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Charlie Weston: Ten things women need to know about pensions

Females will have 38pc less than men to live on at retirement

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Women get a raw deal on pensions. Fewer of them work outside the home, and they often get paid less when they do take up paid employment. Many work only part-time.

All this means that the gender pay gap feeds into the pension issue. So when they get to retire they typically have a third less to live on than men.

A pensions gap of 38pc exists, according to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

But there are ways women can make the best of a bad situation by ensuring they maximise the value from the State pension, and any supplementary scheme, whether they are in the workforce or not.

Here are 10 things women need to know about pensions.

1 The State Pension

The State contributory pension is regarded as relatively generous. For those who have 48 annual PRSI contributions, the weekly payment is €238.30. This is the payment for people who qualified for pensions before September 2012. You get it from the age of 66. The means-tested State pension non-contributory is a payment for people aged over 66 who do not qualify for a State contributory pension or who qualify for only a reduced contributory pension based on their insurance record.

2 But women often get less than men

Women are losing large amounts of money from their retirement payments due to austerity cuts. A recent report from Age Action estimated that 23,000 females have been hit with lower payments due to changes to State pension eligibility rules in 2012.

Changes made by the previous government make it more difficult to qualify for a full pension. On average, retired workers have lost more than €1,500 a year, with women suffering the biggest hit, according to Age Action.

In 2012, the then-government changed the eligibility criteria for the contributory State pension. It moved to an “averaging rule” to calculate the number of contributions made by a worker.

“Under the old system, if you had an average of 20 contributions a year, you would be entitled to €228.70. But after 2012, this dropped to €198.60, a cut of more than €30 each week,” Age Action’s Justin Moran said.

3 Homemaker scheme worth checking out

The homemaker scheme makes it easier for women who have spent time outside the workforce caring for children to qualify for the contributory State pension. The scheme protects your contributions by disregarding any years spent providing full-time care for a child under 12, or a disabled person over the age of 12.

Read More: ‘I have 20 years of work left … I can afford some risk’

Up to 20 years can be disregarded when the yearly average number of contributions for a contributory pension is being calculated, which can help you qualify for State pension, or a higher rate of pension. Typically, you won’t have to apply for it. If you are already claiming child benefit, carer’s allowance or carer’s benefit, or a respite care grant, you will automatically be entitled to it.

4 Low pension coverage among women

Just a third of women own a pension, according to research. This means that two-thirds of women do not have a supplementary pension. This is despite the fact that women make up almost half of the workforce. Men are much more likely to have a pension. Part of the problem is that women are far less likely to discuss retirement planning with friends.

5 Most women don’t know how to start a pension

A worrying 71pc of women don’t know how to start a pension, according to a survey commissioned by Standard Life. There are two options in the private sector. If you are a PAYE employee your company may have an existing occupational pension scheme. Typically, the employer makes a contribution to this on behalf of the employee.

Large companies often contribute between 5pc and 9pc of annual salary to the pension. If you are earning €50,000 a year this works out at between €2,500 and €5,000 a year. Alternatively, the employer has to offer you access to a pension scheme even if it doesn’t contribute to it. That’s the legal requirement and has been for the past 15 years. Most women are unaware of this extremely important point, according to Aileen Power of Standard Life.

6 the Pension age has gone up

The State pension is now 66, up from 65 previously.

For those retiring from 2021 on it goes to 67.

For those retiring from 2028 the State pension will not be paid until 68.

However, many employers are still sending employees into retirement at the age of 65.

That is why the Citizens’ Assembly called recently for the abolition of the mandatory retirement age.

7 You may have to work until you are 70

People should not get the State pension until they reach the age of 70, a State-supported think tank has recommended. Moving the statutory retirement age to 70 would counteract a fall in the workforce and the rise in the number of pensioners, the Economic and Social Research Institute said recently.

Read More: ‘I wanted to retire by 50 so I could enjoy life. My advice? Start saving’

The chances are that this will be introduced. Currently, there are around six workers for every pensioner. Over the next 30 years this is due to fall to around two workers for every pensioner, adding to the costs of State pensions.

8 Maternity leave should not affect pension rights

If you get maternity benefit, you will get State pensions credits automatically. But this ends after 26 weeks. This means that if you take further unpaid leave, you will need to get your employer to complete the application form for maternity leave credits when you get back to work.

