Roderic O’Gorman admits there may be need for future constitutional change for those with disabilities

The Minister for Disability has said the proposed referendum change is ‘about recognising care’ but there may be ‘a very good case’ for a Constitutional change recognising people with disabilities

The Minister for Disability Roderic O’Gorman has admitted that Ireland is “falling down in terms of our response to disabled people” and that there may need to be another Constitutional amendment in future.

Speaking at the University of Galway on Tuesday evening, Minister O’Gorman said that one of the proposed amendment to the Constitution being voted on in the March 8th referendums was focused on care and that there is a need for a future amendment focused solely on people with disabilities.*

His comments follow the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) expressing concern and stating that it would not be supporting the proposed amendment on carers describing it as “ineffective” and “implicitly sexist”.

Flac said that the care amendment is unlikely to provide carers, people with disabilities or older people with new enforceable rights or improved services from the State.

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This position was echoed by both the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI), with neither organisation now backing a Yes vote on the amendment.

In referendums, 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.

While recognising the concerns raised by Flac and other groups, Minister O’Gorman said that he did not believe that the “worst-case scenario” suggested by the groups would occur.

“I am very conscious of the issues that these organisations have brought forward,” he said.

“I don’t agree with the worst-case scenario that they have brought forward, I don’t believe that that will happen because that is not the direction of travel politically or legally.”

The Minister also highlighted the need for a future referendum to strengthen the position of people with disabilities.

“Every day I am acutely aware of where Ireland is falling down in terms of our response to disabled people and we are taking steps to change that,” he said.

“This is not a disability amendment to our Constitution, this is a care amendment. There may be a very good case for a specific disability amendment to our Constitution but that is not what we are seeking to achieve. This is about recognising care.”

He went on to say that a specific amendment on disability is something that he has “been thinking about” and that “there something more we need to do constitutionally [for people with disabilities] “.

Speaking at an event organised by the School of Law at the University of Galway, Minister O’Gorman said that the carers amendment would empower politicians to make positive changes for people with disabilities.

“I believe that this [proposed change to the Constitution] will be important to empower me, and whoever succeeds me as Minister for Disability, to advocate for more investment in the supports and policies that can empower people with disabilities. I see that as being part of this amendment,” he said.

“Politicians and policymakers will draw strength if this amendment is passed, but ultimately, people with disabilities will have an avenue to go to the courts, which they don’t currently have and I think that that is important.

“I respect the fact that many disability activists would like to see us go further. I do believe in progressive change and advancing things bit by bit. It’s not perfect, I’m not saying that it is perfect.”

*This article was amended on February 21st to correct an error in the reporting of Mr O’Gorman’s comments

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