Care amendment criticised by two more bodies in further blow to Yes Yes referendum campaign

Tánaiste disputes claim by Free Legal Advice Centres that ‘care’ amendment is sexist


The campaign for a Yes vote to the Government’s proposed “care” amendment to the Constitution has suffered a further blow after two independent human rights bodies separately voiced concern about the proposal.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI) outlined their positions on Monday in the wake of criticism of the care amendment by the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac).

In referendums on March 8th, the Government proposes expanding the definition of family in Article 41 of the Constitution to recognise those based on “durable relationships”.

The proposed care amendment involves replacing language in Article 41.2 around “duties” of women in the home with a new Article 42B providing that the State will “strive to” support care within families.


In a statement on Monday following a legal analysis of the proposals, Flac supported the family amendment but described the care amendment as “ineffective”, “implicitly sexist” and potentially compromising of the rights of people with disabilities.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Monday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin rejected Flac’s criticism of the care amendment.

“I thought it was more of a political statement by Flac than a legal one, and I was taken aback by the suggestion that the proposed amendments were sexist,” he said. “I would take an opposite view to that, and I would reject the assertions by Flac.”

There was “a degree of absurdity in labelling the amendments as sexist: they are not”, he said. The proposed changes “eliminate language that is archaic, in respect of the duties of women”, he said.

In a statement to The Irish Times, the ICCL confirmed that its position on the referendums remains as set out in a note issued previously to members by its executive director Liam Herrick.

The ICCL considered the care amendment “will not provide meaningful legal protection to any person who gives or receives care”, the statement said.

However, it considered the “family” amendment will expand constitutional protection for families to include those not based on marriage and said that is “very welcome”, as is the proposal to delete Article 41.2 which “negatively stereotypes women”, it said.

Article 41.2 provides the State shall “endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties within the home”.

Based on its analysis, the ICCL said it will not be taking part in the referendum campaign but hoped it is “well informed, and that human rights and equality are given meaningful consideration during the debates”.

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In the lead-up to the referendums, it made submissions to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality and the Government’s Inter-Departmental Group, the ICCL noted. The Government, it said, “should have gone further to implement the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and Oireachtas Committee” which would have represented “a more legally impactful proposal”.

Separately on Monday, in response to queries from The Irish Times, the ILMI confirmed in a statement that it has withdrawn from the equality coalition, an alliance of civil society groups campaigning for equality, “as we are not in a position to endorse a YES YES campaign based on the realisation of disabled people’s rights and fully implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities”.

The board of ILMI had on February 7th last unanimously voted it has “no position as an organisation” on the forthcoming referendums and it reiterates that position, the statement said. It encouraged disabled people to register and exercise their right to vote, describing the referendums as “deeply personal matters to each individual”.

Working with other organisations in the equality coalition before the referendum wordings issued, the ILMI had built a shared understanding of the term “care” to mean a “system that empowers disabled people, older people, and anyone who needs support to live and be included in their communities”, it said. This was “consistent with the Citizens’ Assembly on Care and recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee”.

After the wording of the care referendum “fell short” of what the ILMI and other equality organisations were calling for, the equality coalition lobbied politicians for amendments “to reflect our values about the supports people need, including disabled people, to live and be included in their communities”.

Despite much political support, no amendments were accepted, it said.

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Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times