Expectation mounts that referendum on women’s ‘duties in the home’ unlikely in 2023

Doubts linger in Coalition on whether vote will happen at all despite anticipated pledge to schedule referendum in 2024

A woman drops her vote into the ballot box during the vote on the European Union's fiscal treaty referendum at a Polling Station in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday, May 31, 2012. The Irish vote on the European Union's latest treaty today, with polls indicating they will endorse measures designed to ease the euro region's debt crisis. Photographer: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

The Government is expected to confirm on Tuesday that the proposed referendum on deleting the reference to women’s “duties in the home” in the Constitution will not go ahead this year.

Instead, the Government is expected to commit to bringing forward the referendum next year. However, there are continuing doubts in Government about whether the vote will take place at all.

The referendum was promised earlier this year by the Government, following recommendations from a Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality. In July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was the Coalition’s intention to hold the referendum in November.

Significant unease

But agreeing on a precise wording for the constitutional change has proved difficult, with senior officials due to meet again this week on the issue. Senior sources said it was hoped that agreement could be reached this week, but there is significant unease that a referendum campaign could veer into debates on family and gender, issues that have proved highly contentious in other countries.


Senior politicians have previously told The Irish Times about their fears that a referendum campaign could mean Ministers being confronted with questions about gender and family definition, to which they do not have ready answers.

It is understood that legislation providing for the referendum will be part of the legislative programme to be approved by the Government on Tuesday. But it will not be scheduled to be passed by the Oireachtas before Christmas. A Bill must be passed by the Oireachtas before any referendum can be held.

After extensive deliberations, a Citizens’ Assembly reported in June 2021 that the Constitution should be amended to refer explicitly to gender equality and non-discrimination. It also said article 41 of the Constitution, which refers to the family, should be amended “so that it would protect private and family life, with the protection afforded to the family not limited to the marital family”.

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It said that article 41.2, which refers to women’s “duties in the home”, should be deleted and replaced with language “that is not gender specific and obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community”.

Meanwhile, director of the Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O’Connor has said the wording of a referendum concerning the role of women in the home needs to be well thought out and sufficient time be given for the public to consider any proposed changes. If a referendum is to go ahead early next year then the wording needs to be published in the next few weeks to allow sufficient time for a national conversation, she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Time to reflect

“It’s very important that the public has time to consider the changes and that we’ve time for that national conversation in terms of what’s involved. This really is a significant referendum. We’ve known for a long time that we need to remove Article 41.2, which relates to very much saying a women’s role is in the home. And, you know, the National Women’s Council is very clear, we want to see that out. But also, significantly, is the inclusion of the value of care and recognising the importance of care in our society.”

The diversity of families also needed to be recognised, she said.

Ms O’Connor said the advice from the Electoral Commission needed to be taken into account with regard to the wording and format of the referendum, but the important thing was that there be a 16 week lead in time to ensure “there is that conversation.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times