Referendums on family and care: No place like home?

Posted on: 12 February 2024

Referendums on family and care: No place like home?

On Tuesday, February 13th, Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute hosted a 'Behind the Headlines' panel discussion on the upcoming referendum proposals and the meanings of ‘home’ in contemporary Ireland.

The referendums to amend the Irish constitution propose to introduce a wider definition of family and remove the text on the role of women in the home. But what is the Irish home? Is it a place of caring and belonging? Are women still perceived to be at its centre? And who is excluded by the identification of home with family? The event took place in the Trinity Long Room Hub.

From Trinity’s School of Law, Associate Professor Rachael Walsh is a constitutional law expert and a property lawyer. How have existing constitutional conceptions of ‘home’ interacted with protections for family and women in decisions of the courts? Professor Walsh considered “what impacts the proposed changes might have on our constitutional conception of home - in particularly, whether it is primarily concerned with privacy against State interference, or a thicker conception of home”.

Lindsey Earner-Byrne is Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College:  “The interpretation of 'the family' and 'the home' in the 1937 Constitution were rooted in particular  contemporary anxieties concerning the rise of male unemployment, the implications and impact of working mothers, and the erosion of certain moral and social values. “While it is likely these articles reflected majority sentiment at the time, they were also contested by key women's groups. In fact, the debate over these articles provided a crucial space for these women to reflect their anger and disappointment about the new Ireland and its limitation of female citizenship.”

Also on the panel were Senator Tom Clonan (University of Dublin, Trinity College Seanad Panel) who looked at the proposed Constitutional Amendment on Care as it relates to the responsibility of ‘family’ as set out in 42.B. Dr Claire O’Connell, spoke about how Irish law can recognise intending parentage while vindicating the child’s right to identity in assisted human reproduction. She is a board member of LGBT Ireland and a member of the LGBT+ Parenting Alliance.

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