Mr Ahern wants to know what changes need to be made to Eamon de Valera’s Constitution to bring it in line with modern Ireland and improve the rights of mothers, fathers and children. The Taoiseach has asked the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to spell out the changes in a report expected to be delivered next summer.
The Irish family has seen fundamental changes since 1937 that are not reflected in the Constitution, said committee chairman Denis O’Donovan.
“The whole role of women has changed since de Valera’s Constitution said their place was in the home,” said Mr O’Donovan.
The definition of a family has changed dramatically. “One-third of all children are born outside marriage and divorce has been brought in,” he said.
Single fathers have to go to court to battle for access to their children and many gay and lesbian couples are demanding the right to marry and raise children, he added. Ireland has also signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and many of these rights, like those to special needs children, are not spelt out in the Constitution.
The committee will focus on the Constitution’s definition of the family in Article 41 to see how this affects the rights of mothers, fathers, and children in the 21st century. Article 41 says that the State:
Recognises the family as the natural primary and fundamental group of society and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights.
Guarantees to protect the family in its constitution and authority ... as the necessary basis for social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the nation.
Recognises by her life in the home a woman gives the State the support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
Children’s rights to education and other rights are also spelt out in Article 42, while the rights of children born to unmarried parents are protected by Article 40:3.
The Constitution Review Group made recommendations for changes in its 1996 report and the committee will draw on the huge amount of work carried out in their new investigation.