Irish voters reject referendums to modernise women and the family

It had been proposed to delete 'old fashioned' language surrounding a woman's duties in the home

Irish voters have rejected proposals to modernise its constitution. AP
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Irish voters have rejected proposals to replace constitutional references to the make-up of a family and a mother's “duties in the home” in a significant defeat for the government.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar had pitched the vote as a chance to delete some “very old-fashioned, very sexist language about women” from the 1937 constitution.

But when the votes were counted on Saturday, proposals to expand the definition of family from a relationship founded on marriage to include other durable relationships was rejected by 67.7 per cent to 32.3 per cent.

A second referendum on a proposal to replace language surrounding a woman's duties in the home with a clause recognising the role of family members in the provision of care was rejected by 73.9 per cent to 26.1 per cent.

Campaigners argued the proposal would enshrine care as a private responsibility, and not a state one.

Reacting to the result, Mr Varadkar said voters had given his government “two wallops”.

“It was our responsibility to convince a majority of people to vote yes, and we clearly failed to do so,” he said.

Voter turnout was 44.36 per cent, a significant drop from the abortion referendum in 2018 which saw a turnout of 64 per cent.

Mr Varadkar said it was clear that the referendums had been “defeated comprehensively”.

“I think it’s clear at this stage that the family amendment and the care amendment referendums have been defeated, defeated comprehensively on a respectable turnout,” he said.

“The government accepts the results and will respect it fully.

“As head of government, on behalf of the government, we accept responsibility for the results.

“I think we struggle to convince people of the necessity or need for the referendum at all, let alone detail on the wording.

“That’s obviously something we’re going to have to reflect on into the weeks ahead.

“What I do want to say to people, though, is that when it comes to the work of government, in relation to gender equality, in relation to improving conditions for carers, in relation to giving rights for people with disabilities, that work will continue.”

Before the vote he had said that defeat would be a “setback”.

Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin said the majority of the public were not persuaded by the arguments for changing the Constitution.

“The result of the referendums on family and care is clear,” Mr Martin said.

“The majority were not persuaded by the arguments for changing the Constitution in this way.

“There is no single reason why these proposals were rejected and, like all who supported them, we will reflect on this over time.”

Updated: March 10, 2024, 2:00 PM