If you are taking parental leave, you should also be entitled to credits. But you have to apply for these.

9 You may get a spouse’s pension

If you are married but do not qualify for a pension, you may be entitled to what is called a “qualified adult” pension. This can be up to €213.50 for those over the age of 66. The payment is means-tested.

However, the concept of women being dependent on their husband in retirement is not appealing for women. If your husband has died and was a member of a defined-benefit pension scheme, you are likely to be entitled to a spouse’s pension, usually half the amount he got in retirement.

10 Pensions adjustment order

A court may make a pension adjustment order in the case of judicial separation, divorce and dissolution proceedings. This designates part of the pension to be paid to a spouse and dependent children.

The judge decides how much of the pension should be designated, according to the Courts Service.

The effect of such an order is that the designated part of the pension remains in the pension scheme but is payable to a spouse and children when the other spouse reaches pension age or dies.

Reference: Irish Independent

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Why an early savings habit will set you up for the future

Pensions are like a marathon says Zurich’s Rose Leonard, if you want to do one you are going to have to start training now. The first mile is the hardest but once you have developed the habit, it gets easier.

The debate around the pension time bomb and the challenges facing the economy when it comes to pensions continues unabated. The biggest challenge is the changing demographics with people living longer. Life expectancy is increasing with men’s life expectancy up from 78 years of age in 2011 to 85 years in 2046. For women that number has jumped too, and females can now expect to live until at least 89 years as opposed to 82 in 2011*. Obviously this is great news, but are we considering the impact on the cost of supporting the retired population, and will the State pension sustain those in retirement for a longer period of time?

With increased life expectancy combined with forecasted birth rates expected to produce a doubling of the proportion of retired people to workers by 2050, a renewed focus on encouraging long-term savings is what is urgently required.

“Today there are about five people working for every one person retired. In less than 40 years’ time we will probably have about two people working for every one person retired,” Rose Leonard, head of distribution and customer relationship management at Zurich says.


Rose Leonard, head of distribution and customer relationship management at Zurich


Rose Leonard, head of distribution and customer relationship management at Zurich

This changing demographic will place a considerable financial burden on the State and tax payer. “Because people are living a lot longer they are going to need a lot more financial support in retirement, but they haven’t started to save earlier and we have to address that problem now,” she warns.
One of the main ways this problem can be addressed according to Leonard is for people to accept responsibility themselves and start saving earlier. “My advice to employees would be to join their pension scheme as early as possible. If an employer doesn’t provide a pension scheme, it would be worth considering starting a personal pension. People need to develop a habit of long-term savings really from their mid-20s.”

Communication & engagement

Leonard agrees that engaging people in the conversation around pensions can be another challenge. “It is true that a lot of people haven’t engaged in the conversation at all”, she says “and part of that might be because it’s a bit complicated.” According to Leonard, those that haven’t engaged tend to be younger, and people starting to show an interest in pensions when they reach the age of 50 is too late. “If you retire at 65 you could live for another 30 years so you need to be able to provide a replacement income for those 30 years in retirement. Starting to save long-term in your 20s is the best approach.”

For the millennial generation – who live very much in the here and now – why should they be planning now for their retirement many decades from now? “People in their 20s need to put time aside to understand the cost of pensions long-term and they need to develop a habit of long-term saving. It’s like running a marathon – you might say you would like to run a marathon in 2018, and if you do, you need to start training now,” Leonard explains.

Admittedly, most people don’t want to think about getting old and for the majority of people retirement is far from their minds. But the reality is that most people do grow old and live well into their old age and have a good long retirement. So encouraging people to think about how they can enjoy their life in retirement is key.

Leonard agrees that central to engagement is how pension providers break down the barrier and demystify the process. “In Zurich, we pride ourselves on communication. Our mantra when it comes to pension schemes is ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’. It’s important for companies like Zurich to keep our message clear and simple and I feel that’s something that we are very strong at.”

A universal system

There has been much discussion in Ireland around the introduction of auto enrolment, whereby a universal, workplace retirement saving system for workers without supplementary retirement provision, would be in place. Essentially, an automatic pension scheme would make it compulsory for employers to automatically enrol their eligible workers into a pension scheme.

