Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O'Brien has accused the Government of once again letting down the 15,000 Dublin airport pension scheme members. He was speaking after amendments he had moved in the Seanad on the issue were voted down.
The Dublin Fingal candidate had proposed an Amendment which would put in place an appeals mechanism for pension scheme members.
“It makes absolute sense to put in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill a provision for an appeals mechanism in respect of any scheme member who feels that he or she has been disproportionately affected by any restructuring in the pension scheme.”
He went on to give the example of the deferred pensioners in the IAS scheme, many of whom suffered cuts of up to 60% in their provision. “They have not had any mechanism to appeal the move. There has been nothing bar writing to trustees and stating their cases. It is a particular problem for retired members who are generally not represented by their trade union.
“Again, in the situation of the airport pension scheme, one of the unions was particularly disgraceful because it returned union subscriptions to its retired members. These are people who had been members of the union for all of their working lives. The union took such action simply on the basis that it was trying to get the best deal for its active members who were continuing in the scheme.
“Therefore, an independent proper appeals mechanism would be a way forward and that is why I have tabled my amendment. Its aim is to ensure that other schemes cannot have a situation where their scheme needs to be restructured. in hearing the views of the Minister of State.
“They have been disproportionately cut yet had no recourse. The reality is that all of the weight and power is vested with the employers and also with the current employee representatives. The provision has not worked and will not work currently as it stands, which is proven by the IAS scheme. The only way to have a proper appeals mechanism is to have it written into law. Unfortunately, in many instances when a member writes to a scheme's trustee it is not worth the paper it is written on.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also proposed that the IAS scheme not be allowed to close except where the scheme has reached a minimum 90% funding standard. “This would mitigate against what happened in relation to the IAS scheme, whereby the scheme was run down over two years, during which time the scheme deficit doubled from €350 million to over €700 million, resulting in the employer and the owners, which included a 25% shareholding on the part of the State, being allowed to write off a liability of €760 million.
“From there, the State was able to sell its stake for €342 million on the back of the pension scheme members - active, deferred and retired - who have all suffered severe cuts under this scheme. It is now the case in most western European countries, including the UK, that a scheme cannot be wound down unless it has reached a 90% funding standard. That is a very important benchmark to set down.
“As a result of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2013 and the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014, every major employer in this country with a sizeable pension scheme, particularly those with defined benefit schemes, is now shown how to get out of its liabilities. Such employers can run the scheme down, apply to the Pensions Authority and say that its scheme is underfunded, pull the rug out from under the members who have paid in - many on a compulsory basis since they became employees - and reduce their benefits.
“Who profits from this? The answer is the shareholder and the owner. This is going to happen with other commercial semi-State companies and it will also happen with private companies. Those who advised the Government and the trustees on the IAS scheme are advising other companies across the State. This is the first time any Government has legislated - in this instance, under the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 - to change a private pension scheme. That never happened before.
“What was done - namely, the enactment of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 and the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2013, which brought in single insolvency - has had massive ramifications for 15,000 families across the country and it will have a similar impact on tens of thousands of others.
“In many instances, when a company is not profitable and when it and its pension scheme are making a loss, benefits are reduced and everything cannot be paid out in one go. People understand that situation. However, profitable companies are being allowed to shirk their responsibilities and a roadmap has been set down in legislation for every major employer or small employer to do the same,” he warned.
Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien maintains that all homes with Pyrite should be exempt from the Local Property Tax and that the exemption should be administered on a self-assessment basis.
“Fewer than 400 homes have been accepted into the Government’s Pyrite Remediation scheme but thousands of dwellings are affected.
“The problem lies with the reference to ‘significant levels’ of pyrite damage. Leaving aside the damage, a house with pyrite is valueless, until it is remediated.
“I gave a guarded welcome to the establishment of the PRB at the time but a house has to be in Category 2 to be accepted into the scheme, which means it must have significant levels of damage. This means only 400 homes are in the scheme. However, thousands of homes are in Category 1, which means they have a level of pyrite which has not been deemed significant enough for the Government’s Pyrite Remediation Scheme. The proposed exemption should include these home owners on a self-assessment basis.
