Record referendum defeats indicate voters ‘do not trust the Government’

It became clear shortly after boxes started being opened around the country on Saturday that the two proposed constitutional changes would be defeated

The referendums proposing changes to the constitutional definition of family and on the issue of care were comprehensively defeated on Saturday, with the latter rejected by a record margin.

The Government had proposed expanding the definition of family to recognise “durable relationships”, such as cohabiting couples and their children, and replacing the language around “women in the home” with wording recognising care within families.

It became clear shortly after boxes started being opened at count centres around the country at 9am on Saturday that the two proposed changes would be defeated. Early tallies showed a majority of the public had voted No to both propositions, prompting the Government to concede defeat by the afternoon, despite only one official result having been declared.

More than 67 per cent of voters opposed the family amendment, while almost 74 per cent rejected the proposed changes to care – the highest ever No vote in an Irish referendum.


National voter turnout was 44.3 per cent, compared to 64 per cent in the previous referendum in 2018 on changing Ireland’s abortion laws.

‘Two wallops’ for Government as No-No vote emerges strong

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Dún Laoghaire was the only constituency in the State to vote Yes on either proposal, with 50.29 voting in favour of the family referendum. However, the care referendum was defeated in the constituency, with 57.79 per cent voting No.

The highest No votes came in Co Donegal, where 80.2 per cent voted against the family referendum and 84 per cent voted No on the care referendum. Some 78 per cent of voters in Cavan-Monaghan voted No in the family referendum, while 81 per cent voted similarly in the care referendum.

In Laois-Offaly, 75.71 per cent voted against the family referendum and 80 per cent voted down the care referendum.

There were some narrow No votes in certain Dublin constituencies in the family referendum, including Dublin Bay South (50.35 per cent) and Dublin-Rathdown (50.60 per cent).

Some 1,021,546 people cast a No vote in the family referendum, while 487,564 voted Yes. There were 16,105 spoiled ballots.

In the care referendum, a total of 1,114,620 people voted No, while 393,053 backed the proposal. There were 17,548 invalid votes.

Before the weekend, the highest No vote in such a vote was in the 2015 referendum to lower the age for presidential candidates, at 73.1 per cent.

Speaking before the results were formally announced at Dublin Castle, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was clear that both amendments had been “defeated comprehensively on a respectable turnout”.

The Fine Gael leader said there was “no particular boost” when a government won or lost a referendum, but acknowledged it was “two wallops” for the Coalition.

Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said it was “incredible” that his party, Aontú, was the only one “that campaigned against this”.

“The people do not trust the Government, and even the main Opposition parties seem to be detached from the people and aren’t listening to them,” he said.

Senator Michael McDowell, a former minister for justice and attorney general who campaigned against the proposals, said there had been an “emphatic repudiation of what I think was unwise social experimentation with the Constitution”.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said he was “extremely disappointed” at the outcome.

“We all have to reflect on our campaign and where we could have done more to persuade people,” he said.

Despite backing a Yes-Yes vote, and previously promising to rerun the referendums if defeated, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald indicated the party would not in fact do so.

“The people have come out and they have spoken very definitively. I just want to reassure the people that there will be no attempt on our part to rerun the same questions,” she said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times