me an observation on the policy.

One of the commission recommendations was that there should be a 1% increase in the pension contribution. The Government decided not to accept that recommendation. The commission made that recommendation on the basis that there was no real relationship between the costs of some of the pensions and the contribution being made. If one views the matter in economic rather than in strict accountancy terms, the Minister, through the National Pensions Reserve Fund, is at least providing for the future with a contribution from the general taxpayer against prospective liabilities.

The Minister for Finance is, but in an unusual way in that the many good public service investments opportunities will not be undertaken with this contribution but rather invested in overseas shares. It is not everyone's idea of a prudent use. Many outside bodies have made significant suggestions that we could take a better approach.

That is a wider issue.

I appreciate the point Deputy Bruton made, but it was established in a debate at this committee recently that those managing the fund enjoy flexibility, and obviously they must have a certain independence too. They have the flexibility to invest wherever they like, provided the investment is prudent.

That is not correct.

It is not correct that, as Deputy Bruton says, the investment must be in foreign shares. This was clearly established at an earlier meeting of this committee. We established the facts when we had before us the people who were in charge of that fund. All the different investments they made are right in front of us. Mr. Donal Geaney, the National Pensions Reserve Fund chairman, was here when all those questions were put. It was clearly established that the fund managers have flexibility and intended to exercise it in this and coming years.

There is an independence in the dealings of the National Pensions Reserve Fund, and it would be inappropriate if it were to be a meddling pot for a Minister for Finance or the Government at any time. The whole principle of what was intended might then be undermined.

We look at what is happening across the world today in terms of the problems arising regarding future pensions. We listen to the financial guru of the United States, Mr. Alan Greenspan, who proposed some two weeks ago that social security would have to be cut in the future. Such a concept would not be very popular here today. In this Bill, provision is being made for the future. People might take views on what the best model might be, but at least the proceeds from the sale of the family silver in Eircom has been put aside, and left there for future pension purposes. A top-up of 1% per year is also allowed for. That was a far-thinking decision by the Minister.

I do not have the minute of the meeting with me, and I do not know what the Minister will say today, but I am quite satisfied the people in charge of the fund informed the committee that they had flexibility, and that it was their intention to look at suitable investments in this country, and in areas at which they might not have looked before.

The crucial difference is that they are not able to undertake investments unless they have a cash flow, so that they can do so only where there is a tolling arrangement or other such arrangements which are often not in the best public interests in terms of using the infrastructure. The situation under which they can undertake prudent public investment is therefore constrained. There are many such investments they could not touch, and have not touched yet. The position is not quite as rosy as Deputy Finneran suggests.

I am not in favour of the proposed action. The chairman of the National Pensions Reserve Fund, Mr. Geaney, told this committee he was very proud there were no ethical dimensions to the investment of the fund. He said he was proud that on behalf of the Irish people, the fund held extensive investments across the world in tobacco companies such as Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and others. Mr. Geaney expressed pride in those investments. I pointed out to him that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, was quite correctly lecturing the rest of us about the need to give up smoking, while our pensions reserve fund is investing world-wide in smoking, and in companies which are busy trying to convert people in China and other third world countries into heavy smokers.

The fund also has investments in the armaments industry, and in well known companies like Halliburton, because it is a passively managed fund, so that no criteria were adopted, with ordinary buying and selling simply carried out by the fund managers on the day. Mr. Geaney went so far as to say that the fund directors "might" consider refraining from investing in prostitution, which might fall outside their ethical guidelines, if the brokers promoted such an investment. He was not sure — he used the word "might".

It is an unacceptable notion that we should have a public service whereby one moves to a funded pension basis with a decision made that the bulk of that money may go outside the State at a time when our public services need continuing high-level investment; and with no agreed interests or expressions by the Irish people, government or State. Such agreements would for example include the long-held one of military neutrality, and the agreement long held, diplomatically and internationally, of not doing harm where we could do good. These are quite simple precepts but all parties have agreed to them. I would not support the funds going to this institution unless it was seriously reformed.

