The Constitution, family and care

Striving for clarity

Sir, – The Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) recently criticised the proposed wording in the care referendum for giving “constitutional expression to harmful stereotypes such as . . . that the provision of care . . . is the private responsibility of unpaid family members without any guarantee of State support” (“Legal body criticises ‘sexist’ amendment on carers”, News, February 19th). Not so. There are three constitutional models for public support of family care in Europe. The Scandinavian one makes care of older adults and adults with disabilities the primary responsibility of the state. This framework allows the state to make decisions with no regard to the family. The second approach makes care of older adults and adults with disabilities the sole responsibility of the family. We do not believe that either of these approaches reflect the wishes of Irish society. The third model makes care the primary responsibility of the family but places an onus on the state to support families in that role. This is the model that the proposed referendum makes explicit and Family Carers Ireland believes that it is the right one for Ireland.

Flac also criticised the proposed Article 42B for being “as ineffective as the current so-called ‘women in the home’ provision”. It previously suggested that the wording should read that “the State shall take reasonable measures to support care within families”. Our view is that this wording is actually weaker than the one being put to the country and we agree with the Electoral Commission that the wording of the proposed amendment is stronger than the current Article 41.2.

Flac suggested that the proposed wording promotes a “harmful stereotype of people with disabilities as the subjects of family care rather than autonomous individuals and rights-holders”. We fundamentally reject efforts to categorise people with disabilities as disenabled “subjects” of their carers. Hopefully Flac would agree that caring for children with profound additional needs – who are not yet autonomous individuals – deserves acknowledgment and support. It might even acknowledge the existence of up to 20,000 adults with profound cognitive impairment who require support to vindicate their autonomy and rights, about two-thirds of whom are, as a matter of public policy, expected to be supported by family members in doing that. The proposed amendment relates to care and, as such, it speaks to both the provider and receiver of care, thereby suggesting the State will strive to support both parties in the caring relationship.

Proponents of rights-based constitutional reform ignore the awkward fact that such an approach can only work where there is sufficient operational capacity to meet the demands such “rights” would generate. If this is not the case then the right of one individual can only be vindicated at the expense of someone else’s service as legal challenges disrupt waiting lists. Family Carers Ireland believe that the proposed amendment will enable more substantive improvements in support for caring families over time than rights-based rhetoric.


Flac criticised the new amendment as “implicitly sexist” because it implies that the responsibility to provide care rests with unpaid family members, the majority of whom are women. That majority has been cited as being as high as 98 per cent but the 2022 census recorded a gender division of 61 per cent female, 39 per cent male. In many family situations both adults share caring responsibilities on an agreed basis. More than half the family carers in Ireland – many of them women – balance their caring role alongside paid employment, whether full time or part time. Ireland is changing and there is nothing in the proposed amendment to inhibit that trajectory.

Flac states that it is “highly regrettable” that the public weren’t given the chance to vote for a straight repeal of the “sexist and offensive” reference to women’s “life within in the home” provision. That was the Government’s initial preference.

We did not agree and fought hard to persuade it, the Oireachtas and the Citizens’ Assembly that it would be better to change the sexist language but retain a constitutional acknowledgment of the importance of care in the family. We continue to believe strongly that the combined effect of the two referendums will be positive for caring families and for Irish society and that is why we are urging a Yes/Yes vote on March 8th. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Family Carers Ireland,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Citizens are being asked to vote Yes by the Government. Before people can decide they should be given a definition of a “durable relationship”.

Now it seems that we must imagine what a “durable relationship” is before they decide what way to vote. Everyone will have different takes on this.

Citizens need clarity before they head to their local polling station to vote. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.