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File photo: Election count in RDS.
VOICES

Debate Room The Yes and No sides set out their cases for the forthcoming referendums

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys and Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly set out the arguments for Yes and No votes on 8 March.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Feb

On 8 March, in under two weeks, the public is being asked to have their say in two separate referendum votes.

One — called The Care Amendment — proposes the removal of references to the role of women in the home from the Constitution. Those references would then be replaced with a broader recognition of the care provided by all family members.

The other referendum question — The Family Amendment — focuses on the definition of a family, broadening it out from simply being based on marriage.

These two questions and the interpretations of what the potential changes would be are quite complex and so we have asked members of the Yes and No campaign to break down the issues here in a Debate Room. The government is hoping for a Yes and Yes vote but many other interest groups are pushing hard for two No results. 

Here, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys outlines the arguments for a Yes result while Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly explains why her party is calling for two No votes on the day…

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THE ARGUMENT FOR YES

Heather Humphreys, Minister for Social Protection and Minister for Rural and Community Development and Cavan- Monaghan TD: “This vote matters”

CABINET 377_90633325 Heather Humphreys. Rolling News Rolling News

MARCH 8 REPRESENTS an opportunity for us to vote for a Caring and Changing Ireland. A Society in which every family counts and a Constitution that reflects the Ireland of the present, not the past.

Referendum on the Family

Currently, within the Constitution, we only define a family as a married couple. We are asking the public to amend the constitution to recognise that families are not just based on marriage.

Families come in many different forms today whether it is:

  • Lone parents
  • Couples who are not married
  • Grandparents who have guardianship of their grandchildren.

This referendum is about taking account of the fact that society has changed and the definition of a family needs to be updated.

It’s about supporting the families that all of us know — and who we all see and recognise as families – but currently our constitution does not.

Nobody will lose anything from the changes we are recommending, but many people will gain new rights and new recognition.

Families that are not based on marriage like those led by a grandparent or lone parent will gain constitutional recognition for the first time.

There are about a million people in the country in a family that is not a marital family. We all know them. They’re our neighbours and our friends. These are the people we are talking about when we talk about durable relations, and they deserve to be recognised in our constitution.

A Yes vote recognises that every family is different and every family counts.

It is important to remind ourselves that Marriage will continue to have a special status in our constitution, that will not change and Voting Yes will not impact succession rights that are laid down in legislation through the Succession Act.

Referendum on Care

On the 8 March, we are also asking people to remove archaic language from our constitution which refers to ‘women in the home’ and ‘mothers neglecting their duties in the home’.

We want to replace this with a new article in the Constitution recognising the value of care and support which family members give to one another, which is a foundation for solidarity and cohesion within our society.

As a woman, I am glad to have the opportunity to finally remove this outdated language from our constitution.

It has not served us well and provided many opportunities for women to be discriminated against. In the past, the marriage bar meant women had to leave work when they got married.

I worked in the financial sector where women were often not considered for promotion because many men felt they should be at home.

Women were paid less than men for doing the same job. The present wording in our constitution supported these attitudes — I say Good Riddance to it.

The care amendment will put a new article in the Constitution to reflect the modern world where care is provided by women and men. Crucially it also puts a positive obligation on the State to ‘strive to support care in the home’.

Over the last three and half years as Minister for Social Protection, I have worked with organisations like Family Carers Ireland to deliver some really important reforms that have supported family Carers such as:

  • Providing a pension to long term carers from January of this year;
  • Increasing carer’s payments by €29 per week over the last three Budgets;
  • No changes had been made to the carers allowance means test since 2007. I have increased it twice in the last 3 years so that more carers can qualify for the payment.

These measures were all introduced to recognise and support the vital role that carers play in our society.

Of course, we need to do more. The care referendum will place a further obligation on me, as Minister, and indeed on all future Governments to continue to strive to support our carers. It is an obligation I welcome.

Recognising Carers in our constitution strengthens my hand and will strengthen the hand of future Ministers to advocate for further improvements for our Carers.

This is a progressive and positive step and will finally ensure that we constitutionally recognise the vital role our carers play in our communities.

I’m asking you to vote Yes and Yes on 8 March.

