Cohabiting bill will lead to farm break-ups, IFA warns
BREAKING up could be even harder to do if the Government goes ahead with its plans to foist legal rights on cohabiting couples, it was claimed yesterday.
The rights of same-sex couples have got all the attention in the Government's new Civil Partnership Bill, but farmers -- and particularly farming parents -- are more worried it could lead to farms being split up.
The Irish Farmers' Association came out strongly against the legislation which is close to being passed through the Dail, arguing that all the attention on it has been about extending legal protection to same-sex couples, whereas it will have far-reaching consequences for 120,000 heterosexual couples living together nationwide who will be given automatic legal rights such as property and maintenance entitlements.
IFA president John Bryan said that it would be "a cause of serious concern to the farming community" that couples who broke up after living together for as little as three years could make claims for property, maintenance and pension entitlements.
"This means people previously living together would find themselves open to maintenance and property claims quite similar to those arising following a marriage break-up, with the potential also for costly legal disputes and court proceedings," he said.
However, one cohabiting farmer, Jacqueline Walsh, disagreed, saying that she believed it was the older generation of farmers who were most worried about this possibility. But they were also equally wary when their children married.
"Definitely it's an issue with the older generation. It's that thing of they'll be hoping you bring home a 'good lad', or a 'good girl'. It does enter parents' minds if they think, could this person threaten our heritage?" she said.
"I think it's one of the reasons so many elderly farmers cling on to their farms for years, and won't transfer them over to the next generation until they're hauled out in a box. It's a huge fear that marriage break-up could result in the farm being sold off, but you're never going to be able to give a farm absolute protection."
Ms Walsh, who is a training officer with young farmers' body Macra, as well as working parttime on the family farm in Duncormick, Co Wexford, said she'd been living with her partner Stephen Whittle for 10 years and felt long-term relationships should be given protection as they were similar to marriage.
"Personally I think that in the 21st century, if you're living with someone long term then you have made a commitment, so it's the same as marriage.
"You don't enter into a relationship with a view about the financial implications, you don't think, oh, we're coming up to three years now so my partner will be getting rights. On balance, I think this is a good move," she said.
A spokesperson for Macra said the whole issue of civil partnership was one they would like to do more research on, as most people had not thought about all the implications.
The IFA said it was entirely inappropriate to foist legal liabilities on couples who hadn't asked for them, as the only opt-out clause in the legislation required people to engage solicitors if they didn't want to accept the new legal provisions.
"In this respect, this bill will be a happy hunting ground for lawyers," said Mr Bryan.