Miriam Lord is on fire today in the Irish Times. Anyone watching RTÉ yesterday (or indeed Virgin Media One) will have noticed a big flare up over the government’s pensions. He’s the short version of how that changed in less than a day.
“The cat is out of the bag,” cried Mary Lou McDonald, enjoying a hey presto! moment in the Dáil.
“Let us call it what it is: a Trojan horse.”
So the cat is out of the bag and it’s a horse.
No wonder the Taoiseach looked perplexed.
What’s it all about? Well, it’s the same pensions time bomb most western countries are worried about. In the UK the government has simply slammed up the age at which particularly women born in the 1950s can retire.
The Republic’s government has actually tried to face the problem and if it hasn’t fixed it has come up with a hybrid solution which offers those who can work on until 70 enhanced pensions whilst giving those who need to retire at 66 the right to do so.
As soon as the Minister announced, Sinn Féin denounced. The Opposition leader explained at a press conference why she is so “very alarmed” by the new proposal, which “is just almost a Trojan horse to raise the pension age in reality to the age of 70″.
By early afternoon, when the Dáil reconvened with Leaders’ Questions, there was no question of it being an “almost” horse when she dramatically unmasked the Government’s sneaky steed and threw buckets of cold water over it.
Not a word on the recently released cat.
In steps Micheál Martin…
The Taoiseach stood in awe of his Opposition counterpart. “You don’t know where you’re coming from, deputy.”
Whatever about any Trojan horse, “people will be able to retire at 66 in exactly — in exactly — the same way they can today,” he explained, adding that nobody is being coerced into working until they are 70. “We are creating choice for people as well.”
He focused on the back end of the pantomime horse. “The bottom line is very clear here: the pension age is 66.”
But that extra year made all the difference to the leader of Sinn Féin.
Strange that, mused Micheál Martin, given that her party in Northern Ireland voted unanimously to peg eligibility at the same age.
Intrigued by the Trojan horse line, the Taoiseach wondered “who made this up for you?” That question went unanswered but whoever it was extracted maximum value for their effort.
An hour after Leaders’ Questions, a press release went out from Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly and Claire Kerrane lambasting the Government for its “ploy” to raise the pension age to 70. The opening line from Louise read: “The government’s newly announced pension plan amounts to nothing more than a Trojan horse…”
The party’s employment spokesperson later appeared on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme where she welcomed the Government’s adoption of aspects of Sinn Féin policy in the new proposals while still pushing the horsey line.
Where was the “stealth” aspect of the plan, wondered presenter Cormac O’hEadhra, and how is Sinn Féin proposing to get the money to pay for its pension policy?
At this stage, the poor horse didn’t have much of a leg to stand on having been flogged for most of the day by the party.
“We’re going to need to have a conversation with employers and with workers and we need to make that collective decision.…and I think we will need to have a very open dialogue… and I look forward to that conversation because that is a national conversation [that needs to be had],” Louise gamely waffled, as still the pension time bomb ticks.
The eponymous horse strangely disassembled in just a few hours…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty