Family and care referendums comprehensively defeated

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admits Government ‘got it wrong’ and will ‘reflect’ on result

Two referendums on the definition of family and the role of care have been comprehensively defeated, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the Government failed to convince the public and was given “two wallops” by the electorate.

The referendum on family – which proposed extending the definition of family to those based on durable relationships as well as those based on marriage – was defeated with 67.69 per cent voting No.

The referendum on care – which proposed deleting the reference to a woman’s life in the home and a mother’s duties in the home and replacing it with a recognition of care within the family – was also heavily defeated, with 73.9 per cent voting No.

Shortly after boxes opened around the country at 9am, early tallies showed a majority of the public had voted no to the propositions, prompting the Government to concede defeat by the afternoon despite the fact only one official result had been declared.


Mr Varadkar said he accepted he was one of a number of people who “got it wrong”, while Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said the Government had not succeeded in making the case for constitutional change to the Irish people.

“As head of Government and on behalf of the Government, we accept responsibility for the result,” the Taoiseach said.

“It was our responsibility to convince the majority of people to vote ‘Yes’ and we clearly failed to do so.”

When you lose a referendum “this badly and by this margin”, it means there were a lot of people “who got this wrong and I’m certainly one of them”, Mr Varadkar said.

Asked about the potential ramifications of a No vote, the Fine Gael leader said there was “no particular boost” when a Government won or lost a referendum but acknowledged it was “two wallops” for the Coalition.

Mr O’Gorman said he was “extremely disappointed”.

“We all have to reflect on our campaign and where we could have done more to persuade people.”

Despite backing a Yes-Yes vote, and previously promising to rerun the referendum if it failed, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald indicated the party would now not do this.

“The propositions that have been put by the Government have failed, so there is no question of rerunning those. The people have come out and they have spoken very definitively. I just want to reassure the people that there will be no attempt on our part to rerun the same questions.”

Asked if she had any role in the failure of the referendums, given the fact Sinn Féin supported a Yes vote on both proposals, she said: “Absolutely not. These were Government propositions. They chose the wording, they chose the timing.”

The only political party to reject the proposals and call for a No vote was Aontú. Party leader Peadar Tóibín said Mr O’Gorman has “serious questions to answer now in relation to this”.

‘Two wallops’ for Government as No-No vote emerges strong

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Mr Tóibín said it was “incredible that Aontú was the only political party that campaigned against this”. He also said there is a bubble in the world of politics and that the Opposition also have questions to answer.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said the referendums results are a “direct consequence of a rushed and confused campaign”.

“The low voter turnout yesterday, and the resounding ‘No’ result, is due to the Government’s failure to properly engage with the public from the outset of this shambolic referendum campaign,” she said.

“The electorate were confused by the wording of the family amendment – and the implications of it on things like succession rights – and unimpressed at the lack of ambition in the care referendum.”

Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik, who also spearheaded her party’s campaign for a Yes vote on both referendums, said the responsibility for the failure “lies with Government”.

She questioned why the Government did not mount “a more assertive campaign” instead of a “lacklustre” effort.

A flurry of official results began to roll in to Dublin Castle after 4pm, cementing the No campaign’s victory.

The voters of Galway East firmly rejected the family amendment, with just over 72 per cent of people voting no. Fewer than 8,000 people voted yes.

In Galway-Roscommon, the No vote was also passed comfortably, with 21,173 voting No and 7,441 voting Yes.

In Cork East, where turnout was 42.49 per cent, 31.73 per cent voted Yes, with 68.27 per cent voting No.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said there is “no single reason” why the proposals were rejected and the Government will reflect on this.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland also expressed its “deep disappointment” over the outcome of the referendums.

The organisation, which campaigned for a Yes-Yes vote, said the result is a “clear wake-up call that we cannot be complacent about equality and women’s rights”.

In a statement, Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council, said the people “have spoken”.

“The No vote in the family referendums means the families of over 40 per cent of children born outside of marriage and the over one million people who are part of unmarried families are still not recognised in our Constitution,” she said.

“There are some factors that clearly contributed to today’s outcome. The Government’s poor wording, combined with a lack of leadership from political parties resulted in misinformation and confusion among voters and a lack of mobilisation on the ground.

She added: “We campaigned for a Yes vote because we believed and continue to believe that Irish people value care and this was reflected in the earlier opinion polls. We also believe there was an element of the No vote today for which the wording did not go far enough and as the campaign evolved it was clear the public wanted more.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times