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Ahern, Dermot

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 Nbr. 3


Order of Business.

It is a bit like the Esat deal. The Deputy has a short memory.More Button

The Deputy will have to try harder than that.More Button

Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:More Button

In page 13, line 4, to delete “section 114(4)” and substitute “section 114(1)”.More Button

This is a technical amendment to amend an incorrect reference to the provision and format of information by the PRSA provider to the contributor, which was brought to our attention. The correct ref...More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

We had a good discussion on this issue on Committee Stage and for the reasons I outlined then, I cannot accept the amendments. The same thread runs through the various amendments. One of the reason...More Button

I agreed on Committee Stage that this area merits further examination and it is on the agenda of the Pensions Board to examine the issue of protecting the contributor in relation to investments gen...More Button

It is the strong view of the Department that we must have more transparency in this area through, for instance, the introduction of investment principles relating to the level of risk, portfolio di...More Button

At the core of what we are doing is putting the duty of care on the PRSA provider, not on the Pensions Board or the Revenue Commissioners because, in effect, we would be underwriting a guarantee. T...More Button

Deputy De Rossa has plenty of pensions.More Button

He must have about five at this stage.More Button

The Deputy effectively is asking that the Pensions Board publish a league table of the performance of the PRSAs. It could not do that because it could potentially involve itself in protracted discu...More Button

The Deputies may say that all they are trying to do is to protect individuals, but they are protected on an individual basis by way of the statement of reasonable value which, under the legislation...More Button

I accept the issues raised by the Deputies are valid. They are being considered at policy level in the Pensions Board and, hopefully, with some experience in this area we might be able to bring som...More Button

No.More Button

No.More Button

The Pensions Board has a very important role generally, and especially in this legislation, in relation to awareness and the dissemination of information. Its remit includes the production of infor...More Button

I have added, since the legislation was introduced, provision for a consumer representative on the board. His or her role would be to look after the rights of consumers. Before the Bill was introdu...More Button

The board will be overseeing the product and not regulating the provider. The provider will be authorised to provide services by the existing regulatory authority, such as the Central Bank or the D...More Button

I cannot say much more about this. If there is a problem with the compliance of the provider the Central Bank or the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will deal with it, but the board ...More Button

Amendment No. 5 not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 6:More Button

In page 16, lines 25 to 28, to delete all words from and including “subsection” in line 25, down to and including “itself” in line 28 and substitute “subsections (2) and (3)”.More Button

These amendments are technical and seek to clarify the position regarding the custodial arrangements for PRSA providers in relation to PRSA contributions. Different arrangements apply depending on ...More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

Bill reported with amendment.More Button

I move amendment No. 7:More Button

In page 16, line 47, to delete “section 96(1)” and substitute “subsection (1)”.More Button

This is a drafting amendment.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 8:More Button

In page 16, line 50, after “91(1)” to insert “, and section 107(2)”.More Button

Section 96(2) refers to the definition of a contribution to PRSA when the PRSA provider is a life assurance company and where therefore there is no requirement to have separate custodial arrangemen...More Button

We have received comments that the intent of the section is not clear and hope these amendments address the points raised.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 9:More Button

In page 16, line 53, after “and” to insert “that section and”.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 10:More Button

In page 17, to delete lines 1 to 7 and substitute the following:More Button

“(3) If a PRSA provider satisfies the Board that it is capable of providing the services referred to in paragraph (e) of subsection (1) in respect of its PRSA products and that it intends to...More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

Bill reported with amendments.More Button

Amendment No. 11 not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 12:More Button

In page 21, to delete lines 30 to 33 and substitute the following:More Button

“(3) A PRSA contract shall indicate in general terms that, under and in accordance with Part XI of the Pensions Act, 1990, it is the right of the contributor to refer a complaint or dispute under ...More Button

This amendment relates to the right of the contributor to refer a dispute to the pensions ombudsman. The amendment provides that a PRSA contract must indicate that a contributor to the contract has...More Button

A person has the right to make a complaint and that must be explicit in the contract documents.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 13:More Button