We have gone well outside the scope of the Bill. Regarding the pensions reserve fund, the principle was, as I understand it, that 1% of gross national product would be placed in the fund. That is the aim set by the Minister for himself and the people. Having looked at the issue, and having considered the views of the Government and the Oireachtas when we were enacting the legislation, he felt that setting aside funds of this amount was sufficient, that 1% of gross national product was the required figure. To add staff contributions to this would increase the total funding beyond the 1% GNP level which was the agreed correct level of funding for this fund.

Certain Opposition figures have argued at times that we should raid the 1% fund — perhaps it is unfair to say "raid" — that we should abstract or make a defalcation from the 1% fund for other worthy purposes to which we would all subscribe. In effect, the purpose of the proposed amendment is to increase the 1% fund and pre-empt even greater amounts of money from the general body of taxation into the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The Minister has already agreed, and it is a feature of the annual budgetary process, that 1% of GNP is committed to this fund. Were we to transfer to the fund the pension contributions, which in effect are a form of general taxation because of their very weak relationship with the amounts of pension actually paid, the fund would then be even more bloated.

There seems to be an inconsistency in the arguments of the Opposition in that respect. Putting employee contributions into the fund could then be offset by reducing the 1% of GNP otherwise placed in the fund, but at that stage we would be engaging in a purely computational exercise. The fundamental policy decision was to pre-empt into this fund 1% of GNP in the form of receipts. Amending this legislation will not affect that policy. The merits of the policy and the investment are matters for another place and day.

My preferred amendment is amendment No. 12, which the Minister of State refused to consider. This is a substitute amendment. I will return to amendment No. 12 on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 6 agreed to.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.
Section 7 agreed to.
SECTION 8.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 12, lines 10 to 16, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:

"(5) Every scheme under this section may be made only if—

(a) a draft of the proposed scheme has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, and

(b) a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House.”.

To some degree this revisits the ground of the earlier discussion about Ministers making decisions by way of secondary legislation. Here the Minister seems to be making decisions regarding pensions for the Permanent Defence Force in a way that requires only that it be laid before the Dáil. There ought to be a public debate about the future pension scheme that will apply in the Defence Forces, which are clearly of great significance to the State. It is also important how we deal with pensionability in the Defence Forces. Clearly they must be dynamic, and issues of pensionability and changes thereto can have an impact on the sorts of Defence Forces that we have in future.

There are undoubtedly certain anomalies at present whereby officers can receive a pension after 12 years and serving men after 21 years. There is no doubt that that is a high-cost pension provision. I can understand why the Government may be examining changes to that. However, to suggest that it should not come through by way of a positive debate in the House where the Opposition automatically has a chance to debate the issue is not the right way forward, and I suggest that the Minister ought to accept that this be done by way of positive motion in the House rather than passively laying something before it and depending on the Opposition to table Private Members' time in opposition to it to have a proper debate.

The section provides for the exemption from section 3 of officers and enlisted personnel of the Permanent Defence Force because of its specific operational requirements. Officers and enlisted personnel will continue to be subject to compulsory retirement ages. It is on section 8, but the primary predication of this is section 7, and I want to speak to the section while dealing with the amendment. The section provides that new entrant members will be subject to a different arrangement. Current compulsory retirement ages for officers range between 47 and 63. However, the amendment tabled by the Deputy relates to the subordinate scheme of legislation which the Minister for Defence will have to draw up, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, setting out the new superannuation benefits to new entrant members of the Permanent Defence Force.

By way of background information for the benefit of the committee, the public service pensions commission recommended a minimum pension age of 50 for the Permanent Defence Force regarding the design of a new pension scheme for new entrants. Under existing pension arrangements, as I am sure Deputies are well aware, the entitlement is related to the length of service rather than to age. In many cases it can lead to a pension becoming payable at a much younger age. They do not allow for the concept of a minimum pension age. The current enabling provisions do not allow for the payment of benefits in the absence of a formal scheme. Members of the Permanent Defence Force do not have a minimum age at which a pension is payable. The Bill brings introduces a minimum pension age of 50 for new entrant officers and enlisted personnel. New entrant members of the Army nursing service will be treated in line with other public servants and will have a minimum pension age of 65. No change is being made to compulsory retirement ages which will continue to be determined in manpower policy on foot of current operational requirements.

