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Two referendums on gender equality and family expected to take place next year

TWO REFERENDUMS ON gender equality are expected to take place next year, the government has confirmed.

One referendum will ask voters if they want to remove the reference to women’s ‘place in the home’ in the Constitution, in favour of more gender neutral language.

A separate referendum, likely to be held on the same day, will relate to the definition of the family, which the Constitution currently says is based on marriage.

The exact wording of the referendums has not yet been decided. The long-awaited votes were initially due to take place this November but were delayed.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality, which published its final report in June 2021, made a number of recommendations on these issues.

The assembly called for Article 41.2 – which recognises a woman’s “life within the home” – to be removed from the Constitution and replaced with “language that is not gender specific and obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community”.

The group also called for Article 41.2 – which refers to the family – to be amended so that it “would protect private and family life, with the protection afforded to the family not limited to the marital family”.

Speaking to Newstalk today, Ivana Bacik, Labour leader and chairperson of the Oireachtas Equality Gender Committee, criticised the delay in holding the referendums.

“We on the committee produced a clear wording to be put to the people with cross-party support that every member of the committee signed up to and we put it to government last December.

“We were promised that by the end of the summer term – that is back in July – we would see the government’s own version of the wording or whether they approved ours or not,” Bacik said.

A coalition of non-governmental organisations wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last month calling on him to publish the proposed wording.

In the open letter, Family Carers Ireland, One Family, the National Women’s Council, Siptu and Treoir (the national federation of services for unmarried parents and their families) said that without knowing the exact wording, it will be “increasingly difficult to build a civil society response”.

Legislative Programme

Details about the proposed referendums are included in the government’s Autumn Legislative Programme which was published today.

The document identifies 51 priority bills for progression in the upcoming Dáil session.

Having received approval from the government this morning, Chief Whip Minister Hildegarde Naughton confirmed that 27 bills will now be prioritised for publication and 24 bills for drafting.

Highlighting some of the proposed bills, Naughton said a number of legislative changes related to housing “will benefit renters and those who want to own their own home”.

“To help renters, we will publish the Residential Tenancies (Right to Purchase) Bill 2023 which will give renters the first right of refusal to purchase a property when it is put on the market for sale.

“Separately, the Minister for Housing will publish the Planning and Development Bill providing much needed clarity to the current planning code in addition to the Land Value Sharing Bill which will allow the State to secure a proportion of the uplift in land values resulting from zoning and designation to facilitate provision of infrastructure,” she said.

Naughton, who is also Minister of State in the Department of Health, noted that the government will also progress legislation to support people in starting a family through the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill, and change the statute books to ban children from purchasing vapes.

A number of other health bills will also be drafted and published in the coming session including publication of a bill to provide for an exemption of Rent a Room income from the medical card assessment process.

Drafting will also be prioritised for the Mental Health Bill to update and replace the Mental Health Act 2001 to give effect to recommendations of an Expert Group Review on mental health legislation.

“Separately, work will progress on the establishment of a statutory Just Transition Commission which is a key element of Ireland’s transformation to a low-carbon country.

“The Minister for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications will also continue drafting the Heat Bill which will establish a regulatory model for district heating to capture waste heat and redirect it towards homes and businesses,” Naughten said.

The Department of Justice is also set to published a number of bills including the Defamation Bill; the Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Agency Bill; and the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill.

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will publish separate bills that will ban conversion therapy practices in Ireland and guarantee entitlement to maternity leave for members of the Oireachtas.