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Column: We can achieve equality for all families in just three steps

Family and social life has changed radically since our Constitution was published in 1937, resulting in many Irish families today being effectively ignored by society. But that can all change, writes Karen Kiernan.

Karen Kiernan

THE CONSTITUTION that governs our country was published back in 1937 and Irish family and social life has changed radically since then. Unfortunately the Constitution has not changed in tandem with this and is now woefully out-of-step with the reality of life for many children and families in Ireland because it doesn’t recognise them as families.

So just three steps to change this – really?

  1. Ensure the Constitutional Convention reviews Article 41 in relation to the family

  2. Ensure the Constitutional Convention recommends that Article 41 is changed to be more inclusive (see our proposed wording below)

  3. Ensure the government holds the referendum and that it passes.

For this week only, we have an amazing opportunity to ask the Constitutional Convention to add a review of Article 41 in relation to family to their to-do list. All Families Matter is a new coalition campaigning for this review and is made up of leading national and local organisations who work with families and who are concerned with human rights.

Expanding the understanding of ‘family’

Here are our top three (amongst many other) reasons for reviewing and expanding the understanding of family in the Constitution:

  1. The Constitutional definition of family only affords rights and protection to the marital family and no other set of people are considered a Constitutional family. This is wildly at odds with not just the reality of family life, but also with social policy and even legislation in Ireland which can, within limits, recognise other types of families. It also causes problems for non-marital families.

  2. An expanded understanding of family will build on other recent changes such as the Children’s Referendum; the upcoming Child and Family Relationships Bill as well as the work of the Convention to date including their review of women in the home and same-sex marriage.

  3. Census statistics and Growing Up in Ireland data show us the rich diversity of family life in Ireland today. One in three children in Ireland are born to parents not yet married to each other; one in three families do not conform to the traditional model of a married couple in their first marriage; and one in five children live in one-parent families.

But if the current wording is wrong, what’s right?

Having consulted with experts and bringing our own experience of working with diverse families to the table, we believe that a good workable solution would be to edit what’s in Article 41 and add in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. What is wonderful about this is that the new wording could offer high level symbolic change that does not put restrictive wording or automatic rights for anyone into the Constitution but allows legislation to be crafted for specific situations as required.

It removes the barriers to family equality that are there at the moment, it is child-centred and is potentially helpful to any households/families based on caring arrangements including siblings, other non-nuclear family members, foster families and non-marital families. Though the wording of our Constitution could be considered to have only symbolic significance, in line with new and upcoming legislation new wording that acknowledges all families will help to enable real equality.

But this will never happen unless the Convention decides to review family in the first place…

You can help by taking Step 1 now.

Make your voice heard – now

Members of the Convention will decide by online poll within the next week what new areas they will look at in February at their final scheduled meeting. Therefore it is still possible to lobby political members, make online submissions or attend the last regional meeting on Wednesday 27th November (7.30pm) in Limerick to ask them to review the family.

The easiest thing to do is to make an online submission and you can do this on the Convention’s website: www.constitution.ie.

But we’ll get another chance right?

Not necessarily. The last opportunity was when the All Party Oireachtas Committee published their Tenth Progress Report on the Family back in 2006. Incredibly, due to fears of divisiveness no recommendations for change were made in relation to a referendum on the definition of the family.

Things have progressed since then and a national debate on family along with a referendum could really solidify all the other progressive changes that we have been seeing. An expanded understanding at Constitutional level of what family life in Ireland could mean will make a lot of sense if marriage equality is passed, when the Children’s Referendum is fully implemented and when the new Child and Family Relationships Bill is in place.

Let’s get a little ahead of ourselves here and be ready for it – families in Ireland certainly are.

To learn more about what All Families Matter think, see the website or follow them on Facebook.

Karen Kiernan is CEO of One Family and Chair of All Families Matter. Current members include BelongTo, Family Resource Centre National Forum, GLEN, ICCL, Marriage Equality, New Communities Partnership, One Family, TENI and Treoir.

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