The long-time partner of a woman who died from Covid-19 has lost a High Court challenge over the Minister for Social Protection's refusal to grant him the widower's pension.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Mark Heslin said that while he had enormous sympathy for John O'Meara – whose partner of over 20 years, Michelle Batey, died on January 31, 2021 as a result of contracting Covid19 – the court had to dismiss their claim.
Mr O’Meara took the claim alongside his and his late partner's three children.
In their action, Mr O'Meara and his three minor children claimed that sections of the 2005 Social Welfare Consolidation Act, which excluded him from receiving the pension, amounted to discrimination. He was excluded from receiving the pension as he was not married to, nor had he entered into a formal civil partnership with, his late partner,
The action was against the Minister for Social Protection, Ireland and the Attorney General.
Mr Justice Heslin said that the challenge centred on the constitutionality of parts of the 2005 Act and the entitlement of the children, through their father Mr O'Meara, to the payment.
The judge held that they were not entitled to the payment and rejected their claims that the State's refusal to make the payment amounted to a form of discrimination.
He said that the legislation concerning who is entitled to be paid this particular pension is extremely wide, however it does not apply to persons in the applicants' situation.
It was the role of the Oireachtas to decide exactly who should benefit from this pension, the judge said, adding that the making of such decisions "is not a role which this court can legitimately play”.
Cohabitation, he said, was not a qualification requirement for the entitlement of the payment.
The payment, the judge also held, is not a benefit for any child paid through a parent, nor is it a payment directed at supporting families with children.
It is directed, he said, at supporting a bereaved spouse and is a payment to which a person is entitled if they were married to the deceased.
It is, he added, payable irrespective if the couple had any children or not.
In their statement of opposition, the State respondents had argued that the payment for the Widowers Contributory Pension (WCP) is for persons who have entered into a civil partnership and who have therefore entered into a legally recognised relationship that confers rights and obligations on the contracting partners.
The act provides for certain supports to be provided to the surviving spouse or civil partner, including assistance in dealing with the economic hardships of that loss, the State submitted. .
The establishment of the payment is one of the mechanisms by which the State supports the institution of marriage, and the fostering of the legal and social bands which derive from that institution, the State said.