IRELAND - The Irish government has been accused of failing to meet its pension coverage targets, as latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) revealed take-up among the key age group is just 61%.

The Quarterly National Household Survey for the first quarter of 2008 showed overall pension coverage for workers aged between 20 and 69 was 54%, an increase of two percentage points from the same period in 2007.

Pension coverage for female workers remained at 50% between 2007 and 2008, however this is still an increase from the first survey in 2002 when pension coverage was 45% compared to 57% for men.

Although the number of men with some kind of pension provision actually fell between 2002 and 2008 to 56% in the first quarter, this was a slight increase from 2007 when pension coverage was just 55%.

However, the data showed while the government has met its target of getting 35% of workers under the age of 30 into supplementary pensions - this figure actually reached 37% in the first quarter of 2008, up from 35% the previous year - it has so far failed to achieve 70% coverage among workers aged 30-65.

Instead, the CSO figures revealed overall pension coverage is just 61%, and although this is an increase of one percentage point from 2007, it is lower than the figures from the end of 2005, when coverage reached its highest peak of 62%.

Olwyn Enright, social & family affairs spokeswoman for the opposition political party Fine Gael, said the figures showed Fianna Fáil - the ruling party - had made "zero progress on meeting its own targets".

Enright said: "Ireland already has the highest rates of pensioner poverty in Europe. Unless urgent action is taken, a large proportion of the next generation of pensioners face the grim prospect of very low incomes in retirement."

The statistics showed Irish nationals have a "significantly higher" rate of pension cover at 58%, compared with non-Irish nationals at 28%, although both sectors saw a rise in coverage of two percentage points over the last year.

Meanwhile figures showed only 37% of the population with pension provision are members of occupational pensions only, a fall from 39% in 2007, while the number relying on a personal pension has increased from 11% to 13%, and the proportion of workers that are members of both has doubled in the last year to 4%.

Overall the CSO revealed pension cover in different economic sectors and occupational groups has remained stable over the past six years, although the highest rate of pension cover is concentrated in the public administration and defence sector - which has a rate of 93%, while the lowest figure of 23% is centred in the hotel and restaurants market.

Meanwhile workers classified as professionals have pension coverage of 75%, closely followed by associate professional and technical at 67%, although the lowest occupational group remains sales at 33%.

Enright said: "Fianna Fáil must wake up to the fact that Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) for those without occupational pensions are not being taken up in sufficient numbers, particularly by those on low incomes."

"It's 10 years since Fianna Fáil promised to take action on pensions. We have had consultations, but it's time to reach conclusions and move this progress on. Given that we are in the midst of a serious downturn, the government must redouble its efforts to extend pensions coverage. With less money to go around, people will increasingly defer pension provision to another year," she warned.

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