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Published: 05 May, 2017

Successful FairTax research seminar at NUI Galway

NEWS A lively and stimulating debate on pensions and tax took place in the National University of Ireland, Galway on 10th and 11th April 2017. As part of WP 4 of the FairTax research project, Dr Emer Mulligan brought together pension and tax experts from the Netherlands and Ireland to compare the two pension systems, and analyse the relationship of the taxation system in each country with its pension system.

The first day of the seminar was dedicated to eight Masters and PhD students from Tilburg and Maastricht Universities who had travelled to Ireland with Dr. Bastiaan Starink, Dr Michael Visser, Prof Anouk Bollen-Vandenboorn, and Prof. Gerry Dietvorst. The students presented research papers which gave in-depth descriptions of the Dutch pension system, and the pension taxation framework. The challenges faced by Dutch pensions were outlined, recent reforms were identified, and the role of the EU in Dutch pension reform discussed. FairTax researcher Dr Dinali Wijeratne and Dr Michelle Maher, together with colleagues from NUI Galway responded to the presentations with observations and questions, producing a robust intellectual debate on pensions and taxation in the EU. Day one concluded with an award winning presentation by students from the M.Sc. in Human Resource Management at NUI Galway.  The presentation was completed for an assignment in their Reward Management class on the topic 'Communicating Pensions to Millennials'. 

The challenges facing pension systems

Day two of the seminar was a public event. Over 50 participants attended including academics from six different universities; professionals from financial, accountancy and taxation institutes; government tax officials; and advocacy organisations representing older people, women, and advocates for social justice in public policy. The challenges facing pension systems and the drivers of reform were recurring themes throughout the seminar. Dr Emer Mulligan, Dr Dinali Wijeratne, and Dr Michelle Maher from NUI Galway gave an overview of pensions and taxation in Ireland; how the system responded to the 2008 financial crisis and changing demographics; and drew attention to the gendered outcomes from the pension system. Dr Bastiaan Starink from Tilburg University described the Dutch pension system. He described the “four plagues” for pensions in the Netherlands as low interest rates, stock market volatility, increasing life expectancy, and the problematic nature of a uniform contribution rate for younger mobile workers. Dr Micheál Collins from University College Dublin presented a quantitative study of the distribution of tax incentives for private pensions in Ireland.

Pensions and taxation

Prof Anouk Bollen from Maastricht University provided an instructive insight into how pension assets are divided in divorce. Maureen Maloney of NUI Galway gave a theoretical assessment of the automatic enrolment system proposed for Ireland; raising questions about investment default options and how well individuals are equipped to make investment decisions. A presentation from Prof Gerry Dietvorst of Tilburg University closed the conference by situating pension reform within the European Commission’s 2012 White Paper An Agenda for Adequate Safe and Sustainable Pensions. He recognised that the principle of subsidiarity, and the different pension systems across Europe made a uniform approach to pensions difficult in practice. He supported the thrust of the White Paper’s proposals and recommended harmonising pension and taxation administration records to more readily identify pension gaps, and stimulate individual responsibility for retirement income.

The wide range of professions and interests stimulated a lively and thought provoking debate. This was evident during breaks and post seminar, where questions and debate continued over refreshments, indicating the benefit of bringing together diverse interests in a comparative context to discuss pensions and taxation.

Editor: Elin Andersson