Sunday 17 December 2017

Woman (88) is entitled to pension rights from

AN 88-year-old woman is entitled to pension rights from the employment of her late ex-husband as director of an authority which awarded third-level education qualifications, the High Court ruled.

Margaret McDermott was married to Padraig MacDiarmada, who was founding director of the National Council for Educational Awards, later to become the Higher Education Training and Education Awards Council.

They divorced in 2003 and he remarried.  He died in 2009, his second wife having predeceased him.

His ex-wife Margaret sought the benefit of his pension from the the Department of Education on the basis their divorce settlement conferred on her maintenance and pension rights.

The Department refused saying Mr MacDiarmada had not made the required "pension adjustment order" before he died.

She complained to the Pensions Ombudsman who found in her favour. The Minister for Education and Skills, and the Minister for Finance, appealed that decision to the High Court.

Rejecting the Ministers' case, Mr Justice Max Barrett said he was "unhesitatingly" finding in favour of the Ombudsman.

He would give his reasons later.

Mrs McDermott was an 88 year old who been through a number of hearings, had been in court for two days listening to this case and he hoped she could return to her Galway home and "enjoy the sunshine".

The Ministers, in their appeal, claimed the Ombudsman had erred in law in his finding.

The Ombudsman rejected the claim that his finding was impaired. He argued it was made within jurisdiction and the case for Mrs McDermott was crystal clear.

Mrs McDermott, of Maunsell's Road, Taylor's Hill, Galway, said in an affidavit a "fundamental right" granted to her in the 2003 divorce proceedings were pension entitlements should both Mr MacDiarmada and his second wife die before her.

She claimed the pension adjustment order should have been made to allow the second wife entry to the pension. 

The Minister relied on a technicality that Mr MacDiarmada should have pursued the adjustment order with his employer but she could not have known anything about this.

In any case, the High Court divorce order took precedence over any rules which applied to the pension scheme, she said.

She found it remarkable and disturbing that the Pensions Ombudsman, who is appointed by the State to rule in matters like this, was being questioned by the Ministers about his right to do so.

"I believe it to be a dreadful waste of my time, his (ombudsman's) time and taxpayers' funds".

It also led her to believe various Government departments think the Ombudsman "is or should be subservient" to them.

Given she was financially dependent on Mr McDermott prior to his death, she was at a serious financial loss because the Ministers "appear to be utilising every technicality to delay giving me what I believe I am absolutely entitled to".

She had large medical bills, finding it very difficult to manage  and described the stress caused by the case as "appalling".

Online Editors

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