Referendum profiles: The No campaign’s key players and moments

Spoils of victory have been picked up by those individuals and groups who urged the public to mark X in their No columns

The manner of the defeats of the family and care referendums has left plenty of political egg on face to go around. The proposals had the backing of the three Government parties as well as Sinn Féin, most of the rest of the Opposition and a range of well-known campaign groups, but this ultimately counted for little.

Instead, the spoils of victory have been picked up by individuals and groups who urged the public to check the No columns of their ballot papers on Friday.

But who are they, and what were their key moments during the campaign?

Michael McDowell

A well-known, albeit sometimes polarising political figure, Senator Michael McDowell was possibly the No side’s most effective performer.


Having previously served as attorney general, minister for justice and tánaiste, he holds significant political pedigree and his intellectual horsepower on constitutional matters is well-established.

It appears this resonated with voters, who were fed a steady drip of McDowell’s opinions on the airwaves and on the pages of the country’s newspapers right the way through the campaign. In particular, his interventions and raising of questions about whether “throuples” would be deemed “durable relationships” seem to have struck a chord.

The former Progressive Democrats leader dismantled one of the central tenets of the Yes campaign – the argument that the present article 41.2 is a “stereotypical reference to women’s place in the home”.

McDowell rejected this as simply “untrue” in a column for The Irish Times, replete with convincing sourcing to back up his argument. He pointed out that former chief justice Susan Denham had previously said “article 41.2 does not assign women to a domestic role”.

“Article 41.2 recognises the significant role played by wives and mothers in the home,” she said. “This recognition and acknowledgment does not exclude women and mothers from other roles and activities.”

Peadar Tóibín

The Aontú leader, the party’s solitary representative in the Oireachtas, has enjoyed a timely moment in the sun during these campaigns, with local and European elections coming around the corner.

In 2018, the Meath West TD, regarded as a social conservative, left the Sinn Féin ranks due to differences of opinion ahead of the referendum that year on repealing the constitutional ban on abortion. That vote went against his position, but he went on to found Aontú and held his Dáil seat.

Aontú was the only party to push for a No-No vote, and Tóibín has been quick to point out that his party may have a better grasp of public sentiment than its more established rivals, albeit a conclusion made on the basis of these two rather confined issues.

Aontú says it stands for “life, unity and economic justice in Ireland”. The weekend’s results will give him hope that there is a not insignificant constituency on the same page as his party, on some issues at least.

Tóibín was instrumental in portraying the message during this campaign that unintended consequences could follow Yes votes, which appears to have struck a chord with some voters. He made the point that recognising “durable relationships” could result in a “solicitors’ paradise”.

Tom Clonan

Speaking privately, one Government figure who was fresh from canvassing this week said the arguments being put forward by Senator Tom Clonan on the care referendum had really cut through with the public.

Clonan argued that the proposed article 42B “gives constitutional expression to an ableist view that disabled citizens must rely on family members for care – and deliberately excludes the right to an independent, autonomous life in the community”.

His arguments resonated deeply with some, and he performed well in debates which gave further heft to the No campaign.

Clonan was elected to Seanad Éireann in March 2022. He is a carer for his son Eoghan, a third-level student who has a neuromuscular disease and is a wheelchair user. He is also well regarded for his work as an Army whistleblower on gender-based violence, and as a campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities. He is a strong advocate for Irish military neutrality.

Maria Steen

This was not a first referendum campaign for Maria Steen, a full-time homemaker with links to the conservative Iona Institute think-tank, which campaigned against same-sex marriage and the liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws in the not-so-distant past.

She put in an impressive performance for the No side during an RTÉ Prime Time debate in the run-up to the abortion referendum, with some saying she had been more successful than many other repeal opponents at winning over some of the undecided.

Her main intervention during the latest campaign again came during a Prime Time debate, this time facing off against Tánaiste Micheál Martin, whom most observers agreed had a poor night.

In one bad-tempered exchange, Martin accused Steen of having been a “prophet of doom” in previous referendum campaigns, while Steen retorted that Martin had failed to do anything to make it easier for mothers who wished to stay at home to do so.


Flac – the free legal advice centres – is an independent, voluntary organisation, with the stated aim to “promote equal access to justice for everybody”.

A legal analysis carried out by Flac on the referendum proposals led to it supporting the proposed “family” amendment, but not the “ineffective” and “implicitly sexist” amendment on carers.

In a campaign where the Yes side put heavy emphasis on the importance of the public consuming clean information from reliable sources, this was a bitter blow for the campaign to take.

Flac seeks to open up access to the courts and legal mechanisms of the State to ordinary citizens, many of whom would ordinarily baulk at the complexity of the language and systems underpinning Ireland’s legal system.

It said it would not be engaging in campaigning – something which may have given its position further credibility in some circles – but argued the care amendment was unlikely to provide carers or people with disabilities with new enforceable rights or improved services. Flac further added that the proposal would give constitutional expression to “harmful stereotypes” in care provision, and that it “potentially compromises” the rights of people with disabilities.

Equality Not Care

Equality not Care was set up specifically to campaign for a No vote in the care referendum.

During its launch at Buswells Hotel in Dublin, it said it was made up of “concerned citizens”, disabled people and their family members who provide support. The group said it was currently self-funded.

Equality not Care described the amendment as ageist and ableist, saying it discriminated against disabled people and their family members. It said it would perpetuate the notion of people with impairments being burdens on families rather than equal rights holders.

Instead, it called for a referendum that “expresses a modern interpretation of equality of the sexes with due regard for intersectionality” as protected in Ireland’s equality legislation.

Of the amendment and proposed insertion of a new article, its spokeswoman Ann Marie Flanagan said: “42B seeks to deny our autonomy, dignity and equality”, adding that it “also seeks to deny us the right to State support such as personal assistance services”.

Flanagan describes herself as a disabled human rights feminist, and climate and social justice activist.

Michael O’Dowd, an Aontú representative in Co Louth and previously a Renua candidate, said the wording failed to “fulfil the comprehensive support promised” by the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality, which recommended the referendum. The group had no collective position on the family referendum.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter