Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 14 Dec 1960

Vol. 53 No. 5

Oireachtas Members Pension Scheme: Motion of Approval.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann hereby approves of the scheme for contributory pensions for Members entitled Houses of the Oireachtas (Members) Pensions Scheme which was made by a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas on 1st December, 1960, and forms the Appendix to the Committee's Report (T.175) which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 8th December, 1960.

I do not know if it is necessary to say much on this motion. I presume Senators have studied the scheme and made up their minds about it. There have been proposals for such a scheme over the past 20 to 30 years. It was necessary to give some form of legis lative authority for such scheme. That was done in the Bill dealing with the remuneration and allowances for Ministers, Deputies and Senators. Such a scheme is in operation in other countries and it seems desirable that we should have one here.

When the Bill dealing with allowances for Ministers, Deputies and Senators was enacted, the two Committees on Procedure and Privileges set up an informal Joint Committee to draw up a scheme. In the end, they succeeded in drawing up what seemed an acceptable scheme. It is entirely a contributory scheme. Deputies and Senators will make their contributions to the scheme and will not ask for any help whatever from the State. It is a compulsory scheme if passed by both Houses, that is, the contribution will be deducted from the source, from allowances paid to both Deputies and Senators, and, as the scheme lays down, any Deputy or Senator who will have served 10 years when the scheme comes into operation and who leaves either House will be eligible for a pension at the rate of one-sixtieth for every year's service.

There is one clause which has perhaps given rise to some misunderstanding, that is, the clause which refers to a retiring Deputy or Senator who has a pension from some other source, out of public moneys. That will apply only to a person retiring who has a pension from Government funds and will apply, in particular, of course, in the case of a Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary. As far as Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries are concerned, they could benefit to some extent from this scheme but not to the full extent to which a Deputy or Senator who is not a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary could benefit. It sets the limit of £1,000 from all sources as being as much as he can draw.

A scheme like this is extremely difficult on which to get any sort of actuarial opinion. We did have an actuary working on it and he gave us his opinion. I should like to say that according to his opinion, it is doubtful if the scheme will be solvent as the years go on, but there is provision in this scheme that it can be amended as time goes on, either by increasing the contributions or by lowering the allowances. Of course if we take the more optimistic view, perhaps it may work better than expected and we might be able to reduce the contributions as time goes on, but there is provision for amending it either up or down in the light of experience.

I do not think there is anything else of any importance in the scheme. The fund will be managed, as set out here, by three trustees, the Chairman of each House and the Minister for Finance. They, of course, will have a very formal duty to perform, that is, to invest the funds. They will not be called upon to decide who shall get a pension or how much he shall get. All that is laid down here and their only function will be to invest the funds to the best of their ability so that they may earn whatever money may be earned from a safe investment. In conclusion, I should like to say that the Committee who worked so hard for some time on this scheme and who succeeded in producing this scheme which appears to have general approval deserve our very best thanks.

All that is to be said about this motion is that, as we see, the proposals now being implemented were made as a result of the meeting of a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas and that being so, I for one am in full support of the motion, as I hope everybody will be.

I should like to say that, at first sight, it seemed to me that this scheme was not extremely urgent, but I think any such impression in the public mind has been answered by what the Minister said, when he made it clear that this is really a form of group insurance. It is a self-supported scheme of the members of the Oireachtas, who are arranging to pay their own members pensions, and, consequently, from the public point of view, while some of the public may say they do not see the necessity for it, nevertheless they cannot cavil at the members of the Oireachtas deciding to start a scheme like this and spending their money in this way, because it seems clear that this will not place a charge on public funds.

It does seem to me, however, that the period of 10 years is rather short. In most avocations, you have to work a little longer than 10 years before you can be considered worthy of a pension. I do not know if the Minister would like to comment on the length of time prescribed but 10 years appears to be short, and may well prove capable of raising the public eyebrow, as it were.

There are two further points in the scheme about which I am not quite clear, and which, if possible, certainly require a change. The main one is that there is no provision for widows. I am inclined to say, "as usual" because, of course, we tend in this country to victimise the widow—and that is not too strong a term. We do not make provision for widows, and we really care very little what happens to them. I feel that in the case of pensions, just as in the case of salaries, which are intended to maintain the couple, the pension is also intended to maintain the couple, and if half of the couple, disappears, it is unfair that the entire pension should disappear. I should like to see some provision made for widows.