In page 22, line 31, to delete “102.–” and substitute “102.–(1)”.More Button

These amendments which relate to sections 102 and 126 are technical as they reposition the section requiring the report on pensions coverage introduced on Committee Stage. There is no change of int...More Button

We discussed amendment No. 14 on Committee Stage and Deputy Broughan said it related to the provision of information to PRSA contributors—More Button

We discussed the issue of the provision of information to PRSA contributions by providers. I agree with the sentiment of the proposal but consider it is well covered in the Bill in relation to the ...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I move amendment No. 15:More Button

In page 22, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:More Button

“(2) The Minister shall cause—More Button

(a) a report in relation to the extent of the application of occupational and other pensions (other than pensions under the Social Welfare Acts), in respect of such matters as the Minister c...More Button

(b) a copy of that report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas within 6 months after its preparation.”.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

It is page 25, lines 13 to 22.More Button

We looked quite closely at this issue when drafting the Bill. Most of the industry felt the charges incorporated in the legislation were too low. The view was expressed that providers would not bot...More Button

The maximum charge on the stakeholder pension in the UK is 1% of the assets only but the Deputy must take into account that there is a greater volume of pensions in that market and a number of comp...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

Amendment No. 19 not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 20:More Button

In page 25, lines 43 and 44, to delete “timely advance notification” and substitute “prior notification of at least 2 months”.More Button

The amendment arises from a discussion on Committee Stage as to whether “timely” is more appropriate than two months. We accept the objective of the proposal put forward by Deputy Hayes. The word “...More Button

The principle underlying the legislation is to implement the recommendations of the national pension policy initiative which, as Deputy Hayes said, resulted from a consensus reached among the socia...More Button

The Deputy is making a radical proposal which would be foisted on employers without discussion or negotiation and would not be in keeping with the spirit of social partnership. If social partnershi...More Button

I agree with the comments on the forthcoming negotiations for a new social partnership agreement. We asked the CSO to include questions on pension coverage in its latest survey. That will provide t...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

This relates to the level of minimum PRSA payment allowed. On Committee Stage we established the figure of €50 following general consultation. The aim was to strike a balance between what is ...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 24.More Button

I move amendment No. 24:More Button

In page 27, line 4, to delete “section 96(3)” and substitute “subsection (2) or (3) of section 96”.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

Bill reported with amendment.More Button

Amendment No. 25 not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 26:More Button

In page 29, line 10, to delete “binding on” and substitute “enforceable against”.More Button

This is a drafting point in relation to the cooling off period for a PRSA contract.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

The contract standard for pensions and insurance is 15 days. The amendment seeks to increase that period of 15 days from the date when the PRSA provider gives the person a statement of reasonable p...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I move amendment No. 28:More Button

In page 29, line 14, to delete “section 112(1)(c)” and substitute “section 112(2)(a)”.More Button

This is a technical amendment to correct a section reference.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

The PRSA provider is obliged to give the printed form to the contributor on an annual basis. Providing it on a biannual basis would place extra costs and an additional burden on the providers. We a...More Button

On the question of disclosure, a statement of the value of the contributor's position must be provided every six months and a report on the investment funds will be given every six months. This pro...More Button

As the legislation provides that the information must be in printed form, it does not apply to the Internet. This is the correct approach. While it is obviously reasonable for the contributor to be...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I move amendment No. 30:More Button

In page 30, line 21, after “transfer” to insert “(that is to say, the member of the scheme)”.More Button

This section refers to the disclosure of information that is required where a member of an occupational pension scheme is transferring his or her pension benefits to a PRSA. The amendment makes cle...More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

We have strayed a long way from the amendment.More Button

I referred to the quarterly survey carried out by the Central Statistics Office, not the census. We hope to have the results of this survey which is being carried out as we speak some time in May. ...More Button

I move amendment No. 32:More Button

In page 31, line 33, to delete “annually” and substitute “, at intervals of not greater than 6 months' duration,”.More Button

I undertook on Committee Stage to consider the Deputy's proposal further with a view to introducing an amendment on Report Stage. The amendment addresses the sentiments expressed by the Deputy on C...More Button

I move amendment No. 36:More Button

In page 32, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:More Button

“(4) A Statement of Reasonable Projection shall include a statement of the value, at the date of the preparation of the statement, of the old age (contributory) pension, within the meaning of Chapt...More Button

I undertook on Committee Stage to consider introducing an amendment, as prompted by Deputy Broughan, to include a reference to the social welfare old age (contributory) pension in the statement of ...More Button

(4) A Statement of Reasonable Projection shall include a statement of the value, at the date of the preparation of the statement, of the old age (contributory) pension, within the meaning of Chapte...More Button

This is a reasonable amendment which gives effect to my undertaking and addresses the sentiments expressed by Deputy Broughan on Committee Stage.More Button

I move amendment No. 40:More Button

In page 34, to delete lines 38 to 46 and substitute the following:More Button

“(3) Regulations may prescribe that in—More Button

(a)preparing a certificate under this section, orMore Button

(b)signing a certificate required under section 94(1)(b),More Button

a PRSA actuary shall comply with any applicable professional guidance issued by the Society of Actuaries in Ireland for this purpose and specified in the regulations or with any applicable guidance...More Button

This refers to the functions of a PRSA actuary. The amendment provides that in preparing various certificates that are required for approval of the PRSA, for example the charging structures and com...More Button

No, from us.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

It would be no harm to read my note as it will clarify the position from all points of view.More Button

The amendment seeks to have contributions made on behalf of the employee treated in the same manner as contributions made by the employee for tax, PRSI or health levy purposes. It also seeks to hav...More Button

I must reject the amendment on the basis that the existing provisions both in this Bill, as passed on Committee Stage, and the Social Welfare Bill, 2002, already achieve the same objective. Under t...More Button

The overall effect of these measures is that subject to limits, relief from PRSI and health levies will apply in respect of all pension contributions by an employee, whether to an occupational pens...More Button

In relation to the general issue of taxation, it is a fact that the Minister for Finance has the primary responsibility regarding tax provisions but the tax provisions in relation to PRSAs are very...More Button

There is no difference, no.More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 42.More Button

I move amendment No. 42:More Button

In page 38, line 2, after “in” to insert “this or”.More Button

This section relates to the buy-out bonds and is purely technical, adding a reference to the Pension Act, 1990, to make the intent clearer.More Button

Yes.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

Bill reported with amendment.More Button

This issue is becoming more prevalent, as there has been a fairly major shift from defined benefit to defined contribution schemes, but it has nothing to do with this Bill. The Deputy has admitted ...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I move amendment No. 44:More Button

In page 39, line 9, to delete “2” and substitute “3”.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 46:More Button

In page 39, to delete lines 12 to 28.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

Bill reported with amendment.More Button

This amendment is not related to the provision or introduction of PRSAs and Deputy Brian Hayes is trying to make changes which would be better suited to the Finance Act. I explained on Committee St...More Button

—but it is not a simple matter of extending the freedom to everyone.More Button

I oppose this amendment as there are additional considerations which have to be taken into account.More Button

This is not a simple matter and the Deputy should not suggest that it is. These are issues for the Finance Act, primarily, where the changes made by the Minister for Finance can be seen by all. On...More Button

I do not go to Cheltenham and I do not mix in such salubrious surroundings. As I have said to Deputies before, I am very much—More Button

I will reserve my comments. More Button

I rejected this amendment on Committee Stage on the grounds that pension contributions cannot be made to an approved retirement fund. I accept the Deputy's remarks in relation to some of the change...More Button

The Deputy wants it every way.More Button

I reject the amendment on the basis that the relief for PRSI and health levies, which are given through the net pay arrangements, is already available under the Social Welfare Act, 2002, as amended...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I cannot agree to these amendments, the effect of which would be to turn on its head appointments to positions where the imprimatur would have to come from the Oireachtas. While that might be lauda...More Button

