A woman is entitled to pension rights from the employment of her late ex-husband as director of an authority which awarded third-level education qualifications, the High Court has ruled.
Margaret McDermott, 88, was married to Padraig MacDiarmada, founding director of the National Council for Educational Awards, which later became the Higher Education Training and Education Awards Council.
They divorced in 2003 and he remarried. He died in 2009, his second wife having predeceased him.
Ms McDermott sought the benefit of his pension from the Department of Education on the basis that their divorce gave her maintenance and pension rights.
The department refused, saying Mr MacDiarmada had not made the required “pension adjustment order” before he died.
She complained to the Pensions Ombudsman, which found in her favour. The minister for education and skills, and the minister for finance, appealed that decision to the High Court.
Rejecting the ministers’ case, Mr Justice Max Barrett said he was “unhesitatingly” finding in favour of the ombudsman.
The ministers claimed the ombudsman had erred in law in his finding.
The ombudsman rejected the claim, arguing it was made within jurisdiction and the case for Mrs McDermott was crystal clear.
Mrs McDermott, of Maunsell’s Rd, Taylor’s Hill, Galway, said in an affidavit a “fundamental right” granted to her in the 2003 divorce proceedings were pension entitlements should both Mr MacDiarmada and his second wife die before her.
She found it remarkable and disturbing that the Pensions Ombudsman, who is appointed by the State to rule in matters like this, was being questioned by the ministers about his right to do so.
“I believe it to be a dreadful waste of my time, his [ombudsman’s] time and taxpayers’ funds,” she said.
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