“When we talk about auto enrolment the question is should we have a universal retirement scheme in Ireland whereby employers would automatically enrol their employees into this scheme,” Leonard asks? “The consensus among the government, the industry, and other bodies is that there should be a universal retirement scheme whereby members would be automatically enrolled.”

Leonard argues that those people in their 20s and 30s that don’t want to think about retirement would benefit from automatic enrolment, and it would encourage them to develop a habit of saving for the future. “We spoke earlier about whether or not the State pension will be sustainable, and when you consider that there are 17,000 new pensioners year-on-year, then it probably isn’t sustainable; something has to be done – we all have to accept responsibility for saving in the long-term.” A final piece of advice from Leonard for those thinking of starting a pension: “Start today,” she declares.


In order to help provide for your retirement, starting a pension is one of the smartest financial decisions you can make. When choosing a pension, having all the information you need is key. Sound advice is invaluable, so it’s a good idea to seek advice from a financial advisor. Talk to your company’s scheme advisor or an independent financial advisor who will guide you through the process and help you select the right pension plan for your circumstances. You can find a local financial advisor near you with the Zurich Advisor Finder. Alternatively, Zurich’s Financial Planning Team can provide you with more information about Zurich’s pension plans and options. For more information visit www.zurichlife.ie.

Reference: The Irish Times

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Planning to retire in style? Managing your income in retirement is key

As people live longer it’s more important than ever to take an active part in planning our retirement funds, says Pòl Ó Briain of Zurich

‘Getting financial advice is not the preserve of the wealthy’. Photograph: iStock

In our parents’ generation, retirees lucky enough to have a pension had little option but to use it to buy an annuity. This provided them with a guaranteed income for life. About the only decision to be made on retirement was what brand of watch to look for!
The advent of Approved Retirement Funds (ARFs) changed all that. A more flexible retirement option, they allow the retiree to remain invested during retirement, drawing down an income as and when they need it. The flipside, however, is that ARFs require ongoing financial decision-making throughout retirement.

“Annuities were very popular in the past, and indeed for some people they remain the preferred option,” says Pòl Ó Briain, head of retail products with life and pensions company Zurich.

Pòl Ó Briain, head of retail products with life and pensions company Zurich

Pòl Ó Briain, head of retail products with life and pensions company Zurich
However, the annuity rate – which, together with the amount of money you have accumulated in your pension fund, determines the fixed payment you receive each month in retirement – is set according to the prevailing interest rates. These have remained at historic lows for nearly a decade.

“As a result, annuities are increasingly perceived as not offering good value, particularly if you want to provide a pension for your spouse in the event of your death. You can quickly find that what looks like a very healthy pension fund at retirement may not provide you with as much annual income as you might have expected,” says Ó Briain.

On top of that, once an annuity is purchased there’s no transferring an annuity to your estate. “Plus, with an annuity, once you set it up, that’s it, there’s no going back,” he says.

With an ARF any money left in the fund after your death passes to your estate. On the downside you stand to lose out if the value of your investment falls.

Given that retirees typically see their income-generating capacity reduced, ARFs require a more active approach to managing investments.

And while an annuity may provide a lower income at outset than an ARF, it does at least have the advantage of providing that guaranteed income for life. With an ARF there is the risk of exhausting the pot of money due to poor management of withdrawals or poor investment performance.

As people live longer, they are going to need to take more action to ensure their funds last throughout their retirement. “You need to ensure you are investing your ARF in an appropriate way, taking into consideration your overall risk tolerance,” says Ó Briain.

It’s important to have regular reviews with a financial broker or advisor, to ensure you are managing your retirement funds in the most effective way

When annuities were the norm, the bulk of pension decisions were made as people approached the final years of their career. Traditionally, retirement savers would move from higher risk investments to lower risk options, de-risking in the years approaching retirement. It was seen as important to shield savings from market volatility before the purchase of an annuity.

Now however, if you decide an ARF is the better option for you, that de-risking strategy may need to change, to reflect the fact that you are going to remain invested post-retirement, possibly for decades.

Post retirement, ongoing decisions will be required. “It’s important to have regular reviews with a financial broker or advisor, to ensure you are managing your retirement funds in the most effective way,” he says.

