‘Progressive’ organisations must explain any decision not to support referendum, says Minister

Rejection of proposed changes ‘would leave status quo’ on woman’s place in the home


Organisations who regard themselves as progressive will have to explain why they want to maintain the “status quo” if they campaign against a Yes vote in the referendum on removing the article from the Constitution about a woman’s place being in the home, the Minister for Equality has said.

Roderic O’Gorman said a rejection of the changes, due to be put to the public in March, “would leave a status quo saying that you and millions of women in our country, that their duties are in the home, or indeed that tens of thousands of families aren’t actually recognised”.

Article 41.2 recognises that “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”. It is proposed that this would be deleted and replaced by an article recognising that the provision of care by members of a family “gives to society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved and shall strive to support such provision”.

Voters are also to be asked to amend Article 41.1.1, which recognises the family “as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society”. It would, instead, define the family as “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

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Some campaign groups have given a lukewarm response to the proposed changes. During an interview with The Irish Times, Mr O’Gorman said “any organisation that sees itself as progressive and as wanting to advance progressive change” would have to explain why they do not support the plans.

“Nobody loses from either of these changes. And significant number of people I think have the opportunity to gain from them,” he said.

NGOs are widely expected to campaign for a Yes vote in terms of deleting references to a woman’s role in the home. However, proposals to reform the constitutional treatment of care fell short of campaigners’ expectations.

The Government proposes to recognise that the provision of care “by members of a family to one another” gives support to society and commits the State to “strive to support such provision”. This stops short of committing to support care in the wider community.

“If the State hadn’t wanted to do something meaningful, we could have done what was proposed a couple of years ago, delete the provision, and nothing more,” Mr O’Gorman said. “We didn’t do that. We’ve put it in a brand new article and the language is that the State shall strive to support care. I think it’s very clear that there’s an obligation there that is meaningful.”

Asked if he was open to any change to the wording of the proposals, he said they would be debated in the Oireachtas early in the new year and that amendments could be suggested at that stage.

“But I think the central issue here is that both of these proposed changes have been flagged for years as something that needs to happen. And we have the opportunity to do that now,” he said.

Separately, Mr O’Gorman pledged that the redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby institutions would be ready in the first quarter of the year. He said the Government will “consider its options” if religious congregations do not adequately financially contribute towards the costs.

The Government has appointed former Irish National Teachers’ Organisation general secretary Sheila Nunan to lead negotiations with the congregations on behalf of the State. She is expected to provide a report to Mr O’Gorman on the process during the year.

“We will have to look and see if we get meaningful offers of contributions. And if we don’t, we’ll have to consider what options are available,” he said. “I know in some countries legislative changes were introduced with a view to putting pressure on institutions. But I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of these negotiations.”

On the Mother and Baby Institutions redress scheme, he said he expects applications from more than 30,000 people, including many now living overseas.

“We think maybe almost a quarter of people who were in institutions either as mothers or as children subsequently left the country,” he said, adding that an international information campaign would begin once the scheme opens.

There has been controversy over a stipulation that mothers or babies must have spent at least six months in a home to qualify for the scheme. Asked if he was open to changing this, the Minister said “legislation can always be changed” and it would be open to a future government to make decisions on it.

“There’ll be a number of reports coming out on an annual basis and then on a five-year basis from the legislation, and I suppose there’s an opportunity as those reports come out to understand its implementation.”

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