Public Panel Discussion on ‘Pensions in Ireland: Prospects and Challenges’

Posted on: 06 May 2009

A public panel discussion, ‘Pensions in Ireland: Prospects and Challenges’ followed by a questions & answer session was held in Trinity College on May 6th last.  The debate formed part of a series of events to mark the launch of the public phase of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing* (TILDA) in TCD.  The expert panel comprised TCD’s Professor Gerry Hughes, UCD’s Dr Shane Whelan and Chief Executive of Irish Life Corporate Business, Mr David Harney.

TILDA is a study of a representative cohort of at least 8,000 Irish people over the age of 50, charting their health, social and economic circumstances over a 10-year period. It will collect detailed information on all aspects of their lives, including:

– Health dimension (physical, mental, service needs and usage, etc.) – key data will be captured in TILDA Health Assessment Clinic to be opened on the day;

– Economic dimension (pensions, employment, income and assets, etc.);

– Social dimension (contact with friends and kin, formal and informal care, social participation etc.).

The data from TILDA will provide policy-makers and innovators in the fields of health, social care, pension planning and biotechnology with a unique knowledge base. 

Speaking at the public panel discussion, ‘Pensions in Ireland: Prospects and Challenges’ Professor Gerard Hughes, in his talk ‘Private Pension Problems and Proposals for a Fairer Pension System’ outlined the problems of the private pension system in relation to the cost and distribution of tax reliefs, poor and falling coverage, risk shifting and underfunding to support the argument that Ireland needs a fairer pension system based on much greater reliance on the public pension system than has been the case in the past.  The proposals of the TCD Pension Policy Group for reforming both the public and private pension systems to achieve a fairer pension system will be presented.

Dr Shane Whelan, University College Dublin will give a presentation ‘100 Years of Failure: Ireland’s Public-Private Partnership in Pension Provision’. He stated that the framework of occupational and private pensions in Ireland has changed little over the period since Ireland’s independence. It has been heavily subsidised and lightly monitored.  He claimd that it  is now clear that the current system provides inadequate security to future pensioners, relatively poor value for money because of the loss of economies of scale, and can only survive with the very material subsidies from tax relief – a regressive system of subsidies that creates material inequities. The failures will be listed and contrasted with a proposed new system that is free from such deficiencies. 

Irish Life’s Corporate Business, David Harney  in his presentation,  ‘Stop Looking for Silver Bullets’ spoke on the evolution of  the private sector pension system to a more rational form of pension provision which operates on the basis of defined contributions and which has less exposure to equities.  He stated that this, combined with the State pension, will provide people with good incomes in retirement and described the reform needed to the overall system.

Speaking after the panel discussion, TILDA Research Director, Professor Brendan Whelan, said: “To ensure adequate living standards in old age poses a huge challenge for our pension and welfare systems. TILDA  will  provide the in-depth data we need to design plans and policies capable of meeting this challenge.”

About Prof. Gerry Hughes:

Gerard Hughes is a Visiting Professor in the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin and in the Department of Economics, University College Cork. Formerly he was a Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute.  He is a founder member of the European Network for Research on Supplementary Pensions and he is a member of the TCD Pension Policy Research Group. As a member of this group he has collaborated with Tasc – a think tank for action on social change – on its PolicyBrief Making Pensions Work for People. He has written a number of papers on private pensions and equity, the civil service pension scheme, pensioners’ incomes, and the tax treatment of private pensions.  Currently he is co-editing a book for Edward Elgar on Personal Provision of Retirement Income: Meeting the Needs of Older People?

About Dr. Shane Whelan:

Dr Whelan  is an actuary with extensive experience of the pension and investment industry where he has worked for over a decade and a half. He became a lecturer in Actuarial Science and Statistics at University College Dublin in September 2001, later Head of Department before it was merged on the School of Mathematical Sciences.  He has presented and published many papers on pension, mortality and investment topics to professional and academic audiences.

About David Harney:

David Harney is Chief Executive of Irish Life Corporate Business. Irish Life Corporate Business provide pension and insurance products to companies and affinity groups in Ireland. Irish Life Corporate Business have almost 200,000 pension customers and over 400,000 insurance customers.

About TILDA Research Director Professor Brendan Whelan:

Brendan Whelan has been Research Director of the TILDA project since January 2007 and he also holds a position as Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute.   He served as Director of the ESRI from 1996 to 2006, having previously been Head of the Survey Unit at the Institute.     Most of his research has been concerned with the application of statistical methods to the collection and analysis of economic and social data, mainly in the areas of survey design, the labour market, poverty and ageing.  He built up the ESRI’s sampling and data analysis capabilities to international standards. 

What is a longitudinal health study?

A longitudinal study measures current health status but also allows health to be tracked over time which informs the process of ageing, causation, risk factors.


To understand the ageing process to ensure a healthy and happy life span for the people of Ireland and to underpin future planning.

* The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)

The study is being undertaken by a cross-institutional, multidisciplinary team of experts from the Dundalk Institute of Technology, the Economic and Social Research Institute, the National University of Ireland Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and University College Dublin. TILDA Principal Investigator  is  Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Professor of Geriatric Medicine at TCD, Head of the Department of Medical Gerontology, Director of the Falls and Blackout Unit, Director of the Centre for Successful Ageing at St. James’s Hospital.