_
_
_
_

Ireland votes to eliminate definition of women’s ‘duties in the home’ from the constitution

On International Women’s Day, the country will decide whether to amend a very conservative text that the Vatican was consulted on

Ireland women’s ‘duties
A sign on a Dublin street calls for a "no" vote for the March 8 referendum.Clodagh Kilcoyne (REUTERS)
Rafa de Miguel

A referendum is always carried by the devil, no matter how angelic its purpose may be. The Irish government has expressed its fear that a high abstention rate will cause the “no” vote to prosper in Friday’s consultation to eliminate two articles from the constitution that carry chauvinistic and conservative tones not at all in accordance with the spirit of the current republic. The apathy of the traditional parties when it comes to campaigning, the confusion in the proposed changes, and the lack of interest among many voters on an issue that they consider dated could end up causing an unpleasant surprise in the eventual result.

“I think a no vote would be a setback for the country, quite frankly. It would say to a lot of people, hundreds of thousands of people and children, that they’re not in a family as far as our constitution is concerned. And that would be a step backwards, I think. It would also mean in relation to care that the very old-fashioned language about women in the home and mothers’ duties in the home would be maintained,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Bucharest, where he was attending the European People’s Party summit on Thursday.

The two proposed constitutional reforms affect three paragraphs of a specific article. The so-called “Care Amendment,” undoubtedly the most offensive to feminist groups, aims to change the current text to remove the reference to the exclusive role of women at home, as the fundamental provider of that care.

The current text reads:

Article 41.2.1°

“In particular, the State recognizes 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, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

The referendum proposes eliminating Article 41.2.1º and replacing with a new text, Article 42B, which reads:

“The State recognizes 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 accommodation to the new social reality of Ireland intended in the proposed constitutional reform also requires the construction of a new legal definition of family that is not circumscribed to that of mere marriage. To give an idea of the anachronism of the Magna Carta, it is sufficient to recall that Ireland approved same-sex marriage in 2015.

The so-called “Family Amendment” seeks to amplify this concept.

The current text reads:

Article 41.1.1°

“The State recognizes the Family 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.”

The referendum proposes modifying that text slightly, and in doing so notably alters the spirit of the article:

Article 41.1.1°

“The State recognizes 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.”

The long arm of the Vatican

The current constitutional text was supervised, and practically written, in 1937 by Éamon de Valera, the most relevant nationalist politician in the history of the Republic of Ireland. It replaced the previous text of 1922, that of the Constitution of the Irish Free State, to remove any recognition of the Anglo-Irish treaty that granted independence to part of Ireland — and allowed Northern Ireland to exercise its right not to form part of it — and to include the aspiration for a single and united Ireland.

John Charles McQuaid, who became the Archbishop of Dublin three years later, played an important role in the drafting of the text. De Valera allowed constant interference by the Catholic Church in state affairs and social life, and the constitutional draft was twice sent to the Vatican for suggestions or corrections.

An overwhelming majority of the Irish parliament backed the reform proposal to be voted on this Friday, and it is to be assumed that a vast majority of society embraces some of the advances that have already been incorporated into the mentality and customs of the country over the course of a decade. But there are always extremist minorities and even left-wing factions or those who supposedly defend the rights of women have issued confusing messages, such as the fact the new text will erase the sacrifices made for many years by women who, they claim, wanted to be housewives. Or the idea of granting family status to temporary relationships of little stability.

None of these objections would have any practical legal consequence, and they are more than debatable in their logic, but they have served to complicate the debate and keep the government in suspense. It is expected the result of the referendum will be announced early Saturday afternoon, when it will become known if Ireland has taken a step forward in defense of women or suffered an unnecessary legal setback.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_