Concern mounts that hundreds of marriages may be invalid

Department may require marriages to be solemnised by civil registrar

There are almost 6,000 marriage solemnisers registered across the State – some based in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

There are almost 6,000 marriage solemnisers registered across the State – some based in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The validity of hundreds of marriages could be in doubt amid concerns about the “training and accreditation” of some wedding solemnisers.

The Department of Social Protection, which maintains the register of solemnisers, is so concerned it says it may require all marriages to be solemnised by a civil registrar in addition to solemnisation by another religious or secular body.

It says it has no way of knowing how many marriages may be affected as a result of being performed by inadequately trained solemnisers because a civil registrar is not present at such weddings.

There are almost 6,000 marriage solemnisers registered across the State – some based in Northern Ireland.

Of the total, 105 are civil registrars, employed by the HSE. There are also 13 secular solemnisers – including 12 humanist ones – and 5,784 who belong to religious bodies.

No concerns have been expressed about the training and accreditation in any named religious body. However the Registrar General is concerned generally about the training that some smaller, newer religious bodies may be giving to accredited ministers, and it has no way of policing this.

Of the religious solemnisers, the majority are from mainstream churches, including 4,452 from the Catholic Church, 358 from the Church of Ireland, 210 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 195 Methodists, 92 Presbyterians, five from the Islamic community and two who are Jewish.

Online ordination

There are also hundreds from less-known religious bodies, including one from Life Renewal Ministries International, nine from the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, five from Pagan Federation Ireland and one from the Healing Streams Christian Renewal Centre.

In a statement, the Registrar General told The Irish Times: “Religious bodies are not required by law to have training and accreditation procedures, and there is concern that the quality assurance provided by training and accreditation may not be present in some cases. The office is aware any individual can easily obtain an online ordination certificate without any training or accreditation by the religious body issuing the certificate.

“Applications have been made by such persons for registration in the register of solemnisers.”

Solemnisers from a secular body must satisfy regulations in the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014, which says the body must have more than 50 members, must meet regularly and must have appropriate procedures for “selecting, training and accrediting members as fit and proper persons to solemnise marriages”.

Senior officials in the department have warned in a briefing note to Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar: “The proliferation of small bodies and the lack of regulations of bodies gives rise to concerns as to validity of [some] marriages registered in the State.

“In one case, a member of a religious body was convicted of facilitating sham marriages.

“Against this background, consideration may need to be given to requiring that all marriages in the State be solemnised by a civil registrar as is the practice in most EU countries.”

A spokeswoman said the Registrar General does not intend to comment on any particular body or on how many there are concerns about.

“It is not possible to know how many marriages may be affected as the marriages in question are solemnised by religious bodies and no civil registrar is present.”