Pension anomaly again in spotlight; Government loses key vote after Fianna Fáil opposition

The Government is facing mounting pressure to address the State pension gender discrimination case after losing a Dáil vote on the issue.

Pension anomaly again in spotlight; Government loses key vote after Fianna Fáil opposition

The defeat of its counter-motion opposing a Fianna Fáil bill saying the pension ‘anomaly’ be addressed immediately, by 44 votes to 85, came on a damaging day which saw two other Dáil vote defeats on local authority boundary changes and animal welfare — but previously announced water charges changes passed.

In the aftermath of the outrage last week over the fact some women are €35 per week worse off due to a long-standing flaw in existing rules linked to career breaks and related matters, on Wednesday Fianna Fáil put a bill to the Dáil to address the issue. The bill, proposed by Fianna Fáil social protection spokesperson Willie O’Dea, called for the pension ‘anomaly’ be corrected, changes made in 2012 affecting women to be reversed, and that men and women’s pension contributions are treated equally.

However, it has been noted that the bill does nothing for women affected in the same way by the 1960s and 1970s marriage ban, with any legislation to address this related issue likely to cost at least €200m more.

While accepting that reforms are needed, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and other government ministers said it is not possible to immediately change the system due to the €70m-plus cost a year.

Although suggesting it would bring forward proposals on how to address the issue by the end of the year, it was noted last week that such moves would not come into effect until 2020 or 2021.

While the Government has not backed down from this position, with Ms Doherty defending the argument during a radio interview on Wednesday and saying Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted, its bid to win Dáil support for a more staggered set of reforms was dashed yesterday.

The Dáil vote decision means the Government is now under intense pressure to address the controversy immediately, and is likely to face further calls to row back on some its budget plans to pay for the reforms.

However, a Government spokesperson said at a post-cabinet briefing on Tuesday that the Government may not formally have to accept the vote defeat immediately, meaning it is likely to continue with its December reform proposals plan.

The pension Dáil vote defeat was one of a trio of embarrassing losses for the Government yesterday, with the coalition also losing in votes on city and county council boundary changes and animal welfare rules.

The boundary changes vote was based on a private members’ motion tabled by the Rural Independents technical group that asked for boundaries to be protected, the appointment of an independent assessor and an examination of Cork County Council’s “vague” compensation package.

Amendments meant the motion also sought the return of town councils and a directly elected Dublin mayor. Both Government counter-motions were defeated, including the boundary changes vote by 44 to 49.

The Government did succeed in passing the water service bill vote, which secures previously announced plans for the repayment of charges and future excessive water usage fees.

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