Proposals to address pensions discrimination ‘by December’

The Government has promised to put forward proposals to address, by December, pension rules which discriminate against tens of thousands of women amid claims that it deliberately ignored the crisis in Budget 2018.

The Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, made the commitment after opposition parties rounded on the Government after it indicated in the budget any changes that may take place could be delayed until 2020.

During leaders’ questions debate yesterday, the opposition demanded immediate incremental changes, at least, to assist 35,000 women who are €35 a week worse off through no fault of their own. Ms Fitzgerald asserted that the Government in no way supports “gender discrimination”.

Citing the pension gender discrimination dispute caused by the now defunct marriage bar, which denied married women full pension entitlements, she said the issue must be addressed as a matter of priority.

However, while emphasising that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty are discussing the controversy and are likely to put forward “proposals” on how it can be addressed by the end of the year, Ms Fitzgerald repeatedly noted the “€200-€300m” costs involved and that full changes may not take place until 2020.

Ms Fitzgerald, a former National Women’s Council of Ireland chairwoman, was heavily criticised by Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, who said it was “not good enough” to ask at least 35,000 affected women to wait.

He urged “at least incremental” action now.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was similarly critical, saying the failure to address the issue in Budget 2018 means the financial plan “perpetuates” discrimination against women in Ireland, and that it is wrong there has been “nothing done to rectify this matter”.

“You’re not seriously asking women to wait until 2020?” said Ms McDonald. “That’s bonkers, unacceptable, unbelievable. Doling out tea and sympathy doesn’t cut it.”

Meanwhile, concerns were also raised over Government plans to protect firms at risk of Brexit with accessible loans between now and September next.

Under the plans, small and medium-sized businesses will be allowed to access loans of between €25,000 and €1m to specifically address gaps in their Brexit defences.

Responding to Independent TD Michael Lowry, Ms Fitzgerald said the money will be made available as soon as possible.

However, Mr Lowry warned: “I don’t think the fund will be enough.”

He said the Government needs to be “conscious” of the jeopardy some firms are now in.

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