Mounting anxiety in Coalition about fate of proposed referendums

Constitutional votes on deleting reference to women’s duties in home and extending definition of the family take place on March 8th

There is growing concern in Government about the fate of the proposed constitutional referendums on deleting the reference to women’s duties in the home and extending the definition of the family.

Several senior Government sources yesterday expressed scepticism about the prospects for the referendum which is expected to be held on March 8th, which is also International Women’s Day.

Legislation to approve the referendum is due to be completed in the Dáil tomorrow and will be debated in the Seanad next week.

Though several Opposition parties, including Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit, have pledged to table amendments to change the wording of the Government’s proposed constitutional change, the Coalition is not expected to accept any amendments.


Instead, it will seek to finalise passage of the referendum Bill through the Dáil when it returns after the Christmas break and push the Bill through the Seanad when that body returns next week. That would clear the way for the polling day to be designated formally.

The Electoral Commission could then begin a nationwide information campaign intended to educate voters about the proposed change to the Constitution – though not to advocate either for or against the amendment.

It will be up to the Government parties, as well as ad hoc groups and non-governmental organisations, to mount a campaign in favour of the proposals. Several organisations, including the National Women’s Council and One Family, have said they will campaign in favour. Both organisations receive substantial State funding, though they are precluded from using this for campaigning purposes.

‘Referendums that won’t grasp the imagination’

Listen | 40:26

But some senior Government sources expressed fears that the referendum would not be passed, with some comparing it to the children’s rights amendment in 2012, when a proposal to insert recognition of children’s rights into the Constitution was passed only by a narrow majority with a low turnout.

“This doesn’t enthuse people in the way that marriage equality and repeal (of the Eighth Amendment) did,” said a senior source.

“It’s a free shot to kick the Government,” said another Government source. “I’d say the chance of it passing is less than 50-50.”

Karen Kiernan, chief executive of One Family, an organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting or separating, has said the upcoming referendums on the family will form “part of the reparation process” aimed at addressing how thousands of single mothers and their children were mistreated by the State and broader society for decades.

At the unveiling of its campaign for a Yes vote in the March 8th referendums, Ms Kiernan stressed the need for a strong turnout and broad support for the measures.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times