As chair of the Electoral Commission, Supreme Court Justice Marie Baker, says: “The Constitution must be stated in very general terms”. She is on a visit to Ballyhaise Agricultural College to promote awareness of, and encourage involvement in, the two upcoming referendums.

Justice Baker reports that public interest is growing, with a lot of phone calls coming into the Referendum Commission. The constitution is now 87 years old, and only 38 amendments have been made in that time.

One proposed change centres around the constitutional definition of a family. The second referendum relates to how the Constitution recognises the role of carers.

At this point, every voter should have received a document explaining the proposals. This document, and much more information, is available online at electoralcommission/referendums.

Damien Peelo, CEO of Treoir, the national information service for non-marital familes.

For: Damien Peelo, CEO of Treoir, the national information service for non-marital families

The referendum on 8 March for family and care will embrace the diversity of family life in our Constitution.

Forty per cent of families in Ireland are not based on marriage – like lone-parent families, cohabiting couples and kinship care families, which is when an extended family member like a grandparent, aunt or uncle steps up to take care of a child full-time.

It is no coincidence that these families who are ignored in the Constitution face additional barriers in relation to accessing supports, social isolation, and poverty.

Poverty figures

Children in lone-parent families are over-represented in homeless and poverty figures and this referendum will embed equal protection for these families.

We all know a family when we see one and we believe that it is time that the Constitution reflects what society already knows – that the child living with their grandfather, or the mother parenting alone, or the cohabiting couple and their children are just as much families as their married neighbours. They are all centred around love, care, and commitment to one another.

The care referendum will recognise and promote the importance of the father’s role in their children’s lives and the role they play in care. If passed, this referendum on family will recognise that all families deserve equality from the State and it will make Ireland one of the first countries to place the explicit recognition of family care at the heart of our nation’s founding document.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibin.

Against: Peadar Tóibín TD, party leader of Aontú

The Constitution contains the core rights of citizens and defines the responsibilities of the State. It is not the location for definition-free amendments with potentially huge consequences.

Aontú would have welcomed a common-sense update to reflect a modern Ireland. But these Government amendments are exceptionally poorly written. No one knows what ‘durable relationship’ is. Ms Justice Marie Baker from the Election Commission stated that a ‘durable relationship’ could be defined by a couple getting a Christmas card or a couple being invited to a wedding together.

We do not know what it means in terms of social welfare, taxation, succession, immigration, family law and beyond. Minister Thomas Byrne stated that a person could be in an undissolved marriage with one person, and at the same time, be in a constitutionally recognised, marriage-equivalent ‘durable relationship’ with another person.

Cabinet ministers were told that the constitutional addition of the phrase ‘durable relationships’ could lead to an increase in people seeking reunification with relations who have emigrated to Ireland.

Durable relationship

Marriage revokes a will. Will a durable relationship revoke a will? If it does, when will a will be revoked; after three months, nine months, etc of a relationship? That could have enormous implications for family homes and farms.

The Taoiseach stated in the Dáil that if the referendum succeeds, a government could prioritise a married couple over a non-married couple in law. However, Minister Roderic O’Gorman stated the opposite in the Seanad. The Constitution is far too important to add phrases with huge potential unknown consequences.

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland.

For: Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council (NWC)

On the 8 March, we have a historic opportunity to vote ‘yes’ in the care referendum and send a clear message to Government and all political parties that we want to see a fairer, more equal Ireland where we value and support care.

A woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be and anything less is not acceptable in our Constitution.

Article 41.2 with its limiting language on women never delivered any supports for women. The attitudes underpinning it informed policies such as the requirement for women to leave paid employment when they got married.

These policies had a negative impact on women’s participation in all spheres of public and social life. And women are still facing inadequate income, lack of pensions and poverty in old age today.

Eighty-seven years later, it is high time to get rid of this article.

Important care role

By voting ‘yes’, we can for the first time in our Constitution recognise the care traditionally provided by so many women across the country every day. And we can recognise the important care role of all people, women and men, today and in the future.

However, we know that families cannot do it alone. Voting ‘yes’ is a first step towards a society where there is a clear onus on the State to provide the supports that thousands of carers, disabled people, older people, women and families so urgently need. If we want to change the status quo, we must take this step and vote ‘yes’.

Against: Peadar Tóibín TD, party leader of Aontú

The 40th amendment of the Constitution shows just how disconnected this Government is from the people that they are meant to serve.

In my constituency, parents are forced, through economic necessity and sky-high mortgages and rents, to get up at 6.30am every morning, drop their children to a childminder, commute for an hour and a half, work a long day and do it all in reverse. Many parents, because of economic necessity, hardly see their children during the week.

The existing article 41.2 says that the State will endeavour to ensure that mothers will not because of economic necessity be forced to work outside of the home. The article has been sighted in judgements that have protected mothers in terms of income tax and alimony.

It’s currently the basis of a live Supreme Court challenge for a mother of a person with autism and Down syndrome seeking to get carer’s allowance. This article could have been updated by simply adding in fathers to this protection. Shockingly, the Government seeks to delete the only reference to mothers within the constitution.

The ‘Care Amendment’ will not bring any meaningful obligation on the State to support parents, support children, older people or people with disabilities. This amendment actually insulates the Government from the State’s responsibility to provide care. It locates care purely in the family and between family members. It is a slap in the face to those who care and those who need care.