Getting financial advice is not the preserve of the wealthy, nor are ARFs themselves, he points out. “There is still a misconception that ARFs were introduced for people with a lot of money, but that is not the case,” he says.

As people live longer in retirement generally, it’s more important than ever that they take an active approach to their retirement funds. “For example, if you have an ARF investment fund of €100,000 and you plan on taking €10,000 a year to live on, which might seem reasonable, it’s not going to last 20 years,” he says.

“You therefore have to figure out the best way to manage your money, being conscious both of your tolerance for risk and your capacity for loss, which is why having an advisor to assist you will become so important in retirement. After all, while you are still working in an organisation, you are likely to have all sorts of workplace supports to help as you approach retirement. When you are in retirement, you no longer have that support.”

Changes to an individual’s health and personal circumstances as they age will also require regular review. In some cases those who eschewed an annuity when they first retired may want to consider one at a later stage – especially as annuity rates increase with age. If so, the option of converting some or all of an ARF to an annuity may be worth exploring.

Managing ARFs throughout retirement is increasingly likely to be the norm.  As ever when it comes to retirement, the best advice is to take advice. “It is most certainly not something that should be done without proper guidance,” says Ó Briain.

Reference: The Irish Times

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Generation Rent: The importance of being earnest

Couple looking at a house

Generation Rent: The importance of being earnest


According to Savills 18% of people in Ireland now live in private rental accommodation, which is 497,111 households. With no real history of long-term letting or leases and the introduction of Rent Pressure Zones to try to slow down rent increases, the growing concern is how renters can protect themselves in this progressively volatile market.

A report from Goodbody Stockbrokers in May showed that the average price of a house is set to soar, escalating by 10% this year and by another 8pc by the end of 2018. In turn, more people are renting accommodation, with an earnest focus on saving to get onto the property ladder.

The rise of generation rent is evident but it is a culture that before now was not commonplace in Ireland. Traditionally, third level students aged 18-25 years and single people aged 20-35 years was the profile of renters. This profile has extended to include individuals and young families in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Other mainland European countries, such as Germany, have had a longer history with long-term renting, where accommodation leases are available for up to 10 years and subletting apartments to hold onto a lease is the norm. The introduction of longer rental leases here could be a solution by offering more security to renters and landlords, both benefitting from the longer-term arrangement.

According to daft.ie, our rented sector can be split into categories: ‘movers’ and ‘stayers’. One of the main reason people choose not to move regularly is if rents are rising rapidly in the market and there is a lack of availability, even if the accommodation they are in is not 100% suited to their needs. The former Minister for Housing Simon Coveney brought in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs) in reaction to the increasing market rents, which came into effect in December 2016. This means that rent increases in these areas can be capped at 4% annually, and is seen as another reason why the amount of stayers has risen significantly.

Stated in the Daft.ie rent price report for Q1 of 2017: “Since 2013, market rents nationally have risen by just over 50%. However, sitting rents have increased by just 27%. In other words, those who have stayed in the same lease have enjoyed a discount relative to market rents, with rents increasing by just half the increase seen on the market.”

Sitting tenants now enjoy not only a discount relative to the market rent, but also protection of that lower rent into the future. Meanwhile, movers in the private rented sector face not only far higher rents but almost no availability in the market.”

Rent Pressure Zones

At a recent off-site strategy meeting with the now Minister for Housing Eamonn Murphy, it was suggested that a new city be formed in the midlands to help with the “choke” on Dublin. However, while the capital remains the most expensive place to rent, prices across the country have also seen increases but with varying degrees. Figures from Daft.ie, show that in Dublin, rents are now an average of 15.4% above their previous peak while in Cork and Galway cities, rents are 9.7% and 17.8% above levels recorded nine years ago. Outside the cities, the average rent is 3% above its previous peak.

In the three of the counties closest to Dublin – Meath, Kildare and Louth – rents have increased by more than 60% since 2012, which is to be expected considering a lot of people have turned to commuting from further distances in order to be able to find accommodation and affordable rent.

All three cities in Munster saw their rents increase by at least 10% in the year, as did Waterford, Cork and Clare counties. However, fewer than 800 homes were available to rent in Munster on May 1st, a decrease of almost 100 on the same date a year earlier. In fact, Ronan Lyons from Daft.ie reported that there were “fewer than 3,100 properties available to rent nationwide on May 1st compared to 4,000 three months previously.”