Section 8(2), which is germane to the Deputy's amendment, enables the Minister for Defence, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to make a pension scheme. It is envisaged that the Minister for Defence will work out a detailed pension scheme in consultation with the relevant interests, such as PDFORRA. The Deputy proposes that there should be a positive resolution by the Houses of the Oireachtas adopting any such draft that emanates from the Department. As it stands, the existing section is drafted along standard lines. It is an enabling provision allowing for the making of a new scheme for new entrants to the Permanent Defence Force, with effect from 1 April 2004. It is drafted by the parliamentary counsel and represents the standard procedural approach to the introduction of statutory pension schemes. As such, the Minister does not accept the amendment.

That is disappointing. I am not an expert on Defence Forces pensionability and the impact of these changes. Defence spokespersons of the parties represented in the House should have an opportunity to see such schemes and examine their impact on the quality of the Army and those serving in it. Perhaps that is how it has been approached in the past. Pensionability regarding the Defence Forces appears to be a core issue given that the capacity of the fighting forces is affected by where responsibility lies in the Army and so on. I would have thought that it would be more prudent to take the route of a positive motion rather than use this traditional system which, as the Minister has outlined, has always been used in the past.

I support Deputy Richard Bruton's amendment. Our Army is undergoing significant changes in the context of what is taking place regarding the UN and international defence and security arrangements. Many of our soldiers serve overseas and are happy to do so. It is a great pity that there will be no opportunity in the Dáil to have full and proper scrutiny of the schemes and the arrangements. It is of a piece with my earlier amendment regarding asking the Minister not simply to make regulations by order. The courts have struck them down, as I said. It is therefore a pity that, in the context of the Army, there will not be an opportunity for people with some competence and expertise in the area to have a detailed discussion and debate on any proposed changes to the Defence Forces. We are developing a smaller, tighter Permanent Defence Force, and obviously the pension entitlements are important, especially for soldiers as they affect the number of tours of duty and years that they must serve. It is important that it be debated and available for scrutiny by the Opposition spokespersons. I certainly support Deputy Richard Bruton's amendment.

Does the Minister of State have anything to add before I put the amendment?

The core compulsory retirement ages are now set out in the legislation, and there are hundreds of public service statutory pension schemes. I share the view of other Deputies of the importance of the issue and the difficult nature of the tasks performed by members of the Defence Forces. However, in so far as their superannuation position is concerned, we are acting on the commission's recommendation. What remains to be done by the Minister for Defence is the drawing up of the scheme. In that context, the Minister is not behaving differently from many other Ministers who must draw up such schemes. Were all such schemes and their amendments, which they often require after industrial negotiations and discussions between the social partners, required to be submitted to the Oireachtas, a heavy burden would be imposed on it in the positive adoption of such schemes.

The proposed new defence scheme is in line with the commission's proposals, and it will be along standard lines but tailored to accommodate the staff requirements of the Defence Forces. There will be full consultation with staff interests and organisations and statutory organisations within the Defence Forces, and I understand that some might already have taken place.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 8 agreed to.
Section 9 agreed to.
SECTION 10.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

A number of submissions have been received that sought some flexibility on the question of pension age. There were negotiations which dealt with pensionabiliy somewhere between the age range, 62 to 67. Some positive progress was made even on the management side, I understand. They were open to such a development but in the event, nothing was agreed. In the amendment I tabled which was disallowed, I suggested a way to resolve this, whereby people who retired would get the average of an actuarially reduced pension and their pension. It would just be a traditional splitting of the difference, so to speak. Many people, particularly in the teaching and other professions, have made the case that a phenomenon of burn-out occurs and that earlier retirements based on such arrangements could be of positive benefit. Others may decide to work on.

