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Three weeks out, here's a roundup of where the politicians fall on the family and care referendums

We’re just three weeks out from the vote in March.


WITH LESS THAN a month to go before voters go to the polls on 8 March, the first campaign posters for the two referendums have been spotted on the lamp-posts around the country.

This week saw two government parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, launch their Yes Yes campaigns in Dublin.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned there will be people attempting to use upcoming referenda on the rights of families as “red herrings” to mislead voters.

Meanwhile Micheál Martin said he hopes for “humane and respectful” debate as he warned about the risk to voters of disinformation.

He also defended his decision to appoint Minister of State Thomas Byrne as director of elections for the referendums, while making a jibe at some comments made by Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh about his party being “male, pale and stale”. 

On International Women’s Day, on 8 March, voters will be asked to decide whether they want to accept changes to the Irish Constitution relating to the provision of care and a woman’s place in the home. 

Voters are being asked if they want to:

  • amend Article 41 of the Constitution to provide for a wider concept of family (i.e. not one only based on marriage)
  • 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

Since the first Dáil debate on the referendums, which included discussions on what a ’durable’ relationship’ is, ‘throuples’, care and women’s place in the home, momentum has been building. 

So who else is in the Yes camp?

The remaining coalition partner, the Green Party has also backed a ‘Yes Yes’ vote for both referendums.

Labour has backed the Yes campaign for both referendums despite the party’s amendments to the wording of the referendums not being accepted.

The party leader Ivana Bacik agreed that the substantial changes to the Constitution are long overdue and worthy of support.

Similarly, People Before Profit and the Social Democrats have also reluctantly backed the Yes vote, having also raised concerns about the proposed wording and whether it goes far enough.

Before this week, there was some confusion about where Sinn Féin would end up.

Housing spokesperson for the party Eoin Ó Broin told reporters that the party was backing a Yes vote, prior to the final sign-off by Sinn Féin’s Ard Chomhairle.

In the end, the meeting went ahead, and in a press release issued on Monday, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said that “despite considerable disappointment with how the government has handled the upcoming proposals for constitutional change, Sinn Féin has decided to support a yes vote in both referendums”.

She went on to state that it was “missed opportunity” to guarantee and vindicate the rights of carers and those with disabilities.  

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“During the debates in the Oireachtas on the referendum Bills last month, we in Sinn Féin supported the broad intent of both proposals, but also posed questions, sought clarifications and raised concerns. 

“It is clear that the questions to be put to the people in upcoming referendums are not reflective of either the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly or the subsequent cross-party Oireachtas Committee Report. That is regrettable,” she said. 

McDonald said she had hoped that more substantive questions could be put to the people, stating that the question for Sinn Féin is do they support some change or no change at all.

“We have come to the decision to support the upcoming proposals on the basis that some change is better than none,” she said.  

The party will launch their Yes campaign next week and it is understood that the party will be out canvassing on that premise, despite the party voicing their reservations on the wording not going far enough.

The No side and potential No camps


The Aontú party leader Peadar Tóibín told The Journal that members will be canvassing for a No vote and they hope to put up some posters in the run up to the election.

He said the language in the amendments proposed for the referendums is “unclear and confused and seriously questions the government’s competency”.

“We would have welcomed a common-sense update to reflect a modern Ireland. But these Government’s amendments are exceptionally poorly written,” he said in a statement this week setting out his party’s position.

“No one is sure what ‘durable relationship’ is. This is a huge problem. It will have unpredictable effects.  We don’t know what it means in terms in terms of social welfare, taxation, succession, immigration, family law and beyond. Its not at all clear that families headed by a single parents will be included in this definition,” he added.   

074Pro-Life Campaign National Conferences_90665379 Peadar Toíbín

He said the amendment is so confused that the the debate as drifted into the surreal with bizarre conversations on ‘throuples’.

“We are told that a judge, in the future will decide what the phrase durable relationship means. But this is a reverse of democracy. In a democracy it is up to the people to decide the law clearly. Its then the job of the judge to apply the law to society. The Constitution is far too important for this amateurish effort,” he said. 

Rural and Regional Independent Groups

The Rural Independents Group of TDs (Mattie McGrath, Carol Nolan, Michael Healy-Rae and Danny Healy-Rae) do not have an agreed campaigning position on this issue, instead each TD will vote individually. 

However, the group has previously raised concerns about the referendums being “rushed” and said they believe the proposed changes will undermine the role of the family, carers, and women in Irish society.

Speaking to The Journal, McGrath said he will be advocating for a No vote in both referendums but will not be taking his campaign to the doorsteps of voters.

McGrath said the referendums are “totally unnecessary” and will not do anything for women. 

He added: “People are very angry with the Government, it might go against them because of that.”

McGrath also made the point that Independent TD for Galway Catherine Connolly has also raised concerns about the proposed new wording and said it is unusual for them to be on the same side of an issue. He said this shows the severity of it. 

Similarly, the Regional Independents group consisting of Cathal Berry, Sean Canney, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten and Matt Shanahan, is leaving it up to each individual as to how they vote.

The group won’t be advocating one way or the other, it is understood. Murphy told The Journal that she is yet to make up her mind as to how she will vote, while Naughten said he won’t be campaigning and will leave it to his constituents to decide their own viewpoint.

Independent Ireland 

The party made up of Michael Collins, Richard Donohoe and its newest member Michael Fitzmaurice is yet to formally declare a party position, with Collins telling The Journal that a decision will be reached next week. 

However, he said it looked like the party could be leaning towards a ‘No’ vote, though he said they are “taking stock” and consulting with legal experts to “make sure that we’re doing the right thing”. 

Collins said from he could see, a lot of parties are agreeing with the government position and are campaigning for a yes vote.

“But they were the ones who were looking for for the pre-legislative scrutiny and they were looking for amendments,” Collins said, before adding that he is taking further advice on the matter. 

Independent Senator Tom Clonan

Independent Senator and disability rights activist told The Journal that he is not part of any ‘No’ vote campaign, stating that it is a conscientious matter as to how someone chooses to vote, but he will be voting no specifically in the upcoming referendum on care. 

Clonan told the Seanad that he believed we could do better in terms of the wording, stating that he believes it reinforces inequality. The senator said he is still reflecting on how he will vote in the upcoming referendum on family.

Independent Senator Michael McDowell

Writing in The Irish Times, the senator, barrister and former justice minister and Attorney General, said “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it: voting No is wisest option in upcoming blindman’s buff referendums”.

However, it is not just there that the senator has put forward his viewpoint: 

He said the family referendum is not merely a step into the “known unknown” – but into an entirely foreseeable and avoidable mess.


Independent TD Catherine Connolly

Speaking in the Dáil during a debate on the referendums, Connolly, a former barrister, said that while she is “not happy” with the current ‘women in the home’ language in the Constitution, she would “take her chances” with it rather than accepting the government’s “wishy washy” replacement. 

Speaking with The Journal last month, Connolly said she has no issue with voting ‘Yes’ on the referendum on family, but is yet to make her mind up on whether she will support the referendum on ‘women in the home’, given the concerns outlined above. 

Christina Finn and Jane Matthews