Ireland Rejects Changing Constitution on Women's Role

'We got it wrong,' prime minister says of proposals on family makeup and mothers' 'duties in the home'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 9, 2024 5:40 PM CST
Ireland Rejects Changing Constitution on Women's Role
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar speaks to the media at Dublin Castle on Saturday about the proposals to change Ireland's constitution.   (Damien Storan/PA via AP)

Voters in Ireland have rejected two referendums to change their constitution's wording on the makeup of families and a mother's "duties in the home." The votes were still being counted Saturday, but the results were lopsided enough that the government, which had proposed the measures, conceded defeat, the BBC reports. "Clearly we got it wrong," Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said at Dublin Castle, per the AP, adding that voters had given the government "two wallops." He'd scheduled the election for International Women's Day, anticipating the event would boost support. But that might have backfired; the director of the Irish Center for Human Rights at the University of Galway called it a patronizing strategy.

There was evidence of broad support for some sort of change, especially in the provision on women's roles; Mary McAleese, a former president of Ireland, said parts of the constitution had "just aged badly," per the Washington Post. Siobhán Mullally of the human rights center agreed but said the government proposed replacing the clause on women's roles "with this very limited, weak provision." Voters found the options to be poorly worded and confusing, raising concerns about unintended consequences. The referendum receiving more attention would address the current clause reading, "Mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home."

That would have been replaced by a genderless clause saying the state shall "strive" to support "the provision of care by members of a family to one another." Advocates for people with disabilities were among the opponents, saying the wording should recognize that the state has a responsibility to look after all citizens equally. The other change would have recognized that families can be founded on relationships other than marriage, including unmarried parents, a single parent, or grandparents. But many found the term "durable relationship" too open to interpretation, per the Post. "We struggled to convince people of the necessity or need for the referendum at all, let alone the detail and the wording," Varadkar said. "That's obviously something we are going to have to reflect on." (More Ireland stories.)

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