Referendum on women’s place in home may still take place in autumn

There are fresh hopes of an autumn referendum on removing from the Constitution a reference to a woman’s place being in the home.

Government sources have said a planned early meeting of the Oireachtas justice committee to scrutinise the referendum wording could finish its work in time for a vote to be approved.

A failure to deal with legislation, before the Oireachtas summer break, triggered concern that the wording would not be approved in time for a likely October 26 vote.

A number of committee members have informally agreed to return for a September 5 meeting about the proposed wording, two weeks prior to the Dáil resuming.

It may be enough time for the referendum wording to be scrutinised, for experts and contributions and for different suggestions such as a replacement in the Constitution to be explored.

The latter point is the main reason for the delay, with some wanting a gender-neutral phrase inserted into the Constitution or a clause regarding carers put in place instead. The issues will be discussed by the committee. Members, however, were not all available to meet this week.

Government sources believe that, with an early recall, the committee could finish its analysis in time for the order of the referendum to be moved late in September, with sufficient time for a referendum commission to do its work.

A source said: “The bill is only three lines long. It doesn’t need that much scrutiny. The current position is that an insertion or a position on carers would cause trouble. This is a great opportunity to have the vote this year, with the centenary of women’s right to vote. This opens a chink of light.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday released the wording of a further amendment, to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution. The effect of the amendment, if accepted by the people in the forthcoming referendum, will be to repeal the offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter from Article 40 of the Constitution.

Mr Flanagan said: “Successive reports, most recently, the Sixth Report of the Constitutional Convention, have recommended that the offence of blasphemy be removed from our Constitution. Its removal will bring us into line with internationally accepted norms and will reaffirm the message that we are a tolerant and pluralist society where freedom of expression is valued and important.”

The minister also said he hoped any debate on the referendum would “be conducted in a calm and inclusive manner”.

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