An anti-Government protest vote in the referendums would be a mistake

The proposed amendments are important, and voting No just to stick it to the Government would be like kicking the cat of someone you want to get back at

We are reaching the closing stages of a referendum campaign that has so far failed to capture the public’s imagination. Nevertheless, it’s important.

Article 41.1.1 currently states: “The State recognises 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.”

What is known as the Family Amendment seeks to expand the definition of the family to reflect reality, adding “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships” to this article – which would recognise that families are not based on marriage alone, as any family of an unmarried person or people knows and lives.

Article 41.3.1 currently states: “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.” The Family Amendment proposes deleting six words, “on which the Family is founded”, clarifying that it is not just marriage on which the family is founded, while also maintaining in strong terms the constitutional protection of marriage.


What is known as the Care Amendment proposes deleting Article 41.2.1 and Article 41.2.2 (“In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”; “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”), and replacing them with a new article, Article 42B: “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 a Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

The obfuscation and scaremongering from loud voices calling for a No vote on the family amendment have been tedious and distracting. They are reminiscent of the sky-will-fall rhetoric around the same-sex marriage referendum. Remember the ridiculous arguments that family members or friends would rush to marry each other to avail of the trimmings of the institution of marriage?

The implicit sexism in the articles the proposed new Article 42B seeks to replace has long been highlighted as stifling and utterly out of date. Yet some voices in the No campaign are now saying these articles actually protect women and mothers. This is topsy-turvy stuff. I find this interest in the rights of women surprising from some of the same quarters who opposed the rights, protections and freedoms of women when it came to divorce and the right to remarry in 1995, the rights of women in same-sex relationships to marry in 2015, and reproductive rights of women in 2018.

Could it be that at least some No campaigners want to maintain a status quo rooted in Catholic orthodoxy, something that was prevalent in their messaging and ideologies when confronting those other three referendums?

It has of course become unpopular to foreground Catholic orthodoxy in Ireland to make a point, necessitating a menu curiously loaded with red herrings to attempt to convince people to maintain the status quo now.

Referendum campaigns are often quite ugly in Ireland, and the No-No campaign has been characterised by fear-based politics and the conjuring of hypotheticals. This has included everything from speculation about “throuples” to fears about women taking farms from men. This mode of campaigning is highly strategic and tactical. Confusing people and making them fearful creates a context where reticence creeps in.

There have been other entities who don’t like the wording and would prefer something else. That something else is not on offer, though. The choice, as it is in all referendums, is binary. If you’re on the fence, or not entirely content, then voting does require going for the least bad option. I personally don’t feel that the new proposed amendments are the “least bad”. I think they’re worthwhile and relatively decent, which is why I’ll be voting yes to both.

An anti-government “protest” vote ignores the substance of what we’re being asked to vote on. I am far from a fan of this Government. But using these referendums to do that is like kicking the cat of someone you don’t like. Ultimately, the target of your ire will not feel the pain, and something else gets hurt in the process.

There is also a line of thinking that these referendums are merely symbolic, and not enough is being done in real terms to address the inadequacies across the issues they point to, and the values that flow from them. First of all, symbolism and value systems matter. Second, that grievance is about policy. Voting on policies is about elections, not referendums.

Over the next 12 months or so, people in Ireland will have a chance to vote for local, national and European politicians, and support candidates they believe are most likely to work better for families, women, carers, people with disabilities, children, elderly people – and whoever they deem will act best for their rights, protections, supports and opportunities.

Trying to convince women that outdated wording in the Constitution didn’t uphold a value system that oppressed them is gaslighting. Are these perfect amendments? No. But a sense of reason needs to drop in. Even if we’re only getting better by constitutional degrees, that’s something worth voting for.