Last December, four Labour party senators introduced the Pensions (Equal Pension Treatment in Occupational Pension Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2016 (the "Bill") into the Seanad, as an antidote to the perceived unfair impact of the ruling in Parris v Trinity College Dublin (Case C-443/15) that a death bed marriage rule in an occupational pension scheme was not discriminatory.

A "death bed marriage" rule is a requirement that a member of a pension scheme must have married (or entered a civil partnership) before attaining a certain age for their survivor to qualify for benefits on their death. In the Parris case, Dr Parris had sought to establish that his civil partner should be entitled to receive a survivor's pension. Trinity College's pension scheme rules prescribed that a survivor's pension would not be available where a member had married or entered into a civil partnership after reaching the age of 60 (or after having retired). Dr Parris entered into a civil partnership in the UK in 2009 (at age 63) and retired in 2010 before civil partnership was available in Ireland. His case was unsuccessful; the rule was found not to be discriminatory. (See here.)

The proposed Bill seeks to amend the Pensions Act 1990, to provide that it would constitute a breach of the equal treatment principle (on the sexual orientation ground) in certain situations for a scheme to have a "death bed marriage" rule. The requirements being:

  1. On or before the member reached the particular age condition:

    • The couple could not marry at the time - because they were of the same sex; or
    • The couple could not become civil partners at the time – as that option was not yet available in Ireland; or
    • Where the couple had entered into a formalised union in another country – that could not be recognised in Ireland; and
  2. Once they reached the particular age condition they married (or entered into a civil partnership/their union in another country was recognised) within 3 years.

The government has not opposed the Bill, (which is a Private Members Bill) and it will now move to committee stage in the Seanad. Speaking about the proposed legislation in the Seanad, Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, raised retrospectivity as a key issue. While the draft legislation is targeted at a limited group - how theretrospectivity of pension benefits issue is resolved will be of wider interest.