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Equality Minister Roderic O'Gorman in the Dáil chamber this evening debating the proposed wording for the referendums.

'Durable' relationships, 'throuples' and care in the home discussed in referendums Dáil debate

TDs debated the wording of the referendums which will be voted on in March.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A ‘durable’ relationship, polygamous relationships, ‘throuples’ and care in the home were just some of the subject matters touched on this evening as the Dáil debated the legislation for the upcoming referendums on care and family. 

Opposition parties including Labour, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit and the Rural Independents group tabled amendments to the legislation.

In less than two months voters will be asked if they wish to:

  • amend Article 41 of the Constitution to provide for a wider concept of family (i.e. not one only based on marriage)
  • delete Article 41.2 of the Constitution to remove text on the role of women in the home, and insert a new Article 42B to recognise family care

The family amendment, the 39th Amendment of the Constitution, proposes to amend Article 41.1.1 to insert the words “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

It also proposes the deletion of the words “on which the Family is founded” from Article 41.3.1.

The care amendment, the 40th amendment, proposes to delete Article 41.2 from the Constitution and insert an Article 42B with the following wording:

“The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

The government has confirmed that two referendums will be held on March 8 – International Women’s Day.

Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman addressed the Dáil stating that the clear message from government is that the Constitution needs to reflect our values.

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“Right now our Constitution does not reflect our values because it places women in a particular category and does not suggest that men or anybody else should be involved in the business of care.

“It excludes so many families from the recognition of the family in our Constitution. I remember that in 2015, when I was also in a situation in which I was forever excluded from access to the family through the institution of marriage, that was my driving force for going out and knocking on doors,” he said. 

Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara raised the issue of different types of relationships, such as polygamous relationships, and what would be recognised under the expanded definition of the family. 

O’Gorman clarified that polygamous relationships do not represent a “moral institution” in Irish law.

Throuples and truffles

Responding, O’Gorman said polygamous relationships would not be protected under the proposed changes.

“First of all, polygamous relationships have never been recognised under Irish law, and secondly because a polygamous relationship is not one that represents a fundamental group of society and it is not one that represents a moral institution in Irish law,” he added.

“And it is not one that represents as durable. The very clear policy intention of the government is a polygamous relationship … and I’ve heard the word throuples thrown around … that issue has come up in some of the debates.

“I want to be very clear, such relationships (throuples) are not covered within the concept that we are seeking.”

There was some confusion in the chamber when McNamara sought to clarify what the minister had said. 

McNamara: “The word what?”

O’Gorman responded: “Throuples.”


Truffles? Sorry. Throuples. I thought the Minister said ‘truffles’. I wondered if there were truffles in the Dáil restaurant. Sorry.

Durable relationships

After some giggles in the Dáil chamber, the debate around the serious details of the referendums continued.

The General Scheme of the Thirty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill proposes to insert the words “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

Concerns were raised about the word “durable” and how it is has not been defined.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik has called for the word to be removed from the proposed changes.

“We propose to take out the change you’re proposing to 41.1., to therefore delete and not to use the phrase durable relationships,” she added.

“We want to see Article 41 amended, both in reference to family and in reference to care, and of course crucially to see the sexist language around women and mothers deleted and replaced.

“So we’re all working to that same aim. We’re simply putting questions that are going to be important questions in the course of the referendum campaign

“I think it’d be really useful for all of us campaigning on the referendum to have clarification, based upon what is said today.”

O’Gorman said the rationale behind using the term “durable relationships” was to expand the concept of the family in Article 41 to cohabitees with or without children, and to one-parent families.

“It’s intended to encompass relationships of strength, relationships of stability, relationships that consistent with the existing definition of family contained in Article 41 and that is the fundamental unit group of society,” he added.

Cork TD Michael Collins criticised the term durable, saying it will be defined by case law.

“The referendum’s wording raises questions about the types of relationships included, the impact on various laws,” he added.

“The proposed amendments seem to serve no positive purpose, and it might be sensible to vote no.


Independent Galway TD Catherine Connolly while she was strifing to keep an open mind, she had concerns about the wording put forward by the government.

She spoke about how “no carer should be forced out of the home due to economic necessity”, while also referencing that the term relating to women in the home. 

Connolly said there were arguments put forward that it was “doing something valuable” and could be “interpreted in a modern way” by the courts, pointing out that existing article has not been tested. 

“Given a choice, I would take my chances with what is there and let judges to interpret it in a modern capacity,” she said, adding that she is now left with making a decision as to what way she might vote. 

The current wording in her view is stronger to what the government is proposing to insert, she added.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said he disagreed with Connolly, stating that the language relating to women is “completely sexist” in his view.

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith said she is “less than enthusiastic” about what the government has put forward. 

She said the minister had made it very difficult for parties and people like her “who really do want to progress the equality agenda in this country” to give their support. 

The government has put forward “very weak set of proposals for constitutional change”. 

“Obviously this makes it difficult for people to be enthusiastic and to fight for it but it will provide an opportunity for some mischievous elements of our society, about which we spoke earlier in respect of questions of race. They will also use the question of gender to put their spoke in and try to influence and muddy the waters,” she said. 

On the issue of family reunification, McNamara said: “My understanding is that, I could be wrong in this, is that European Union law, as it stands at the moment, requires that for family reunification purposes, that the spouse and children of the first marriage only are entitled family reunification.

“Now, Irish law, the 2014 Act is quite clear that all children of a person granted international protection are entitled to all minor children are entitled to family reunification.”

Addressing how the referendum might impact immigration law, an issue that has been questioned previously, the minister said he had received legal advice from the Attorney General ”that there will be no legal impact on immigration law or, particularly, on international protection law”.

“It is likely the change will be cited in cases. It will probably be referenced. People will raise it in courts and ultimately courts will make a final determination, but it is important to say that there is a vast amount of legislation that sets out the rights of people who seek to come to Ireland, be it migration for international protection, through family reunification, through work visas, etc,” he said.

Using the guillotine method, whereby a restriction on the time is allocated to debate a Bill, the legislation was passed by the Dáil.

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