JOE GILL: From pensions to organ donations, we need change

Two experiences of recent weeks have given me insights into policies that could be unequivocally positive, socially and economically, for Ireland.

Fear and threats have crept into the international political lexicon, so something constructive from Irish policymakers would be welcome.

The first issue relates to healthcare.

I heard a radio interview in which a young woman explained how her life had been saved by a donor after years of misery and a deteriorating prognosis.

The much-maligned Irish health service notified her, at short notice, of a compatible organ, arranged for complex surgery, and had her discharged, with a new life, within weeks.

It would be hard to find a more life-affirming story, and one about which I felt as proud, as an Irishman whose taxes underpin state services.

The sting in this tale is that there is a woeful shortage of donors in Ireland, a nation that prides itself on its culture of compassion and community.

In the absence of political leadership, we are left with an opt-in system for donating vital organs: you have to sign up.

Lethargy, squeamishness, and an inclination to ignore this sensitive subject have left us with a policy that seems out of step with a spirit of generosity. After all, if, in death, you can help sustain life, why would you not do so?

The French switched over to an opt-out system last month.

Anyone can still sign up to a refusal register, if they have religious or conscience issues about this — and 150,000 have done so — but the introduction of this progressive policy opens up a new flank in the efforts to improve health outcomes and lives.

You have to wonder why this does not get the same widespread political support in Ireland as the homelessness or water charges issues have elicited in the past two years.

If it did, I suspect it would have the same positive effect as both the smoking ban and the same-sex referendum had on Ireland’s embracing of modernity and progressiveness.

The second idea is another opt-in and opt-out matter, but for an entirely different subject — young earner’s savings.

A relative of mine who recently emigrated to Australia called for a chat. He was keen to explain how his new friends and colleagues in Sydney were all automatically signed up to a pension provision system that deducts monthly sums.

He had now settled into a routine to create a retirement pot for many years ahead. He is a normal 20-something-year-old.

He likes holidays, restaurants, cars, and other things that absorb earnings.

Getting him to acknowledge the merits of long-term financial planning is a credit to the Australians.

My father’s generation never worried about retirement, because the system enforced a policy that provided for the payment of two-thirds of salary on retirement.

That no longer applies across the western world, and, unless something radical is done, we will create generations of new poor at the most financially vulnerable time of their lives.

Australia took the progressive route around this issue by introducing the MySuper system, as far back as 1987.

It has driven pension coverage to 94% and is in the process of guaranteeing pensions for all Australian income earners. In Ireland, the level of cover is at a pathetic 47%.

Both the donor and pension issues contain mandatory directions about behaviour in two key areas of life. It will take conviction and vision in the political elite in Ireland to drive either, or both, of these issues, as there is no short-term electoral reward.

However, each of the issues has the capacity to boost Ireland’s credentials as a country that plans progressively for its population in the long-term.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking at Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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