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Landmark Ruling in the Supreme Court in relation to the Widower’s Contributory Pension

By February 1, 2024June 26th, 2024No Comments
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Landmark Ruling in the Supreme Court in relation to the Widower’s Contributory Pension

Mr O’Meara, a widower who was refused a widower’s pension because he had never married his long-term partner and mother of his children, has won his Supreme Court appeal overturning the decision.

The Supreme Court made up of a seven-judge Court found that Section 124 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (amended by Section 17(4) of the Social Welfare Act 2010) didn’t accurately reflect the Constitution by not recognising the plaintiff as a parent of his three children with his late partner.

The plaintiff’s Counsel argued that given Section 127(1) provides that the weekly rate of pension shall “be increased by a set amount in respect of each qualified child” meant that it was not only designed to provide for the needs of the surviving spouse and was clear that the benefit was also in relation to the children. It was successfully argued that the plaintiff had “essentially the same obligations” to his children as he would have had, had he been married to their mother.

Concluding, the Supreme Court felt that they were satisfied that the relevant provisions of Chapter 18, Part 2 of the 2005 Act are invalid, having regard to Article 40.1 of the Constitution. They felt that the Act gave rise to an unconstitutional discrimination, and it was the duty of the Court to “ensure that the fundamental rights guaranteed in Article 40 were not reduced to the status of mere “political shibboleth”. To uphold the discriminatory provisions at issue in the appeal could render the guarantee of equality before the law an empty shibboleth.”

The Finance Minister Michael McGrath has now said that the State will now have to legislate in line with the Supreme Court decision which will be a welcome change for many longstanding couples in a non-marital relationship. It further recognises a non-marital family and how they can have the same function as a marital family and experience the same loss when a parent dies. It will be interesting to see how the government react and when such changes will come about.

If you require advice or assistance on this or any family law related matter do not hesitate to contact Emma Dillon, Brendan Dillon or Aoife Cathcart on 01 2960666