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Ivana Bacik Sasko Lazarov

Ivana Bacik ‘very concerned’ Labour won’t be able to support a yes vote in care referendum

Bacik said the Irish Constitution as it stands is “an embarrassment”.

LEADER OF THE Labour Party, Ivana Bacik has said her party may not be able to support the two referendums set to take place on International Women’s Day because of concerns over the wording.

As chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality (which has now completed its work) Bacik was heavily involved in the process leading up to the referendums. 

In an interview with The Journal, the Dublin Bay South TD said although the Constitutional provisions relating to a woman’s place in the home and dealing with care are “an embarrassment”, she has serious concerns about the government’s proposed new wording.

Following recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality, voters are set to go to the polls on 8 March next year. This comes after significant delays to the publication of the proposed changes by the government.

Voters will be asked if they wish to:

  • amend Article 41 of the Constitution to provide for a wider concept of family
  • delete Article 41.2 of the Constitution to remove text on the role of women in the home, and insert a new Article 42B to recognise family care.

Draft wording of the referendums was published earlier this month but Bacik said the wording, particularly relating to recognising care, is “narrowly defined” and “weak”.

“We will be putting down amendments on the bill in the new year to strengthen the wording to bring it more into line with what we had recommended on the Oireachtas committee and which had buy-in from all the political parties and support from civil society and trade union groups too,” Bacik said.

“We’re very concerned that the government wording, particularly on the care referendum, is so narrowly defined and so weak, if I may say, that we won’t be able to see a way to support it.

“And we’re very concerned about that,” she said.

Central to Bacik’s concerns is the divergence from the wording proposed by the Oireachtas Committee and the Citizens Assembly.

She highlighted that the government’s proposed wording restricts care to care within the family and doesn’t extend to care outside of the family.

She also noted the weakening of language used in relation to care with the use of ‘strive to support’ rather than ‘take reasonable efforts to support’. 

Bacik said the Labour Party will take a decision on supporting the referendums in the new year but stressed the party wants to engage further in the process.

“I would like us to see the change made, our Constitution is, frankly, an embarrassment.

“The text in article 41.2 currently is an embarrassment, to say that we still refer to women as having a life within the home and mothers as having duties within the home and that we have no reference to fathers…So we need to change it. But it’s how we change it that’s important now,” Bacik said.


Earlier this month, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said it was “patronising” of the government to hold the referendums on International Women’s Day and dubbed the changes a “powerless amendment”. 

Cairns claimed instead that if the government really wanted to do something meaningful for women, they would instead make a commitment to implement the findings of a recent review into abortion services. 

Bacik said she didn’t agree that holding the referendum on 8 March was patronising but agreed that the abortion review recomendations need to be implemented without delay.

“I want to see the recommendations of the abortion review implemented without delay. I mean, I’m someone who has campaigned for over 30 years on abortion rights at a time when it was not at all popular. And so I am absolutely convinced of that need in advance of International Women’s Day.

“I don’t think it’s patronising to hold the referendum on International Women’s Day frankly. I think it’s positive that we’re seeing a referendum held. I wanted it held in November of last year, and all of the committee wanted that,” she said.

Proposed wording

As it stands, the government is proposing to ask voters to accept the following changes to the Constitution on 8 March:

Family Amendment

To amend Article 41.1.1 to insert the words “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

It also proposes the deletion of the words “on which the Family is founded” from Article 41.3.1.

Care Amendment

To delete Article 41.2 from the Constitution and insert an Article 42B with the following wording:

‘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.’

Speaking earlier this month when the referendum was confirmed, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “We firmly believe that passing these events will reinforce the fact that Ireland is a modern, inclusive nation that strives to treat and care for all of its people equally.”

“It’s crucial that we listen carefully to people in groups who may oppose these proposals and give them a fair hearing. We’re all aware that it’s far too easy for debate to become polarised. And the only way to avoid this is to participate in an informed, respectful conversation with everyone concerned,” he added.

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