Varadkar downplays fears of referendums’ impact on immigration law

Taoiseach says issues on ballot ‘more complicated’ than other previous votes such as repealing the 8th or marriage equality

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has sought to downplay fears about the impact on immigration law of two upcoming constitutional referendums, warning of “red herrings” in the run into the votes on March 8th.

Speaking at the launch of the Fine Gael campaign calling for a dual Yes vote in referendums on family and care to be held on March 8th, Mr Vardakar accepted that the issues were “more complicated” than what he said were more straightforward choices on repealing the 8th Amendment or marriage equality.

Mr Varadkar defended the use of the term “durable relationship” in the proposed wording on a constitutional amendment on the family, which would extend recognition to families other than those based on marriage.

Some No vote proponents have argued that the broadened definition could provide a wider basis for refugees seeking to bring family members here under rules that allow for the reunification of families.


The Taoiseach said that while people could make this case, family law would not “override” all other policies, pointing out that under current immigration law, there were circumstances where the foreign national spouse of an Irish person could be deported.

“There are going to be red herrings, and there are going to be people who try to make the referendum about something that it is not actually about,” he said, outlining that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaty campaigns had seen opponents make claims about conscription to a European army.

Opponents of the referendum have argued the term “durable relationship” is imprecise and could invite unintended consequences. Mr Varadkar said there were a million people in families which are not based on marriage, such as those led by cohabiting parents, lone parents or grandparents. He said the term could be further defined by law by the Oireachtas and interpreted by the courts.

“Some people are giving the impression that every durable relationship therefore becomes a family. That’s not the case. Lots of people have all sorts of job relationships, business relationships, for example, that might be going on for decades.”

“Nobody is going to be able to rock down to the courts and say that makes them a family,” he said, arguing there are other tests in the Constitution which define what is a family and would therefore limit the relationships which could be deemed as familial. This includes a requirement that a family must be the “natural and fundamental unit group of society” and that it must be a “moral institution”.

He said the Constitution needed to “catch up” with already existing legislation on tax and social welfare, which recognises one parent families.

The Taoiseach said the referendum on care, if passed, would put “an additional and stronger obligation” on future governments than currently exists. He said any future Government that tried to “roll back” on policies to support carers would be challenged in the courts.

Mr Varadkar said that the changes would apply to both carers and those who receive care, which, he said, was “much more inclusive” and more meaningful “because it puts an obligation on the State to strive to support that care”.

The Taoiseach said the Government had considered extending the constitutional recognition of care giving beyond the family unit, but that it had decided not to, as care outside families tends to be given on a commercial basis.

“We thought there would be real difficulties in extending those kind of constitutional rights to a corporation ... And also when it came to a particular type of employee” – such as a care worker, whose relationship with the person being cared for would then have a constitutional protection that would not be available to a Garda or a nurse.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has decided it will be supporting a ‘Yes-Yes’ vote in next month’s referendums following a meeting of its Ard Comhairle on Monday night though a source said the party believes there is “much more” that must be done to support carers and families.

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times