Irish children are the real losers as mothers and parents erased from Constitution

Irish children are the real losers as mothers and parents erased from Constitution

A ‘No, No’ on the two referendum proposals would be an appropriate response.

My Seanad colleague Michael McDowell was right to refer to this choice of polling day as a ‘gimmick’. It might otherwise be harmless were it not that, in order to secure the vote for this date, the Government rushed, and effectively subverted, the normal parliamentary process that leads to the holding of a referendum.

That subversion is a serious matter, so much so that on its own it presents a substantial reason for voting No, No.  Major changes to existing constitutional wording and the introduction of new concepts to the Constitution should never happen without proper scrutiny.

The Constitution is our basic foundational document that recognises our political and social institutions and what we value as a society. Changing it is a big thing, which is why the people get the final say. But there is a check-and-balance required. The question to be put to the people is meant to be properly debated first, and then passed as a piece of legislation by the Dáil and Seanad. This referendum was hurried through both houses in a matter of days so that various amendments could not be properly discussed.

One proposal seeks to remove the reference to a woman’s contribution to society as homemaker. This would then be replaced by an amendment ‘striving’ to support care in the home. The other proposal is to recast the Family as recognised by the Constitution as being based, not just on marriage but on any undefined ‘durable relationship’, on the basis that the present definition is not expansive enough.


On first reading one might have sympathy with the proposals. The current reference to homemaking is perceived by some as sexist. There is a need for more support for carers. The definition of family can be portrayed in an exclusive way as not representing all families.

But we are being asked to vote on what is before us, neither more nor less. And it is in considering this we need to be aware of what exactly is going on. Why has the Government failed to publish the results of a public consultation held last year on the referendums? Why did it dispense with pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas? Why minimal parliamentary discussion? Why the rush?

The Government has got rid of any reference to ‘woman’ or ‘mother’, and the proposed wording makes no reference to ‘father’ or ‘parent’”

It’s because these referendum proposals are deeply ideological in their origin and reach, and the Government is more confident of a fair wind in the media than in the Oireachtas where even a small number of noisy politicians can punch a hole in the Minister’s argument.

An examination of the referendum proposals shows that the Government has engaged in classic ‘bait and switch’ political tactics, i.e. they proposed ideas that seemed reasonable, and then switched to something much more controversial and far-reaching than was ever envisaged.


It would have been fair and reasonable to change the reference to mothers’ duties in the home to one of ‘parents’ or to ‘fathers and mothers’, and to say that the State would undertake to support home-based parenting. That would have both modernised the Constitutional wording while respecting the core value of parenting in family life. But instead, the Government has got rid of any reference to ‘woman’ or ‘mother’, and the proposed wording makes no reference to ‘father’ or ‘parent’.

The recent Supreme Court decision in the O’Meara case shows that there is no real problem anyway”

The carrot for this appalling change, and it is a poor one, is a proposed reference elsewhere to the work of family-based carers. This is an inadequate care-reference that pleases nobody, certainly not those who give vital care to people with whom they have no ties of blood.


And what of ‘durable relationships’ as a foundation for family? Here again, there could have been an adjustment to the Constitutional wording that acknowledged the importance of marriage as a bedrock for family life while also guaranteeing the rights of de-facto families, and especially the children of these families.

The recent Supreme Court decision in the O’Meara case shows that there is no real problem anyway. The Constitution places no obstacle to just provision for parents and children as cases arise. But our Government, led by its Green-libertarian element and urged on by insider NGOs funded by the taxpayer, wants more.

And so we have a proposal that any grouping of any number of people is to be seen as equivalent to a family based on marriage. The questions that arise are endless, not least how a marriage would fare in law when asked to share its resources with an unregulated ‘durable relationship’ (soon to be also a constitutional family)? Even having to ask that question seems odd, but that is the nature of this pig-in-a-poke referendum.

The social science on marriage and its linkage to best outcomes for children is there for all to see”

The reason the Constitution originally linked ‘marriage’ to ‘family’ was to provide stability for children. The social science on marriage and its linkage to best outcomes for children is there for all to see. But when did you last see this Government showing that it cared about what works best for children? For all the bluster about children’s rights, it’s really only about what the adults want. Family can be whatever you’re having yourself.

Ronan Mullen is an Independent Senator and barrister