Government to proceed with referendum on woman’s place in home

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan proceeds with deletion despite concerns

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is to seek Cabinet approval on Thursday to proceed with a referendum on the Constitutional reference to a woman’s place in the home. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is to seek Cabinet approval on Thursday to proceed with a referendum on the Constitutional reference to a woman’s place in the home. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

The Government is to proceed with plans to delete the reference to a woman’s place in the home from the Constitution.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is to seek Cabinet approval on Thursday to proceed with the referendum, scheduled for October 26th alongside a vote on the offence of blasphemy.

Mr Flanagan’s decision is in spite of concern raised as to why the Government chose to ignore the advice of the Constitutional Convention and its own departmental taskforce on the matter.

Both the convention and the Department of Justice had advised against repeal simpliciter, instead recommending making the Constitutional clause gender neutral or including carers both “in the home” and “beyond the home”.

The proposal came before Cabinet two weeks ago but did not pass as the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty argued for input from the Oireachtas women’s caucus.

Mr Flanagan met with the grouping last week and outlined his proposal. The group will meet again on Wednesday to decide how to proceed.

Government sources said it is their belief amending the wording would be a “legal quagmire for the Department of Justice and Social Protection”.

“It would open the State open to a number of unintended consequences. A straight forward deletion is the best option available to us.

“There is a financial implication but in reality, the main argument was that amending it would create a series of difficulties that the State is not prepared to take,” the source added.

Article 41.2 of the Constitution refers to a woman’s place in the home. It says 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,” it continues.

The Constitutional Convention examined this issue and reported to the government in 2013. Some 88 per cent of members voted against its inclusion in the Constitution.

Meanwhile, 98 per cent voted in favour of amending the wording to render it gender-neutral. It was also proposed to include other carers both “in the home” and “beyond the home”.

The proposal for deletion has been questioned by a number of female TDs and Senators privately.

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, deputy chairwoman of the woman’s caucus, said members would discuss the matter in detail today.

Ms Corcoran Kennedy told The Irish Times some TDs and Senators questioned the Minister’s decision and others raised whether carers should receive another form of Constitutional protection.

“Some people think repeal simpliciter is fine, others think that there should be a plan to insert caring in another section in the Constitution. This is what we will discuss in detail and decide the course of action,” Ms Corcoran Kennedy added.

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said she was in favour of straightforward deletion, arguing the 81-year-old clause should never have been inserted in the Constitution.

It was inserted in a different era and reflects a patriarchal society that no longer exists, Ms Noone added.

The vote will take place at the same time as a referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution. The votes on the two topics may coincide with a presidential election, if one takes place.

Voters will be asked whether Article 40.6.1 (i) should be retained in the Constitution.

Blasphemy is defined as “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”.