There is nothing to stop a committee from making a recommendation.More Button

I move amendment No. 52:More Button

In page 65, to delete lines 11 to 13.More Button

I undertook on Committee Stage to look at this issue. The advice from the Attorney General's office is that the age of 61 might contravene the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and we have decided to ...More Button

Yes, 67. It depends on one's age at the time. Some of us are close enough to 61.More Button

If this amendment is trying to address maladministration it is already caught by section 131(2)(a) on page 67 of the Bill. If this is not the case and the amendment refers to an investment t...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I remind the Deputies that the functions of the pensions ombudsman primarily are in relation to issues of maladministration and disputes about fact or law on pensions. We had a long discussion on t...More Button

It is all very well for Deputies to say the floodgates would not open. The reality is, if my memory serves me correctly, there are 85,000 existing schemes covering 650,000 people. The idea is to pu...More Button

While it may be easy for Deputies to say we should extend it ad infinitum, the reality is that we have to have time limits. There are time limits in all legislation to provide some reality. ...More Button

If it was open-ended, I believe, and it is the strong advice of my Department, there would be a deluge of complaints retrospectively and that, in effect, the ombudsman might constantly end up in th...More Button

I have gone a long way and have increased the period from three to six years. That is the standard time limit for civil and most other legal actions that can be taken in this State. There is flexib...More Button

There is a flexibility as to when the six years starts.More Button

I have outlined the strong advice I received. It did not come from the Department of Finance. Deputy Hayes is naive if he thinks legislation can pass through the Oireachtas without the imprimatur o...More Button

If one person were to take a case, it would be open to the trustees to say that any determination related to that individual case. There is no open-ended time limits in legislation passed by the Oi...More Button

The Statute of Limitations was introduced for very good reason. People who have a decades' old grievance might want something examined when circumstances changed. If there was a stateable case, why...More Button

Some of them are very powerful. I am making the point that if they had a stateable case, they would have. Our proposal is better than people having to go to court, as all Deputies would accept. Th...More Button

I have gone as far as I can.More Button

I have been accommodating in going from three years to six and there is flexibility.More Button

Does the Deputy mean my statement in the Dáil?More Button

It does not depend on my statement in the Dáil. It depends on the interpretation of the legislation and that is up to the courts. If the pensions ombudsman decides that he can take up a case...More Button

More Button

Question declared carried.More Button

Amendment No. 56 not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 57:More Button

In page 68, line 10, to delete “subject to subsection (5),”.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 58:More Button

In page 68, line 24, to delete “subject to subsection (5),”.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I move amendment No. 59: More Button

In page 68, to delete lines 31 to 38 and substitute the following:More Button

“(5) References in this section to a complaint or dispute shall be construed as including references to a complaint or dispute the act giving rise to which was done prior to the establishment day i...More Button

I move the following amendment to amendment No. 59:More Button

In page 68, to delete lines 31 to 38 and substitute the following:More Button

“(5) References in this section to a complaint or dispute shall be construed as including references to a complaint or dispute the act giving rise to which was done prior to the establishment day i...More Button

If one were to read the amendment as drafted it would exclude cases between the passing of the Bill and the establishment day. Obviously that is not the intent.More Button

Amendment, as amended, put and declared carried.More Button

Amendment No. 60 not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 61:More Button

In page 71, line 20, to delete “dispute” and substitute “reference”.More Button

This is a drafting amendment which proposes replacing the word “dispute” with the word “reference” in keeping with the drafting of that subsection, which refers to staying court orders in relation ...More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I undertook to consider this issue and brought forward an amendment. We were advised by the Attorney General that it was not necessary to refer to the DPP, that once there is reference to the Garda...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I move amendment No. 63:More Button

In page 73, line 38, after “the” to insert “Pensions”.More Button

This amendment is to make it clear that the reference in the subsection is to the pensions ombudsman.More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

I oppose these amendments because the ombudsman's determinations are binding, subject to an appeal to the High Court. That is a considerable and powerful position to be in. Amendment No. 65 seeks t...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

