The Widows/Widowers/ Surviving Civil Partners Contributory Pension (WCP) is paid to the husband, wife or civil partner of a deceased person, and is a weekly pension, available to those who satisfy the necessary PRSI contribution conditions, either on their own record or on that of the deceased spouse, subject to certain criteria.
The legal context governing relationships such as marriage is regulated by the Minister for Justice and Equality. Entering into a marriage or civil partnership is a legal act, which confers both rights and obligations on both parties that do not exist in law between co-habiting couples. Widows, widowers and surviving civil partners, on becoming bereaved, therefore, lose someone who had legal duties towards them, and the social welfare code may recognise this by providing a pension to them, subject to certain conditions.
It was for these reasons that the social welfare supports for widows and widowers were extended to surviving civil partners from 1 January 2011, when the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 came into force.
Aside from the wider legal issues regarding the status of marriage and civil partnerships, which is a much broader policy area than its implications under the remit of my department, extending the current provisions to people who have not undertaken equivalent legal obligations would carry significant costs, and would also raise significant issues about criteria if it were to be based upon co-habitation.
Any possible changes to eligibility for social welfare supports for widows to be awarded in cases in which the surviving partner was not married to the deceased but shared children would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.