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‘It’s time to bring Ireland into the 21st century’ – calls for unmarried couples to receive survivor pension


Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said there are an estimated 150,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said there are an estimated 150,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said there are an estimated 150,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland. Photo: Gareth Chaney

PEOPLE living together may not realise they have no rights to a survivor pension when their partner dies, with the Labour Party now demanding action on the issue.

A Bill to extend entitlement will be introduced, after the case of Johnny O’Meara and his family came to public prominence last May.

The self-employed contractor had three young children with partner Michelle Batey, who worked with AIB.

They had planned to get married after she had recovered from breast cancer, but she sadly died this year after contracting Covid-19. Because they weren’t married, he wasn’t entitled to a pension or the €8,000 grant provided to someone with dependent children after the death of a married partner.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said: “Despite John and Michelle having worked all their lives and paid taxes, he wasn’t entitled. This is unfair and discriminatory.”

The party’s draft law would make surviving cohabitants eligible for a widow/widower’s contributory pension. Mr Kelly is also circulating a Dáil motion asking for the support of all TDs, and will write to Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys asking for amendments to the upcoming Social Welfare Bill.

There are an estimated 150,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland, and “the concept of family has changed,” Mr Kelly said.

“It's time to bring Ireland into the 21st century. We want all families to be treated fairly, whether married or not. This issue is experienced by a huge number of people – the 2016 census showed there are over 75,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland with child dependents.”

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There was already an anomaly, he said, because a cohabiting couple will have both incomes assessed in a means test for a social assistance payments like jobseeker’s or carer’s allowance, he said.

Yet there wasn’t any entitlement to contributory payments like the widowers’ pension when one of them died.

“Cohabiting also has an impact on lots of State payments and supports, including medical cards, mature students going back to college,” Mr Kelly said.

A cohabiting couple cannot claim or transfer unused tax credits between themselves and there can also be an inheritance tax burden when a partner dies.

“Some laws don’t discriminate. For example, the recent Affordable Housing Act provides for equal treatment for cohabiting couples to qualify for the purchase of an affordable dwelling if they plan to live together, so cohabitation is recognised for some laws but not for others,” he added.

“It’s time the law caught up with modern family life. The Citizens Assembly has called for Article 41 of the Constitution to be amended to protect private and family life not limited to the marital family.”

Mr O’Meara said the situation affected many families throughout the country. “The State shouldn’t prioritise the relationship between a married couple over that of a cohabiting couple.

“The family unit has changed. The way people live their lives has changed. Many couples in Ireland today will choose not to get married and some just won’t get around to it – like myself and Michelle. Our laws and supports haven’t caught up with the way people live their lives. There is a huge gap in our social protection.”

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