Explained: The Ireland’s referendums!

Proposals aimed at revising Ireland’s 1937 constitution to eliminate outdated language regarding the roles of women and the definition of family faced comprehensive rejection in a dual referendum. Despite widespread support from major political parties for a “yes, yes” vote and warnings from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about potential setbacks, the results on Saturday resoundingly favored “no, no.” This outcome prompts an examination of what went wrong and consideration of the next steps.

The referendums, conducted simultaneously, sought to amend portions of a constitution influenced by the Catholic Church in 1937. Article 41, addressing women’s roles and defining the family based on marriage, was deemed antiquated by the government. The proposed family amendment aimed to broaden the family definition to encompass “durable relationships,” while the care amendment intended to replace references to women in the home with a provision recognizing the role of caregivers.

The results were decisively against the proposed changes, with 67% rejecting the family amendment and 74% rejecting the care amendment. Voter turnout was 44%. The defeat not only impacted the government but also the entire political establishment, despite widespread support from opposition parties, Sinn Féin, and advocacy groups.

Contrary to suggesting a resurgence of conservative values, the liberal momentum from previous referendums on same-sex marriage (2015) and abortion (2018) remains. However, the campaign for these amendments was criticized for being poorly executed, leaving voters confused and uninspired. Some critics argued that the amendments were inadequately explained, with concerns raised about potential unintended consequences in areas such as taxation and citizenship. Additionally, feminist groups contended that the proposed changes did not go far enough in addressing state responsibility for care, placing the primary burden on women.

The fallout from the referendum results is seen as a humiliating setback for the ruling coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Greens, with calls for ministerial resignations and an acknowledgment of incompetence. Although the government aims to move on swiftly, it also recognizes the opposition’s apparent disconnect with public sentiment. The likelihood of another attempt at constitutional amendments is uncertain, especially with an upcoming election within the next year. The Green party leader, Eamon Ryan, suggests that the next government will need to revisit the issue and evaluate the arguments that contributed to the decisive “no” votes.

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