The Irish Times view on the referendums: legitimate arguments from both sides

Whatever the outcome, the Government’s handling of the process has been less than ideal

With just three days remaining until polling stations open for the two referendums on the 39th and 40th amendments to the Constitution, the outcome remains uncertain. Opinion polls have suggested a two-to-one majority in favour of both proposals, but the very high number of disengaged or underinformed voters, and the likelihood of a low turnout, suggest this comfortable lead may not necessarily be reflected in the final result.

Whatever the outcome, the handling of the process has been less than ideal. The referendums come after a long process of civil society debate, including a citizens’ assembly and an Oireachtas committee report. That was followed by an internal discussion within the Government, which then published its proposed wording late last year and fast-tracked the enabling legislation through the Oireachtas. An opportunity for scrutiny was lost, which may have contributed to the public confusion that now clearly exists.

Legitimate arguments have been made by fair-minded people for and against both amendments. The proposal to extend the definition of the family in article 41.1 beyond one based solely on marriage aims to reflect the reality that modern society encompasses a more diverse range of family types than was envisaged or tolerated in the Ireland of the late 1930s. The hundreds of thousands of families which are not based on marriage are certainly deserving of respect and equal treatment. But since defining the rights and responsibilities that come with family formation based on “durable relationships” will require legislation, it would have been preferable if the Government had published a draft of such legislation in advance of the referendum, addressing some of the concerns which have been expressed by opponents about the uncertain practical implications.

There have been calls for decades for the removal of the archaic – and, to many, offensive – article 41.2 relating to women’s position in the home. The proposal to add a new article 42B, acknowledging the role of family carers and committing the State to striving to support them, has divided disability rights campaigners and carers’ groups, with some arguing it represents meaningful progress, while others say the wording is weak, insulting and regressive.


Here’s everything you need to know about the March 8th referendums #referendum #ireland #voting

♬ Light hip-hop beat/long ver.(1425963) - nightbird_bgm

Voters will have to come to their own conclusions about the merits of these differing arguments. In doing so, they may reasonably wonder whether these changes will have any practical impact on their own day-to day-lives or whether they are largely symbolic. But one of the purposes of the Constitution is to articulate the values and principles on which the State is founded, so it is important for all citizens to take sufficient time to seriously consider these amendments in order to make a fully informed choice on Friday.