Discrimination Based on Marital Status Disadvantages Children

Discrimination Based on Marital Status Disadvantages Children

Discrimination Based on Marital Status Disadvantages Children


4th July 2022

Treoir, the National Information Service for Unmarried Parents, welcomes Johnny O’Meara’s case in the High Court on July 5th and 6th. Johnny O’Meara has taken the case after he was denied the Widower’s pension and Bereavement grant from the Department of Social Protection when his long-term partner, Michelle Batey, died. FLAC is providing representation to Johnny O’Meara in this case. 

The Department of Social Protection refused his application on the grounds that the couple were not married to each other, even though they had lived together for 20 years and had 3 children together. 

“This case highlights the discrimination cohabiting couples still face. The statistics are clear; the number of cohabiting couples and children born outside of marriage is rising every year in Ireland and the law should reflect this and protect all families, regardless of marital status.”  Damien Peelo, CEO of Treoir stated.

“When the death of a long-term partner and of a parent happens, married couples are rightfully given support by the State. It is long overdue that the support is extended fairly and equally to couples who are cohabiting together.” Mr Peelo said.

Johnny O’Meara stated “I hope that this case shows that my family is valued in the same way as families where the parents are married to each other.  We are a family that have been bereaved following Michelle’s death and I was appalled to find that our family was not able to access the Widow’s Pension because of our marital status. My biggest hope is that this case will help in recognising the rights and entitlements of all family types in Ireland.”

The Labour Party last year introduced a bill to rectify this issue. Labour Party Leader, Ivana Bacik, commented on this legal situation: “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.”

Maria Doyle, who works in Dunnes Stores, is unfortunately in the same position as John O’Meara and believes that this policy is “contradictory and hypocritical”. Her and her partner, Alan Keely, had been living together for 18 years and have 2 children, Mia (16) and Daniel (8). If Maria has given up her job to care for their children, the Department of Social Protection would have assessed her based on her partner’s income. Tragically, however, in May 2021, Alan suddenly passed away and she was left in the same position as John O’Meara with no Widow’s Pension or Bereavement Grant because they were not married. Given the lack of affordable childcare, as well as the lack of State support, Maria is not sure how she will continue to work and take care of her children alone. 

“It’s a children’s rights issue. Children shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their parent’s marital status. People shouldn’t be forced to get married, it should be a choice” Ms Doyle said. 

Sheila Duffy’s was with her partner, John, for 34 years. They were cohabiting and had a daughter together. After a long illness, John, unfortunately, passed away in 2021. Despite their daughter being grown up, Sheila still struggled financially after his passing. Given her exclusion from the Widow’s Pension from the Department of Social Protection, Sheila has been forced to put her house up for sale as she cannot keep up with the mortgage repayments. 

“This cohort of people now need to be fully recognised under Irish Law and included under the Department of Social Protection Welfare Bill. They have the same needs as married couples financially or otherwise in the event of the death of a partner.” Ms Duffy stated. 


Damien Peelo, CEO and Sinéad Murray, Communications Officer of Treoir : sinead@treoir.ie / 0857352959 and the parents mentioned in this press release are available for interview.