Not much effort is being made currently to offer public servants other opportunities. However, in the absence of good systems to allow people in teaching to move on to other positions something like this might be a means for resolving the problem. I would like to hear the Minister's response to the case put forward by the INTO, among others, for some provisions to be made for a "greying period" to give people different options, including pensions, designed to offer some degree of choice. There is talk of retaining an early retirement scheme where people deemed not to have sufficient competence could move on. There is a danger here that people might have to prove themselves incompetent before they can get within the parameters of the proposal to which the Minister is more sympathetic. That could be the worst of all worlds for children in classrooms if people have to establish they are incompetent before they get options like this. I would be interested to see whether the Minister, at this stage, sees scope for some flexibility in this. He has circulated us with volumes about negotiations that appear to have bogged down. Perhaps he should attempt to split the difference on this and offer something of the nature of the disallowed amendment No. 17.

I had tabled amendment No. 18, which unfortunately was ruled out of order. The history of the Minister's decision to make 65 the retirement age and effectively severely limit enhanced early retirement schemes, which have been used to a small but extremely effective extent, by psychiatric nurses and teachers in particular, is interesting. The negotiations were proceeding relatively well, I understand. I do not know whether relations between the various parties and the Minister deteriorated over one specific issue. The Minister had indicated he understood the importance of the enhanced early retirement provisions. The terminology, unfortunately, for which they are often ascribed is "mad, sad and bad", where someone has fallen on ill health or encountered mental health problems or simply become unable to function, as sometimes happens in the public service, because of the stress occasioned by a difficult job. The indications from the Department of Finance and the Minister was that the need for these schemes was acknowledged and accepted. They are not over-used and they provided a mechanism for people who could no longer function in a classroom or on a nursing ward by reason of ill-health or because of personality changes or lifestyle reasons. The Minister did avolte-face towards the end of the negotiations and basically adopted a hard-line position.

This will have to be addressed at some stage. I am not sure about the other unions, but the INTO made a sensible offer, which was that the Minister would vary the retirement age to between 62 and 67. In other words the upward age could shift upwards, but it was also recognised that teaching in particular from age 50 onwards can become extremely stressful for people. Teaching is a solitary performance occupation. People must go into a classroom, close the door and teach. They may no longer be able to perform in their mature years as they did when they were much younger. Most important, parents do not want those kind of teachers, who have become ineffective or unable to cope. They do not want them in the classrooms with their children. They want their passage out of teaching.

If for some reason a nurse on a hospital ward has become ineffective the rest of the staff — or the prison officers' staff or whatever — do not want to work with the colleague who is no longer able to do the job but who may have given dedicated service before having a breakdown. All such discussion was going well during the negotiations, apparently. The Minister then told the unions a story and repeated it, on deputations. It was a cause of great hilarity, but it is significant as a story. He said that when Bismarck — who wanted to fight off socialism and notions like that, but at the same time wanted a controlled militaristic state — was introducing the concept of the old age pension into Germany, he asked what the average age of death was for people who worked in the public service, as distinct from soldiers killed in battle. He was told the average age of death for men at the time in Germany was 66. On that basis he made 65 the retirement age so that as far as possible the State would be required to pay little or no benefit.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy retold that story to stress his "macho" credentials. However, this is not Germany in the 19th century. We live in a democracy. If a TD starts off loving the job and later becomes incompetent the public has a unique remedy, which is not available to the parent of a child with a teacher from second to fifth class who can no longer teach. Or it might be a teacher in a large secondary school in charge of a group of active teenagers, who is simply no longer able for the cut and thrust the job involves. The Minister basically gave two fingers to the notion of public service improvement. Much of my early political experience was with Dr. Noel Browne. Dr. Browne was a Member of this House for a very long time and introduced many reforms in our medical system. His view was that at the end of the day certain types of work and work at certain times was for horses. He considered that at times it became too onerous for people to deal with the stress that could relate to a life cycle, to age or to the fortunes of somebody's health and that a compassionate and caring state should recognise that and make appropriate arrangements.

