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The Irish Government Failed to Redefine the Family - Brownstone Institute

The Irish Government Failed to Redefine the Family


Last Friday, a large majority of Irish voters (67.7%) rejected their government’s proposal to insert a new definition of the family into the Constitution, in which “durable relationships” and not just a marital bond, could form the legal basis for the family unit. They also rejected – by a historically unprecedented landslide of 73.9% – a proposal to replace a clause expressing support for the care work of mothers in the home with a gender-neutral recognition of care work by “members of a family.”

The so-called “Care” amendment was essentially a piece of window-dressing to make a symbolic recognition of the role of mothers in the home sound more inclusive – not by adding a mention of fathers, nor by tangibly enlarging the rights of caregivers, but rather, by eliminating the only mention of “mother” from the Irish Constitution.

The Family Amendment, had it passed, would have had citizens wondering whether their boyfriends or girlfriends were “family” for the purposes of inheriting property, whether immigration rules would have to be altered to accommodate a much more expansive idea of family reunification rights, and whether a deceased person’s unmarried friends or romantic partners could vie with blood relatives to make claims on the property of the deceased.

These referendums were the work of politicians so infatuated with their ideal of Woke “progress” that they were neither able to grasp the fact that they were alienating their own supporters, nor able to play fair with voters by giving them grownup explanations of what they were voting for – for example, they never came clean with voters about the fact, noted in a leaked memo from their own Attorney General, that there was significant legal uncertainty surrounding the concept of “durable relationships.” Thankfully, we did not have to wait for judges to sort through this legal mess, because Irish citizens did not buy the government’s story that this was just about creating a more “inclusive” society.

In light of the government’s dramatic policy failures in housing, healthcare, and immigration, the resounding “No” vote that echoed up and down the country was not just a rejection of these constitutional amendments: it was also a clear vote of no confidence in Ireland’s political Establishment.

The contrast between the views of Ireland’s political parties and those of the people who elected them could hardly be starker: all of Ireland’s incumbent political parties, except for two tiny parties, Aontú with one elected deputy, and Independent Ireland with three deputies, called for a “Yes” vote. So the “No” vote, which represented four in five voters in the case of the Care Amendment, and two in three in the case of the Family Amendment, was only represented by two miniscule parties and a handful of independent deputies.

There are important political lessons to be drawn from the resounding defeat of these constitutional proposals. Most notably, the referendum outcomes are as good a proof as any that Ireland’s established political parties are completely out of touch with their support base, which opposed their recommendations in droves. With a general election just around the corner, there is now a massive political vacuum, which may be filled by new parties and candidates who speak for disenfranchised voters.

Finally, as Senator Ronan Mullen put it, Irish citizens “can be led, but they won’t be pushed” or pressured by underhand tactics into acting against their own better judgment:

Faced with secretly drawn-up proposals to dilute the significance of marriage for family life, and to dishonour women and motherhood by removing the only direct reference to their interests in Bunreacht na hEireann, and observing the ruthless way in which debate on these proposals was suppressed in the Dáil and Seanad, the people have – I think it is fair to say – snapped back. They weren’t confused. They knew what they were voting for. They didn’t like it. And they rejected it massively. The Irish people can be led. But they won’t be pushed.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • David Thunder

    David Thunder is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Navarra’s Institute for Culture and Society in Pamplona, Spain, and a recipient of the prestigious Ramón y Cajal research grant (2017-2021, extended through 2023), awarded by the Spanish government to support outstanding research activities. Prior to his appointment to the University of Navarra, he held several research and teaching positions in the United States, including visiting assistant professor at Bucknell and Villanova, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Princeton University’s James Madison Program. Dr Thunder earned his BA and MA in philosophy at University College Dublin, and his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Notre Dame.

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