Breda O’Brien: Constitution clause ignores parents in home
Citizens’ Assembly rightly values carers but is letting economics edit out parental role
Removing any mention of parents actually weakens the Constitution’s challenge to corporate control of the shape of our working and childbearing lives.
Here’s a thought experiment about the latest offering from the Citizens’ Assembly. What are the chances that the proposed replacement for the women in the home clause in the Constitution would have specified parents and carers instead of just carers? If, as I suspect, your answer is “slim to none”, what does that tell us?
Including parents would represent the wishes of a significant proportion of the population, which is what deliberative democracy is allegedly supposed to do. Younger parents are among the most pressurised, stressed groups in the country, juggling work and childrearing and desperately trying to afford a home of their own.
Carers absolutely deserve recognition in the Constitution. Carers are often expected to shoulder superhuman burdens and to jump through bureaucratic hoops to access vital services. But expanding the category of carer to cover all caring roles, including parents, downplays the central role of parents in our society.
There are two reasons why parents will not be separately enumerated in the new constitutional amendment. The first is that the needs of the marketplace have become an insatiable monster that devours everything which cannot easily be given a monetary value. The second is the flawed nature of citizens’ assemblies, which reflect the desires of elites and lobby groups as much and sometimes more than they reflect the views of citizens.
For the dominant economic model to work, there has to be a massive provision of institutionalised childcare by the State
For decades now, there has been a relentless push to have every adult active in the paid workforce. A powerful strand of feminism believes that economic independence is one of the highest goods for women, so while paying lip-service to caring roles, it joined forces with capitalism to push women into the paid workforce.
The result for many women is delayed childbearing, having fewer children than originally planned, and a relentless pressure to be in paid work. It is not so much economic independence as economic slavery.
Most women want to use their qualifications and talents. Many would like to move in and out of the paid workplace at different stages. In particular, they would like to work fewer, more flexible hours when the demands of childrearing are heaviest.
There are some women who still aspire to work full-time in the home (and an even smaller number of men) but this has become an option available only to the very well-off or those willing to make significant financial sacrifices. So much for the mantra of choice. Removing any mention of parents actually weakens the Constitution’s challenge to corporate control of the shape of our working and childbearing lives.
The assemblies are more a reflection of the direction in which unelected elites would like to steer society than some flawless reflection of what the voting public wishes
For the dominant economic model to work, there has to be a massive provision of institutionalised childcare by the State. That is another aspiration of the Citizens’ Assembly, despite the fact that representative surveys repeatedly show that most people want their children to be cared for by someone they know or in a home-like environment when given the choice.
The second reason why parents will not be named in the proposed new wording is that despite claims to being representative and transparent, the whole citizens’ assembly process is inherently flawed.
The assemblies are more a reflection of the direction in which unelected elites would like to steer society than some kind of flawless reflection of what the voting public wishes. Sometimes the elites’ vision coincides with the public mood. Sometimes it is hilariously out-of-step.
When Irish experts are congratulating themselves on being a model for every other country in deliberative democracy, the 35th Amendment of the Constitutional Bill 2015 proposing to reduce the age at which one could become a candidate for the presidency from 35 to 21 tends to slip their minds.
This proposal emerged from a citizens’ assembly and was defeated by a margin of nearly four to one.
Imagine how refreshing it would be if a referendum proposal, meaningfully underpinning the indispensable roles of parents and carers, were put to the people
Politicians said at the time that it was overshadowed by the marriage referendum. The simpler explanation is that it was a referendum that almost no one wanted in the first place.
There are other problems. The steering expert advisory groups have enormous power in selecting who will be invited to present. The assembly on the current article did not select Curam, an Irish organisation representing women in the home. Furthermore, the pressurised timeframes are a perfect medium for encouraging groupthink. (I believe this to be true even when I agree with the outcomes.)
In addition, the Government currently controls both what issues will be put to a citizens’ assembly and what outcomes will receive attention. Consider the raft of proposals from a previous assembly on dealing with an ageing population. Then there are the proposals which could have diluted the executive’s control of power. These include initiatives like binding “preferendums”, and citizens’ voting initiatives which could lead to referendums and a proposed Citizens’ Assembly on meaningful Seanad reform. Issues like these conveniently disappear from view.
Imagine how refreshing it would be if a referendum proposal, meaningfully underpinning the indispensable roles of both parents and carers, were to be put to the people and overwhelmingly endorsed by citizens on both sides of previous constitutional battles.