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Left to right: Ann Marie Flanagan, Michael O’Dowd and Dr Margaret Kennedy outside Leinster House last month Brian Lawless/PA Images

'Disabled people are not a burden': Campaigner thanks public for resounding No vote

The Care and Family referendums were both comprehensively defeated.

A LACK OF recognition that the State has a responsibility towards disabled, sick and elderly people was one of the main reasons the Care referendum was resoundingly defeated, a leading No campaigner has said.

Dr Margaret Kennedy, one of the founders of the Equality Not Care group, thanked the public for listening to disabled people’s concerns.

Speaking on Today with Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio 1, Kennedy said the proposed amendment classed disabled people as “burdens” on their families and society.

“We felt like we were a burden, that we were being cast as burdens on society. And so families would look after us, but the State wouldn’t. There was no recognition that the State had any responsibility for disabled citizens or sick citizens or elderly citizens.”

A total of 1,114,620 people (73.93%) voted No in the Care referendum, compared with 393,053 Yes voters (26.07%). This marks the highest ever percentage No vote of the 38 referendums that have taken place in the history of the State.

The proposed amendment, if passed, would have seen the deletion of reference to woman’s “life within the home” and her “duties in the home”.

A new Article 42B would have said the following: “The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

‘Ableism is a disease’

Kennedy was one of the many disability rights campaigners to criticise the use of the word “strive”, saying it wouldn’t place any onus on the State to actually help carers or people who require care.

She said there now needs to be a wider conversation around ableism and how society treats disable people.

Ableism is the notion that society is run by and for only people who are well and not disabled. Ableism is a very, very big sword that’s chopping us to pieces here.

“Non-disabled people really must understand that ableism – that is the exclusion of disabled people and ill people and older people – is actually very, very rooted in politics.

“We have to get it out of politics. We have to get out of education. We have to get it out of medicine.

“It is almost like a disease in its own right that is eating away at the whole community.”

Speaking on the same programme, Aideen Hayden, former chair of Threshold (the national housing charity) and former Labour senator, said the landslide No/No was “a failure of wording” and “a failure of communication”.

“The real issue was that people felt something was being taken away from them, rather than something was being given to them,” she said.

Hayden campaigned for a Yes/Yes vote, as did the Labour Party.

The Family referendum proposed extending the constitutional definition of families beyond those based on marriage to those also based on “durable relationships”. It was rejected by 67.7% of voters amid concerns about issues such as succession laws. 

Hayden believes the Government went into the referendum campaign “in all sincerity” but didn’t do “the work that they needed to do”.

“The Government were happy to just take high level aspirations and not put in the work to say, ‘Okay, what does a durable relationship look like?’

“Let’s put forward an explanation as to what that is, whether that be legislative explanation or, you know, the grounds of what could be a potential piece of legislation,” she said.

When conceding defeat yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government clearly “got it wrong”.

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