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referendum delay

Government accused of trying to 'press gang' committee to delete Constitutional women in the home reference

It had been suggested that the clause should be amended rather than deleted.

SINN FÉIN’S MARY Lou McDonald has said the government is trying to “press gang” an Oireachtas committee into agreeing to a simple strike out of the women in the home reference from the Constitution.

In a letter sent to TDs and senators on the Justice Committee over the weekend, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he is “gravely concerned” that the window of opportunity to hold a referendum to remove Article 41.2 of the Constitution may be rapidly closing. 

“The Referendum Commission has indicated that it needs to begin working on the referendum proposal immediately,” he wrote.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar committed to holding the referendum on the removal of the woman in the home reference in October. However, the business committee refused to grant a request to waive the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill which allows for a referendum (which is regularly requested by ministers).

Instead, the committee agreed the Bill must now go before the Oireachtas Justice Committee this month. In doing so, the referendum will now most likely be postponed.

Concerns have been raised about the proposal for a straight-forward deletion of the reference to women in the home in the Constitution.

The government decided to proceed with a proposal to delete the wording, despite concerns expressed by the Constitutional Convention and the Justice Department.

It had been suggested that the clause should be amended rather than deleted completely and that a gender-neutral clause or a reference to women caring in the home should be included. 

McDonald says committee correct in their approach

However, when asked about the possible delay of the referendum due to scrutiny of the Bill by the committee, McDonald said she believed the committee was correct.  

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is chair of the Justice Committee.

“I want to see those backward words out of our Constitution as quickly as we can remove them, but the proposal, or the growing sense of what needs to happen, is that we don’t need to simply remove those words, but we need a positive recognition and acknowledgement of caring in a non gendered way within the Constitution,” she told reporters today.

Dubbing the language that makes reference to women in the home, she said it is “sexist” but adds that care must be given in ensuring that carers are recognised. She also accused the government acting too slow on the matter.

“The government hold the reins in terms of what happens in the Dáil, they were slow off the mark in terms of getting these matters before the committee and then they came in a panic looking to press gang the committee into simply agreeing to a simple strike out from the Constitution,” said McDonald.

“So the committee have taken the view, correctly in my view, that what is required is not a delay but certainly an adequate time to consider, not just removing the obnoxious words, but also considering what is a positive, progressive wording around carers.”

Carers in Irish society that have been abandoned by successive governments, said McDonald, adding that she believes they are “worthy of recognition in Bunreacht na hEireann”.

The letter from the minister references the fact that this year marks 100 years since women in Ireland obtained the right to vote.

Flanagan said a delay in holding the referendum “would be most regrettable, given the significance of the centenary we are celebrating”.

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