News & Media

Cohabiting families must have social welfare supports and legal recognition

13 May 2021

Statement by Alan Kelly TD
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Health and Disability Services
  • No Widow’s/Widower’s Pension for surviving partner if one dies.
  • Constitution only recognises the marital family.
  • Laws and social protection payments must be changed to protect cohabiting couples.

Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly has called on the government to change the law so that cohabiting couples are recognised by the State for social welfare and other supports.

Deputy Kelly raised in the Dáil today the case of a constituent, John O’Meara and his deceased partner Michelle Batey.

Deputy Kelly said:

“If the partner of a cohabiting couple dies, they currently have no entitlement to a widows' or widowers# pension from social protection even if both of them were working. But if one of them while cohabiting sought jobseekers or carer’s allowance they would be assessed under their joint income.

“The law needs to change to provide supports like widow’s pension to surviving partners, and our Constitutional definition of the family must also change.

“Today in the Dáil I raised with the Tánaiste how this has impacted my neighbour John O’Meara. He is a self-employed agri-plant contractor with three young children with his partner Michelle Batey who was 42, from Nenagh and worked with AIB.

“Michelle got breast cancer in March 2018, she spent her 40th birthday receiving chemotherapy and she recovered. After the cancer, they had plans to get married because they knew they needed to do so to protect their future together but she sadly contracted Covid-19 on December 18th 2020, and passed away on 31st January this year.

“Because they hadn’t got around to getting married the State provides little or no supports to John and his family. John is not entitled to any widowers’ pension even though both of them were workers.

“This is simply not right. Article 41 of our Constitution recognises the family and guarantees to protect it, but that definition of the family is founded on marriage.

“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 John and Michelle.

“More and more people cohabit together, and the last census recorded over 150,000 cohabiting couples. Over 75,000 of them living with children, an increase of a quarter since 2011.

“The Citizens Assembly has called for Article 41 to be amended to protect private and family life not limited to the marital family.

“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 the State must act to change it.

If a couple is cohabiting the Department of Social Protection will assess both of their means when carrying out a means test for a social assistance payment like job seekers allowance or carer’s allowance. It doesn’t provide any eligibility for social protection payments when one of them dies.

“I am calling on the Government to change the law around social protection payments to provide supports to cohabiting couples and surviving partners where one may die, I want a commitment to a referendum on Article 41 to recognise our modern families, and I also am asking for an interim payment to be provided by the Department to cases like I have highlighted today.”