Parties split on pension age increase as public anger grows

The State pension age is becoming a major election issue as parties scramble after the grey vote ahead of polling date next month.

The age for receiving the pension will increase from 66 to 67 next year and there is increasing anger among older workers who will be forced to apply for the jobseeker’s allowance before they get their State retirement payment.

The Labour Party has pledged to stop the age being increased if it is in power after the election, while Sinn Féin said it would reduce the State pension age to 65.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe publicly said he would continue with Government plans to increase the pension age next year if he remains in office after the vote on February 8.

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He said any party committed to reducing the pension age should show voters how it planned to fund the policy which will cost around €200m a year.

“Where are they going to get the money from to ensure that the pension levels that we have at the moment can be maintained, let alone increased, if we’re going to have more pensioners who are looking for them?” he said.

However, Mr Donohoe is believed to be privately concerned about the amount of times the pension age issue is being raised with candidates while canvassing.

Fine Gael campaign sources said the party was carefully monitoring the issue ahead of its manifesto launch next week – but at present they were maintaining their position of increasing the age next year.

There is also turmoil in Fianna Fáil over how to address the pension age increase which was introduced by the party as part of the deal struck with the Troika.

Party sources said the issue was coming up regularly on the doors during canvasses and suggested pressure was being put on the Fianna Fáil leadership to commit to postponing the age increase next year.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said the party was “examining this issue very closely”.

“I think it is important to say that just going from 66 to 67 and not making any further changes around that presents a very real human crisis for a lot of people,” Mr McGrath said.

He said he was aware of the economic cost of rowing back on the age increase but said he was also considering the “human impact” on people who might stop working at 65 but may not qualify for any State pension until 67.

In a statement sent to election candidates, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the economy had stabilised and it was time to give something back to the people who made sacrifices over the past 10 years.

“Some of those who are now approaching retirement came into the labour market in their teens and have done nearly 50 years of work; and paid up to 50 years of tax and social insurance contributions,” he said.

“It is unjust to require them to wait another two years to receive their pensions when it is no longer necessary in terms of the public finances.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it should be the “unquestioned right” of any 65-year-old to retire on a State pension.

“At that age, we will all have done our heavy lifting, we will have worked hard, paid our bills and paid our taxes to this State,” she added.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he would like to see further analysis before making any comment on pension ages.

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