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Howlin’s refusal to deal with pension’s crisis is astonishing – McDonald

21 November, 2013 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald TD has described Minster Howlin’s refusal in the Dáil today to deal with questions regarding the current pension’s crisis in the ESB and resulting threat of industrial action as astonishing.

The Sinn Féin Public Expenditure and Reform Spokesperson said:

“During this morning’s question time in the Dáil I raised a number of specific issues with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the ESB, and his department’s role in the escalation of the pension’s crisis.

“Brendan Howlin is overseeing a substantial schedule of state asset disposal which includes ESB assets worth hundreds of millions of euro. His claim that the crisis in the ESB is nothing to do with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is rubbish.

“From 2011 ESB management unilaterally decided to treat the workers’ Defined Benefit scheme as a Defined Contribution scheme for accounting purposes. By taking this unilateral action management overnight transferred all of the liability of the scheme to the workers, which, coupled with changes to pension funding standards, could potentially wipe out entitlements on retirement. The majority of workers affected are not entitled to a state pension.

“Senior management emails from 2011 in the public domain reaffirm the company’s decision to take this unilateral action and their reasons for doing so.

“Officials from Brendan Howlin’s department, Social Protection, Communications and Finance met with ESB management and union representatives in June of this year to discuss the unfolding pension’s crisis. During this meeting a commitment was made to oversee a process of dialogue between all parties, a promise the minister’s department failed to deliver on and no further meeting took place.

“This morning I asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his government signed off on the ESB’s decision to re-designate the company’s pension scheme from a Defined Benefit to a Defined Contribution scheme. I also asked Brendan Howlin if his government as the company’s 95% stakeholder signed off on the ESB’s annual accounts since this change was made without the agreement of the workers.

“With his usual deftness and in a manner that would give our former Teflon Taoiseach a run for his money Brendan Howlin swiftly passed the buck to his ministerial colleague Pat Rabbitte who has been equally unforthcoming when similar questions are put to him.” ENDS

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