Micheál Martin: ‘no question’ single parents would be covered by amendment – AG: ‘difficult to predict’

Micheál Martin in early March said there was “no question” single-parent families would be covered by the proposed family constitutional amendment – despite having received advice from the attorney general months before that this wasn’t the case. 

The tánaiste appeared on Prime Time in early March and was asked how confident he was that these parents would be supported by his government’s proposed amendment. 

In early December he’d received legal advice from the attorney general that warned it was “difficult to predict with certainty” how the courts would interpret the amendment. Martin didn’t acknowledge this advice, which was published by The Ditch last week, in his appearance.   

‘It is difficult to predict’

In a Prime Time debate on 5 March, Micheál Martin discussed the two proposed constitutional changes ultimately rejected by the electorate last Friday. 

The proposed family article would have changed the types of familial relationships recognised by the constitution. 

When Sarah McInerney began by saying, “Maria Steen is saying single parents are not going to be covered under this because…” Martin interrupted. “Well they are going to be,” he said. 

McInerney said the previous provision referred to “intimate” rather than “durable relationships” and asked Martin if he was confident that single-parent families would be covered by the proposed article. 

“No, sorry, no, no. Without question.” McInerney asked Martin if there could indeed be a question. The tánaiste repeated, “Without question.”

Government had however on 8 December, 2023 received advice from attorney general Rossa Fanning warning there could be a question. The Ditch published this advice in full last Thursday evening. 

“In the absence of clear guidance within the constitutional text or by way of legislation, it is difficult to predict with certainty how the Irish courts would interpret the concept of ‘other durable relationships,” wrote Fanning in his advice to government, which Martin received. 

For Fanning it could be “strongly argued” the article would include single-parent families, rather than that there was “no question”.

“While it is likely the concept would be interpreted so as to encompass relationships between cohabitants, it can be strongly argued that it also encompasses parent-child relationships,” he wrote. 

Fanning further advised that courts could decide each case as they came before them. 

“The courts may well address the question of what constitutes a ‘durable relationship’ on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the particular case and the evidence before it,” he wrote. 

Martin has been contacted for comment. 

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors