FF pushing bill to prevent firms from reneging on pension deals

The party’s social protection spokesman, Willie O’Dea, is to draw up a short amendment to existing pension law following the controversy over the closure by Independent News and Media (INM) of its Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme.

The Limerick TD said it was “ironic” that if a company goes insolvent the State has to step in to help pensioners, but a solvent company can “walk away”.

He intends to bring a bill before the Oireachtas in the new year aimed at addressing the problem.

INM, which publishes this newspaper, has moved to stop contributions to its DB scheme, which has a deficit of €23m. Hundreds of current and former employees will see their pensions massively reduced as a result.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Government should “introduce legislation to close the loophole whereby solvent companies are walking away from their responsibilities and obligations”.

He said there are over 600,000 workers currently in DB schemes across the country.

“We have had a recent illustration of this issue in Independent News & Media in that workers have essentially had their pensions wiped out or significantly reduced, with no recourse to anybody,” Mr Martin said.

“In other jurisdictions, particularly the United Kingdom, there are legislative provisions to stop this.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny noted that Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has met with the Attorney General to discuss the INM case and the wider issue.

“Were one to introduce legislation, one could not make it retrospective. That is the advice that we have,” Mr Kenny said.

“In that context, it is not an issue. The minister has sought advice from the Attorney General as to whether he might be able to do something in respect of the public interest end of this particular issue, but it is not a case of introducing legislation that one could make retrospective to cover these difficulties.”

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that reforms of the State pension being sought by Sinn Féin are “reckless and irresponsible”.

Sinn Féin wants to end the practice whereby people who retire at 65 have to get Jobseeker’s Allowance until they qualify for the State pension at 66.

Mr Varadkar said the changes called for would cost €150m a year, but Sinn Féin had not outlined any way of paying for that.

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