Women in home Constitution article ‘has not delivered anything’ for any woman, says Minister

Roderic O’Gorman made comments at Law Society event discussing upcoming Family and Care referendums

The article in the Constitution which references a woman’s life and a mother’s duties in the home “has not delivered anything for any woman or any mother in this State”, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman has said.

Speaking at a Law Society event to discuss the forthcoming Family and Care referendums, Mr O’Gorman said Article 41.2, which the Government is proposing to delete, “hasn’t delivered anything, not one extra benefit for women or mothers”.

Speakers in favour of a Yes vote included Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council and Labour leader Ivana Bacik. Former European Commission secretary general Catherine Day outlined the work of the Citizens’ Assembly who recommended change.

Journalist Brenda Power and Independent Senator Rónán Mullen spoke out against the proposed changes. Mr Mullen raised concerns around proposals to expand the definition of family to include not only just marriage but also other durable relationships.


Mr Mullen said that “nobody knows” what the phrase durable relationship means and questioned whether polygamous relationships would come under the umbrella. He said he believed “the Government and all involved in the cooking up of these referendums” had “disrespected the Constitution and disrespected the people” after the Government rushed the debate “like a dose of salts” through the Oireachtas.

The Government previously said polygamous relationships will not come under the umbrella as polygamy is not legally recognised in Ireland.

The first referendum proposes expanding the definition of family in the Constitution to recognise durable relationships, such as cohabiting couples and their children. The second referendum proposes the replacing of language around “women in the home” in the Constitution with language recognising care within families.

Mr O’Gorman said there was careful consideration in choosing the wording for the referendums over a period of nine months.

“We thought very carefully about the language we were using here. One of the proposals in terms of how we recognise other families . . . was to remove the special recognition of marriage but the Government did not want to go that route. We want to broaden out the definition of the family but we didn’t think the Irish people would see it as acceptable that the special position of marriage would not be recognised.”

He said that for him and his husband, having their marriage recognised was extremely important.

“I refuse to accept this notion that by broadening recognition for those families who are not married, that we are taking anything away from those who are married – I don’t accept that.”

The issue of care was also debated during the Law Society event.

Mr O’Gorman said that as the Minister for Disability, as well as Equality, he agreed that “we don’t do enough for care. Every day I see how much more we need to be doing. What we are placing in the Constitution is a clear mandatory statement that the State shall strive to recognise that care. ‘Shall’ is a mandatory direction to the State, and ‘strive’ is a strong and sustained commitment to make changes.

“If this amendment is passed there will be that strong obligation and on future governments to support care.”

In response to questions from journalists, he said that he would keep an open mind on future supports for those in the home, such as stay at home parents, and pledged to use the next budget to better fund disability services.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the Constitution is a statement of the fundamental law of the land “and so what you see in the Constitution should reflect the values of our people.”

She said the reality of Article 41 is that “it does not reflect the values of Irish society” and that it contains an “outdated and sexist stereotype”. She said it makes no reference to fathers “who play a pivotal role in the care of children.”

Orla O’Connor said that Article 41.2 has “underpinned the problem of assuming that women will be at home. Here is an opportunity to shift that and make that change. By putting in place care in the Constitution, that gives us that opportunity for recognition. The issue of recognition of care is so important and is felt so strongly.”

Journalist Brenda Power said if there was change, “there will be no obligation ever again on the State to support women who wish to stay at home.”

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times