Equality referendums: campaign groups, Labour call for publication of wording

Ivana Bacik accuses Government of ‘unjustifiable foot-dragging’, National Women’s Council wants vote to be held in February 2024

Campaign groups and politicians are putting pressure on the Government to publish wording for referendums on equality including replacing the constitutional provision on women in the home.

The National Women’s Council (NWC) wants the wording published next month at the latest to allow for the referendum to be held in February next year.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Ivana Bacik criticised the delay in finalising the questions being put to the people accusing the Government of “foot-dragging” that is “unconscionable and unjustifiable”.

There is likely to be two referendums on equality issues early in the new year.


A Citizens’ Assembly report in June 2021 said Article 41 of the Constitution, which refers to the family, should be amended “so that it would protect private and family life, with the protection afforded to the family not limited to the marital family”.

It said Article 41.2, which refers to women’s “duties in the home”, should be deleted and replaced with language “that is not gender specific and obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community”.

Back in March Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the intention to hold referendums this November but wording promised by Government before the summer recess did not materialise.

Minister for Children, Inclusion and Equality Roderic O’Gorman said at the weekend the poll would take place in the new year.

Senior officials are due to hold a meeting on the issue of the wording again today, and there are hopes that an agreement can be reached this week.

However, there is also significant unease that a referendum campaign could veer into debates on family and gender, issues that have proved highly contentious in other countries.

There have been some doubts within Government about whether the vote will take place at all.

Ms Bacik, who chaired the joint Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality – which put forward proposed wording – said she has concerns the referendum will not happen.

She said the wording must be published “as soon as possible” adding: “we cannot understand why it’s taking so long. It isn’t rocket science. There has been a huge amount of groundwork done and you need to just get on with it now.”

She was speaking as representatives of campaign groups including the NWC; trade union Siptu; One Family – an organisation representing one-parent families; and Treoir – which represents unmarried parents, gathered outside Leinster House on Wednesday to call for the publication of referendum wording.

NWC director Orla O’Connor said she is confident the Government will come up with wording and that the referendum will happen.

She said there are recommendations from a Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality as well as suggested wording from the Oireachtas Committee “so there is absolutely no reason why wording can’t be published and can’t be published quite soon”.

Ms O’Connor said it is important the public has time to consider the wording and that it must be published in October if there is to be a vote in February – as the NWC now hopes.

She referred to the Electoral Commission’s desire to have 16 weeks to conduct a proper information campaign and said “we need to take their advice”.

Siptu honorary president Mary O’Sullivan said the ‘women in the home’ wording in the Constitution is “outdated” and the change the union is asking for is so the wording is “brought in line with what today’s modern life is”.

Damien Peelo of Treoir said family life is “increasingly diverse” and the number of children born outside of marriage is rising, with 43 per cent registered in 2022.

Calling for wording to be published, he said: “The upcoming referendum is our chance to reflect this reality of family life in our Constitution and recognise all family types equally, including but not limited to the family based on marriage.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times