Public to get say on pension strategy

The public is to be consulted on the country's future pension strategy.

A special document launched by the Government today covers the background to the Irish pension system and a range of issues related to social welfare, private, occupational and public sector pensions.

A number of options are outlined in the Green Paper, including increasing social welfare pensions and introducing SSIA-type tax incentives.

Minister for Social Affairs Martin Cullen said it was important the public be allowed to air their views on an issue which would affect society for decades to come.

"The essential purpose of this Paper is to promote debate and build consensus.

"Given the importance of the issue, I am anxious to ensure that the consultation process is as inclusive as possible and that people have ample time to study the Green Paper and to formulate their ideas.

"We need to consider the type of retirement we want and how we might pay for it.

"I am pleased that we are about to embark on that debate.

"I have an open mind on how the pensions system should develop in the future and I look forward to hearing the views of all interested parties on how we should proceed."

The Green Paper sets out a number of questions to which the Government hopes the pensions industry, social partners and the public will respond.

The document highlights Ireland's rapidly ageing population and the need for people to adequately prepare for retirement.

Issues raised include reform of the state and public service pensions and the extension of the age of retirement.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the pensions issue was a challenge that required a fresh and flexible approach.

"Now that we are living fuller, longer and more productive lives, we need to shift our thinking," he said.

"Let us look at how we can create advantage from demographic trends to enhance the quality of life of individuals.

"The pensions issue is a challenge which will be facing us for decades to come and will require a fair and flexible approach."

The consultation process will run until next year to allow for review of the issues involved and the options available.

The public can register their opinions by logging on to www.pensionsgreenpaper.ie

Meanwhile the Green Party welcomed the document.

Senator Dan Boyle said: "The Green Party is pleased to have influenced the contents of this Green Paper.

"Many of the proposals contained here come from our policy position paper - A path to ageing with dignity, security and quality of life - and I'm especially pleased that our proposal for a tapered SSIA scheme biased towards lower earners has been included.

"Through our participation in government I feel the Green Party can significantly influence pension policy for the future," he said.

Responding to the Green Paper, financial-body Irish Life said pensions reform must include an SSIA style incentive to encourage people to save for retirement.

Brendan McEvoy, Irish Life head of marketing, said: "We've researched this issue carefully and if we were to replicate the SSIA model for pensions, I believe we would see a dramatic increase in the number of people saving for retirement.

"Despite millions of euro in promotions and advertising, consumers simply don't like or understand the tax relief model we have at present.

"They want a simpler system whereby the Government makes payments to match those made by participants and the evidence proves that they'll respond enthusiastically to such a move," he said.

Mr McEvoy said the Green Paper marked a welcome contribution to the debate on pensions reform, a priority of which is the increase in the state pension.

The National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) also welcomed the paper's publication.

It said there needed to be a significant redistribution in resources from the private pensions system to the state pension.

An NWCI spokeswoman said: "A critical factor in the reform of the pensions system is to address the past discriminations which women have experienced and are resulting in high numbers of women living in poverty.

"Over 40% of women over the age of 66 are at risk of poverty in Ireland.

"The NWCI will have a full consultation with its Affiliate Members over the coming months and will be producing an in-depth response to the issues raised in the Green Paper," she said.

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