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No decision by government on fast tracking divorce referendum

By Susan Gately - 27 July, 2018

Plan to run referendum on women in the home clause of Constitution in October remains in place, but in practice time frame may be too tight.

The Department of Justice and Equality is not aware of any decision by government to alter the proposed time frame for the referendum on divorce, according to the Department of Justice and Equality.

Its statement to CatholicIreland came amidst media speculation that the referendum planned for the autumn to alter or delete the clause in the Constitution on the role of women in the home (41.2) may be deferred to 2019 and the divorce referendum, planned for June 2019, might be brought forward to October 2018.

The 35th Amendment of the Constitution (Divorce) Bill 2016, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Deputy (now Minister) Josepha Madigan, proposes amending the Constitution to reduce the minimum period that spouses must have lived apart before applying for divorce from four years to two years, said the statement.

“The government decided in April 2017 to support the Bill and also to bring forward amendments to the Bill to propose the removal of all the conditions for the grant of a divorce set out in Article 41.3.2 of the Constitution. The Bill completed Committee Stage in the Dáil on 12 July 2017. The Minister is currently considering the issues that have been raised in relation to the Bill and will bring proposals to government in that regard in due course.”

In September 2017, the government agreed an ‘indicative timetable’ for a number of referendums on constitutional amendments to coincide with elections – the Presidential election in autumn 2018 and Local and European elections in 2019.

Referendums on removing the crime of blasphemy from the Constitution and amending or deleting article 41.2 (women in the home) were to occur in October, but this hit an obstacle when the Oireachtas business committee called for pre-legislative scrutiny on the women in the home referendum Bill.

“The government’s intention is to hold the referendum on Article 41.2 in October,” said the Justice Department statement. “The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality is to meet on 5 September to consider whether or not to proceed with pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. Developments are awaited.”

In practice, this leaves only a short window of time to decide whether the women in the home referendum can take place, as the polling date must be at least 30 days after the Bill amending the Constitution is passed. This means the enabling Bill on the women in home referendum would have to be passed no later than 26 September.

The article in question, Article 41.2, states:

  1. In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
  2. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

The government is proposing to remove the article completely, while others favour replacing it with a recognition of the role of carers in the home.

Meanwhile, the referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy in the Constitution will go ahead as planned on 26 October.

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