Tuesday 23 December 2014

Gender-neutral version of 'woman in home' clause to go to public vote

Sam Griffin

Published 15/07/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Frances Fitzgerald
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Frances Fitzgerald

THE controversial "woman in the home" clause in the Constitution is set to be the focus of a referendum on whether it should be made gender neutral.

Article 42.1 was under discussion as Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was quizzed on Ireland's human rights record at a UN committee in Geneva.

The Government was also accused of not keeping up with international standards in terms of the country's abortion laws and came under fire for a range of other human rights issues.

Article 42.1 says "that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to neglect of their duties in the home".

But the Constitutional Convention previously voted to change the article, with 98pc supporting a proposal to make it gender neutral.

Alternative

"The convention itself did not offer an alternative text. What it did indicate, and what has been accepted by the Government, is that any new text should be gender neutral," a member of the Irish delegation said yesterday.

"They also made further recommendations that any new text might include other carers in the home, and might also include carers beyond the home."

He said a special task force looking at this issue will report back by the end of October.

"It would then be a matter for the Government to decide the approach it would follow and on the timing of any referendum.

"But there is a commitment to hold a referendum on that issue," he said.

This was among a range of issues discussed at the UN Human Rights Council which also took in areas such as penal reform, equal rights for LGBT people, as well as redress schemes for symphysiotomy victims and victims of state abuse, the new garda oversight body and Traveller ethnicity.

In opening remarks, Ms Fitzgerald said: "Reform of police accountability and oversight mechanisms is my central priority."

She addressed reforms in abortion law in great detail and said there had "been a number of significant recent developments in relation to access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland".

She said the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act had been passed following "extensive" debate.

Members of the panel questioned whether the issue would be looked at again. But members of the Irish delegation said there were "no proposals to amend" the Act and said the issues of right to life had now "been addressed".

Speaking afterwards, Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said he was "disheartened" by the Government's refusal to look at the issue of women's reproductive rights again.

The 17-person UN panel, which quizzes the government every four years, also questioned the minister on convictions arising from GSOC investigations.

Concern

Yuji Iwasawa from Japan said there was "concern" that only 150 cases out 13,000 complaints had been directed to the DPP.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was currently involved "in a very serious programme of reform" and said a range of new proposals for GSOC would be brought in by the end of the year.

She said these would strengthen the agency, and added that the Government was committed to setting up a new oversight body.

She also spoke of her commitment to speed up the asylum process, efforts to avoid giving prison sentences for unpaid fines, the extension of domestic violence barring orders to civil partners, and the recent reports on the removal of Roma children from their families.

On the "dreadful situation" of the survivors of symphysiotomy, she said: "The Government has decided to establish an ex-gratia scheme for the survivors."

However, the redress scheme was criticised by Aileen Woods, a survivor of the procedure, from Newry, who said many of the state compensation payouts so far had been "at the lower end" and said some women would prefer legal representation during the redress scheme.

Irish Independent

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