People Before Profit Statement On The Family And Care Amendments To The Constitution, To Be Put To The Vote On March 8

Sexist “women in the home” clause must go

Fight for Equality and Rights to Care and Independence for All

The government is proposing changes to the Irish constitution in relation to articles concerning the family and care.

There will be two votes:

  • amend Article 41 of the Constitution to extend the concept of the family beyond that based on marriage.
  • delete Article 41.2 of the Constitution to remove text on the role of women in the home and insert a new gender neutral Article 42B to recognise family care.

The family amendment proposes to amend Article 41.1.1 to insert the words “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”. It also proposes the deletion of the words “on which the family is founded” from Article 41.3.1.

The proposed family amendment thus extends the concept of the family to beyond that defined by marriage. 

The care amendment proposes to delete Article 41.2 from the Constitution in relation to the role of women in the home and to insert a new Article 42B with the following wording:

“The State recognises 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.”

This removes existing article 41.2.1. which labels women as carers in the home. It also removes the offensive article 41.2.2 which calls on the state to ensure that paid employment should not allow women to ‘neglect their duties at home’.

Changes needed

Anyone with the slightest notion of gender equality will want to see the removal of these offensive, misogynistic articles. While they remain, they are a glaring offence to women.

The fact that this article has remained for so long in our constitution is truly shocking. It shows how low down gender equality has been on the political priorities of successive Irish governments. 

However, the constitutional changes proposed by the FG-FF-Green government sidestep the real issues. 

Catherine Day, the chair of the 2019-2021 Citizens Assembly on Gender Equality, noted that the referendum had come about because of the citizen’s assembly but that the Government’s proposed wordings were not those of the Citizens Assembly and had not gone anything like as far as hoped.

Care on the cheap

That the state should ‘strive to’ support care whether within or outside the family is unduly weak and represents no commitment at all. Campaigners for care and services for children, the elderly and those with disabilities have rightly seen this as an insult. It offers no advance on our existing care services, which are in deep crisis.

Already, Ireland lags behind other countries in the state funding of childcare. A survey from last year shows that Ireland comes 35 out of 38 of the OECD countries in public spending on early education and care. It spends 0.4% of GDP while Iceland, Sweden, Norway and France spend nearly three times as much. 

An immense amount of unpaid work takes place in the home. As waiting lists for hospitals increase, more pressure is put on caring at home. ESRI research found that in Ireland adults spend an average of 16 hours per week on caring and 14.5 hours on housework. The time spent on caring, and housework combined is the third highest in the EU and women in Ireland spend double the time of men on caring and more than twice as much time on housework.  Financial support for carers falls well below what campaigners have long called for. All this work, provided in individual homes, the Irish state gets for free or on the cheap.

The refusal on the part of the government to give a clear commitment to publicly fund care reflects their neoliberal approach. 

For example, the Government’s core funding scheme for child carers is a market-based scheme. Reliance on private providers has brought about a deeper crisis in the sector, with services on the brink of closure and creches struggling to recruit and retain staff. The crisis in care work, as the ongoing SIPTU care workers’ campaign makes plain, is primarily caused by low pay. 

A comprehensive publicly funded child and elder care system would provide not only free services but also stability and a career structure for those working in the sector.

Disabled people want support as much as care

While most of the organisations led by and representing disabled people are calling for a YES vote, some have formed a new group to call for a NO vote. This is because, they say “What is required is constitutional obligations to provide support services to enable everyone to participate in economic, social and cultural life.”

We agree that the care amendment does nothing to advance the rights of disabled people themselves. That is why People Before Profit works to reverse all cuts and increase the budget for disability services by €50m annually;  increase the budget for the Personal Assistant service by €7 million each year; invest €50m in community support packages and a further €30m in the Housing Adaptation Grant Scheme, as well as providing accessible housing for the almost 5,000 people with disabilities on social housing waiting lists. 

Campaign for service provision

Because a No vote would leave conservative and misogynistic views in our Constitution, we urge our supporters to vote Yes to both proposals.

However, we are angry at the weakness of the wording on care. It confines care to the domestic sphere of the family, and it fails to provide a meaningful right to care in all contexts to all those who need it or to commit the state to provide the necessary resources.

We will therefore be using the referendum campaign to demand that the government puts its money where its mouth is and invests to provide a meaningful universal right to necessary care for all who need it, including disabled people, older people and children. This will mean providing universal free public care services as a right and elevating wages and working conditions for care workers and payments to family carers to the level such vital work deserves. Free public homecare must be available for all who need it including disabled people and older people, as well as free public respite services for family carers and universal free public childcare.  

We also commit ourselves to demanding a further referendum that will insert a real right to care into the Constitution and commit the state to providing the resources needed to support care and carers. In the meantime, the government should legislate for these rights, which they can guarantee at any time through law even before they are copper fastened in the Constitution.