Referendum on woman's place in the home may be delayed

By Elaine Loughlin and Daniel McConnell

A referendum to take a “misogynistic” clause on women in the home out of the constitution is now likely to be delayed.

The Oireachtas Business Committee has decided that the Bill which would pave the way for a referendum must be scrutinised after Government were accused of attempting to “railroad” it through without proper consultation.

The Government had suggested that Article 41.2.1 of the Constitution, which references a women’s place in the home simply be deleted.

However, many have been critical of the fact that this would ignore the 2013 recommendation of the constitutional convention which suggested the clause be amended and replaced with gender-neutral wording. It also recommended that the role of carers should be included in the new wording.

It had been hoped that the referendum would be held in October along with another vote on removing the reference to blasphemy in the Constitution, which is still set to go ahead.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said the Government is “shirking its responsibility” to implement the decisions of the Constitutional Convention which proposed a series of alternatives and additions to the article on women in the home.

“It is disrespectful to the processes that the Government has established to modernise our Constitution and to those citizens who were part of the process,” said Ms Shortall who is also a member of the Business Committee.

“The Government, by proposing to rush through a simple repeal and hiding behind the fig-leaf of ‘legal advice’ are squandering the opportunity to have a much needed and serious discussion on the position of women in the State, in public and political life, and in how we value caring relationships in our families and communities”.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald said: “There has will be some disappointment that this referendum isn’t going ahead and I think questions have to be asked of Government.

“The ideal position is not only to remove that clause - which is offensive to women, it’s mysogistic, it’s sexist, it’s stereotyping, it’s all of those things - but also to insert language in Bunreacht na hÉireann that recognises the work and value of caring and carers,” she said.

In the Dail, Tanaiste Simon Coveney said the legal advice to the Government is very clear and the recommendation is to simply remove language from the Constitution.

“If we are going to go through a process of trying to put new language into the Constitution reflecting the importance of caring, the home and so on to replace that wording, it would certainly take some time,” he said.

“We would not be able to do what we would like to do in October if we must try to find a way to get right new language in the Constitution reflecting the really important role of caring in the home. Instead, what we want to focus on is taking something that is inappropriate in terms of language out of the Constitution and keeping that clean and simple,” Mr Coveney added.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Government notes the decision of the Business Committee not to waive pre legislative scrutiny. This means that the Scheme must go before the Joint Justice and Equality Committee which, as of now, is adjourned until mid September.

“The Government is accordingly going to ask the Chair of the Committee to consider reconvening to look at the matter next week and the Justice Minister has indicated his willingness to co-operate.

“The Government does believe the timetable for an October Referendum is still feasible.”

Note: An earlier version of this story has been corrected and updated

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