Government defeated in referenda as proposals fail to win over public |


Ireland has voted to reject Government proposals to change the Constitution that would have removed the so-called “woman in the home” clause and widened the definition of family.

The public rejected the proposed changes on family, with 67 per cent of people voting against the amendment.

The proposed changes to care were also overwhelmingly defeated, with 73 per cent voting against it.

The referendum returning officer Barry Ryan made the official declarations at Dublin Castle on Saturday evening.

Turnout for the referenda was 44.36 per cent, a significant drop from the abortion referendum in 2018 which saw a turnout of 64 per cent.

Senator celebrates the no vote
Senator Michael McDowell celebrates with No campaigners (Damien Storan/PA)

Earlier, the Taoiseach said it was clear that the referenda to change the Constitution in Ireland had been “defeated comprehensively”.

Leo Varadkar said the electorate had given the Government “two wallops” as he conceded from early on Saturday that the proposals for change had been rejected.

The boxes were opened at 9am after the public went to the polls on Friday to vote on whether to change the wording of the Constitution relating to the areas of family and care.

Irish constitution referenda
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media at Dublin Castle (Damien Storan/PA)

The high number of no votes signalled an embarrassing defeat for the Government.

Speaking at Dublin Castle, Mr Varadkar said: “I think it’s clear at this stage that the family amendment and the care amendment referendums have been defeated, defeated comprehensively on a respectable turnout.

“The Government accepts the results and will respect it fully.

“As head of Government, on behalf of the Government, we accept responsibility for the results.

“It was our responsibility to convince a majority of people to vote yes and we clearly failed to do so.

“I think we struggle to convince people of the necessity or need for the referendum at all, let alone detail on the wording.

Roderic O’Gorman
Roderic O’Gorman accepted the Government had not persuaded people to vote yes-yes (Damien Storan/PA)

“That’s obviously something we’re going to have to reflect on into the weeks ahead.

“What I do want to say to people, though, is that when it comes to the work of Government, in relation to gender equality, in relation to improving conditions for carers, in relation to giving rights for people with disabilities, that work will continue.”

Mr Varadkar also admitted the Irish Government “clearly got it wrong”.

“I think Enda Kenny (former taoiseach) famously said once that the electorate often gives the Government a wallop – this is two wallops,” he added.

“Well, look, clearly we got it wrong.”

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the Government was not successful in convincing the public of its arguments to change the Constitution.

“The Government has to make the case, and it’s clear that throughout this campaign issues were raised, issues that I think were incorrect interpretations that I and Government believe were incorrect,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Leo Varadkar
Mr Varadkar said the Government had been given ‘two wallops’ by the electorate (Damien Storan/PA)

“But we weren’t successful in convincing people that our arguments were strong.

“I think it has to be acknowledged that the departure from the wording of the Citizens’ Assembly meant that some of those NGOs and civil society organisations, who would have been supportive originally, didn’t feel they could support and (didn’t) feel they could campaign to the same degree.

“I think that was certainly an element.

“Finally, I think the people didn’t see the urgency of the change here in terms of the repeal campaign, where there was a clear outcome the day after the yes vote and in the case of marriage equality, where there was a clear outcome the day of the vote.

“People didn’t get that sense of the need for change here. I think that was another factor.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the majority of the public were not persuaded by the arguments for changing the Constitution.

“The result of the referendums on family and care is clear,” Mr Martin said in a statement.

“The majority were not persuaded by the arguments for changing the Constitution in this way.

“It is a core strength of our Constitution that the people have the final say. We fully respect their decision.

“There is no single reason why these proposals were rejected and, like all who supported them, we will reflect on this over time.”

Irish constitution referenda
Members of the public arrive at the polling station in scoil Treasa Naofa on Donore Avenue, Dublin, on Friday (Gareth Chaney/PA)

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party is “very much” in touch with the Irish public despite the result.

Her party advocated for a “yes-yes” vote in Ireland’s ballot on family and care.

“No, we’re very, very much in touch with people, and you’ll recall that I said from the get-go, that we were very much in favour of removing sexist language from the Constitution, very much in favour of an inclusive definition of families,” Ms McDonald said on Saturday.

“But we knew that the Government did come up short in terms of the caring wording. They disregarded the Citizens’ Assembly, they didn’t consult with opposition or with other stakeholders. They didn’t collaborate, and they failed to convince.

“I know, talking to lots of people, that people were left with an unbalanced decision to make and I think it’s a great pity that the Government went on this kind of solo run, and they’ve had their answer.

“I don’t think there has been a lack of clarity for people, I think people when they came out and voted were very clear how they were voting and why they were voting in a particular way.

Irish constitution referenda
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the media at Dublin Castle (Damien Storan/PA)

“If there is one big takeaway message from this, it is that support for people with disabilities as full and equal citizens and support for carers is something that has to be taken seriously by Government.

“I think it’ll fall to the next government to vindicate those rights.”

Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin will “return to” consideration of the “sexist language” in Ireland’s Constitution if the party is in the next government.

Senator Michael McDowell, a former tánaiste and ex-justice minister, who campaigned for a no-no vote, said the move had represented “unwise social experimentation” with the Constitution.

Mr McDowell, who was part of the Lawyers For No group, said: “I trust individual voters.

“They looked at what was being put before them and they said no.

“Many of them will have a slightly different perspective as to why they were voting no, but in the end we live in a republic and the sovereign power is the people, and every individual vote is as good as anybody else’s vote, and this is an emphatic repudiation of what I think was unwise social experimentation with the Constitution.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik defended her party’s decision to back a yes-yes vote.

“I do think and it is clear that it is the Government’s responsibility, because the Government needs to explain to the people first why it chose and proceeded with wording that was so distinctly different from the wording that our Oireachtas committee on gender equality has proposed, wording that cross-parties had supported,” she added.


Government’s referendum campaign labelled ‘mistime…

“Why did they not go out more assertively and sell it to the people? Because what we saw from Government, particularly in the last few weeks as the no side was gaining ground, we saw a lacklustre campaign from Government.”

The family amendment proposed extending the meaning of family beyond one defined by marriage and to include those based on “durable” relationships.

The care amendment proposed deleting references to a woman’s roles and duties in the home, and replacing it with a new article that acknowledges family carers.


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