Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 15 Jun 1976

Vol. 291 No. 7

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Public Service Widows' Pensions.


asked the Minister for the Public Service if he will arrange for widows of public servants who retired before 1968 to have their pensions increased from one quarter of their late husbands' pension to one half as is paid to widows of public servants who retired from 1968 onwards.

Pension benefits for the widows and children of civil servants are provided on the basis of contributions being paid by officers serving on or after 23rd July, 1968, to cover the risk of predeceasing their wives. Those who had retired or died prior to that date were not covered and paid no contributions. Accordingly, their widows could not benefit under the scheme. It is, of course, clear that a scheme framed to cover a potential risk would not be appropriate where the contingency had already arisen, due to the husband's death.

A special scheme was provided on an ex gratia basis as from 1st October, 1969, for the widows and children of those who retired or died prior to the introduction of the contributory scheme. It enables pensions of one-half of the rate payable under the contributory scheme to be awarded to such widows. The current annual rate of expenditure on these pensions for the public service, including the civil service, is £3,000,000, so to double the rate would entail an extra annual charge of £3,000,000 on the Exchequer; indeed that sum will in crease from 1st July next. This figure does not allow for the possibility of claims from other groups for compensatory increases.

The question of existing members of the contributory scheme making higher contributions, to meet the cost of improving the ex gratia pensions, was taken up with staff side representatives but no positive reaction was obtained. I should point out, however, that because of the annual pension increases for public service pensioners, the average ex gratia pension went up by at least 29 per cent last year and will attract a further increase of over 11 per cent with effect from 1st July, 1976. Allowing for the latter increase the rates will have risen, on average, by approximately 203 per cent since the scheme was introduced in 1969. Accordingly, I am afraid that, in present circumstances, it is not feasible to double the existing rate of pension for pre-1968 civil service widows.

The Minister knows as well as I do that this is a longstanding problem, and would he, first of all, admit that these pre-1968 widows, as they are identified, must necessarily be a diminishing group? Did he give a figure of £3 million as the cost of pensions to these ex gratia widows alone.

That is as of now. It will be £3,250,000 for 1st July next. That is under the existing scheme.

The Minister does recognise that the group cannot grow in size; it must diminish, and therefore when he mentions £3 million it will not be a permanent annual charge of £3 million? Would the Minister agree?

That is probable assuming that the existing rates will not be altered, but it will be £3,250,000. To accede to the suggestion would mean that the total would be £6,500,000 as of now; please God, many of them will survive for a long time to come. Having regard to the fact that contributory pensioners are required to contribute to pensions at the level which is being sought in this question, obviously were others to receive equal pensions without making any contribution, there would be pressure to relieve people from the obligation of making a contribution in respect of what are now contributory pensions.

The Minister is being technical.

The Minister knows the circumstances of this, because it was I who introduced both these schemes. Does the Minister agree that when this scheme was introduced for the public service generally this group of people were, through no fault of their own, badly and unfortunately treated? Does the Minister agree that this ex gratia scheme was brought in to try and ameliorate their circumstances as an ad hoc ad misericordiam measure? Bearing all that in mind does the Minister not think in view of the fact that they are a diminishing group he could be reasonable in his approach to them now and grant them this concession which they have always been seeking, particularly in view of the facts I have outlined? Secondly, if the Minister cannot see his way to doing that from the general Exchequer, would the Minister now initiate meaningful discussions with the organisations to see if they could be catered for through the new scheme rather than directly from the Exchequer?

We had very full and frank discussions with serving civil servants to see if they would be disposed to make a contribution towards the cost of increasing the ex gratia pensions but agreement was not forthcoming.

Did they give the Minister a blank refusal?

They gave me a refusal.

Would the Minister try them again?

I have no objection at all. Certainly, I would hope that there would be a disposition to make a contribution but at present one could not warrant giving pensions on a basis equal to those which are paid to those who are making contributions, nor would one be justified in asking the general body of taxpayers to contribute another £3¼ million in order to bring the pensions in question up to the level sought.

Does the Minister not agree that if the general body of taxpayers were prepared to pay half these pensions as an ex gratia payment, once that principle is established it would be quite reasonable to have the general body of taxpayers pay the entire pensions? That is a sort of argument that we could throw back and forth across the House for a long time. I am appealing to the Minister on ad misericordiam generosity grounds to try and do something for this group of people. The Minister's own reputation at present could do with a little bit of helping in this regard and if he could do something that would appear to the general public to be reasonable, decent and generous it would be very helpful from his own point of view.

I am pleased with the endorsement which the people of Ireland have given to my reputation and my hard work last week but one must totally exclude my own image in relation to the discharge of my duties. While I accept that in principle most people are willing to see additional expenditure by the Exchequer, in practice most people are unwilling to contribute towards the cost.

For widows?

For any cause.