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Revenue officials warned privately that family referendum could force tax changes

Officials warned of ‘consequential legislative change’ that could be needed if definitions were left to courts

Revenue

Revenue officials warned of potential tax law changes arising from the family referendum before Ministers claimed the proposal had no tax implications, according to newly-released files that raise fresh questions about the Government campaign.

The disclosure of internal Revenue papers comes two months after voters emphatically rejected a plan to give recognition in the Constitution to families in “other durable relationships” in addition to those “founded on marriage”.

That result, and the decisive rejection of the care referendum on the same day, dealt a severe blow to the Government in the fortnight before Leo Varadkar declared he was standing down as taoiseach.

Campaigners for No warned before the family vote of “long-term consequences” for tax law. But when the Government was asked whether it had examined the tax implications of the proposed amendment, it stated in unambiguous terms that there would be no tax impact.

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“In relation to your specific question, the proposed amendment will not affect taxation, succession or family law,” the Government said during the campaign.

Now Revenue files – released by the Department of Finance under the Freedom of Information Act – show how the tax authority noted a lack of clarity “on the extent and scope” of how the proposed Constitutional change would “interact” with tax law.

“In the absence of a proposed definition for ‘non-marital family’, it is not possible to consider the impact of any proposed approach on tax legislation,” said a summary of Revenue observations.

“If it is the case that the proposed Constitutional change would leave the definition of a Family to the courts, there may be some uncertainty for a time while this definition is settled.”

“This may require consequential legislative changes to tax law at the outset of any constitutional change or subsequent to same to reflect the broader policy intention.”

Revenue submitted the document to the Department of Finance in June, as part of referendum preparations.

Separate files show Finance officials then set out the possible need for “consequential legislative changes to tax law” to the Department of Equality, which ran the referendum.

Asked about Revenue’s concerns, a spokesman for Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said a number of departments and agencies “provided input” as the referendum wording was developed.

“The Attorney General is the chief legal adviser to the Government, and the Minister’s statements during the campaign reflected the advice received from him,” the spokesman added.

Revenue declined to comment on the files. They follow disclosures showing how the text for the care referendum was chosen to “avoid a concrete and mandatory obligation” on the State. The Government had insisted the draft amendment to “strive to support” care would impose an express obligation on the State in the Constitution.

Revenue made no public comment during the family referendum campaign, declining even to say whether it had carried out an impact analysis on any potential tax implications.

The tax body insisted it was for the new Electoral Commission to handle questions but the commission never answered queries on tax, pensions, family law, succession and the law of intestacy.

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