Senior Citizens’ Lobby of Fine Gael Ard Fheis, University of Galway.

“End this blatant and ageist discrimination against pensioners!”

After Storm Kathleen forced the parliament to postpone a larger lobby of the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, the ICSP’s national co-ordinator, Pat Mellon, led a skeleton delegation of retirees from all four provinces to the fringes of Mr Harris’ inaugural convention as leader.

The Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament (ICSP) and its Collective Network of Retired Workers’ Organisations called on the Taoiseach-in-waiting, Simon Harris, to reverse the government’s opposition to a Private Members’ Bill aimed at giving pensioners’ representative bodies a voice at all employer-union talks which pose a threat to their pensions. This is an ongoing campaign and pensioners are not going away until the Bill is passed.

They reminded passing legislators and delegates that government opposition to Deputy Bríd Smith’s Industrial Relations (Provisions in Respect of Pension Entitlements of Retired Workers) Bill 2021 has mired it in legislative scrutiny for over a year.

Speaking to the delegation, Mr Mellon said:

“The passage of this Bill would finally address the suppression of pensioners’ rights by the Industrial Relations Act of 1946. It denies pensioners any say when decisions about their occupational pensions are being made by employers – including the state – trustees and trade unions.”

Paddy Fagan retired Dublin Airport Authority Staff member reminded the Fine Gael delegates to the Ard Fheis, that he along with over 3,000 fellow-members of the Retired Aviation Staff Association (RASA) had to raise almost three million euro to fight a 9-year High Court battle in a failed bid to recover cuts to their pensions of up to 20%. They were imposed on them by pension trustees, employers and the state following approval by trade unions they once belonged to.

However, twelve days ago, EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said the action confirmed that Irish law is consistent with European law in conferring on pensioners a constitutionally protected property right to the money they saved in their pension trust.

Writing to Euro-parliamentarian Clare Daly – herself a member of the IASS pension scheme and former Aer Lingus Employee – the Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets said the 2020 judgement was consistent with the case law of the European Court of Justice. Mr Mellon said:

This exclusion of the pensioners of state-owned companies like Irish Shipping, the Dublin Airport Authority/Shannon Airport, Aer Lingus (now privatized) and the ESB, has resulted in significant losses of earnings for tens of thousands of retirees and their dependents. The state’s reprehensible practice of freezing pensioners out of key decisions on their fate in old age persists. But it’s worth  underlining that most victims were auto-enrolled. Contributing to the schemes was a generally a condition of employment.  They did this with a reasonable expectation of a fair return after retiring.

Similarly, retired civil servants reasonably expect that parity with pay rises for their still-working colleagues will continue.”

With regard to compulsory Pension Enrolment, Joe Little of the RTÉ Retired Staff Association, explained to TD’s and delegates alike; “If Mr Harris’ government is serious about last week’s decision to introduce compulsory pension enrolment for up to 750,000 uncovered private sector workers, it must follow Bríd Smith’s lead and give retired people a voice in decisions impacting their income on retirement. Otherwise enrolled employees will be press-ganged into buying a pig in a poke.”

The Senior Citizens’ Parliament calls Brid Smith’s Private Member’s Bill an Irish charter for pensioners’ civil rights. “It’s time for all TD’s and Senators to support it or face the wrath of the most dedicated age-cohort voters in the land at the coming elections. If the government continues to oppose Deputy Smith’s Bill, why would any private sector worker not avail of the two-yearly opt-out clause in the draft auto-enrolment plan?” Mr Little asked.

“As the law stands, it would be a rational response.”