I also want to ask what happens to the money contributed by members of the Oireachtas who die before coming into the period of benefit?

I should like to welcome the scheme and to say that, in my opinion, it was quite incorrect that there was no pension scheme provided up to the present. The fact that the scheme is contributory and that no money is being made available to it from State funds completely justifies it, and justifies any decision made by the Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I also feel that there is a grave injustice which should be put right. I am referring to people who gave their whole lives to the service of this or the other House in the past, and having done so are left to end their days in penury, or in reduced circumstances. These people would be in much better circumstances had they not given the greater part of their lives, their energies and abilities to the service of the State. While, in fact, to date, there is no suggestion that they will be helped, I am hopeful that at some time in the future cognisance will be taken of them, whether in the shape of contributions to their upkeep from this scheme or an enlarged scheme, or alternately by a contribution from a State fund.

I know there are few of these people in bad circumstances, but they gave their lives to the service of this or the other House of the Oireachtas and if they did not achieve Ministerial rank, they are thrown out, with no recognition of those services. If they were Garda, civil servants, teachers or other employees of the State, cognisance would be taken of them and they would have their own superannuation scheme. The answer is, of course, that what is being done now should have been done 20 years ago. There are many things that should have been done 20 years ago, but this is a group scheme and it is no fault of any individual that it was not done 20 years ago. Quite frankly, I am sorry for these people who have given their services to the State and have not got recognition for those services.

This is an excellent scheme and it is long overdue. I only hope that some time in the future recognition will be given by some means to the people to whom I have referred. They have passed on from the service of the Houses. They are still alive but they cannot enjoy the benefits this scheme would give them, if they were still here.

The newspapers that referred to this scheme last week unanimously used the heading: "Pensions for Deputies". It is very important that the newspaper headlines relating to these discussions should state that the pensions are for Deputies and by Deputies, and not from the public purse.

There is a danger that the scheme might become insolvent at a very early date because it is conceivable that after the next general election, many may pass from the scene of public representation, and the demand on the others may be too great. After a reasonable life of Parliament, the fund would build itself up again, but it could happen that the fund would become insolvent. For that reason, I think the trustees might have power to borrow because, after all, we all expect that there will be a new group of long-lived public representatives with long careers who will be able to build up for the future. In the meantime, however, in case there is any danger that some may pass from the political scene— and many of them have been in public life since the days of Sinn Féin— we should make sure that the scheme will not fall down in providing for them.

First of all, the 10 year period is, I think, quite reasonable. After all, it means at least three terms in either the Dáil or the Seanad or between the two, and sometimes indeed it means four terms, because it is impossible to imagine that two terms of the Dáil would run exactly five years. That is almost impossible legally. We may take it, therefore, that it means three terms in the Dáil or Seanad. I think we will all admit that a man who has spent three terms in either House has at least lessened his chances of making a living elsewhere and would therefore require this little help.

The question of widows was put to me but, unfortunately, when the Bill was being drafted, widows were not mentioned. I would have to have the Bill changed. We may have an opportunity of doing that at some future time. There is, as Senators are aware, an option given to civil servants to opt that their widows will get something, if they die first. Something similar could be done in this case if we had the legislative authority to do it.

The contributions of those who do not reach the 10 year period are forfeited, of course. Indeed, the solvency of the scheme depends on those contributions, and we could not afford to give them back.

I have great sympathy I must say for the people referred to by Senator Donegan—the people who served for a long time in either House of the Oireachtas, got a very poor allowance, and are not in a position to provide for their old age. I have great sympathy for those in bad circumstances. If any proposals are made to me with regard to them, I would certainly give them every consideration.

The only other point raised was on the question of borrowing. There is power to borrow in the scheme. I must say that in drafting the scheme, I did not contemplate that the trustees would borrow for a long period. I thought that if they exceeded their income by a small margin, they might borrow for a year or so in the hope that they would have fewer pensions to pay in a year or so and be better off. As I say, the borrowing power is there and can be used with discretion.

Question put and agreed to.