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Socialist Democracy Statement on the Referendums on Family and Care

Swapping theology for identity politics is no advance for women

7 February 2024

On March 8th, voters in the south of Ireland will go to the polls to vote on proposed amendments to the southern constitution.  The proposal is to delete/amend parts of Article 41 regarding the family as the basis of society and marriage as the institution that defines it, as well as other parts on the role of women in the home and insert a new clause on carers.

Socialists do not defend the role of the family as the basis of society and less still the institution of marriage, a religious vestige with secular variants.  It is not the role of the state to do so either, but rather to support the members of families and marriages according to their needs and circumstances.  The archaic and reactionary language in the Constitution should go, but the proposed changes do not alter the fundamental fact that the family and marriage is considered the basis of society.  The proposed changes in the matter are not progressive, they are as backward as the current constitutional provisions.

Article 41.2 and its archaic language about the role of the mother in the home, infused with the Catholic thinking of the time is to be deleted.  The first part 41.2.1 is reactionary in content and spirit and part of the reason for a complete lack of childcare facilities for working parents in the south where that role has been fulfilled historically by women and now by privatised childcare agencies.  However, the second part 41.2.2 talks of the state ensuring that economic necessity shall not force women into the labour market to “the neglect of their duties in the home”.  Again, it is infused with a Catholic ethos.  However, it gives a constitutional guarantee to women, that liberals have refused to take serious test cases on.

Its removal has implications for a range of state subsidies and provisions, such as Children’s Allowance, maternity leave, extended or otherwise, and other supports that exist, particularly for low-income families, like One Parent Family Payment.  The other aspect is in the new clause which places the burden and onus of care on family members.  In a state which has seen the increasing privatisation and running down of public care facilities and arrangements, this is a constitutional attack on people’s rights to be properly looked after in times of need due to old age, illness, injury or other circumstances.  It is part of the neoliberal attack on public services and as such should be rejected outright.

The proposals have been dressed up as progressive, somehow liberating women from the home, when the reality is that it is window dressing as women now make up a significant part of the workforce and few couples can afford to live on one income in the South and so both partners enter the workforce regardless of personal choice.

It is the only reference in the Constitution to women having rights in the economic sphere.  Though it is now no longer explicit, this attempt is part of a wider attack on women, erasing them as a category in public health, sports, education and the workforce, with men now being able to define themselves as women and usurp their rights.

These articles deserve to be changed, but the proposed changes are not a step forward but rather a step backwards in terms of the recognition of women and their rights and as such should be rejected by all Socialists.  We call for a no vote on all the proposals on March 8th.

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