Monday 14 October 2019

Referendum on 'sexist' constitutional reference to a woman's place in the home postponed

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

JUSTICE Minister Charlie Flanagan has expressed “much regret” that the country will not be voting on the removal of the “sexist and reductive” section of the constitution which gives a woman’s place in the home special recognition.

Government plans to hold a referendum on the issue alongside the presidential election in October have been scuppered by an Oireachtas committee.

TDs want time to debate what question should be put to the people, including whether a gender-neutral clause should be inserted into the constitution in place of Article 41.2.

The existing article reads: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”

It adds: “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

In a statement, Mr Flanagan said: “The Constitution doesn’t seek to define the place of men. I believe it should not seek to define the place of women. 

“To me, this is a straightforward proposition and after many decades of inaction, the time has come for the people to exercise a view on the retention or removal of the Article.”

However, he accepted the outcome of a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality which means the referendum cannot now proceed on October 26. 

In a letter to the minister, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan explained his party’s reasons for seeking more debate on the issue.

He said Fianna Fáil support the holding of a referendum “to remove the anachronistic and sexist language that exists within this article”.

“As currently drafted, it is wholly inappropriate for modern Ireland and stands out like an iceberg frozen in the glacial waters of Ireland in the 1930s.”

However, he added that consideration needs to be given to the idea of replacing the Article with a gender neutral provision or a symbolic recognition of home and family life, with reference to carers.

 “At this stage my own personal preference is for deletion over amendment as I believe the state’s responsibility towards parents and carers should be defined by the Oireachtas in legislation rather than potentially allowing the courts interpret what may be a vague and broadly defined constitutional provision.

“Nonetheless, I recognise that there is another argument and I think it is important that this other argument be considered by the Oireachtas before we put the question out to the Irish people,” Mr O’Callaghan said.  

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section