Labour calls for same welfare supports and recognition for cohabiting couples – support modern families

04 July 2022

In advance of Johnny O’Meara’s High Court case tomorrow (July 5th), taken after he was denied the Widower’s pension and Bereavement grant from the Department of Social Protection following the death of his long-term partner, Michelle Batey, Labour’s Ivana Bacik and Alan Kelly have called for legal recognition for cohabiting couples.

The Labour Party published a bill in October that would change the law so that a surviving cohabitant is eligible for a widow / widower’s contributory pension. Deputy Kelly said the law must be changed to support thousands of cohabiting couples in Ireland to give them protection for when the worst happens.

Deputy Kelly said:

“I met with Johnny in April 2021 after Michelle passed away. A neighbour of mine, I was so moved by his story. The concept of family has changed and it’s time to bring Ireland into the 21st century. All families should be treated fairly whether they are married or not.

“This issue is experienced by a huge number of people in Ireland. While we await the exact figures from this year’s census, the 2016 census showed that there are over 75,000 cohabiting couples in Ireland with child dependents – a figure that is likely to be even greater now. This is about fairness and about equality.

“Labour drafted a bill to protect families in situations like Johnny O’Meara. Cohabiting couples should be entitled to State supports, like a married couple. Despite working hard all their lives, paying their taxes and PRSI, Johnny was not entitled to a survivor’s pension or other payments like the €8,000 grant provided to a widower with dependent children after the death of a married partner.

“We need to have an overhaul of our laws that take into account the structure of family in Ireland today. Some laws don’t discriminate. For example the recent Affordable Housing Acts 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.

“Many couples in Ireland today will choose not to get married and some just won’t get around to it like Johnny and his late partner 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 system and it’s time to act to change it.”

Deputy Bacik said:

“Through my work as Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality, I am working with colleagues to bring about a referendum to amend the Constitution to provide for a more inclusive definition of family beyond the family based on marriage.

“We in Labour have also prepared a Cohabiting Couples bill, which would ensure effective legal recognition for cohabiting couples and would address the difficult and distressing legal situation currently being faced by Johnny O’Meara and by surviving parents following the sad loss of their long-term partner, where they had not been married.

“The family unit has changed. The way people live their lives has changed. It’s time for the State to catch up and be ready to support people when the worst happens.”

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