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'Sexist, outdated, and going to go' - TDs clash over what's next for 'women in the home' section of Constitution

The forthcoming referendum bill was up for pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas this morning.

1 Clare Daly Source: Oireachtas.ie

JUSTICE MINISTER CHARLIE Flanagan says that the issue of Article 41.2 of the Irish Constitution is primarily one of gender equality.

Speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality this morning, Justice Minister Flanagan said that the article represents a “fundamental issue of equality” and that its removal would represent a “really good way to commemorate the centenary” of women acquiring the right to vote in Ireland.

Article 41.2, the infamous ‘women’s place in the home’ section of the Constitution, reads:

In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

Flanagan’s appearance at committee, together with representatives from the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (among others), was with regard to pre-legislative scrutiny of the 38th amendment to the Constitution Bill, which must make its way through both houses of the Oireachtas before the Irish people can have their say on Article 41.2 via a referendum.

Replace or delete?

The key regarding the Article is whether or not it will be replaced, or simply deleted from the Constitution in its entirety.

Flanagan said thea the wording of the referendum question has now been discussed a number of times at Cabinet, and said that “the pathway forward with fewest risks is deletion”.

He discussed how the issue of care in the home, and whether or not the acknowledgement of the role of carers should be enshrined in the Constitution, was now the key to the debate. 

2 Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan Source: Oireachtas.ie

He said his own approach to the coming referendum, due to be held on 26 October, had been “heavily influenced by the referendum on the Eighth Amendment”.

“My hope is that this referendum will encourage real civic engagement with regard to the discussion of gender equality,” Flanagan said.

Independent TD Clare Daly said, as the debate evolved, that she was “becoming more convinced” Article 41.2 should be replaced rather than simply removed, in order to recognise “the public good” done by the “huge area of work” that is caring within the home.

Flanagan was admonished by several TDs present, including Daly and committee chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, for the late submission of his opening statement to those present, which was only received 15 minutes prior to the beginning of the meeting.

“I didn’t get your speech so I had to take notes,” Daly said. “Everyone knows that (Article 41.2) is sexist, and outdated, and it’s going to go.”

“The point is, is it going to go or are we going to put something else in?” she asked, adding that she would like to see “something in the Constitution, I think” to acknowledge the level of “unpaid work in the home”.

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She said that she knew Flanagan was “keen to get something into the Constitution in time for the anniversary”. The Minister replied that for him it is a gender equality issue.

4 Mick Wallace Source: Oireachtas.ie

“I feel like laughing,” replied Daly. “To think that you see yourself as a champion of gender equality given some of the decisions of your government.”

Her fellow independent representative Mick Wallace added some fuel to that fire:

I find it interesting that you speak of gender equality in the workplace when the greatest barrier to that equality is the cost of childcare and your government has done bugger all about it.

Wallace added that Ireland currently has the second highest-priced childcare in the OECD.

Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O’Connor later added that in her organisation’s opinion Article 41.2 “has not supported the home and family, and in our opinion has diminished the position of women” in Irish society.

Dr Laura Cahillane of the University of Limerick’s school of law meanwhile described the Article as “an embarrassment”, and one that is “effectively useless in law”.

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