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Pensions ‘time bomb’ leaves retirees in limbo



The pensions ‘ticking time-bomb’ facing the country has been highlighted by a Galway senator.

Oranmore-based Independent senator Fidelma Healy Eames has urged Government to address concerns of soon-to-be retirees who are being left in limbo by changes to retirement age.

Ms Healy Eames, who is contesting the upcoming General Election, said many people who are approaching retirement haven’t been given enough time to plan for the extra year between 65 and 66.

The retirement age will subsequently increase to 67, and the former Fine Gael politician said this needs to be properly planned for.

She said that the Government has acknowledged there is a problem but she wants action to address it to assuage the fears of those approaching retirement.

“A Galway family has brought this issue to my attention. They are a husband and wife aged approximately 60. The family has made the valid point to me which is there was insufficient notice for people as old as 59 or 60 to plan for their retirement when the pension age was moved to 67,” she said.

Senator Healy Eames said the Government made a mistake when it “introduced measures to move the age to 67 for people that were over 50 or 55 years of age.”

“Now they are in trouble. As this man and his wife said to me, they will lose at least €40,000 if they live the average life expectancy,” she said.

Senator Healy Eames called on Government to at a minimum extend the transition pension to include the second year after retirement between 66 and 67.

She was speaking in the Seanad on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2015, and addressed her concerns to Minister of State, Kevin Humphreys.

Deputy Humphreys acknowledged there was an issue and pledge that the next Government would address it.

Deputy Humphreys said: “On many occasions over the past number of years, people have approached me with complaints about being forced to retire. This issue must be addressed. People should not be forced to retire at 65 or 66 years of age when they want to continue to actively contribute. Forced retirement is in many ways ageism at its worst. Such people are fully engaged in the workforce, their communities and the network, and we must seriously consider the matter.

“Senator Healy Eames asked about the relationship between having to retire at 66 rather than later at 67 years. These matters need to be addressed and will be addressed within the coming weeks. The issue has been flagged and the ages have been increased. The age between 66 and 67 years will be addressed in the coming weeks. All short-term social welfare schemes, including jobseeker schemes, are payable up to the age of 66. Jobseekers whose benefit expires in their 65th year will continue to be paid benefits up until they reach 66 years.

“The Senator talked about people who are now in their 60s and will retire on reaching 67 years. Currently, the mechanisms that are in place take a person up to the age of 66. I will give the Senator a note on the matter but I repeat that all short-term social welfare schemes, including jobseeker schemes, are payable up to the age of 66. Jobseekers whose benefits expire in their 65th year will continue to be paid benefits up until the age of 66. Therefore, the couple that the Senator mentioned are dealt with up to the age of 66. We will have to see how the retirement age of 67, which applies to me and possibly the Senator, will be dealt with.”

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 made a number of changes to the qualifying age for State pensions. The qualifying age will rise to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028.

According to the department: if you were born on or after 1 January 1955 the minimum qualifying State pension age will be 67; if you were born on or after 1 January 1961 the minimum qualifying State pension age will be 68.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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