Getting protection

With a concerning fluctuation in the number of houses available, for sale or let, the importance of protection for generation rent is crucially important. The rental market is an added pressure in itself for renters, leaving them vulnerable in many ways. But how would they cope if, for example, they became ill and couldn’t pay the rent?

Renters like mortgage holders need similar protection and a life insurance policy could be used to offer that much-needed security. Zurich Life offers serious illness cover that enables you to gain assistance at a time when you need it most. If you have to stop work due to a serious illness diagnosis, this cover provides you with financial support that could cover your rent during your treatment.

Regardless of your living arrangements, a life insurance plan can be used to protect you and your family from financial strain should you become ill and are unable to provide for them. There is no reason why as renters, you can’t have similar financial protection to mortgage holders. To find out more about the right protection plan for you visit Zurich Life or speak to a financial broker.

Reference: ZurichLife

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‘When it comes to women and pensions, things are not improving’

The current pay gap in Ireland between men and women is estimated at 14.1 per cent. The gap between the value of men’s and women’s pensions is more than two and a half times that, at 37 per cent*.

At its Celtic Tiger highest, pension coverage for women was 51 per cent. That has since fallen to 46 per cent, while 55 per cent of men have pensions. To put it more starkly, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicates that women are 80 per cent more likely to be impoverished at age 65 than men. Women aged 75 to 79 are three times more likely to be so.

“When it comes to women and pensions, things are not improving. If anything, they are getting worse,” says Kristen Foran, national sales director of Zurich Life Assurance.

Traditionally there have been a variety of reasons why women’s pensions – both in terms of coverage and value – lag men’s. This includes women’s greater presence in the home, doing unpaid work there that leaves them reliant, perhaps, on their husband’s pension.

Some women experience gaps in their employment history when they have children. Such time out leads to gaps not just in private pensions, but in State pension entitlements too. Only 16 per cent of people entitled to the State contributory pension are women, points out Foran. Homemakers are not entitled to any kind of ‘pension credit’.

Even where women do have a pension, its performance over time typically lags that of men. Here research indicates that women are typically more risk averse in terms of how much they contribute to their pensions fund, and how they wish it to be managed.**

Women’s retirement prospects vary by sector too. Of women aged between 45 and 54 in the education sector, one in four (25 per cent) have no pension. In the health sector that rises to almost one in three (32 per cent). Surprisingly, women working in the financial and business sector, who might be expected to know more about financial security, fare even worse, with 39 per cent of women in this age group having no pension*.

That climbs to 62 per cent for women working in retail and wholesale. In the hospitality sector – a major employer – less than one woman in five of this age group have a pension.

What should really set alarm bells ringing for women is not the fact that things are this bad, but that, “if anything, they are getting worse,” says Foran.

Part of her job as national sales director at Zurich is to try and figure out why this might be. In truth, she only has to talk to her girlfriends to find out. “Part of it is that women don’t want to think about pensions because they typically don’t want to think about getting older. More than that though is the fact that they tend to have priorities other than themselves, typically children and family,” says Foran.

Any time she mentions the importance of pensions to her peers, she’s met with the same stock replies: “They’ll all say, ‘Sure who can afford it?’ And that all their money is going into their kids, so it goes on the long finger.”

“It’s important for women to start having that conversation about what kind of retirement they envisage. Women are living longer than men, so our needs are greater.”

Marketing professionals know of the truth in the old adage that men buy for themselves and women buy for everybody else. This too may be part of the problem. “We don’t prioritise ourselves, and now we are the squeezed generation – women with both kids and eldercare commitments,” says Foran.

But there is another issue with the pensions industry that she also believes is preventing women from ensuring they have independence – in the form of financial security – in retirement.

Pensions are sold, not bought, she points out. “No one comes banging on the door looking to buy a pension. The value of it has to be explained, which means they have to be sold. Does the industry need to look at communicating better to women and developing pension plans designed to suit their needs? It would certainly help to increase engagement from women,” Foran says.

