Doubt over whether June referendum will go ahead amid fallout from family and care votes

‘Lessons learned’ from heavy defeats in family and care referendums a factor in Coalition’s considerations on vote originally planned for June

There is doubt over whether the referendum on the Unified Patent Court (UPC) will go ahead in June as planned amid the continued fallout from the heavily defeated family and care referendums last month.

There are strong indications that the vote will be postponed with the Government due to make a final decision on how it will proceed next week.

It is understood that “lessons learned” from the unsuccessful referendums have been part of the considerations on whether or not the UPC referendum takes place on the earmarked date of June 7th, the same day as the local and European elections.

One source said enthusiasm for holding the referendum is “less than stellar” while another said there is a “reluctance” to go ahead with it in June given the outcome of the referendums in March.


Another Government insider said the decision on the UPC referendum proceeding or not has not yet been taken but highlighted how the required legislation has not yet been passed the Oireachtas.

It is currently at committee stage in the Seanad.

The Cabinet is expected to decide next week on whether or not to proceed with the referendum in June.

The UPC is designed to provide a one-stop shop for litigation on patents whose decisions will be binding on participating European Union member states.

A Yes vote in a referendum would mean Irish patents would be valid in the 17 EU member states that have signed up to the UPC system.

The move has been long called for by business groups and individual sectors of the economy, such as the pharmaceutical trade.

In 2013, Ireland signed an agreement providing for the establishment of the UPC between contracting states, but an amendment to the Constitution is needed as it entails a transfer of jurisdiction in patent litigation from the Irish courts to an international court.

Newly-appointed Minister for Enterprise Peter Burke will bring a memo to Government next week on “the next steps” according to a statement from his department.

It said: “He will outline the Government’s position at that stage.”

Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne said: “It is in Ireland’s competitive interest to join the European unified patents system to make obtaining and protecting inventions much easier for Irish inventors.”

Mr Byrne – who has been selected as his party’s director of elections for the UPC referendum – told The Irish Times he hopes it proceeds in June as planned.

“This is a very clear referendum. The only implications are whether we move towards a European patent system with a court to determine disputes. It’s only about patents, nothing else.

“And for Ireland not to be in membership it’ll be bad news for Irish business and for Irish creators.”

He said the issues at stake were “not emotive”, adding: “It’s a very simple question. Do we join the European patent system or not?”

He added: “If you’re an Irish inventor or if you’re an Irish business or a spin out from a university and you develop a product you want to make it as easy as possible to make sure that that product is protected and recognised and that’s what the patent courts system is about.”

Mr Byrne said he would be “disappointed” if it was postponed, saying: “It’s a bad sign for the new Government if they move in this way.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times