Careful wording needed for referendum on women’s ‘place’ in the home, Minister says

O’Gorman tells committee of ‘genuine risk’ that vote on removing refernce could be lost

There is a “genuine risk” that a referendum on removing a reference to women’s place being in the home from the Constitution could be lost if it is not carefully worded, Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman has said.

At the Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality on Thursday, Mr O'Gorman came under pressure from members to publish his department's proposed wording for such a referendum question, with progress on the matter described as "glacial".

The Minister said he was “unclear” as to how his department and the committee might engage on wording. He said at this stage any referendum “is potential” and that no date had been set, though he wanted one to be held next year.

“There is fairly broad acceptance and agreement we need to change the Constitution but what we are going to do is not agreed,” he said.


The newly-established committee is considering how to implement the 45 recommendations delivered by the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality last April, the centre piece of which was that Article 41.2 of the Constitution should be deleted and replaced.

The clause states: “In particular 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.”

Gender neutral

The assembly recommended it should be replaced with a gender neutral article incorporating a recognition of the value of care work.

Asked by Senator Lynn Ruane when a referendum would take place, the Minister said: "Until such time as we have a clear wording in front of us...any referendum is potential so we just have to accept that".

There were different views on wording, he said. “The problem is there hasn’t been an agreement in terms of, do we just go with deletion of Article 41.2 or do we go and replace it, and if so what with, and if so how, and what elements?

“So, I suppose I am unclear as to the role of this committee in terms of advising, engaging on the actual legislative text,” he added.

“I’d really appreciate and indeed the whole department and Government would appreciate, engagement with this committee about how we get agreed wording on the various pieces because the last thing we want is a referendum campaign where the Government is maybe arguing one side of the argument and the Opposition is arguing something else because that is almost certainly going to be lost and we will be back to square one.”


He agreed with Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield that progress towards a referendum was “glacial”.

“Why have you not brought forward a proposal on Article 41.2?” he asked.

Mr O’Gorman said that to do so while the committee was deliberating the issue would be “very disrespectful” and “confrontational”.

“I am very open to work with you to try to identify collectively how we get past that issue of 41.2 .. At some stage a choice might have to be made and it might not be everyone’s preference.”

The Minister was “very conscious” of previous referendums that had appeared uncontentious but passed by margins that were “too close for comfort”.

“I just have a real fear of a politically divided outcome in terms of the referendum and that being lost and us continuing to have women’s place in the home reflected in our Constitution…That’s a genuine risk.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times