Consequently, one of the most effective ways to bridge the pension gender gap would be if more advisors were women. “The fact is, where women do advise on pensions, they are really good at it because they are strong on the empathy side and they understand women’s needs and concerns,” she says. “If we had more female advisors in the industry it would go a long way towards helping women’s status in relation to pensions.”

In the meantime, social media might help. “Women are the social junkies of the world and if you look at the top 100 digital influencers in Ireland, the majority are women. We can see social media as a really powerful way of getting this message out to women,” in a communications style that suits them, and that comes via a referral network they trust.

In many ways, for women of a certain age in Ireland, talk of pensions is almost as taboo as talk of menopause, she admits. “Yet if you think about it, on US TV shows like Friends you hear people talking about their 401K retirement plans all the time. It’s a much more prevalent topic of conversation there. Here women don’t want to talk about it. But it’s important for women to start having that conversation about what kind of retirement they envisage. Women are living longer than men, so our needs are greater.”

The first step towards figuring out what those needs are is for women to visualise the kind of retirement they want. By her own estimate, Foran reckons she’d need the State pension and a minimum pension fund of €20,000 a year to be able to enjoy retirement.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to feel financially secure and live the life you’ve always dreamt of in retirement,” Foran asks? “Planning your pension now is the first and most important step to fulfilling this dream.”

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Younger workers to be left behind in new Public Sector pay deal

• State plans to retain lower pay rates for 50,000 newest teachers, nurses and gardaí • Lower pay rates to cost young teachers €75,000 over the course of their career

The government is determined to keep a two-tier pay system in place in a new public sector pay deal, in a move that will amplify the division between younger and older public sector workers.

It will be a major flashpoint for at least 50,000 teachers, nurses, gardaí and other public servants who have been recruited on lower pay rates over the past six years.

They had expected that the talks on the new pay deal, starting next week, would bring them into line with their older colleagues.

But it is understood that the government’s firm position is that it will not pay “over the odds” for new recruits when there are no problems with recruiting teachers, gardaí, civil servants and council workers.

The key argument made by unions against lower pay rates for newer public sector workers was that it was affecting recruitment. Government sources, however, have pointed to the findings of the Public Sector Pay Commission, which found there was “no evidence” that the reduced pay rates for new entrants were affecting recruitment to the public service in general.

Official figures supplied to the commission show that there were:

● Around 43,000 applications for around 4,000 civil service posts in the most recent recruitment round in 2015;

● Around 5,000 applications for 650 new positions in the Garda Síochána last year, and

● Around 1,200 applications for 112 senior executive jobs in councils this year.

Unions privately acknowledge that their case for pay equality has not been helped by the findings of the pay commission report. Pay rates were cut by 10 per cent for teachers, nurses, gardaí and other public servants who joined after January 2011.

Although some of the cuts have been reversed, they are still two years behind on the salary scales. Teaching unions have estimated that the current lower pay rates for new teachers will cost them €75,000 over the course of their career.

Due to the limited money available for pay rises, any move towards pay equalisation for younger public servants will reduce the potential for pay rises for older public servants.

Unions believe, however, that it may be possible to increase pay for the 50,000 public servants who joined after 2013. They are on an average career pension that is far less valuable than the pensions for the other 85 per cent of public servants who joined before 2013. Unions believe that giving the post-2013 workers a higher reduction on their pension levy than longer-serving public servants would be a way of increasing their pay.

“You could design something around that,” a union source said.

Pay equality was the issue that ASTI campaigned on when it went on strike for three days last year. But getting rid of reduced pay rates for teachers and other education staff would cost €85 million per year and make it more expensive to recruit new teachers. There are similar reduced pay rates in place right across the public sector.

However, the public service pay commission did acknowledge there are shortages of nurses in mental health services and emergency departments. The HSE is also unable to recruit enough hospital consultants, radiographers and psychologists.

Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary said that consideration should be given to higher pay in areas of the health service struggling to get recruits.

“The inability to fill certain positions is directly contributing to the major problems with waiting lists,” he said.

By Michael Brennan, Sunday Business Post, 




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64 – The Pension Calculator App

Introducing our new Pension Calculator App for Public Sector employees.

This app allows you to calculate the expected pension entitlements youwill receive from your Superannuation scheme at retirement based on your years of service and desired retirement age.

Download our FREE app for iOS and Android from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

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