I propose to take Questions Nos. 539 and 552 together.
I am pleased that the Government approved the establishment of the Commission on Pensions in fulfilment of the Programme for Government commitment.
As the Deputies will be aware, I announced on Budget Day that the planned increase in the State pension age from January of next year will be deferred, in line with our Programme for Government commitment. In this regard, it will remain at 66 years pending the report of the Pensions Commission and I will introduce legislation shortly to give effect to this.
The Commission's Terms of Reference includes the examination of sustainability and eligibility issues with the State Pension and the Social Insurance Fund. More broadly, it will also consider the issue of retirement ages in employment contracts and consider how the pension system can further accommodate carers, who are predominantly women.
The membership of the Commission, approved by Government, reflects the need to have subject matter experts to deal with the complex social and public policy issues arising in pensions, as well as stakeholder representation which will keep the work of the Commission grounded. This includes representation of workers, employers, civil society, academics and those with technical and policy expertise. In this regard, the membership also includes those with involvement in organisations supporting older people.
The Government was keen to ensure that the Commission had strong female representation in its membership, and I am pleased that the majority of confirmed members – 6 out of 11 – are women. It will be chaired by Ms. Josephine Feehily. I am satisfied that the Commission, with its gender-balanced membership and extensive experience of social and public policy, will be keenly aware of the gender dimension of pensions policy and delivery and will bring this perspective to bear in its work.
The Commission will also engage with a range of key stakeholders to ensure that it has a genuine understanding of not only the fiscal sustainability challenges involved, but also the associated social sustainability challenges of implementing potential policy reforms. The exact mechanisms for this engagement will be shaped by the Chair and by Commission members.
It should be noted that while this Government is acutely conscious of the need to consider the sustainability of the State's finances, this is not the only consideration when thinking of the State pension age. The State Pension is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland. It is extremely effective at ensuring that our pensioners do not experience poverty. The Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case.
The Commission will be holding its first meeting shortly. In line with the Programme for Government, the Commission will report to Government by 30 June of next year and the Government will take action having regard to the recommendations of the Commission within 6 months.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.