Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Government pensions U-turn is welcomed by farm women

RELIEF: Kerry farmer Mary Flaherty and her husband Dan have celebrated Eamon Ó Cuiv's about-turn on pensions for farmers' wives.
RELIEF: Kerry farmer Mary Flaherty and her husband Dan have celebrated Eamon Ó Cuiv's about-turn on pensions for farmers' wives.
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Mary Flaherty was a relieved woman last Wednesday. The retired farmer from Lisselton, near Listowel, Co Kerry was one of the 268 women whose State contributory pension was reinstated.

The decision by new Social and Family Affairs Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv to return the payments overturned a move by his predecessor, Mary Hanafin, who withdrew pension entitlements from the retired farm women.

Mary faced a bill in the region of €11,000 if she were forced to pay back pension payments she had received.

Having worked on the family farm for years, the 67-year-old was adamant she was entitled to keep her payment.

"My husband Dan and I built the herd up from 70 cows to 130 in the late 1980s," she said.

"Myself and the children, the whole family, were involved in the cows. We got ahead of the times but it was because we all helped out."

The Kerry woman insisted she would have refused to pay back any money because of a mistake by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

"I said to myself, 'there is no way I will pay them back'," she insisted. "It was their own fault."

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Nonetheless, the news that the pension would be restored to elderly farm women was a welcome relief to her.

"It was a huge relief for me because it would have meant digging into funds I need," she said.

"If I never got the pension I might not have missed it, but once you get it you rely on it."

Mrs Flaherty was sharply critical of Mary Hanafin's handling of the pension debacle.

"I'm all for women getting places but we were very disappointed in Minister Hanafin that she would not meet us in Dublin," she said.

"Some of the women were prepared to stay overnight, and when the minister eventually met them they weren't one bit impressed with her," she recalled.

"Minister Ó Cuiv has treated us a lot better."

IFA president John Bryan described the decision to restore the farm womens' pensions as the mark of a caring minister who was not prepared to stand over the injustice that had been done to the women involved.

The association's farm family chairwoman, Margaret Healy, said Minister Ó Cuiv's swift action recognised the lifetime's work of these women in farming in partnership with their husbands.

"A victory for common sense," was how Labour's agriculture spokesman Seán Sherlock described the Government's U-turn.

"The move in the first instance to withdraw this pension from the wives of farmers was completely retrograde and, dare I say, sexist in that it refused to recognise the role of women as equal partners in the running of a farm," he said.

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness was adamant the decision to take away the pensions should never have happened in the first place.

"A serious wrong has been done to these women who have contributed hugely to Irish agriculture and it has caused undue stress," she said.

"After years of hard work the women were finally recognised only to have their pensions snapped from them.

"The belated decision today to reverse this appalling decision is, nonetheless, welcome," she added.

Irish Independent