Abolishing mandatory retirement

Speaking on the Employment Equality (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill ………..

I have great pleasure in seconding this visionary proposal by Senator White. I hope it will be agreed to by the House and, if not, that it will spark a far-reaching debate. I refer to members of the Cabinet who will be in their 65th year if this Government runs it course. Some of them will be 65 years while others will be in their 65th year. For instance, if they were working in the health service they would have received their first letter notifying them that they were in their last year of work. The list of those in the category includes, the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who has already reached that great milestone. I am being ungallant by mentioning the age of the ladies but the list also includes Deputy Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Equality, and Defence. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has already reached that landmark age. Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, is in his eighth decade. The Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Barrett, has also passed the age of mandatory retirement.

I contrast these names with that of Professor Niall O’Higgins. His name will be known to many Members because he is involved in the report which is examining the reorganisation of hospital structures. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he has shown himself to be an energetic, capable, mentally acute and skilful person. I recall the sad day several years ago in St. Vincent’s University Hospital when Professor Higgins who one minute was doing six or eight operations a day, running a vibrant research programme, receiving the accolades he deserved as the founder of modern breast cancer surgery in Ireland, teaching students and acting as a great role model for young doctors in training and those interested in health policy and the next was told he was dependent on the State and had no say in the matter. He had to go because he had reached his 65th birthday and had to become a burden on the State. Six months later I had occasion to attend a conference at the world famous Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard Medical School. During one of the down moments I was wandering around trying to find a quiet place to make some telephone calls and somebody said I could use a nearby office because the gentleman who used it had just retried that week. I wandered into the office which was full of cardboard boxes filled with his memorabilia which were awaiting collection. There were lovely photographs on the deak and the wall of an elderly gentleman with his family and a number of plaques. My little medical heart went all a flutter when I saw that the gentleman’s name was Baruj Benacerraf who had won the Noble Prize. He was an extraordinary man. I am sorry but we doctors can get a little nerdy about stuff like this. Being in a Nobel Prize winner’s office was a special moment. I found out that he was retiring at the age of 89 years and that he had been publishing papers, conducting research and was still actively engaged, although I am not sure whether he was seeing patients. I visited my former mentor, Dr. Jim Holland, one of the founders of American oncology, in New York a few months ago. He is still seeing patients four days a week and planning what research he will conduct next year.

Outside the world of science and medicine internationally, last night I saw Shimon Peres, the Israeli President, aged 89 years, being interviewed. We were all taken by the incredibly sprightly and energetic Queen Elizabeth II who went skipping through the English Market in Cork, bounced up the stairs in the National Convention Centre and looked longingly at that lovely pint of Guinness in the brewery and she is 85 years old. The time has come to examine mandatory retirement in the public service. It is inequitable. It is unfair that somebody who is still contributing and has not reached a milestone of infirmity or failed a test of ability is denied the right to work. As Senator Mary White said, this right will be denied to people entering the service at younger ages. It is incredibly irrational. Everybody understands in the context of demographics that an awful time bomb is brewing throughout the western world. Fewer people are paying taxes and insurance premiums than previously to support those who are “dependent” on the system. Having moved from a ratio of five or six taxpayers per dependant, we are rapidly approaching parity and in countries with low birth rates, coupled with longer life expectancy and early retirement ages, it is unsustainable.

Perhaps the best argument is the pure, mind numbing, anachronistic quality to this issue. What is the origin of retirement ages? The person generally credited as being the original auteur of social democracy, although he is remembered for other aspects of his curriculum vitae, is Count Otto van Bismarck in Germany. To pre-empt what he perceived as the increasing threat of Marxism in Europe, he introduced a wide range of social reforms. One of the jewels in that crown was retirement. People could retire at 65 years having paid throughout their lives into a pension fund. The reality was the average age of death was 48 years in Germany at the time. That was accounted for by a high rate of child mortality, maternal mortality, a topic which, sadly, has become a major issue for us again, and people dying younger from diseases such as tuberculosis. They also died from poor nutrition and in wars. If they were still alive at 65 years and reached retirement, on average, they lived for another three years. The average person who retires in Ireland today is likely to live for between 20 and 25 more years. The proportion of one’s life that one spends as a contributor as opposed to a withdrawer from the social welfare system has been incredibly and vastly distorted.

This is critically important legislation which present us with an opportunity to light a light in other parts of the world. As Senator Mary White said, no one will deny the right to retirement. People should have that right and I suspect many will exercise it, while others will not. It should not, therefore, be imposed on them. I urge support all round for this forward-thinking legislation. I commend my young colleague, Senator Mary White, for advancing it.

One Response to “Abolishing mandatory retirement”
  1. ladyportia27 says:

    Oh yes, I love the programmed numbers in our DNA , don’t you?

    At age x and y certain things are expected of you and shudder the thought that anyone might deviate from the program.

    Same goes for children- in fact from cradle to grave all is mapped out for the slave.

    If a child of 7 does the same as a 16 year old, s/he is deemed too intelligent and needs ECT to normalise him/her

    Why is it called work?? slavery unless one is doing his her soul mission-then it is pleasure and the being does not want to retire.

    So the way forward is away from work and into what beings are gifted at- like Russia, and focusing on that.

    Much better than frying the brains of our gifted and talented.

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