Family referendums will be ‘part of reparations’ for past mistreatment of single mothers and children, parents’ group says

One Family organisation calls for a yes vote in the family and care referendums being held on March 8th

The upcoming referendums on the family will form “part of the reparation process” aimed at addressing the manner in which thousands of single mothers and their children were mistreated by the State and broader society for decades, the chief executive of One Family has said.

At the unveiling of its campaign for a Yes Yes vote on the family and care referendums on March 8th, Karen Kiernan, chief executive of the organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting or separating, stressed the need for a strong turnout and broad support for the measures.

Last month the Government approved the publication of the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (The Family) Bill 2023 and the Fortieth Amendment of the Constitution (Care) Bill 2023.

The public are being asked to amend Article 41 of the Constitution to provide for a wider concept of family and to 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.


Ms Kiernan pointed to the “stigma, the legal discrimination, loss of jobs, homes and families” that so many women have encountered.

She highlighted the suffering of women who “could not keep and raise their own children” and were “incarcerated” in mother and baby homes” where they were “sometimes forced into the adoption of their children, where they were shamed, mistreated and punished”.

Ms Kiernan said although there was now broad acceptance that their mistreatment was “very wrong” – noting commissions of investigation, redress schemes and a national remembrance centre – the vote on broadening the definition of the family in the referendum could be “part of this reparation process for what was done to the children and their parents”.

She said parents and children “should never have to feel shame for the family they were born into” and pointed out that more than 40 per cent of children were born to parents who are not married last year “and they’re not protected or recognised in our Constitution”.

“Their families are not recognised or protected and long-term loving couples who are not married are not recognised or protected. And in 2024, This just can’t be good enough. Our Constitution belongs to all of us. And it should reflect the realities of our lives today and society.”

Voters are to be asked in March to amend Article 41.1.1 of the Constitution, which currently recognises the family “as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society”, to define the family as “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

A separate referendum will address Article 41.2, which currently recognises that “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”.

This would be deleted under the proposals to be put to a vote next year. A new article, 42B, which recognises that the provision of care by members of a family “gives to society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved and shall strive to support such provision”, would be inserted.

Ms Kiernan said she was looking forward to “robust debates on the issues raised by the referendum”, and she called on all political parties “to commit to a range of practical measures to improve lives such as public childcare equality for children in the parental leave their families can get, for unmarried parents to get similar supports, and social welfare and tax codes to recognise and support kinship carers and more”.

She also pointed to the “sexist language about women in the home” that makes “absolutely no allowances for the mothers who are parenting on their own”.

She said One Family supports the “gender neutral recognition of care” and for the role of men caring for their children. She called on people to check the voting register and for people “to speak to friends and family and colleagues to raise awareness of the importance of the referendum and the need to go out and vote yes, yes”.

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Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast