‘Debate needed’ on polygamous immigrant families

Not recognising second marriage difficult for children, Islamic centre spokesman says

A debate is needed on the position of families who immigrate to Ireland and are polygamous, Dr Ali Selim, spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ireland has said.

Dr Selim said if someone is married to two wives, because the legislation of his country allows that and he has children from both wives, the law as it stands recognises one side and rejects the other, and that might be very difficult for the children.

“Some people are forced to leave their homes and if they are in a situation like that, what do they do about it?” he asked. “I think there is a need for a legal debate to answer this question, to reach a conclusion about issues of this nature.”

He was speaking following a Supreme Court decision that found the first marriage of a Lebanese man with two wives could be recognised under Irish law, but not his second.


Polygamy, having more than one spouse, is not legal in Ireland. But in many Muslim countries having more than one wife is permitted.

‘Second wives’

There are 86,000 Muslims living here and it is thought there are a very small number of polygamous families. In Britain, it is estimated there are 20,000 polygamous families and websites, aimed at Muslims, offer matching services for “second wives”.

Dr Selim said Thursday’s Supreme Court decision was the first incident of polygamy he had heard of in Ireland. He described the current position for polygamous families as “catch-22”.

“I think we are in need of experts to sit down around the table and discuss and maybe they could come up with a satisfactory conclusion,” he said.

He suggested a discussion on the issue should include legal, social and religious experts and psychologists to examine the impact on “the children from the wife we do not recognise”.

“After that, we also need religious scholars to explain to us the situation, why this happens, when can this happen, is this permissible or what are the conditions permissibility or impermissibility of this action.”

Under Islamic law, it is permissible for a man to have more than one wife if he can fulfil two conditions, Dr Selim said.

“The first condition is he has to be 100 per cent sure that he can treat both of them equally, the second condition is that he has to be 100 per cent sure that he can financially look after the two of them,” he said.

But having more than one wife is a woman’s decision more than a man’s, he said, since the woman has the right either to accept or reject the proposal. And, if she accepts it, the first wife has the right to terminate her relation with her husband and marry someone else or stay in the marriage.


Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said Minister Charlie Flanagan had noted the judgments of the Supreme Court. “The implications of the judgments, including the question of the need for legislation, will be carefully examined by the department in consultation with the office of the Attorney-General and other relevant Government departments.”

Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice Jim O’Callaghan said “legislation should be urgently prepared by Government to ensure that Irish public policy on polygamy is reflected in whether and how we recognise certain marriages that take place in polygamous societies. This change is required in order to ensure that our laws reflect Irish public policy, which is to protect marriage as being a union between two people.”

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times