Justine McCarthy asks how Independent News & Media (INM) can buy up companies while it cuts staff pensions to pieces (“Wealthy companies and a heartless state wipe us off their shoes like dog turds”, Comment, last week).
INM’s decision to stop funding two defined benefit pension schemes sparked protests from employees
The answer is simply that commercial considerations always come first in business. In this case, the huge pension liability weighing on the INM balance sheet is constraining its freedom of action commercially.
Shareholders, including Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond, did not get to where they are today by handing back profits. They may be philanthropists, but I doubt this extends to their employees. The heart of the problem is the Pension Authority’s minimum funding standard. It insists all defined benefit (DB) schemes are fully funded. This means they must have the money to buy annuities for all benefits due to members. Because of low bond yields, low interest rates and volatile stock markets, most DB schemes are underfunded and therefore technically insolvent.
When the authority becomes aware that a scheme is underfunded, it insists on corrective action, such as increasing company and member contributions, reducing benefits, or winding up the scheme. Under pressure from it, trustees have cut benefits and wound up schemes in their hundreds in the past few years.
The number of DB schemes is now about 600 and it won’t be long before this crazy regulatory framework has choked the life out of the rest of them. To expect companies to stump up substantial amounts to shore up such deficits is unrealistic and, in many cases, would threaten the viability of the business.
Frank Cosgrove, Navan, Co Meath
State of emergency
Pensions in Ireland are now in a catastrophic state and we would need to enact emergency laws to restore some faith in the system. At the same time, our TDs and senators, over the past 12 years in particular, are getting massive pensions and early retirement payouts. The taxpayer pays for this and wonders why his own small pension is now at “wipeout” point. The youth of our country can see what is going on and will be hesitant to enter into this “smash-and-grab” scenario regarding their pensions.
An urgent reform of pension law is needed, including allowing for a release of funds to those who lose their jobs late in life and must retire early. Tax laws on pensions also need to change.
Larry Gittens, Dublin 9
Politics plays its part
McCarthy asks some pertinent questions about the erosion of DB schemes. But we must ask, how ideologically driven is this policy? At a time when opposition to organised labour is stridently promoted by darlings of the media such as Michael O’Leary, Eddie Hobbs and Kevin Myers, it is hardly surprising that a neo-Thatcherite party such as Fine Gael nods in approval.
Seán Whelan, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
Our “recovery-bragging politicians”, as McCarthy calls them, did not just let the pension collapse happen, they actively contributed to a worsening position. Pension levies were imposed under the Finance Acts of 2011 and 2013, compounding a dire situation.
I’m in a company-sponsored pension fund of 236 members. Like most DB schemes it is in deficit. But, unlike INM, my former employer (who no longer has a presence in Ireland) has put in place a 10-year funding proposal involving significant annual contributions up to 2021. It represents the only income source for the fund which has no active members, just deferred ones and those being paid out already.
What did politicians do? Instead of encouraging the honourable actions of the sponsoring firm they plundered the fund to the tune of €996,000 through pension levies. This resulted in our pensions being reduced for each of our lifetimes.
The principle of public-service salary (and by definition pension) restoration has been conceded by the government under pressure from trade unions. Justice demands this principle should apply to our pensions, too. The €1bn collected in levies should be returned.
Martin Bourke, Cratloe, Co Clare
Spotlight on a scandal
It’s so important to keep this issue on the pages of your newspapers. It’s a scandal, and one that will cost this administration dearly at the polls if it is kept at the forefront of people’s minds. It should be front-page news, although obviously not in INM publications.
Ann McKiernan, Trim, Co Meath
Condemned to struggle
The minister for finance played a sly trick on pensioners. He applied a pension levy to all private pension funds, even those in deficit. I do feel sorry for people in McCarthy’s situation as my wife and I are both aged 70 and struggling on greatly reduced Aer Lingus pensions.
Donal O’Connor, by email
It is a flagrant breach of trust that McCarthy and others who paid into pension pots have been robbed by the system. The “I’m all right, Jack” attitude by Ireland’s governing class is a continuation of our sham republic’s policy over decades towards its children, mothers and sick.
Laurence O’Bryan, Dublin
Winds of change
Thank you to McCarthy for speaking out so strongly. But the winds of change are blowing, as we see with Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump. Revolt against existing systems is everywhere. These elites must go.
Anne Iremonger, by email
Don’t point finger at state
McCarthy writes that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail ganged up to vote down a Sinn Fein bill in the Dail designed to secure rent certainty “hours after the discoveries” of the bodies of two homeless men. However, it was not the fault of either party that these men died.
McCarthy also mentions the death of Jonathan Corrie “on a doorstep 20 yards from Dail Eireann”. However, Corrie was a drug addict whose parents bought him two houses in succession. He sold them to fund his addiction.
Ciarán Masterson, by email
Tribute to ‘Saint’ Fidel was sadly out of place
As an ardent admirer of President Michael D Higgins, I find myself in the unusual position of being in full agreement with Kevin Myers regarding the president’s encomium to Fidel Castro (“Don’t make heroes out of monsters, comrade Higgins”, Comment, last week).
While it is normal for a head of state, for reasons of protocol, to pay tribute on the demise of a foreign leader, I feel Higgins’s words went beyond all sense and reason. While Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista junta and introduced a good and equitable health service, he also presided over a regime where constitutional guarantees of liberty and wellbeing were absent.
Our president speaks of Castro as a leader “whose view was not only freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet”. It is as if he were writing the obituary of St Francis of Assisi. In my view Castro had more in common with generals Franco and Pinochet than he had with Gandhi or Mandela.
