Farmers’ estates could be contested by individuals claiming to have the same legal standing as the deceased's spouse without a clear definition of what constitutes a ‘durable relationship’, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association (ICMSA) president Denis Drennan fears.

The 8 March referendum will determine whether the Constitution should state that family can be “founded on marriage or on other durable relationships” if a majority votes ‘yes’.

If a majority of voters opt to vote ‘no’, the Constitution is to remain as is with the constitutional definition of family being “founded on marriage”.

Drennan has said that Government has shown an “inability or unwillingness to present voters with a practical definition of a ‘durable relationship' ahead of the vote and that this could have implications for the transfer of farms when the owner is deceased.

Constitutional standing

“All types of scenarios were easily imagined where, in the absence of a strict and workable definition, estates could be undermined or even wiped out through legal contests brought by individuals against the estate of the deceased individual all based on ‘durable relationships’ with the deceased individual with potentially the same constitutional standing as his or her marriage,” the farm leader claimed.

Drennan commented that the ICMSA is “most concerned with viable and successful farm succession, but the questions were no less valid and pressing for any individual with an asset or property”.

It is “unfair and unreasonable of the Government to ask the electorate to vote blind and while a key definition was lacking”, he said.

“What is required is a clear statement from Government on the definition of a ‘durable relationship’ and a clear commitment that current relationships recognised by the State will be in no way undermined by Government legislation or the courts arising from the proposed change to the constitution.”