IRELAND - Pension schemes could see increased costs as a result of plans by the Irish government to recognise civil partnerships, suggests the Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF).

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern yesterday said the government will attempt to legislate "at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of this government" for civil partnerships, to give same-sex couples the same benefits, pensions and legal rights as married couples.

A spokesman for the Irish Pensions Board said while there is no legal requirement on Irish pension schemes to provide spousal benefits, if a pension scheme currently chooses to offer death-in-service or survivor's pension benefits, they would have to extend it to legally-defined civil partners should new laws be enacted.

Jerry Moriarty, director of policy at the IAPF, told IPE conversations with legal experts confirm it is currently at private pension schemes' discretion as to whether they recognise civil partnerships and associated spousal benefits.

Public sector schemes are not legally allowed to pay pensions benefits to ‘non-spouses' but the discrimination between private and public pensions is a situation Irish unions have been seeking to resolve, according to Moriarty.

While it might generate some additional costs for pension schemes, legislation allowing civil partnerships in Ireland might help pension funds establish their own policies on same-sex partnerships - something many pension funds have been unable to do until now - as it would give them a legal definition of what constitutes a civil partnership.

At the same time, however, Moriarty is predicting there "would not be a significant cost" increase to pension schemes if they were then required to give civil partnerships the same legal and benefits rights as married couples.