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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Yes & No: The WPI position on the upcoming Irish referendum

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On March 8, 2024, Irish citizens will participate in two significant referendums that propose changes to the Constitution of Ireland. The first referendum concerns the concept of family in the constitution while the second concerns the provision of care.

The Workers Party of Ireland (WPI) has released a statement calling on voters to support the first referendum while rejecting the changes of the second.

Workers Party of Ireland Statement on the 8th March Referendums

The Irish Constitution of 1937 (Bunreacht na hÉireann), drafted exclusively by men, was, and despite some amendment remains, profoundly nationalist, Roman Catholic and conservative. It was strongly influenced by the Catholic Church and its religious doctrines on authority, the family, marriage, private property and church–state relations. It implied that the natural situation for women lay in marriage, motherhood and the home and was used to justify discrimination against women. Article 41 also initially enshrined a prohibition on divorce.

The 1937 Constitution, in effect, institutionalised and confirmed the subjugation of women in Irish society and provided a legal and constitutional basis for continued discrimination against women which, despite various amendments, continues to this day.

On 8 March 2024, Irish citizens will be asked to vote in two referendums to change the Constitution. These referendums will not fundamentally alter the reactionary and religious character of the Constitution nor secularise the state.

The first Referendum concerns the concept of Family in the Constitution

The concept of Family:

In this amendment there is one vote for two proposed changes. The Proposal involves the insertion of additional text to Article 41.1.1° and the deletion of text in Article 41.3.1°. The proposed changes are:

Proposed to change Article 41.1.1° text in bold:

Article 41.1.1° “The State recognises the Family, whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships, as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.”

Proposed to change Article 41.3.1° by deleting text shown in brackets, underlined and in bold:

“The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, (on which the Family is founded), and to protect it against attack.”

The purported objective of a vote for change is to ensure that different types of family units would have the same constitutional rights and protections.

Despite its severe limitations, the proposed new wording presents some improvement and is worthy in the circumstances of qualified support in a Yes Vote.

The second Referendum concerns the provision of care.

The Care Amendment:

Article 41.2.1° “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”

Article 41.2.2° “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

The Constitution currently, by Article 41.2, refers to the importance to the common good of the life of women within the home and that the State should endeavour to ensure that mothers should not have to go out to work to the neglect of their “duties in the home”.

The Proposal

In this amendment there is one vote for two proposed changes. The proposal involves deleting Article 41.2.1° and Article 41.2.2° and inserting a new Article 42B, as shown below:

“The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

The purpose of the proposed new clause is supposedly to recognise the importance to the common good of the care provided by family members to each other and, secondly, to suggest that the State would “strive to support” the provision of such care within families.

This proposed amendment is, in effect, a confidence trick. It purports to liberate women but, in fact, deprives them of constitutional rights to protection if they choose to stay at home and look after their children. The removal of these protections may impact adversely on protective measures and provisions such as Children’s Allowance, maternity leave and other family supports.

The proposed amendment also places the burden of care on family members and removes responsibility from the state. This responsibility for child and family care, including care of older family members, those who are sick and disabled, will fall primarily on women. Working-class women already experience many forms of discrimination including the gender pay gap, part-time and precarious work, employment recruitment and bias due to maternity and menopause. They receive lower wages, get worse jobs and lower pensions. They bear the brunt of the unpaid work, the reproductive work, especially in the household. This proposal will worsen the situation for women.

It also fits a government and EU agenda of “market liberalisation”, deregulation and privatisation which involves the commercialisation of education, health, social security and care services, while reducing state responsibility and increasing the burden on working-class women. The Irish state has a history of outsourcing the provision of education, healthcare, and social welfare to private (largely religious) organisations.

This proposal is a further attack on working-class women by transferring the responsibility for care to them while effectively removing from the state the obligations to provide care. The wording "striving to support" entails no legal obligations on the State to actually support women and carers.

This deeply anti-women and anti-working-class proposal should be rejected in a No Vote.

The Workers Party of Ireland advocates a qualified YES VOTE in the first Referendum on the concept of Family and a definitive NO VOTE in the second Referendum on Care.





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