Sinn Féin promises to re-run referendums on care and family if they fail, should it be returned to government

Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman says proposal places obligation on State to strive to support care

Sinn Féin has promised to re-run referendums on care and family if they fail, should it be returned to Government after the next General Election.

Speaking at the launch of the party’s campaign for a Yes-Yes vote in the referendums to be held on March 8th, Ms McDonald sharply criticised the wording proposed by the Government, and the timing of the referendum – while urging a dual Yes vote.

“Should this fail, the question we would put would be the wording as per the Citizens’ Assembly.”

“We would return to the Citizens’ Assembly ... That’s what should be happening now. And if this is not successful, that’s where we would bring that,” she said.


The Dublin Central TD said it would be her ambition to do so early in the term of any Government Sinn Féin took part in.

She said that the removal of sexist language from the Constitution was “of course” a good thing but that Sinn Féin “did have to have a fairly detailed consideration of this”.

She said the Government had in haste failed to consult properly and adopt the work that had been done by the Citizens’ Assembly, and that she had spoken to carers who were supportive but also those who viewed the referendum on care as mere “lip service”.

“On the one hand, it represents a step forward, but on the other hand, it’s not the comprehensive, copper-fastened recognition of care, vindicating the rights of caring, carers, inside the home and beyond.”

On a recent sustained slide in polling numbers, Ms McDonald said she was “never happy” about a dip in support but that she wouldn’t “brood” over it.

“It’s now been four years since anybody went to the polls. That’s a long time to sustain a narrative of change and energy behind that,” she said, pledging to do anything she can as party leader to “re-energise the message of change”.

On the controversy over exit payments to RTÉ executives, Ms McDonald said that for senior people in the broadcaster, “accountability comes very slowly but at all”, saying there was a sharp contrast between their treatment and those who had not paid their TV licence fee and now faced being hauled before the courts.

Amid criticism of RTÉ Director General Kevin Bakhurst, Ms McDonald said she was supportive of his stated intention to reform the broadcaster but criticised delays in providing information about exit payouts for senior executives. She said she supported him on the presumption he would move forward with a change agenda.

Meanwhile, campaign for a Yes-Yes vote in the upcoming referendums has not been damaged by criticism of the proposed wording of the “care” amendment from leading civil society groups, advocates say.

Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday, Catherine Cox, head of policy with Family Carers Ireland, said the campaign had not been damaged by contributions from the Free Legal Aid Centre (Flac), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI).

“I don’t think it does, I think it’s a healthy debate ... it’s the first time that care has been discussed across the nation, it’s a healthy discussion,” she said.

In referendums to take place on March 8th, the Government proposes expanding the definition of family in the Constitution to recognise “durable relationships”, such as cohabiting couples and their children, and replacing the language around “women in the home” with language recognising care within families.

Flac has said the language proposed for insertion into the Constitution should the “care” referendum be carried is “ineffective” and “implicitly sexist”.

The ICCL said the proposed amendment “will not provide meaningful legal protection” to those who give or receive care. The ILMI confirmed it had withdrawn from the equality Coalition, an alliance of civil society groups, as it was “not in a position to endorse” a Yes-Yes vote based on “the realisation of disabled people’s rights and fully implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities”.

Asked about the criticisms on Tuesday, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said the care amendment “clearly places a new legal obligation on the State, on this Government and future governments, to strive to support care”.

Asked if he was concerned that the views of these groups could negatively impact the campaign for Yes votes, the Minister said there was “a very strong body of political and NGO support for two Yes votes”.

Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday at the launch of the Family Carers Ireland and National Women’s Council of Ireland campaign for a Yes-Yes vote, Ms Cox said: “Flac described the new language as sexist, how can they say that looking at the language that is in there already which speaks about a woman’s duties in the home?”

Shelley Gaynor, who has a disability and is a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s disability advisory committee, said Flac’s contribution was “disappointing” and that the proposed wording was a “good start”.

In a statement, Flac said its position was based on detailed human rights and legal analysis and “derived from our long-standing experience litigating on behalf of people who experience discrimination and disadvantage – including cases involving social and economic rights”.

“We asserted specifically and repeatedly in yesterday’s statement that the current so-called ‘women in the home’ provision is explicitly sexist and offensive. We are fully in favour of its deletion but not of the insertion of Article 42B,” it said.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin had said there was “a degree of absurdity” in Flac “labelling the amendments as sexist: they are not”.

In its statement, Flac said the proposed amendment gives constitutional expression to the idea that care is the private responsibility of unpaid family members, mostly women.

“We do not accept that it is absurd to describe this as ‘implicitly sexist’,” it said.

Meanwhile, a newly founded group of carers and people with disabilities, Equality Not Care, will launch its campaign seeking a No vote in the care referendum on Wednesday.

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times