Non-marital families ‘marginalised’ throughout Ireland’s history – O’Gorman

By Cate McCurry, PA

Non-marital families have been “marginalised” throughout Ireland’s history, according to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, who has called for the public to back changes in the upcoming referenda.

The Green minister said that inserting the category of “durable” relationships into the Constitution will allow for the recognition of one-parent families and cohabiting couples and their children.

He made the comments as the Green Party launched its campaign for a yes-yes vote in the upcoming referenda next month.

Two referenda are to be held on March 8th to amend Ireland’s Constitution.

The first plebiscite is on whether the Constitution should be changed to extend the definition of family beyond only those based on marriage to include “durable” relationships.

The second is whether to delete a reference to the role and duties of women in the home and replace it with a new article on the provision of care.

Speaking at the launch in Dublin, Mr O’Gorman said Article 41 of the Constitution of Ireland currently excludes tens of thousands of families from the protection of being recognised as a family.

“Right now the values set out in Article 41 of our Constitution don’t meet our values as a nation,” he added.

“It prescribes or sets out a very limited role for women in terms of a woman’s life in the home and the neglect of mothers’ duties within the home.

“It doesn’t do enough to place an obligation on the state to support care within families and with two yes votes on March 8th, we have the opportunity to change that and with the opportunity to make sure that our Constitution does reflect our values today.”

He said it was important to recognise non-marital families,

“For too long non-marital families have been marginalised in Ireland, and we know about that doubt in our in our country’s history,” he added.

“By creating this category of durable relationships, we allow for the recognition of one-parent families, we allow for the recognition of cohabiting couples and their children.


“But importantly, our change is not going to change the unique recognition, that special recognition that marriage has within our Constitution and that ability of the state to make distinctions between married families and other families.”

Mr O’Gorman said he also accepted that the immediate change from a referendum is not always “tangibly clear”, but said it will provide the same protections afforded to marital families.

“There are certain protections that a marital family has, protections around internal decision-making, and right now those legal protections are only open to marital families,” the children’s minister added.

“If we make this change, they’ll be open to families like cohabiting couples, like one-parent families. In terms of the care side, it places this new obligation on the state to recognise care within families.”

He said it will be binding on this government and future governments to ensure it supports and grows the level of support for carers.

“It’ll be relevant to Cabinet decisions, it will be relevant to negotiations around budgets, and ultimately it’ll be interpreted by the Supreme Court in cases where individuals, Irish citizens who feel that the government of the day isn’t doing enough to support their care takes the case to the court,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the courts will test the meaning of “shall strive”, which is part of the proposed changes to the wording of the Constitution.

Mr Ryan said: “The Constitution sets out our values and does give direction which the courts apply in terms of: what does “shall strive” mean?

“That does have to be something that’s tested. The previous wording “endeavour to support” was tested over the last eight decades and didn’t actually make a material difference.

“So my argument is that the stronger wording we are putting does give real opportunity for us to see those values implemented in real decisions.

“You can’t in the Constitution write a budget, you can’t in the Constitution write a law.

“You wouldn’t want to, it would not work. That does have to be something that is tested over time in the courts, interpreting what is the intention of the Irish people in how they vote on March 8.”