Irish voters reject constitutional overhaul of motherhood and family — By: Catholic News Agency

Votes are counted in Dublin, Ireland, on March 9, 2024, after voters in the country went to the polls March 8 to decide on a pair of referendums proposing wording changes to the Irish constitution aimed at reflecting secular values. / Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Dublin, Ireland, Mar 12, 2024 / 10:00 am (CNA).

“The best possible present ahead of Mother’s Day.”

That’s how pro-family campaigner David Quinn described the March 8 defeat of two referendums in Ireland that would have broadened the definition of the family and deleted the mention of mothers from Ireland’s 1937 constitution.

Like neighboring Britain, Ireland celebrates Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which fell this year on March 10.

Despite opinion polls showing a clear majority favoring the Irish government’s plan to widen the definition of the family to include other “durable relationships” as well as marriage, when votes were counted March 9, 67.7% of citizens rejected the amendment, while just 32.3% supported it.

A second amendment proposed removing a provision from the constitution that said women should not be forced by economic necessity to take a job to the “neglect of their duties in the home.”

Again, polls showed it was likely to pass, but this proposal was rejected by an even wider margin, 73.9% to 26.1%. It is the highest-ever “no” vote in Irish referendum history.

Irish Prime Minister (known as the Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar quickly conceded that his government was defeated “comprehensively” when voters rejected the amendments that the country’s bishops warned would have weakened supports from marriage and undermined the institution of motherhood.

The bishops stopped short of a direct call for a “no” vote on either of the latest proposed amendments, but in a statement read at Masses the weekend before the vote, they said the family is the foundational cell of society and is essential to the common good because it is based on “the exclusive, lifelong, and life-giving public commitment of marriage.”

The prelates had warned that the second amendment would have had “the effect of abolishing all reference to motherhood in the constitution” and left “the particular and incalculable societal contribution” that mothers in the home have made, and continue to make, in Ireland unacknowledged.

The amendments had been supported by all political parties except the small Aontú (Unity) party, which has only one member in the national Parliament, known as the Oireachtas.

‘Victory for common sense’

Maria Steen, a Catholic lawyer who campaigned against both proposals, described the result as “a great victory for common sense.”

She said it was also a “rejection of a government that seems more concerned with social media plaudits than actually getting on with the business of governing the country.”

Steen described the outcome as an “expression by the Irish people of gratitude and of love — gratitude to women for the work that they do in their homes that is often unseen and unsung.”

“Gratitude to mothers for the unique and irreplaceable role that they play in their children’s lives, and in the lives of their families, and a recognition of the special place that marriage has in our constitution and that they want to retain there,” she added, speaking to the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, at the national ballot count center in Dublin Castle.

Speaking to reporters March 9, Varadkar said he was disappointed by the results. But, he acknowledged, “the people were asked questions, the debates happened, the arguments were heard.”

“The public comprehensively took the view they did not want to make changes to the constitution that we proposed. We accept that we respect that, and we take responsibilities for the results,” he said.

The referendums were held to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Quinn, who is the director of the pro-marriage think tank The Iona Institute, told the Register that “the government asked voters to remove the word ‘mother’ from the constitution and they answered with a resounding ‘no.’ They also rejected by a huge margin the attempt to foist the extremely nebulous term ‘durable relationships’ on the constitution.”

He insisted that “the government must now do more to allow mothers to stay at home with their children if that is their wish. This must include ending the current favoring of day care over home. Instead, the government should give the money allocated towards day care directly to mothers of young children so they can spend it either on day care or to make it easier to stay at home according to their wish.”

Building new alliances

The weekend results were a welcome bit of good news for social conservatives who previously have been on the losing end of recent referendum campaigns.

Adopted in 1937, Ireland’s constitution has been subject to proposed amendment 40 times, with 20 of those proposed amendments occurring in its first 63 years and 20 more since the year 2000.

In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex civil marriage by way of a popular vote, when the constitution was amended by 62% in favor to 37% opposing. In 2018, voters opted to remove the right to life of unborn children from the constitution, legalizing abortion by a margin of 68% to 33%.

Sen. Rónán Mullen — an independent member of Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the national Parliament — who campaigned against the amendments, said he was gratified by the result.

Asked by the Register if he felt the result could be the beginning of a revival of a conservative movement, he said: “You would hope so.”

However, he said in the current climate it was important for conservatives to build a wider alliance.

“In this referendum defeat there was an unusual new coalition between what would be termed people with a traditional outlook on social values and people with a broader social outlook,” Mullen said. “There are many people who find common ground in the need to challenge some of the dangerous new ideologies around gender, who don’t necessarily share the same point of view even on issues as important as abortion.”

“It would be a great thing if there was a new front in politics which was going to at least try to put a stop to some of the damage that the ‘woke’ agenda is doing within government,” he said.

There are some signs that even some members of the government itself share this sentiment.

Willie O’Dea, a senior member of the Fianna Fáil, the party that leads the current government, took to social media in the wake of the results to warn that his party needs to rethink direction and reject another controversial plan that campaigners warn will limit free speech.

“Fianna Fáil needs to get back to basics and abandon the Hate Speech Bill, etc. Focus on housing, health, and law and order and stop playing to the woke gallery,” he said. “Start listening to the people, stop talking down to them, and stop listening to the out-of-touch Greens and NGOs.”

NGOs’ influence

Indeed, the influence of nongovernmental organizations has come into sharp focus following the result.

Minister of State Peter Burke admitted that the government will “have to assess how in touch with ordinary people the NGO sector is.” Ireland funds such organizations to the tune of 6.2 billion euros ($6.8 billion) a year, six times what it spends on defense, and they were the driving force behind the referendums.

Peadar Tóibin, the leader of the Aontú party that opposed the referendum, told the Register that “many NGOs are significantly dependent on the government for funding and many made decisions on the referendum that were completely at odds with the people they are meant to represent. This I believe fed into the groupthink and herd mentality which is such a dangerous aspect of the political system in Ireland.

“We need an audit into funding of NGOs in receipt of government funding,” Tóibin added. “Is this funding creating a government echo chamber? Why are some NGOs so out of touch with the people they claim to represent?”

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, and is reprinted here on CNA with permission.

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