In that sense, I would not normally have contributed to this debate but I felt I had no choice but to do so on behalf of the 15,000 members of the Irish Aviation Superannuation Scheme, IASS. Half of them probably do not know that the Tánaiste was involved in the appointment of David Begg or that there was any question mark over the process. However, prior to that getting into the media, people, when they heard that David Begg had got this position, were gobsmacked given the role he has played in terms of pensions.
Yesterday morning in my car coming in to work, I could not believe it when I heard the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, on "Morning Ireland". He tried repeatedly to tell the nation that the appointment was by the book. We all know it was not really by the book. In fact, it was against the whole spirit of the book but relied on one line buried in the middle of it. The Minister then went on to tell us repeatedly that no one had a problem with David Begg and that he was the best thing since sliced bread as far as pensions were concerned. That is not true; it is manifestly false. The Minister continued to repeat ad nauseam that he was manifestly and exceptionally qualified. That is not true and I will make some points in that regard.
David Begg was on the board of Aer Lingus and head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He played a role in the IASS which saw the living standards of deferred pensioners and existing retired members of the scheme decimated. People will be appalled listening to what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, said. They will be struck dumb at the description of David Begg as fighting for ordinary pension members, because it is not true. The Labour Relations Commission pleaded with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority to assist and to step up to their responsibilities in respect of the IASS. I have a copy of a letter from the Labour Relations Commission to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It dates from 2011, when David Begg was at the helm, and asks the organisation to deal with the future pension scheme and for its view on how the process should be resolved. What was the answer? Absolutely nothing. I have a letter from 2012 to the same Irish Congress of Trade Unions, headed by David Begg, from the Retired Aviation Staff Association. Against the backdrop of Aer Lingus going into the commercial courts to try to reduce its capital, thereby jeopardising the accrued benefits of Aer Lingus pensioners who had paid for a reasonable expectation in their retirement, the association appealed to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to stand with it. What did the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and David Begg do? Absolutely nothing. That is David Begg's record in terms of these issues.
What happened to those people? What process did David Begg stand over for those pensioners? They were excluded from any negotiations about their livelihoods. Some €6.5 million has been taken out of their pockets since last year. Coincidentally, in the same period, the Aer Lingus company, which is one of the companies involved, allowed one person, namely, the last chief executive, walk away with €6 million. That is the equivalent of what was robbed in one year from existing pensioners, and David Begg was a board member and party to that injustice. It was ensured that no mitigation moneys were put in to defray the cuts to existing pensioners. Pensioners were not allowed sit at the table and be involved in the negotiations. The Retired Aviation Staff Association wrote on numerous occasions to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions begging for its assistance but the door was kept firmly shut. Those are the people who built the companies, having worked there all their lives, and all of them were trade union members who had paid their subscriptions throughout their entire time there.
When the Workplace Relations Bill was introduced, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions did nothing to advance the position of pensioners or give them a voice in the talks. In fact, the congress argued against it. If this is the expertise on which we are relying, people should be very afraid. Not only did David Begg do absolutely nothing for those pensioners who now have had their livelihoods diminished but these people have had millions of euro taken from their pockets. A unilaterally imposed section 50 debt repayment has been put on their monthly income. One of them made the point to me today that, in 2008, VHI contributions were 11% of State pensions but now they are 28%. They have had cuts to their private scheme on top of the 2.5% pension levy, yet they did not even get a voice in the process.
Do the Ministers know, when David Begg was head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, how many pension initiatives were put forward by the congress under his watch? None. Not only that, he was the head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions when its own pension fund floundered. It was underfunded, benefits were cut and entry was closed to new members. One of the trustees of that scheme was Brian Duncan. He was also involved in the troubled pension scheme in SIPTU and was the chair of the trustees of the IASS when David Begg was on the board of that company. Pensioners were robbed of a legitimate expectation to a decent income on their retirement, which they had paid for. This was stood over by this man, as a member of the board of Aer Lingus and as the head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. With expertise like that, we are very much in trouble.
The one thing on which I agree with Deputy Spring is that the pensions industry needs to be challenged. There is no question about that. The Pensions Authority also needs to be challenged. I have no hesitation in saying it is rotten to the core. Adding David Begg into the mix is not going to help. I would nearly say it would increase the rottenness. This organisation needs to be taken on.
The appointment of David Begg is severely disappointing and is indefensible. The Government can dress it up all it likes but there are people tonight who are poorer in their retirement because of David Begg and they are not one bit happy with the Government.