Irish constitutional amendments on family and women are heading for failure in the national vote

(Damien Storan/Associated Press)

Irish constitutional amendments on family and women are heading for failure in the national vote


March 9, 2024

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar conceded defeat on Saturday as two constitutional amendments he supported that would have expanded the definition of the family and removed language on women’s roles in the home were headed for rejection in the first election.

Varadkar, who urged the vote to enshrine gender equality in the constitution by removing very old-fashioned language and trying to recognize the realities of modern family life, said it was clear the amendments were completely rejected by a respectable turnout.

It was our responsibility to convince the majority of people to vote ‘yes’ and we clearly failed to do so, Varadkar said.

Opponents argued that the wording of the changes was poorly thought out, an argument that seemed to gain momentum in the final days of the campaign. Voters said they were confused by the questions and others said they feared changes would lead to unintended consequences.

The election was seen as part of Ireland’s evolution from a conservative, predominantly Roman Catholic country where divorce and abortion were illegal, to an increasingly diverse and socially liberal society. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the share of Catholic residents has fallen from 94.9% in 1961 to 69% in 2022.

The social transformation has been reflected in a series of changes to the Irish Constitution, which dates back to 1937, although the country was not formally known as the Republic of Ireland until 1949. Irish voters legalized divorce in a referendum in 1995, supported same-sex marriage in 1995, voted in 2015 and repealed a ban on abortion in 2018.

The first question concerns a part of the Constitution that promises to protect the family as the primary unit of society. Voters were asked to remove the reference to marriage as the basis on which the family is founded and replace it with a clause that families can be founded on marriage or other lasting relationships. If passed, it would have been the 39th Amendment to the Constitution.

A proposed 40th Amendment would have deleted the reference that a woman’s place in the family provided a public good that could not be provided by the state, and removed a statement that mothers should not be required to work out of economic necessity if the state would neglect their work. duties at home. It would have added a clause stating that the state will endeavor to support the provision of care by members of one family to each other.

The debate was less charged than the arguments over abortion and gay marriage. Ireland’s main political parties all supported the changes, including centrist governing coalition partners Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and the main opposition party, Sinn Fein.

One political party that called for no vote was Aont, a traditionalist group that split from Sinn Fein over the larger parties supporting legal abortion. Aont leader Peadar Tibn said the government’s wording was so vague that it would lead to legal wrangles and that most people do not know the meaning of a long-term relationship.

The Free Legal Advice Centres, a legal charity, raised concerns about the change to the section on care which contained harmful stereotypes, such as the concept that the provision of care is the private responsibility of unpaid relatives, without any guarantee of state support.

Some disability rights activists argued that the emphasis on care treats disabled people as a burden, rather than as individuals with rights that should be guaranteed by the state.

Opinion polls had suggested support for the yes side in both votes, but many voters remained undecided as Friday’s poll approached International Women’s Day and some said they found the issue too confusing or rushed to change the constitution.

I thought it was too rushed, says Una Ui Dhuinn, a nurse in Dublin. I felt we didn’t get enough time to think about it and read about it. So I felt, just to be sure, no, no, no change.

Caoimhe Doyle, a PhD student, said she voted “yes” on changing the definition of “family” but voted “no” on the healthcare amendment because I don’t think it has been properly explained.

There are concerns that they take away the state’s burden of caring for families, she said.

Kealy and Melley write for the Associated Press. Kealy reported from Dublin, Melley from London.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles