Leo Varadkar defends ‘durable relationships’ phrase a week before polling

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the choice of phrase “durable relationships” as a way of describing families that are not based on marriage.

He also admitted “it can be hard” to get the message across to the public, but said leaflets had been dropped to households and posters had been hung.

Irish people will vote next Friday in a referendum on whether to change the constitution to say families can be based on “durable relationships” as well as on marriage.


The No campaign says the wording is unclear and could have unintended consequences.

“There’s no perfect language and we spent years and endless meetings trying to figure out what the best wording is,” Mr Varadkar said on Virgin Media’s The Six O’Clock Show.

“So the relationship that exists between a child and their mother or father when they’re born, that’s the one-parent family – that’s pretty immediate, it’s committed, it’s caring, it’s long lasting.

“For people who are co-habiting it’s a bit more complicated, but we’ve actually set that out in a law back in 2010 already, and that says that somebody is co-habiting if they’re together for more than five years, or two years if there’s a child involved.

“But what (the wording) doesn’t say is that durable relationships are the same as marriage. Marriage will still have a special value or special protection, but you can have a family that’s based on durable relationships.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that every durable relationship is a family… it’s not just a durable relationship on its own. It still has to be a social unit and operate on that basis.”

Voters will also cast ballots on whether to delete references to a woman’s roles and duties in the home and replace it with a new article acknowledging family care.

The Government has been criticised for proposing wording that the state “shall strive” to support care, rather than stronger wording such as that proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly, which said it would take “reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community”.

Mr Varadkar said although the Government has an obligation to people with high care needs, care is not something that should be provided entirely by the state.

“It very clearly says that it’s not just the family that is responsible… the state has to strive to support that.

“Very often, the state will step in if somebody doesn’t have a family to look after them or if they have particular very high care needs.

“But certainly, my experience of life – and I’m sure it’s most people’s experience of life – my parents brought me up, they cared for me. When they’re old, I’m going to make sure they’re looked after.

“God forbid if something happened to either of my sisters, I’ll make sure that my nephews and nieces are looked after, they have a home, they have an education.

“I don’t actually think that’s the state’s responsibility, to be honest. I do think that is very much a family responsibility, but families deserve the support of the state, and that’s really what this article will say.

“But that doesn’t preclude us from doing more for people who are disabled. So a lot of people who I know who have disabilities, they want to be independent and they don’t want to be dependent on their family in any way, and none of this stops us from making that possible.”