EVEN the most ardent British republican might find it in their heart to wish Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh well in his autumn retirement from public duties.
He is, after all, 95 years of age. Queen Elizabeth, his wife of 70 years, was 91 last month. Her son and heir to the throne Charles will reach 70 next year, a milestone that will put him five years beyond what is generally regarded as the official retirement age.
It is incongruous to compare the choreographed, pomp-and-ceremony lives of Windsors to the more humdrum reality of an everyday working life but the longevity of their service, their relentless flesh-pressing hardly modified by age, shows that the idea of obsolescence at a particular point is bizarre. That Queen Elizabeth, often far more influential than we might admit, made her most profound contribution to Anglo-Irish relations when she was 85 shows that the 65 cut-off point is entirely random. In today’s world, it seems anachronistic. That our President Michael D Higgins in 76 and our Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will be 74 later this month just confirms that.
This Wednesday a Sinn Féin Bill — the Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2016 — aimed at ending mandatory retirement at 65 went before a Dáil committee. The Government has accepted the bill, which has unanimous Dáíl support, though it has pointed out there are substantial policy and expenditure issues to be resolved before the practice of guillotining a career once a person has reached 65 can be consigned to history.
A growing proportion of older people in our population and a looming pensions crisis — private and public — means that today’s normal looks increasingly like tomorrow’s implausible. The issue revolves around a simple question — why should someone capable of doing a job well be forced to leave it and face straitened circumstances just because of their age? There seems no rational, fair or decent answer.
The European Commission’s 2015 Ageing Report makes it even more difficult to answer. That report shows the national population will rise to 5.3 million by 2060. Life expectancy will increase from 79 to 85 for men and from 83 to 89 for women. The elderly population, those aged 80 or over, will rise from 2.9% of today’s population to 10.2%. Healthcare costs and pension payments will rise accordingly. Today’s work and retirement arrangements hardly fit that landscape, though not all categories of workers face the same challenges.
Some public sector employees can retire at what seems an early age. It seems likely therefore that the greater number of people who might wish, by choice or otherwise, to work beyond 65 might be private sector employees. This will exacerbate an already inequitable divide in society.
This bill deals with a pressing social issue and because it has all-party Dáil support it should be enacted. It would offer opportunity to those who seek it but it should also protect the rights of those who wish to retire at 65. The bill’s objectives are challenged too by automation and the redundancy of so many routine tasks but it is a prize worth pursuing. Its enactment would represent considerable social progress.
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