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It started with Martin Walsh’s Wednesday lunchtime call last week to RTÉ’s Liveline – a day after Leo Varadkar called the election on January 14th – to complain about his deferred pension.

His call to Joe Duffy started a wider debate about the State pension age and the phased plan to raise it, turning it – unexpectedly – into a key issue of this general election.

It has left political parties engaging in “auction politics” as they scramble to find solutions, with little or no certainty around the cost in order to appease a powerful political and outspoken bloc of citizens: 60-something voters.

“This is grey power coming out now, and the thing is that older people vote,” said Paul Kenny, a former pensions ombudsman.

The proposed rise to 67 from the start of next year was a bridge too far for many pensioners – the qualifying age is to increase again to 68 in 2028

Walsh’s story is typical of the people affected. His grievance was having to sign on the dole for the jobseeker’s allowance to tide him over until next year when his State pension kicks in at 67, despite 49 years of work. This stopgap measure would leave him €45 a week short or €2,350 a year.

Politicians reported similar anger on the doorsteps among people being forced to retire at 65 but unable to claim their public pension until 66 after the qualifying age was raised by a year in 2014.

To qualify for the allowance or means-tested payments to bridge the gap until their State pension payments start people must show that they are capable of working and are available for and genuinely seeking work. This is not something people retiring from work expect to have to do.

The proposed rise to 67 from the start of next year was a bridge too far for many pensioners – the qualifying age is to increase again to 68 in 2028.

While the Government has taken steps to protect public sector workers, private sector employees – where companies continue to force people to retire at 65 under set contracts – are exposed.

“That was like striking a match in a petrol tank. It just went viral,” said Kenny.

The anger is similar to the reaction in 2008 when, mid-crisis, Fianna Fáil minister for finance Brian Lenihan withdrew the automatic entitlement of people aged 70 and over to a medical card.

Signing on for the dole when you were expecting you pension after a lifetime of work amounted to “absolute indignity”, said Ethel Buckley, Siptu’s deputy general secretary at the trade union’s launch on Thursday of a coalition of groups hoping to stop the State pension age rising to 67 next year.

Party promises

The political reaction to the clamour for a fix made a truism of the old election saying that candidates campaign in poetry but govern in prose.

The election pledges to fix the problem came as thick and fast as rhyming couplets, in contrast to past wordy warnings in government reports about unsustainable State pension liabilities.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last weekend that it was irresponsible not to increase the pension age in line with longer life expectancy, but he recognised the anomalies this caused.

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