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The booklet that will be distributed by the Electoral Commission Jane Matthews
here we go

Voters warned to know fact from opinion as Electoral Commission kick starts referendum campaigns

Over the coming weeks, information booklets will be distributed to 2.3 million households across Ireland.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR the upcoming March referendums officially gets underway today as the Electoral Commission kick starts its independent information campaign. 

On 8 March, voters will go to the polls to decide on two amendments to the Irish Constitution, one relating to the provision of care (the “women in the home” referendum) and one relating to the definition of family.

In Dublin this morning, An Coimisiún Toghcháin (the Electoral Commission) officially launched its information campaign.

Speaking at the launch in Grangegorman this morning, chair of the Commission Supreme Court Judge Ms. Justice Marie Baker said voters should be conscious of where they get their information from in relation to the referendum and make sure to differentiate between fact and opinion.

“That’s important because a lot of what has been said to date is opinion and obviously debate is generally around people’s opinions,” Justice Baker said. 

As part of its work, the Commission, which is responsible for providing impartial information about the referendums, will be distributing information booklets to 2.3 million Irish homes ahead of 8 March.

It expects that all households will have received a booklet by 1 March.

“These two Referendums offer people a choice to maintain or to change how our Constitution firstly recognises the concept of the family unit, and secondly recognises of the role played by people, who care for their family members. These are two important votes which will help shape our future laws and court decisions,” Justice Baker said.

Justice Baker urged voters to use their vote on 8 March “or else others will be deciding for you”.

Concerns about misinformation

On the potential for misinformation interfering with the referendums in March, Justice Baker said international evidence shows that there is an element of misinformation in every election. 

“Our role in referendums is to give that information in an objective and clear way and we will do that and the booklet is the start of that,” she said. 

Durable relationships – Do you get couples christmas cards?

One of the key areas of discussion ahead of the referendum has so far been the proposed change to the definition of family in the Irish Constitution.

The family amendment, the 39th Amendment of the Constitution, proposes to amend Article 41.1.1 to insert the words “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

Concerns have been raised about the word “durable” and how it is has not been defined in the proposed text.

Justice Baker made the point today that the word “durable” and the idea of durability in a relationship already has meaning in the courts. 

“They’re new words in this constitution, but they’re not new words to lawyers. And that’s important,” she said.

“The Constitution by its nature is expressed in very general terms, it has to be it’s meant to last. This one has lasted since 1937. So the terminology has to be specific but not too specific,” she said.

IMG_6300 The Electoral Commission's campaign launch today. Jane Matthews Jane Matthews

She noted that some judgements from the Supreme Court in recent years have identified “indications as to the durability of a relationship”.

For example, things like sending a Christmas card to a couple or inviting a couple to a wedding together may be an indicator of a durable relationship.

“Subjectively a relationship is durable if it’s committed, if it presents itself as committed.

“Durability can sometimes be how you’re treated by other people. Are you invited as a couple to weddings? Do people send Christmas cards to both of you? These are indicators of your commitment to one another,” she said.

National Women’s Council campaign 

Meanwhile, the National Women’s Council (NWC) also launched their campaign today supporting a Yes vote in both referendums. 

NWC Director Orla O’Connor said: “We are calling today for the sexist, stereotypical reference to women’s place in the home to be removed from the Constitution and replaced with a recognition of the shared responsibility of care.

“Article 41.2 never led to any supports for women to work solely within the home, but underpinned discriminatory practices, such as the marriage bar, and the exclusion of women from many sectors of society.”

O’Connor said an updated definition of family is also needed to reflect the “reality and diversity” of family life in Ireland today.

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