“I and my party have made a commitment to introduce a full exemption for homes with significant levels of pyrite that may not have presented with damage at this stage. One cannot sell a house that has pyrite whether it has significant cracking or not,” pointed out the Senator.
O’Brien urges support for extension of rural hospital bus link service
Dublin Fingal Senator Darragh O’Brien is calling on the Minister for Transport and the NTA to provide funding for the expansion of the Nifti rural transport programme to bring patients from the North County Dublin area to Beaumont Hospital for treatment.
“This is a service I have long championed along with my colleague Cllr Brian Dennehy. Patients going for treatment in Beaumont Hospital have to take at least two bus trips at the moment. If this service is extended to Rush, Skerries and the north of the county, it will make life so much easier for them.
“Even if patients going for chemotherapy or other treatments have their own car, the congestion on the M1 or the M50 in the mornings is dreadful. The bus service will reduce the hardship these patients have to go through,” added Senator O’Brien.
At present the Nifti bus service is funded by the Dept of Transport through the Rural Transport Programme which is managed by the National Transport Authority.
Nifti provide services in North Fingal for people who live off the main transport routes and who have no access to public transport.
“The cost of the expansion of the service will be minimal and it will mean greater access for patients from rural villages to Beaumont Hospital,” pointed out Senator O’Brien.
“Nifti already has the buses, all it will cost is the fuel and wages for drivers.”
The extension of the scheme follows an assessment of transport needs carried out by Fingal County Council and is one of four suggested new routes.
Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien maintains that people in mortgage arrears should not have to pay the Local Property Tax. “If they cannot pay a mortgage, it is absolutely ridiculous that they would be expected to pay the local property tax. That should not be the case.
“I support the Property Tax freeze, but many will be left behind,” he warned. “On behalf of Fianna Fáil I tabled an amendment taking into consideration the dilemma faced by the more than 200,000 people who are in mortgage arrears and have no ability to pay the Local Property Tax.
“The Bill as it stands freezes the revaluation date but it is sorely lacking in other detail that could have made a difference for those who cannot afford to pay the LPT, those whose homes are valueless and those who live on managed estates and who are effectively being taxed on the double and paying a tax for services that they do not derive.
“We have spent a great deal of time debating how the LPT could be improved but we have gotten nowhere with this legislation bar the freezing of the revaluation. Fianna Fáil has made specific commitments on the issues I have outlined, which will form part of our manifesto to improve the tax.
Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien says he is horrified by the remarks made by a Sinn Féin election candidate on national radio over the weekend regarding the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.
Senator O’Brien made the comments after Sinn Féin General Election candidate for Dublin-Fingal Louise O’Reilly refused to condemn the brutal murder of the Garda who was gunned down in the line of duty by IRA members.
“The remarks made by Louise O’Reilly on national radio last weekend are deeply shocking. She was asked a straightforward question as to whether she condemned the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Instead of condemning the murder she instead attempted to deflect the question, and remarked that the conversation was ‘hilarious’. It was truly sickening to listen to,” said Senator O’Brien.
“As a staunch supporter of the Gardai I recognise the difficult job they are expected to carry out day in and day out. I have spoken in support of the Gardai on numerous occasions in the Seanad and have been fighting for the force to be adequately resourced in the face of Government cutbacks. Ms O’Reilly seemingly has no idea of the high level of respect that the people of Fingal have for our Gardai.
“The mask has slipped with Sinn Féin. Ms O’Reilly says that she is a new generation of candidate, but she cannot even bring herself to condemn the murder of those that are employed to serve and protect our communities. The comments she made shows that Sinn Féin has a twisted moral compass. Sinn Féin are simply unfit to govern.
“Ms O’Reilly will find little support here in Fingal for her cold and heartless views on Gardai. The fact that she could laugh about the murder of a Garda on national radio, and label the incident as ‘hilarious’, says enough about how she feels towards those tasked with serving and protecting our communities,” said Senator O’Brien.