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 Header Item Pension Provisions (Continued)
 Header Item Educational Research Centre

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose] How will they reconcile this particular aspect of matters? How will it impact on benefits in respect of how they will progress? A good deal of company restructuring taking place in defined benefit schemes now is designed to keep the employer in existence and in operation. The net effect of employers agreeing to such restructuring is that their schemes do not come within the ambit or terms of the directive and this raises certain issues. Unless the matter is addressed an unusual conundrum could arise whereby, purely from a pensions perspective, pension scheme members may be better off if the employer goes into liquidation. A clear conflict can arise between the demands of the scheme and the survival of the employer and these need to be addressed quickly. It is an unusual conundrum and a difficult situation for everyone concerned, including those operating the schemes, the employers and the people who are making contributions to the schemes. There is a triangle of relationships in place and including the Department it is a four-sided stool or relationship. It is important that everyone gets together to ensure that the best outcome is available to all those concerned, especially those who are coming close to retirement and who have made contributions over a substantial period. These people are concerned about events and this is why it is important to bring finality and a way out of the significant difficulties that have arisen in this important area of people's existence.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I appreciate the comments of Deputy Penrose, who clearly has a wide knowledge of this area. I am aware how worrying this is for the type of people Deputy Penrose has referred to who are coming close to retirement. Many defined benefit pension schemes have been contributed to by employees and, it must be said, employers in good faith. It is unfortunate that what has happened on the financial markets has delivered for several schemes the worst of all worlds.

It is important to get the indications from the submission of funding proposals with regard to where schemes stand. A great deal of work has been done in several schemes to provide for re-funding of schemes with contributions from workers and employers. My objective is to provide for the maximum protection for as many as possible. There have been discussions with the various stakeholders. As Deputy Penrose noted, this is a quadrangle or a stool of four legs, one of which is existing pensioners. The Deputy will be aware that many pensioners in defined benefit schemes are on pensions of below €12,000 and below €24,000. The pensioners on relativity high pensions are in the minority in many schemes.

We can all agree that people who have handsome pensions should contribute, but in many cases their contribution alone would be insufficient. Therefore, we need to consider where the balance should lie. We must consider the interests of current pensioners, many of whom are on a fixed income. Some have a supplementary State pension, depending on the type of employment they were in, but not all. There are deferred members as well. There are current members, paying in now, some of whom may be coming close to retirement. As Deputy Penrose stated, these are the people for whom this is a serious concern and I recognise and acknowledge that. There are the scheme trustees and the various advisers to schemes. The Government has a strong interest in providing the maximum protection in so far as it is possible to all the various parties. We need to consider the situation of the employers and the nature of the contributions they should make to ensure the survival of schemes and the best possible outcomes. I acknowledge the work good employers have done in this respect and it is important for that work to be understood. Promises were made in many cases but only when we see the funding proposals will we have a better picture of the extent to which those promises are capable of being fulfilled.

Deputy Penrose's question primarily relates to an insolvency situation. The Waterford Crystal case relates to a double insolvency situation, which is currently before the Irish courts. It will be interesting and important to see what view and approach the Irish courts will take in respect of the judgment of the European Court of Justice. The workers involved won their case comprehensively on all seven points put forward. I assure the Deputy that this issue has the highest priority in my Department. By the end of this month we will have a significant level of information on funding proposals submitted by the various schemes, as required by the regulator, and we will have a clearer picture of the situation of various schemes at that point. The regulator has undertaken to work with the various schemes to ensure the best possible outcomes in what is a difficult situation.

Educational Research Centre

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Cannon, for taking this Topical Issue. I wish to be clear from the outset that I am raising this matter in a non-adversarial manner. Yesterday, the Educational Research Centre released National Schools, International Contexts: Beyond the PIRLS and TIMSS Test Results. The 2011 progress in international reading literacy study, PIRLS, and the trends in international mathematics and science study, TIMSS, are the world's most comprehensive studies of academic achievement in primary schools. The ERC report examines how Irish schools, teachers, classrooms and pupils compare with their counterparts in other countries. The ten themed chapters address a diverse range of topics, all of which have policy relevance for the Irish education system.

There is much to welcome in the report. Irish pupils are more likely to feel safe in school and less likely to experience bullying. Irish parents almost universally agree that their child's school provides a safe environment and that those responsible care about their children's education. However, the report had several findings which raise concerns and pose challenges. There has been a great focus on social inclusion in schools in the past decade and that is to be welcomed. However, it seems that at a personal level compared to most other countries Irish children, specifically boys, are less inclined to like or feel they belong in school. While Irish pupils are generally less likely to experience bullying, within Ireland being bullied is more common among boys and pupils in large urban and DEIS project schools.

There is an ongoing debate about the future of rural schools in Ireland and there are some interesting findings in the document published yesterday. The report states that the demographic context within which fourth class pupils in Ireland attend school has some unusual features. Ireland has a relatively low population density among countries that took part and a considerably higher proportion of pupils in Ireland compared to other participating countries live in remote rural locations. At 279 pupils, the average size of primary schools in Ireland is approximately half the international average, with almost one fifth of primary schools in Ireland having fewer than 50 pupils. Small schools in areas of low population density are not uncommon. The report points out that for pupils in other countries with sparsely populated regions this feature of enrolment is not typical. In all the comparison countries with lower population densities than Ireland the average school size was generally a good deal higher than here.

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