Article 41 of the Constitution specifically recognises the special place of the woman in the home and that she should not be forced, out of economic necessity, into the workplace.
It states: “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.
“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 Irish Examiner/Lansdown Market Research childcare survey shows many women are forced by economic necessity into the workplace, and equally, because of the cost of childcare, out of the workforce. It found cost of living, from which the cost of childcare cannot be divorced, has emerged as the number one voting issue among parents of children under the age of 14.
Family law expert Geoffrey Shannon, who has made submissions on behalf of a number of groups to an all-party Oireachtas Committee reviewing Article 41, said its provision - that the State would endeavour to ensure economic necessity did not force a woman into the workplace - was inconsistent with a society where the cost of living left many women with no choice but to work.
He said the committee had heard arguments against the relevance of the provision of Article 41 on the grounds it compounds gender stereotyping and ignores the growing prevalence and acceptance of fathers who play an enhanced and central parenting role in raising the family. Many groups who made submissions questioned why life “within the home” should have a greater value than life outside the home.
“One could question whether there is a need for this provision. It has been suggested that it is quite patronising and indeed could raise equality issues, it ignores the contribution the father makes to the family.”
Vicky Conway, a PhD candidate at the School of Law, Queen’s University of Belfast, says while the retention of such an article may be highly questionable, “at the moment it is there and surely by not providing sufficiently for (such) women the government is currently acting unconstitutionally”.