The Constitution, family and carers

Family amendment has been sought for over 50 years

Sir, – I am watching with fear and trepidation the development of the debates on the upcoming referendums on Family and Care. After I had my child in 1972 as an “unmarried mother”, I established Cherish along with other mothers, an organisation still working today for one-parent families. It is now called One Family.

I was the first single mother on the Late Late Show, breaking taboos about who we were and what we looked like. As feminists we were disgusted by the sexist language in the Constitution about a woman’s role, but also knew it didn’t apply to us as we weren’t married mothers. Similarly, the marriage bar didn’t apply to us, although we still had all the problems of juggling childcare and work if we were lucky enough to keep our jobs.

Cherish heard heartbreaking stories from thousands of women and girls who were pregnant, unmarried, destitute, homeless; many of whom did not have the privilege I did to keep and raise their own child. Women whose children were removed from them, who were locked up in institutions, who were shamed and excluded from society. We did our best, but we could not help everyone and that is still a shame to me and a stain on our country to this day.

We worked collectively for decades to abolish illegitimacy, for a social welfare payment, for equality for our children, for maintenance but much more needs to be done. This family amendment has been sought for over 50 years so that our families can finally be seen as equal and as “real families”.


The misinformation and fear-mongering by the No side is scandalous, but let us remember who this amendment really for – it is for families like mine, it is for all the children born today to parents who are not married to each other, it is for all the cohabiting couples in long-term relationships – all of us want to be recognised and protected in our Constitution, as well as the married families.

I have been fighting for my rights for 53 years. Can I finally have a rest and be recognised as a family before my final rest comes? – Yours, etc,


(Founder Cherish/One Family),

Tunbridge Wells,


Sir, – As a carer, I was bemused by comments made by John Dunne, CEO of Family Carers Ireland (Letters, February 21st). Mr Dunne refers to the “awkward fact” that rights are contingent on something he called “operational capacity”. By this logic, does this awkward fact also mean, for example, that women may not be entitled to maternity leave if their employer lacks the “operational capacity” or women could be denied their right to vote because polling stations lack “operational capacity”? He goes on to say that this same “lack of operational capacity” necessitates the right of one individual being “vindicated at the expense of someone else’s as legal challenges disrupt waiting lists”. Surely the whole point of rights-based support is that the State would be legally compelled to have sufficient “operational capacity” without waiting lists and service users would receive support on the basis of their need?

He goes on to claim that he believes that the amendment will “enable more substantive improvements in supports for caring families over time than rights-based rhetoric”. This rather interesting choice of words raises the rhetorical question that if he views rights as mere rhetoric, does this mean that a rights-based service, as opposed to the current charity model, might be at odds with his organisation’s role (as stated on their website) as the Irish charity supporting carers? – Yours, etc,