Proposed amendment to Constitution would deny disabled people’s autonomy, says lobby group

Equality Not Care founded to campaign for a No vote in ‘care’ amendment in March 8th referendum

The Government’s proposed “care” amendment to the Constitution would deny disabled people’s “autonomy, dignity and equality”, according to a new group formed to campaign for a No vote in the forthcoming referendum next month.

Equality Not Care was founded to campaign for a No vote in the March 8th referendum and is made up of “concerned citizens including disabled people, family members providing support, and others”. Speaking to media for the first time on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the group, Ann Marie Flanagan, said the amendment “seeks to deny us the right to state support such as personal assistance services”.

In referendums on March 8th, the Government proposes expanding the definition of family in Article 41 of the Constitution to recognise those based on “durable relationships”.

The proposed care amendment involves replacing language in Article 41.2 around “duties” of women in the home with a new Article 42B, providing that the State will “strive to” support care within families.

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“We have a disability Act that is still not fully commenced, already forcing parents into court for a needs assessment for their children. What is required is constitutional obligations to provide support services to enable everyone to participate in economic, social and cultural life,” Ms Flanagan said.

“The vast majority of carers are women. The replacement wording removes any mention of economic rights and denigrates the dignity of the family,” she told reporters.

Dr Margaret Kennedy, who lives with a neuromuscular disease and is a member of the Equality Not Care group, said: “I know what it’s like to try to get services. It is a nightmare, soul destroying... You’re exhausted trying to get the basic stuff you need to get on with life. I’m voting No because I believe this will lead to no rights to independent living.

“A lot of disabled people want to live in their own home and be independent with personal assistants... When I first read the article, I was absolutely appalled. It places the responsibility on families to look after, care for those who are sick, disabled or old. If the Yes vote wins, it will enshrine in this Constitution, that the family is responsible for my life. I won’t have a say. I see this article as another attack against disabled peoples’ rights.”

Michael O’Dowd, another member, said: “We firmly oppose the notion that support should rest on families, as this unfairly entangles lives and overlooks the rights of adults with support needs to have independent lives.”

It was “imperative” that the Constitution valued and recognised everyone’s rights, including independent living support needs, he added.

The formation of the group to campaign for a No vote is the latest blow to the Government’s proposed care amendment, after two independent human rights bodies separately voiced concerns about the proposal on Tuesday.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI) criticised the proposal, with a statement from ICCL claiming the care amendment “will not provide meaningful legal protection to any person who gives or receives care”.

However, it considered the “family” amendment will expand constitutional protection for families to include those not based on marriage and said that is “very welcome”, as is the proposal to delete Article 41.2, which “negatively stereotypes women”, it said.

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Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times