Amendment Nos. 65 to 68, inclusive, not moved.More Button

I move amendment No. 69:More Button

In page 77, between lines 48 and 49, to insert the following:More Button

“(3) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Pensions Ombudsman or a member of his staff may disclose to a member of the Garda Síochána information which, in the opinion of the Pensions ...More Button

Amendment agreed to.More Button

We debated this earlier and on Committee Stage. I accept that there are issues in relation to surpluses and the dealing of surpluses. I tried to address this matter in section 39 which deals with t...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

Amendments Nos. 71 to 73, inclusive, not moved.More Button

When I came to deal with this Bill, we included a consumer representative. As the Bill proceeded through both Houses of the Oireachtas, I came of the view that a pensions board specifically should ...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I oppose this amendment, as it is difficult to see how this proposal would work in practice, given the voluntary nature of our occupational pensions. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employm...More Button

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.More Button

I must return to the Seanad for one or two small amendments but since it is my last occasion here with the Bill I wish to thank all concerned. It is an extremely complex Bill, probably the most com...More Button

This is agreed legislation but I know people were put to the test in relation to its examination, both here and in the Seanad. In fact it was probably more difficult in the Seanad than in the D&aac...More Button

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Was asked: if children, whose parent or guardian is in receipt of a carer's allowance for them, are entitled to free travel; and if it is the case that they are not now so entitled unless they are in receipt ...More Button

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. Those who do not qualify on age grounds are eligible for free travel if they are in receipt of payments ...More Button

Currently those eligible include carers in receipt of carer's allowance or carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance, people who are in receipt of certai...More Button

Written Answers. - Security of the Elderly.

Was asked: the consideration he has given to have a scheme for the provision of personal security alarms for the elderly funded, implemented and operated by his Department in view of the long delays and uncer...More Button

My Department has, since 1996, operated the scheme of community support for older people, the purpose of which is to provide funding for initiatives to improve the security and social support of vu...More Button

Since its commencement, a total of €32.5 million has been allocated to the scheme, which to the end of 2000 has assisted some 80,482 individuals. Some €4.4 million has been provided for ...More Button

In general, grants under the scheme cover 50% of the once-off cost of the purchase and-or installation of the necessary security equipment but grants of up to 90% maybe made where the circumstances...More Button

Any voluntary or community based organisation working with or providing support for vulnerable older people may apply for grant aid. Individual people who wish to obtain information on how they, or...More Button

The 2002 scheme of grants will be advertised extensively in the national and provincial newspapers in the near future. While a closing date for receipt of applications is applied each year, the reg...More Button

Written Answers. - Employment Regulations.

Was asked: if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of many women who, during maternity leave, must accept a much lower level of income when their employer will not provide financial facilities for the...More Button

Under the terms of the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, as amended by regulations last year, pregnant workers are entitled to 18 weeks unpaid leave from their employers. Employees can also qualify f...More Button

There is no statutory obligation requiring the continuation of wages during the 18 weeks of maternity leave. Therefore, the question of payment by employers during such leave, as in the case of oth...More Button

However, where a woman is entitled to maternity leave and has sufficient PRSI contributions she may qualify for maternity benefit from my Department.More Button

While no comprehensive data is available, it is understood that most public sector employers and many of the larger private sector employers continue paying wages during maternity leave. In general...More Button

Weekly social insurance benefits are, in general, paid on a flat-rate basis and comprise a personal allowance, together with additions for qualified adults and children. For instance, the personal ...More Button

However, the maternity benefit scheme differs from other weekly social welfare payments in that it is an earnings-related payment, but subject to a minimum and maximum payment. The purpose of this ...More Button

The level of maternity benefit is set at 70% of the woman's earnings in the relevant income tax year, subject to a minimum payment of €135.60 a week and a maximum payment of €232.40 a wee...More Button

If social insurance payments were to be made fully earnings-related then this would involve a substantial increase in expenditure on these schemes. This in turn would require a significant increase...More Button

Any increases in the level of social welfare payments payable, including maternity benefit, are matters for consideration in a budgetary context, having regard to available resources and in the lig...More Button