Changing Families in Ireland: the Social, Legal and Political Context

30 Apr 2015

Thursday 14th May 2015, 9.30am-4.30pm

CACSSS Seminar Room, O’Rahilly Building, UCC

ISS21’s Family, Gender, Sexualities Research Cluster is pleased to host a public symposium that will explore some of the key legal, social and political implications of the recently passed Children and Family Relationships Bill (2015) and the soon to be held referendum on same sex marriage (which will be held on May 22nd 2015).


The Children and Family Relationships Bill (2015), running to over 100 pages with over 170 sections, deals with topics as diverse as guardianship, donor-assisted reproduction and custody and it amends existing legislation relating to civil partnership, adoption, passports, and succession. In addition, a forthcoming referendum will potentially extend marriage to same sex couples.

All Welcome

To register for this event go to:


This event will also be live streamed online. To listen in on the day, go to:

For any further queries contact: Dr. Deirdre Madden or Dr. Linda Connolly



9.30am Welcome: Professor Caroline Fennell, Head of College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Science (CACSSS)


9.30 – 11.00am: Panel 1

Setting the Social and Legal Context: Changing families in Ireland

Chair: Prof Ursula Kilkelly (Law)


Dr. Linda Connolly (ISS21/Sociology): Family Diversity and Complexity in 21st Century Ireland: Continuity and Change

Dr. Louise Crowley (Law): Regulating Family Formations and Associated Rights in Modern Ireland


11.00-11.30am coffee


11.30- 1.00pm: Panel 2

Family Formation and Parenting: Modern challenges

Chair: Dr. Caitriona Ni Laoire (ISS21/Applied Social Studies)


Dr. Deirdre Madden (Law): Assisted Reproduction

Dr. Jacqui O’Riordan (Applied Social Studies): Family Policies: Recognising family diversity and listening to voices on the ground?

Dr. Aisling Parkes (Law) and Dr. Simone McCaughren (Applied Social Studies): Adopting Change: The Potential Impact of Legal Developments on Adoption Law and Social Work Practice.


1pm-2pm Lunch


2.00-3.30pm: Panel 3

Constitutional Change in Family and Marriage

Chair – Dr. Sandra McAvoy (Women’s Studies)


Dr. Theresa Reidy (Government):  Voting Behaviour and Moral Referenda in Ireland 

Dr. Clodagh Harris (Government): 'It's good to talk! Marriage Equality and the Irish Convention on the Constitution'.

Dr. Conor O’Mahony (Law): Why a referendum on Marriage Equality - and what if we vote no?


Closing Remarks


Each speaker will speak for about 20 mins followed by 30-40 mins for discussion at the end of the papers in each session.




Family Diversity and Complexity in 21st Century Ireland: Continuity and Change

Linda Connolly

“The family” in Ireland has experienced profound transformation and rapid change in recent decades. Recent data cites a significant increase in one-parent households and a high non-marital birth rate, for instance, alongside the emergence of cohabitation, divorce, same-sex families and reconstituted families. The Child and Family Relationships Bill and the forthcoming referendum in same sex marriage both reflect the State’s attempt to deal with family diversity and change.

At the same time, the majority of children in Ireland still live in a two-parent family based on marriage, and the divorce rate in Ireland is comparatively lower than other European countries. Twenty-first-century family life is, in reality, characterized by continuity and change in the Irish context.

This paper will provide a review and analysis of the emergence of family diversity and continuity in the arena of ‘personal life’ in the Irish context, over the course of the late twentieth and twenty-first century.


Regulating Family Formations and Associated Rights in Modern Ireland

Louise Crowley

The legal framework governing Irish families was historically restricted by the strict interpretation of the reference to the family in Article 41 of the Constitution as the family based on marriage. The multiple judicial pronouncements in this regard were reflected in restrictive legislative structures pertaining to family formations and associated parental rights. In more recent years a gradual shift was evident in legislative changes in respect of parental rights, adoption, civil partnerships and cohabitation resulting in the overdue recognition and regulation of certain rights of parties to a family unit not based on marriage. The enactment of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 is an important and very positive development in the context of Irish family law and seeks to regulate and more clearly prescribe the crucial issues of parental and children’s rights in modern Ireland. In this regard although not resulting in equality for all, it does represent further significant progress in respect of the broadening of rights in the family context.


Regulating assisted reproduction - a lot done, more to do.

Deirdre Madden

Assisted reproduction has been available in Ireland for more than 25 years. Families have been created using donor gametes and surrogacy through arrangements made domestically and internationally ‘below the radar’ of any State regulation or intervention. The absence of legal clarity on issues such as parentage of children and the rights of the child to access information on their genetic parents has resulted in uncertain legal status for children and complex dilemmas for the courts.

The Children and Family Relationships Act attempts to regularize the status of children born through use of donor gametes and provide the child with a legal right to access the identity of its genetic parents and siblings. It aims to apply a child-centered approach to the legal recognition of the diversity of family forms that may exist in Ireland.

