The marriage bar is a term used to describe a rule that existed in most of the public service and some private sector employments, whereby women were expected to leave their employment upon marriage. The bar was removed when Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973.
Where such employees were in the public service, they paid a modified rate of PRSI. These contributions provided no cover for the State pension and, accordingly, the marriage bar would not have impacted on State pension entitlement. It may, however, have impacted upon their eventual entitlement to a public service pension, which is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
The State pension, contributory, is based on the PRSI contributions paid or credited by the person over their working life, and the level of entitlement depends on their yearly average number of contributions. I was the Minister of State who brought this in together with the then Minister, Michael Woods. From 1994, a homemaker's scheme was introduced where time out of the workforce to care for children, or people with a disability, can be disregarded for the purposes of calculating that yearly average.
Where someone over 66 does not qualify for a full rate contributory pension, they may apply for a non-contributory pension which is based on need and is means-tested. The maximum rate of this pension is €219 weekly. Where it is more beneficial for the person making the claim, they may instead seek an increase for qualified adult payment based on their spouse's State pension contributory, the maximum rate of which is €206.30. This increase is, by default, paid directly to the qualified adult.
Supplementary welfare allowance is a means-tested payment. Any person aged 66 or over is entitled to make a claim for the means-tested State pension non-contributory. The pension is in the first instance paid at a higher weekly rate than the supplementary welfare allowance - €219 rather than €186 - and the means test for the pension is considerably less onerous than that which applies for the supplementary welfare allowance. This means that regardless of circumstances, someone eligible to apply for the State pension non-contributory should receive significantly more than he or she would if he or she claimed the supplementary welfare allowance.