I regret that my reasonable amendment on provision for a change in the retirement age of teachers and others to 60 years has been ruled out of order. I hope it will be possible to revisit this issue. As the Minister for Finance said, he as well as many more of us will be long gone by the time this comes into being and it will be open to his successors to change it, and create flexibility. The unions have been quite generous and I do not understand why the Minister for Finance chose to turn his back on what the unions were offering.

Whatever about Bismarck's understanding of how to cut back on public service pensions in Germany it is accepted nationally that the Minister for Finance in the increases in the old age pension payments has given dignity to old age pensioners. The old age pension is now almost €170 per week and there is Government approval to raise it to €200 by the end of this Government's term of office. Deputy McCreevy is credited with ensuring that the people who contributed down through the years have a proper pension. I do not see a connection between the old age pension payments and what Bismarck spoke about in Germany.

Bismarck spoke in the era of the Franco-Prussian war, a long time ago. I presume the Minister's reference was to the fact that life expectancy has shot up since the era of Bismarck, for example, based on the entire population living in Ireland in 1924, the average life expectancy for males was 57 years. This would include the cohort born from the 1840s and 1850s onwards, born in the immediate aftermath of the Famine. In contrast, the average life expectancy for males today is 73 years. That is not necessarily the life expectancy of the cohort sitting around this table.

Deputies Richard Bruton and Burton raised the issue of schemes for voluntary early retirement for teachers and nurses, who are in very stressful occupations. The existence of these schemes is not affected by this legislation. Section 10(6) states:

Nothing in this section or section 3 shall affect any provision by or under any enactment or public service pension scheme which provides for the award of superannuation benefits at a date earlier than that specified in those sections or in the amendments provided for by Part 2 of Schedule 2—

(a) on the grounds of ill health, or

(b) where it is provided for by the provisions of a public service pension scheme, on 31 March 2004, in the case of compulsory cessor of office or position before 65 years of age,

or

(c) for any other specified purpose under any enactment or public service pension scheme that applies to a new entrant and is approved by the relevant Minister and the Minister after 31 March 2004.

Clearly, section 10(6)(c) envisages and allows in the case of new entrants that appropriate schemes can be negotiated and agreed as different contingencies arise. In addition, it is important to note that the existing legislative provisions can be continued and that facility can be applied to new entrants. It is desirable and necessary that exceptional pension arrangements needed to facilitate greater efficiency in public service organisation should be in place. The PCW introduced a limited early retirement facility for serving nurses and teachers that provides that nurses and teachers can retire early with immediate pension, subject to certain conditions and quotas. This is not affected by the legislation. The commission recommendation was that the facility be continued for a further period for nurses and teachers subject to a review in 2006. Section 10(6)(c) authorises the continuation of that scheme and its extension to new entrants, if that is so decided, pending the review. The measure contains ample scope to continue the existing practice. I deplore comments that suggest there is an implicit threat in this legislation to teachers or nurses, who through the stressful nature of their respective occupations find themselves in a position where they cannot avail of early retirement. That whole matter is left where it has always been before this legislation — a matter for negotiation between the relevant Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance and subject to the usual bargaining processes.

It is very important to bear in mind that we are dealing with pensionable age in this legislation. We are trying to focus on that issue and that is why I suspect the Minister referred to Bismarck. There has been a huge change in the life expectancy age since 1870.

The Minister's comment on section 10(6)(c) is encouraging. However, the final report of the Commission on Public Service Pensions made a recommendation in paragraph 26.3.5 with regard to the introduction of “an additional early retirement facility, called Approved Early Retirement, in respect of public servants aged 55 or over with 20 or more years’ service who consider that they are unable to make a fully satisfactory contribution, and where management accept that their early retirement would improve the general level of efficiency and effectiveness of the service in question.” Approved early retirement would be initiated either by management or the individual public servant.

The commission seems to present this as a new proposal. The Minister seems to say he is already doing this and this is protected and envisaged, but will he clarify that?

