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Food For Thought: A University of Limerick information event discusses all you need to know ahead of the March 8 referendum

Read below for more information on the upcoming referendum, as detailed by an information event held in the University of Limerick on February 21.

Ballot papers are in the post, polling stations are preparing, March 8 is approaching. 

An information event at the University of Limerick on Wednesday evening (February 21) discussed the upcoming referendum and what it means to the people of Ireland. According to Associate Professor in Sociology Dr Carmel Hannan, people voting in Limerick city in the last referendum were found to be “most confused” on what they were voting on.

On March 8, voters will be presented with two questions: Would you like to extend the definition of the family beyond those relationships based on marriage? And would you like to remove the clause in the Constitution that references a woman’s life and a mother’s duties in the home and replace it with a recognition of care within the family?

Chaired by the Former Chief Justice Frank Clarke, those at the event were reminded to consider what the aim of amending the constitution is, in other words, what do they want the constitution to do for them. He also asked people to consider if the current constitution achieves these aims. 

“The constitution is a living document, it changes with people,” he said. “It’s your ownership of it that is important because it will define the way the country goes in future times.” 

The first referendum concerns the concept of family within the current constitution, while the second proposes deleting an existing part of the constitution and replacing it with recognition for the care provided by family members to each other. 

Regarding the first change, Dr Carmel, who is also an expert in Irish family dynamics, said “the Ireland of today has diversity.”

“Now we don’t just talk about the family, we talk about families and family types.” 

She described Limerick as an “interesting case” in this regard with the highest birth rate outside of marriage at 56 percent. 

The new proposal adds the line “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships” to Article 41.1.1 which concerns the role of family in society. 

The segment stating that family is founded on the institution of marriage in Article 41.3.1 will be deleted in the case of a majority yes vote. 

Associate Professor in Law Dr Laura Cahillane explained the term ‘durable relationship’ which comes from the European Convention on Human Rights law on respect for family life and ‘de facto families.’ The term would be framed by Oireachtas and Government policy in the case the Constitution changes. 

“There is still a special protection for marriage, that is not going to be taken out,” she explained. 

She gave an example of what a yes vote would look like in this referendum. 

“Where you have a single mother of a child, they will be a family,” she said. Currently, the unmarried father has “no constitutional rights whatsoever” while that of the unmarried mother is “limited.” 

“Only the marital family is recognised and protected,” she said. 

The second referendum, The Care Amendment, involves deleting article 41.2.1 and 41.2.2 which refers to the common good of women in the home and sets out that the State should “endeavour to ensure” that mothers will not go out to work “to the neglect of their duties in the home.” 

This would be replaced with an Article 42B which broadens to the care given by “members of a family to one another” and recognises the support this warrants to society which the state “shall strive to support.”

Dr Carmel pointed out that the value of unpaid care and work in the home to the State is estimated between €2.1 – €5.5 billion, with 45 percent of women and 29 percent of men involved in unpaid care. 

“It’s highly feminised, it’s invisible and undervalued,” she commented. She questioned the wording of the proposed amendment: “Is strive or endeavours enough?”

“Is that good enough?” she repeated, referring to the replacement of the word “endeavour” with “strive.” 

Dr Laura pointed out that the current constitution is telling us that women have duties in the home.

“Most people will agree that that language is not acceptable for the constitution today,” she said, adding “but you have to ask if you’re happy with the wording that’s replacing it.” 

She doubts that this change, if it comes into effect, will have “any substantive legal affect” however added, “even if it is just a symbolic recognition, that matters.”

“Symbols matter to people and having this idea that this [the constitution] reflects what society believes.” 

Registration to vote closed on Tuesday (February 20).

The former Chief Justice said the purpose of Wednesday evening’s session was to give “food for thought” in lieu of March 8. 

He quoted American Civil Rights Leader John Lewis in urging people to use their vote: “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society. We must use it.”

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