IRELAND – Unions have continued their criticism of Ireland's current pension system, insisting they are not in favour of state support for insolvent schemes but rather seek an outcome that allows for assets to be distributed on a "fair basis".

In response to comments from Taoiseach Enda Kenny – leader of the coalition's larger Fine Gael party, who said he wished to avoid a situation whereby the taxpayer would become "the paymaster for all of these [insolvent] schemes" and was opposed to calls for "further regulatory forgiveness" – the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) argued that such an outcome was not being sought.

"As far as we know, no one has called for regulatory forgiveness," the union umbrella group said.

"Nor has anyone suggested the taxpayer should bail out failing schemes."

It said that instead the ICTU had been asking for changes to the "ineffective and inequitable" rules currently affecting the country's defined benefit (DB) funds – a reference to the unchanged priority order that sees pensions in payment secured before the benefits of actives or deferreds are addressed.

Kenny also said there was "a great deal of work to be done" before his government could unveil a comprehensive pensions policy, as it still needed to consider the impact of the recent European Court of Justice ruling that found Ireland had failed to protect the pension benefits of the members within the Waterford Crystal pension scheme.

"The issue has been ongoing for many years, and there have been a few serious court cases about it," Kenny told the Dáil during leaders' questions.

"We do not want to have a situation where the taxpayer becomes the paymaster for all of these schemes."

However, ICTU argued that the Waterford Crystal case would not have been a problem had the priority order been amended sooner.

"The Waterford Crystal pension scheme was 70% funded, and, had the government reformed the priority order, it is likely there would have been no case to Europe and no liability on the taxpayer," it said.

"Let there be no mistake – this government has been given plenty of notice of the catastrophe now unfolding. They cannot claim they did not know."

The group attacked successive governments for the "moral wrong" of failing to reform the priority order sooner, and said the current government had "backtracked and walked us all into this mess" – referring to repeated pledges since 2011 from minister for social protection Joan Burton to seek reform.

"A grave injustice is being done, and real hardship is being imposed on thousands of people who have earned and paid for their pensions," ICTU concluded.

"This could have been avoided if the government had acted decisively."

Unions and employer representatives, alongside the actuarial profession and the Irish Association of Pension Funds, agreed to joint proposals for an amended priority order last year, and the employer lobby group recently criticised the "appalling failure" of pensions policy in the country partially due to government inaction on the issue.