Fr Iggy O’Donovan, Limerick
I am saddened by the harsh criticism of our beloved president by Myers. After all, he was simply honouring the tradition inaugurated by Eamon de Valera when, in 1945, the then taoiseach travelled to the German legation to express condolences on behalf of the Irish people on the death of Herr Hitler — another giant among leaders.
Jim O’Hara, Cloncoose, Longford
Higgins has done nothing wrong, and it is totally unfair for anyone to speak out against our head of state when he is constitutionally forbidden from replying.
No one is perfect and in revolutions and civil wars bad things happen on both sides. During the revolution and civil war in Ireland, people also did bad things to each other. Irish governments have also locked people up without trial. So let’s not lecture the Cuban government on morality when people here have blood on their hands.
Martin Ford, Sligo
Men take Power to task on eighth amendment
Brenda Power’s woolly pro-abortion piece (“Amanda Mellet’s case reveals inhumanity of our abortion laws”, Comment, last week) turns a blind eye to the humanity of the unborn child — who has a heartbeat from 22 days, brainwaves from 42 days, and is fully formed at 13 weeks.
Ireland’s two-patient model, underpinned by the eighth amendment of the constitution, has served expectant mothers and unborn children well. Of course one would be forgiven for doubting this, given how cynically and successfully the pro-abortion lobby has misrepresented some high-profile cases.
To replace the eighth amendment to facilitate abortion of unborn children with life-limiting conditions would be a retrograde step and open a Pandora’s box.
Michael Monaghan, Maynooth, Co Kildare
Respite and hospice care a priority
Power flip-flops between describing Aoife Mellet as “a baby”, then “a foetus” and again as “a baby”. Women who have had abortions should be shown mercy and compassion so that they are not “subject to judgment, secrecy and shame”. However, flaunting that they have had one horrifies those of us who agree — for once — with Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, that abortion is a killing of human life.
Minister Simon Harris, please do the decent thing this Christmas and provide adequate funding for respite and hospice care for all the children of those heroines who give their unborn fatal foetal abnormality “incompatible with life” children the chance of life.
Liam Coleman, Dundalk
A safe bert
How appropriate that Bertie Ahern is testing the water regarding a return to the fold just at this moment (“Martin stalls Bertie’s plot to return”, Comment, last week). After all, the elements that led to the property crash and bailout are slowly falling into place again: overpriced houses, an easing of credit restrictions, a desperation among people to get a dwelling of some kind before the price goes up. Who better to see us through all this than “the Bert”?
Mark O’Higgins, Dublin 8
I loved your editorial “Dail surfaces from water fees swamp with zero credibility” (Comment, last week). It is fascinating that only 8% of voters rated water charges the most important issue in the last election. It has proven to me we have a large majority of far-sighted and intelligent people in this country who see water as a limited resource that needs to be maintained and protected, which costs money. Your reference to Mary Lou McDonald having a “Trumpian” view on this was a masterstroke, but could lead to your appearance in front of the Dail’s public accounts committee. Let’s hope you get as easy an appearance as did McDonald’s colleague Martin McGuinness.
Pat Burke Walsh, Gorey, Co Wexford
We were recently passengers on a BA afternoon flight to Tel Aviv when, shortly after take-off, the business-class cabin suddenly filled with billowing white smoke and an acrid smell (“Airline passengers warned dropped phones are fire risk”, Online, last week). It transpired that a passenger’s iPad had wedged in the mechanism of his seat and caught fire. The crew acted expeditiously and knew exactly what to do — the tablet spent the rest of the flight submerged in a container of cold water. This was a frightening experience and shows how vigilant we all need to be.
Andrew and Susie Kaufman, by email
What a turn-off
Well said, Helen Lewis (“To really get your groove on, switch off”, Magazine, November 27). Twice recently I have asked a person in front of me at the cinema to switch off a mobile phone. During a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 earlier this year the man in front of me was busy texting most of the country’s population (or so it seemed). Surely the technology exists to stop these morons. Requests to desist fall on deaf ears.
Patrick Whitehead, by email
The vegan response to minute particles of animal fat in the new £5 note is laughable. The coins and notes in circulation contain more animal fat due to the handling by so many people. To be absolutely free from animal fat vegans must use only freshly minted coins. Even their credit cards will be contaminated.
Bill Westsmith, Cobham, Surrey
I have to take issue with Conor Brady when he says “those with sincerely held convictions and principles, especially religious ones, frequently seek to have their values embedded in statute and public policy” and that it is for “a secular state to resist such endeavours” (“Ireland should welcome the Pope but we don’t need to kowtow to him”, Comment, last week). I believe he is conflating two issues: the imposition of particular religious doctrines on society and the need for action on moral issues. For example — one would hardly excoriate those who lobby against the death penalty.
John Griffin, Kells, Co Meath
In Japan it is normal to hold bonenkai end-of-year parties. This translates as “forget the year” — perfect for the past 12 months. It gets over all the problems of differing faiths.
Tom Gerrard, Carnforth, Lancashire
Leighton Baines, footballer, 32; Anna Carteret, actress, 74; David Gates, singer, 76; Chris Hughton, football manager, 58; Jermaine Jackson, singer, 62; John Kerry, US secretary of state, 73; Noel Lane, Galway hurler, 62; Brenda Lee, singer, 72; Katherine Lynch, TV personality, 47; Steve Nicol, footballer, 55; Marco Pierre White, chef, 55; Nigel Winterburn, footballer, 53