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 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2017: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Pension Provisions

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 7

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Estimates for Public Services 2017: Message from Select Committee

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Select Committee on Health has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2017: Vote 38 - Health.

Topical Issue Debate

Pension Provisions

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very important topic which affects all 10,000 active CIÉ pensioners and all potential pensioners. In 1993 there were five pension schemes in operation in CIÉ, of which three were in deficit and two in surplus. After protracted negotiations, an agreement was reached in 1994 with all CIÉ employees and the company to amalgamate all five pension scheme, thereby allowing CIÉ to remove a potential €73 million pension deficit from its books. In return, the employees were given certain assurances, the first of which was that the board of CIÉ would guarantee the solvency of the pension schemes each year. This assurance was covered by SI 323 of 2002 and SI 205 of 2010. The second commitment given was that there would be regular post-retirement increases, but no specific rate was mentioned. The company adhered to these commitments until 2009 when it failed to provide sufficient funding to ensure the solvency of the schemes in that year and the following years. This was in direct contravention of the advice tendered by the company's actuary. The board of CIE has underfunded the pension schemes ever since and the underfunding now totals about €80 million.

In 2013 flawed and legally questionable proposals to drastically reduce the benefits for the employees of both CIÉ pension schemes were submitted by CIÉ to the Pensions Board. There was no consultation with the workforce or the trade unions and the proposals were submitted as a first resort, without exploring other options. This has resulted in a pay freeze for pensioners for 11 years until 2023. CIÉ's pensions committee for the schemes has consistently refused to confirm that it adheres to all of its legal requirements. CIÉ is now in the process of submitting new proposals to further restrict and reduce pensioners' benefits, again without proper consultation and adhering to correct procedure, having refused for the first time in the history of the company to fund an independent legal opinion to enable the membership to test the legality of what was done and is now being proposed.

I ask the Minister to intervene. The representatives of pensioners and the trade unions have tried fruitlessly to engage with the board of CIÉ. They have been misled, suffered obfuscation, been put off and their questions have been avoided, etc. It was traditional that if there was a dispute of this nature or there were legal questions at issue, the company would fund an independent legal opinion for the benefit of the employees and the company, something which has been flatly refused on this occasion. The only recourse they now have, having been fobbed off by the board, is to appeal to the House and people like me and the Minister. Is the Minister aware of the issue? Does he propose to intervene or do anything about it? Would he, at a minimum, as a prelude to such action, at least meet representatives of the pensioners who feel very aggrieved because their livelihoods are being shredded?

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Matters regarding the CIÉ pension schemes are, as the Deputy will know, primarily for the CIÉ group, its employees and the trustees of the pension schemes. The employees of CIÉ group companies, that is, Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and CIÉ, are provided with pension benefits on retirement from one of two schemes, the regular wages scheme or the superannuation scheme.

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