Thursday, 8 October 2020

Ceisteanna (10, 26, 46)

John Lahart

Ceist:

10. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Defence the way in which he plans to bridge the gap of ten years between forced early retirement on age grounds in the Defence Forces and access to the State pension. [29137/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Lahart

Ceist:

26. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Defence his plans to extend the supplementary pension provision to post-2013 new entrants to give them the option of a lengthy career in the Defence Forces. [29138/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

46. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Defence the way in which he plans to bridge the gap of ten years between forced early retirement on age grounds and access to the State pension. [29118/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (4 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, for facilitating my move from gamekeeper to poacher for a minute or two.

As the Minister knows, members of the Defence Forces are forced to retire at the age of 50.

What plans has he to help them bridge that gap of ten years until they reach pension age?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 26 and 46 together.

I take it the Deputy is referring to the absence of the concept of “supplementary pensions” from the provisions of the single public service pension scheme. The occupational pension scheme terms for post-1 January 2013 new entrants to the public service, including the permanent Defence Force, PDF, are governed by the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012. All first-time new entrants to pensionable public service employment on or after that date are members of the single scheme.

The single scheme is a key structural fiscal reform introduced to help significantly reduce the cost of public service pensions in the long term, while at the same time continuing to provide valuable pension benefits for employees. In the general context of that policy objective, the terms and rules of the single scheme, which are fundamentally different to previous superannuation public service arrangements, make no provision for the concept or award of supplementary pensions for any new entrants joining any public service group from 1 January 2013 onwards. Notwithstanding the distinguishing features of the single scheme, members of the PDF in that scheme retain the minimum pension age of 50 to reflect operational needs, as already applies to new entrant military personnel recruited since April 2004. Importantly, the single scheme also retains "fast accrual" pension terms for groups such as the Defence Forces.

Under the 2012 Act, overall statutory responsibility for the single scheme pension terms and rules rests with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. In that regard, the absence from the single scheme of provision for the concept of supplementary pensions for any new entrants joining any public service group, including the PDF, on or after 1 January 2013, has previously been confirmed by the official side to the Defence Forces representative associations, and the position in that regard has been restated to RACO by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at a recent meeting with that association.

I am also advised that the Public Service Pay Commission considered certain aspects of military superannuation provisions, which were submitted as an influencing factor on military recruitment and-or retention outcomes. The commission’s report on recruitment and retention in the PDF, which was accepted in full by Government in July 2019, considered the concerns expressed by the military representative associations in relation to various aspects of pension scheme provisions for the Defence Forces. The commission made no recommendations advocating any improvements to the pension scheme terms of the PDF. However, the Public Service Pay Commission report recommended a range of measures relating to pay and non-pay aspects that would result in immediate and future benefits for members of the PDF. These projects are currently under way or completed. These include a review of barriers to extended participation in the PDF and, in particular, the possibility of extending or increasing retirement ages for members of the PDF. Phase 1 of this project, the review of mandatory retirement ages for commissioned officers, is nearing completion, while phase 2, the review of contracts of service for enlisted personnel, is commencing. However, while those deliberations are ongoing, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. This is primarily the responsibility of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and I need to be careful what I say in this regard.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response, which contains some interesting material. He said he assumed I was referring exclusively to the supplementary pension provision but it is not just that. Obviously, as he said, the age of retirement reflects the duties involved and he also referred to the fast accrual system of pension for military personnel.

The final part of the reply refers to ongoing work on barriers and measures being considered to benefit members of the PDF. Does that include continued employment? The Minister talked about extending the contract but does this include assisting Defence Forces members to seek non-active positions within either the Department of Defence or the Defence Forces? Given the unique nature of Defence Forces personnel, to which he referred in earlier replies, and the fact they are treated differently in other ways, for example, with regard to union recognition, what creative measures are being considered? There is a long period remaining after a person ceases work at 50 and while some have particular skills they can take into other professions, and do, this is not always the case. Will the Minister respond regarding any creative solutions he is considering?

As I said, a review and a conversation is ongoing in terms of required retirement ages. As the Deputy knows, there is a reason many in the Defence Forces are required to retire at a certain age. It is a challenging career, so there are age constraints in regard to some of the work that is done. That said, we are discussing and reviewing this at the moment. Many people in their 50s and 60s have pursued successful careers in the private sector and, indeed, the public sector after leaving the Defence Forces. That is with good reason because they are highly sought after, by and large. It is a problem for us at the moment because they are so sought after by the private sector that we are struggling to hold on to some of them, whether in the Naval Service or the Air Corps, where our pilots were essentially being headhunted by private airlines. Because we train the Defence Forces very well, there are career options after people leave, particularly for officers but also for others, in particular as that skillset and discipline towards work are highly sought after. That is a kind of double-edged sword from our perspective. If the Deputy has any ideas or proposals in that regard, I will try to take them on board.