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THE ARGUMENT FOR NO

Aontú Cavan Councillor, Sarah O’Reilly: “The so called ‘Care Amendment’ is a slap on the face to Carers and those in need of care”

SARAH O'REILLY Sarah O'Reilly is a councillor with Aontú. Aontú Aontú

THE SO-CALLED ‘CARE AMENDMENT’ highlights just how disconnected this government is from the people that they are supposed to serve.

The ‘Care Amendment’ will not bring any meaningful obligation on the State to support parents, children, older people or people with disabilities. This amendment insulates the government from its responsibility to provide care. It locates care purely in the family and between family members.

By insulating the government from their responsibilities, the ‘care amendment’ will result in care being delivered, in the main, by women. By refusing to provide state support to carers and those who need care, the government’s amendment is sexist.

The government amendment also disrespects people with disabilities. It codifies their care as a responsibility of families. People with disabilities should have a right to be independent individuals, not dependent on family members.

So many parents are forced, through sky-high rents and mortgages to get up at 6.30 every morning, drop their children to childcare, join the commuting hell, work a long day and do it all in reverse again in the evening. Because of economic necessity, parents hardly see their children during the week at all.

The government states that a mother’s place is where she wants to be and we agree wholeheartedly, but because of the policy of this government, so many parents don’t have the choice to spend time caring for their children.

The Constitution as it stands recognises the significant role played by mothers in the home. It says that the state will endeavour to ensure that mothers will not, because of economic necessity, be forced to work outside of the home. It offers mothers a choice.

Constitution has meaning

Governments have indeed failed to uphold this right, but Article 41.2.2 has been sighted in judgements that have protected mothers in terms of income tax and alimony. This article could have been updated by adding fathers to this protection. Instead, this government will delete the only reference to mothers from the constitution.

There is a case coming before the Supreme Court where a mother, a carer of a person who has autism and Down syndrome, is fighting for full Carers Allowance. A panel of judges accepted her appeal because it raises issues “of systemic importance” to carers. If the government’s amendment passes, this woman’s fight for support falls too.

Care has never been as undervalued in Irish society and this amendment further undermines the rights of carers and those in need of care.

The Constitution is far too important for a definition of free amendment with huge consequences. It is the fundamental legal document of Ireland. It contains the core rights of citizens and defines the responsibilities of the State. It is not the location for definition-free amendments with potentially huge consequences.

Some of the language in the relevant articles is archaic and it should be updated. Aontú would have welcomed this. But this Government’s amendments are exceptionally poorly written.

The amendments fall short

No one is sure what a ‘durable relationship’ is. This is a huge problem. Ms Justice Marie Baker from the Election Commission has stated that a ‘durable relationship’ could be defined by a couple getting a Christmas card or a couple being invited to a wedding together.

What impact will this change have on social welfare, taxation, succession, immigration, family law and beyond? Thomas Byrne, the Fianna Fáil Minister in charge of their Referendum campaign, said on RTÉ recently that a person could be in an undissolved marriage with one person, and at the same time, be in a constitutionally recognised, marriage equivalent, ‘durable relationship’ with another person. This is an incredible recipe for chaos.

The Taoiseach stated that if the referendum succeeds, that a government could prioritise a married couple over a non-married couple in law. Minister Roderic O’Gorman stated that he does not agree with this. The authors of this amendment don’t seem to agree on what a durable relationship means.

It’s not certain that families headed by a single parent will be included in this definition. The only example of the phrase, ‘a durable relation’ from previous court cases, took the term to mean an intimate or sexual relationship, which would obviously rule out families headed by a single parent.

Ministers were told that the constitutional addition of the phrase ‘durable relationships could lead to an increase in people seeking reunification with relations who have immigrated to Ireland.

A marriage revokes a will. Will a durable relationship also revoke a will? When is it durable enough to revoke a will, after four months, or six months of the relationship? Would it revoke a will of an existing undissolved marriage? What does this mean for family homes, farms and property?

The truth is, it will be left to a judge to decide. But this is the reverse of democracy. People should decide the law clearly. The judge should apply that law to specific cases. The Constitution is critical to the rights of citizens. It’s not the location for a definition free amendment with huge consequences.

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Sarah O'Reilly & Heather Humphreys
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