That is because the existing scheme is based on proving incapacity in one of the three areas, to which I referred. In that scheme, simply by negotiation and identification, one could be granted early retirement and one would not necessarily be certified as it were as being unable to do the job. There would be an acknowledged agreement that for——

My point is that the commission has made a recommendation, and the Minister is not saying whether the recommendation is being adopted. This is the crucial issue. If I were satisfied the Minister envisaged a scheme along the lines of the recommendation in paragraph 26.3.5 that would be run on a flexible basis and be reasonable and fair, this concern might be overcome. However, there is a belief that the position of the Minister for Finance is much tougher than that and that he would not envisage something of the nature outlined in paragraph 26.3.5. Will the Minister clarify what exactly is envisaged under the new approved early retirement scheme?

To date there has been no discussion with the staff side in the talks, so no doubt it may arise in the future. What the Deputy is advocating now is a step further from the existing practice and what is carefully safeguarded in this legislation, namely the three strands which enable——

The Minister is increasing by ten years in the case of the teaching profession, the year in which they can retire. The reason that this recommendation by the commission assumes a much sharper relevance is that the Minister is making other changes. For the Minister to state that this is an issue down the road and premature at this stage, is not valid because the Minister is bringing forward the retirement age and this is thequid pro quo.

The main practical area of concern has related to teachers and nurses and since the specific arrangements continue to stand the issue is not as hot as the Deputy suggests. The recommendation to which the Deputy referred will be considered in due course if it is raised on the staff side but it has not yet been placed on the agenda for discussion.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 19 not moved.
Section 11 agreed to.
SECTION 12.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 13, lines 26 and 27, to delete subsection (3).

Why was this Act set out and what was the purpose of this section? Section 65 of the Mental Treatment Act 1945 should not apply to new entrants.

Until now certain psychiatric services staff, mainly nurses, who were members of the local government superannuation scheme, enjoyed a doubling of service after 20 years and a right to retire at 55. These terms applied historically by analogy with the working terms which existed for prison officers. The analogy is no longer viewed as relevant. In addition, psychiatric nurses in the voluntary area and general nurses have standard terms. This subsection of the Bill equalises the position and implements the pension commission recommendation by providing that no new entrants to the psychiatric services will have fast accrual or retirement at 55.

The situation with regard to the psychiatric services has not been sufficiently examined. I read some of the background documentation and discussion on the psychiatric services. The argument made was that because psychiatric treatments are now carried out in general hospitals, the old perceived distinctions between psychiatric nurses and general nurses were no longer appropriate. Is it appropriate that those who are now hospitalised in our psychiatric services are placed in general hospitals because of acute psychiatric illness? Their care is often extremely onerous because they are only hospitalised nowadays as an absolute last resort. I am sure the Minister knows many people who work in the psychiatric service and it is acknowledged that the stress of working in the psychiatric nursing service is considerable. We are going through an era of unprecedented economic prosperity. However, we are standardising services downwards rather than upwards and psychiatric nurses will be worse off as a result. I am surprised that Fianna Fáil has introduced this section because Fianna Fáil and Labour both have a long association with the psychiatric services. Many Members of both Houses have been psychiatric nurses and understand that the psychiatric nursing gives rise to stressful and onerous working conditions. I know from care in the community and from the psychiatric services being provided in hospitals, that this is supposed to have changed, but conditions have not actually changed that much. In fact, because the people who are now hospitalised or who receive nursing services are often very ill, the pressure on the nursing staff is significant. I regret this downward shift in services and I recommend the Labour Party amendment to the Minister.

Is it not the case that there is a forensic branch of the mental health provisions? There are high risks to some people working with certain types of patients. I know of several instances where there has been violent assault on people with significant consequences and I presume these provisions are taking those high-risk situations into account. I question the extent to which that has all changed.

The commission stated that in assessing the position of public service groups in the light of this requirement, it considered operational requirements and environmental conditions, the historical basis, the development of current arrangements, the practice in the private sector and the comparable employment in the public service of other countries. The idea of equalisation of nursing has been commonplace in health policy and official thinking within the Department of Health for some decades. That said, there are special arrangements to deal with assaults on psychiatric nurses quite apart from any pension arrangements. With regard to the pension issue, the commission did not see any reason to depart from the general scheme in the context of that particular class of employee. It did make exceptions on other cases. I agree with the Deputies that the job of a psychiatric nurse can be very demanding but the commission looked at the position and decided that the same terms of employment should apply to psychiatric nurses that apply to everyone else.