Although the Act is to be welcomed as finally providing some clarity in the area of donor assisted reproduction, further legislative developments are necessary to deal with in vitro fertilization and surrogacy. This paper will explore the progress made to date, and the complex work left to do.


Family Policies: Recognising family diversity and listening to voices on the ground?

Jacqui O’Riordan

This paper examines policy developments, specifically regarding current provisions under consideration, that go some way towards recognising practices and patterns in personal lives and family formation. Such provisions include those in the Children and Family Bill 2015, the upcoming referendum on same sex marriage, and the Gender Recognition Bill, as well as those provisions expected to be in legislation on surrogacy arrangements, promised for later this year. It examines these developments in the context of issues raised and pressures experienced by those living in and forming non-traditional families. Many of these issues have been voiced by individuals, agencies and advocacy groups over the past number of years. The paper focuses on concerns that are being responded to through current developments as well as outstanding issues that remain marginalised. It also references the context in which these developments are being presented and questions the role of policy makers in clarifying or adding confusion to intersecting issues.


Adopting Change: The Potential Impact of Legal Developments on Adoption Law and Social Work Practice.

Aisling Parkes and Simone McCaughren

Irish Adoption law is an area which has been ripe for reform for some time now. Indeed, despite some positive changes in social work practice in recent times, the law has remained largely stagnant over the past few decades. 

This paper will examine the potential impact of the newly adopted Children and Family Relationships Bill as well as the forthcoming referendum on same-sex marriage on Irish Adoption Law and Social Work practice from a children’s rights perspective. 


It’s good to talk! Marriage Equality and the Irish Convention on the Constitution

Clodagh Harris

It was in response to a recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution that the Government committed to holding a referendum on Marriage Equality. In spring 2014, the Convention, a citizen led deliberative forum, modelled on the British Columbian, Ontarian and Dutch citizens’ assemblies, overwhelmingly agreed that Bunreacht na hÉireann be amended to permit same-sex marriage.

Unlike its Canadian and Dutch counterparts the Irish Convention, established by a resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas in July 2012, included politicians as well as randomly selected private citizens. Also unlike preceding citizens’ assemblies it was charged with making recommendations on more than one issue of constitutional reform. Its eclectic remit ranged from ‘cold’ technical/institutional issues such as the length of the presidential term of office to more contentious and controversial ‘hot’ social/moral issues like marriage equality.

At the outset the Convention was not warmly received by some within the media, academia and civil society. Their criticisms by and large focused on the Convention’s composition, remit and powers. In particular, there were concerns that the 33 political representatives would dominate the discussions at the expense of 66 private citizen members. Also there were those who argued that contentious topics pertaining to people’s personal beliefs such as marriage equality were not suited to such citizen led ‘mini-publics’. The Canadian and Dutch citizens’ assemblies had, after all, looked solely at electoral system reform.

This paper presents some initial findings on the work of the Convention. In particular, it examines Convention members’ (citizens and politicians) rates of participation and their perceived levels of respect, the quality of argument, and freedom to participate the week-end the Convention discussed marriage equality. It shows that unlike some of the debates that have taken place in the wider public sphere the Convention’s deliberations were inclusive and respectful, dispelling early fears of politician dominance and the unsuitably of controversial topics for citizen-led deliberative forums.


Voting Behaviour and Moral Referenda in Ireland

Theresa Reidy

Referendums pose a challenge to theories of voting behaviour in that the nature of party competition can be transformed, campaign structures and activities are focused on the single issue under consideration and voting behaviour will often vary considerably from national and local elections. Explanations of voting behaviour at referendums are predicated on a number of important contextual variables classified by LeDuc (2002) as, the manner in which a referendum is initiated, party competition and political cleavages, and the nature of the referendum campaign. Referendums vary considerably depending on the types of question asked and as Zaller (1992) has argued, the process of opinion formation is a complex interaction between information and predisposition. The information-predisposition blend will vary across referendums and underpins the extent to which voting intentions remain stable or fluctuate over the campaign. This paper will focus on voting patterns in recent moral/social referendums in Ireland, including the forthcoming referendum on same sex marriage, which are usually located on the stable end of the voting spectrum.


Why a referendum on Marriage Equality - and what if we vote no?

Conor O’Mahony

While marriage equality has become law in 18 countries, this has predominantly been achieved through the legislative process, and occasionally through court decisions. If Ireland votes Yes on May 22, it will be the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality through a national referendum. As a relatively blunt aggregation of majoritarian preferences, the referendum is an unusual vehicle for the pursuit of a minority rights issue. So why is Ireland having a referendum - does the Constitution actually prohibit marriage between two persons of the same sex? This paper will examine whether the introduction of marriage equality via legislation or litigation would have been an option in Ireland, and the reasons why the referendum is the option being pursued. It will also explore the options for advocates of marriage equality in the event of a No vote in the forthcoming referendum.





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