Politicians’ hardship pleas are rejected

FIVE former politicians experiencing “considerable hardship” have had pleas to allow them claim lucrative pension entitlements rejected by the Department of Finance.

The five TDs and senators, who served prior to 1983, were not elected for the eight years needed to qualify for an Oireachtas pension at the time.

However, there was a sustained lobbying effort by the Irish Parliamentary [Former Members] Society (IPS) for them to be granted a dispensation.

This included efforts by the then social welfare minister, Seamus Brennan, to have a lump sum payment made.

Successive cinne chomhairle John O’Donoghue and Rory O’Hanlon also petitioned the Department of Finance for gift payments.

However, Minister Brian Lenihan, and Brian Cowen before him, rejected the requests because it would set an unwanted precedent.

Mr Cowen said generally, when improvements were made to public pension schemes, they were not backdated and to do so could have wider complications.

“I consider it would be very dangerous to try to change such operative date arrangements subsequently. You will appreciate that I could not make a change to suit a single individual or a small group of individuals without reopening other cases,” he said.

Chairman of the IPS Vincent Brady said the five politicians fell short of qualifying by a “few months” and they were not refunded the contributions they made towards the scheme. He said the members never received a payment and the cases were now closed.

Lobbying on behalf of the five men, one of whom is now dead, began prior to 2005 and continued for more than three years.

In one briefing note, the Oireachtas Commission said it was “sympathetic” to them, but it had no authority to overrule the minister.

Another letter from April 2007 suggests the Commission, at the time chaired by Dr O’Hanlon, had concern for the men.

“The Commission understands that the five cases referred to involve those in considerable hardship and respectfully suggests that you might consider this latest request from the [IPS] with a view to sanctioning a once-off ex-gratia payment in these cases,” he said.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show lobbying of the Department of Finance by the IPS. This was passed through the cinne chomhairle and Mr Brennan. This was done both formally and through personal contacts, according to Dr O’Hanlon.

The IPS also met with Brian Cowen directly when he was minister for finance.

Three of the five men are from Dublin, one lives in Cork and the last was elected from the mid-west.

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