County registrars and taxing masters are not subject to the same degree of danger as psychiatric nurses when, for example, people are in an acute stage of a psychiatric illness and either they voluntarily go to hospital, or in the most acute stage are sectioned. Many psychiatric nurses work in places like the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum where the patients have also been convicted of crimes. Socially, this is a retrograde policy and the Minister should give some consideration to a variation. Someone in his or her thirties who is working on a psychiatric ward with acutely ill and possibly dangerous patients may be very different to someone in his or her late fifties or early sixties. These patients may have to be restrained and held in hospital for their own protection until they recover. I am surprised at Fianna Fáil for taking this retrograde step, although not at the Progressive Democrats because they do not know many people who work in jobs like these. I read the argument in the commission report that the thrust of public policy is currently for psychiatric services to be provided through general hospitals and through care in the community. Nonetheless, there is a percentage of people who become acutely ill and a danger to themselves and others and our psychiatric nurses have to care for them permanently. It is a dangerous and stressful job in which injuries occur. I say to the Minister of State that section 12(3) is a retrograde step. Perhaps we can come back to it in a year or two to find out what the story is.

We will come back to the matter not in a year or two, but in 2035. I appreciate Deputy Burton's concern about the future of professional psychiatric nurses, but the provision applies to new entrants, not to the existing cadre of psychiatric nurses. If Deputy Burton is right, those new entrants will have those issues to raise with us in the decade after 2030. That is what we are talking about in the Bill; it does not affect existing groups of psychiatric nurses. It might become an issue for the profession in future, but it is not an issue now. That is an important point.

The Minister, Deputy McCreevy, has introduced a far-sighted Bill, because the age expectancy of this cohort of the population is substantially in advance of the age expectancy of the general population. That is something for which we must plan. It is an unavoidable issue and a fact of public health statistics that, in extremely wealthy western European and North American democracies such as ours, people now have a very long life expectancy. That is part of the crisis in the health service to which the Deputy referred earlier, and the Minister deserves credit for planning for that.

I salute, as Deputy Burton did, the work that psychiatric nurses have done in Ireland throughout the years, but the fact remains that we must plan for the future, and that is what we are trying to do in the Bill through a standard pensionable age. The commission considered excluding certain professionals for operational reasons and, having considered all the evidence, decided that psychiatric nurses should not fall within that category.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 12 agreed to.
Section 13 agreed to.
SECTION 14.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 13, line 35, after "accordingly" to insert "subject to any provision regarding added years in recognition of period spent acquiring professional qualifications or undergoing training".

Amendment No. 21, which was suggested by the Irish Medical Organisation, applies primarily to doctors but could in future apply to a number of other professions. The amendment seeks to reverse what the Minister is doing in section 14.

I will not repeat what I said earlier this morning, but it is now well-recognised that the practice in medical education, which, by the way, was endorsed recently in the Hanly report, is for doctors to have an extended period of university based training followed by an extended period of hospital based training. It is also the practice for many of our doctors to go abroad at certain stages for further training and work abroad until such time as a consultant post becomes available. The Hanly report is theoretically Government policy, although I am not sure about that after the Ard-Fheis, as the Taoiseach seems to have torn it up in public there. A cornerstone of the Hanly report, which, I suspect, will survive the report, is to replace many of the hospital doctor and temporary posts with a new structure of consultant posts and have many thousands of additional consultants. The Hanly report contains a "guesstimate" that around 3,000 consultants at various levels will need to be appointed over the period of the report's implementation. We are doing that in the context of the British NHS indicating that they wish to create an extra 7,000 posts to bring their National Health Service up to scratch and having begun a process of active recruitment for those posts. Medical recruitment at consultant and senior hospital level is an international process. The British NHS is therefore now competing with us for our best students, offering them better terms and conditions and giving them a career path at precisely the time when we are trying to attract people who are working in infirmaries throughout the UK and top-level hospitals and institutions in the United States with extra money into a health service with some rationality and sense of management in it. If we were to say "health service" to the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, he would immediately start to moan and groan about how he is giving the Minister for Health and Children €9 billion and has no idea what is happening to all that money. Neither do many of us have an idea what is happening to it, but we know we need many more doctors to come back, that we need those doctors to have a career structure that enables them and their families to have a reasonable standard of living and we need to make working in Ireland attractive in the context of the competition from, in particular, our neighbours in the British National Health Service.

