The position of women in the Constitution


Sir, – Sonja Tiernan claims that when de Valera “oversaw the redrafting of the Constitution in 1937, women were positioned as inferior” (Opinion, August 15th). In fact, the Constitution’s treatment of women was much more nuanced and any assessment of the clauses which concern women should be undertaken with a degree of caution and be on guard against presentism.

For many, the bete noire of the 1937 Constitution is the apparently subservient role and unequal status it ascribed to women. However, the same document acknowledged women’s entitlement to vote and to serve as TDs. Its architects also saw women fulfilling a hugely important societal function within the home by protecting the family which they saw as a bedrock of society; the ideal of a woman presiding over a stable happy home accorded with the ideals of a great many women and men at the time, even if this exemplar was not often realised.

Moreover, in the Tilson case in 1951 the Supreme Court brought down the final curtain on “paternal supremacy” by relying on Article 42.1 which gave the family as opposed to the father the absolute right to determine the religious upbringing of their children.

It is unfortunate that this case is best remembered as a supposedly prime example of state backing for Catholic dogma, when in fact, it should be remembered for drawing attention to the implicit values for women contained in the Constitution regarding the education and upbringing of their own children. The Tilson case did not in itself ascribe increased personal autonomy to women; rather, the judgment called attention to what was already there. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.