The Minister, Deputy McCreevy, chooses to acknowledge those problems by removing from new entrants to our medical services the added years provisions in recognition of professional qualifications and the nature of medical training. That is a genuinely retrograde step that we will come to regret. It applies most clearly now to medicine, but will and does apply to many other evolving professions in which enhanced professional training is part of the job and in which professionals leave the job for a period to do enhanced training and go back with an enhanced qualification to get promotion. That is a critical path for many in different professions, not only medicine.

Section 14 is a retrograde step and pulls standards down at a time when we ought to seek to bring professionals back to Ireland. It enrages me that we spend many tens of millions annually on medical training in our hospitals and send the cream of those medical trainees abroad not only for training periods but for indefinite periods of time. Section 14 will make that worse. I hope the Minister of State will agree with what I suggest in amendment No. 21. That is not prescriptive. It would be subject to detailed negotiation with the medical trade unions and would then serve as a model that could be used if a similar training model were to develop for other jobs, which is definitely happening.

I recommend the amendment to the Minister of State and ask that he not rule it out without any consideration.

I accept Deputy Burton's point that amendment No. 21 is not prescriptive. My advice is that the amendment will have no operational consequence whatsoever.

It will give a basis for negotiations. By the way, to return to Bismarck, my information from the documentation that the IMO supplied to the committee for the debate is that the average age of someone taking up a consultant post is 38 years. If 30 to 40 years service were added to the full pension, we would reach a Bismarck type approach to the question. Assuming they were men, they would take up their consultancy appointments at 38 years and then have 40 years in the medical service. I am not sure how happy I would be if a 78 year old surgeon operated on me. Neither am I sure how happy he would be about operating on me.

I know a number of consultants still in harness in private practice who are in advanced years.

They tend not to be at the front-line of accident and emergency departments.

The Bill deals with the removal of retirement ages subject to certain exceptions and the introduction of a minimum pension age. It does not deal with the issue of notional added years. The proposed amendment is not relevant to the purposes of the Bill nor will it serve any purpose if inserted.

On whether pensions should be a recruitment incentive, the commission took the view they should not be. Apart from that, no one has ever argued that the financial incentives available to consultants to take up employment in Ireland are disadvantageous in contrast to those available in the UK NHS. I am surprised to hear this from a Labour Party Member. The financial incentives, put in place by a former leader of my party when he was Minister for Health in the 1970s, are among the most generous in the world. The Government has invited the consultants' representative organisation to engage in discussions to ensure a more realistic contract is concluded so as to recruit individual consultants as recommended in the Hanly report. That there are no good financial incentives for recruitment of consultants is an extraordinary statement. As regards the brain drain to the NHS and other services, it is inherent in the practice of medicine in a small jurisdiction that doctors will practice abroad to acquire experience of different specialities due to the limits in Ireland.

I am not disposed to accepting the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 14 agreed to.
Section 15 agreed to.
SECTION 16.
Question proposed: "That section 16 stand part of the Bill."

I will use this opportunity to clarify some matters that arose. Deputy Richard Bruton raised the question of the recommendation of approved early retirement. I indicated that there had been no discussions. However, I am advised that yesterday the issue featured for the first time in discussions. It is a constituent item of the ongoing discussions between officials and the public service unions. It is, however, too early to prejudge the outcome of these discussions.

As to how many applications for return to service by career break or seconded staff had been made since the budget 2004 announcement, there has been no discernible increase in applications for return to employment in the Civil Service. A similar report has been obtained in the health sector.

Question put and agreed to.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.