Senator Rónán Mullen

Here are my reasons for seeking a NO / NO vote.

1.  The Family referendum (39th Amendment) wants to introduce ‘durable relationships’ into the Constitution, as the basis for “Family” as the “natural primary and fundamental unit group of society”, equal with marriage. Minister Roderick O’Gorman says there will be “no differential treatment” between marital and non-marital families, if the referendum passes.  But durable does not necessarily mean of long duration, and relationships can involve any number of people. A person may only be in one marriage, but can have multiple, simultaneous, durable relationships, including simultaneously with marriage.  The Government can’t, and won’t, define what a ‘durable relationship’ is. The wording of their proposed amendment prevents the Oireachtas from being able to define it either. It must go to the Courts. Lawyers for No highlight many possible consequences of this approach, and of putting such vague, endlessly flexible, wording into Bunreacht na hÉireann. It creates the possibility of major confusion about what the Constitution requires in our laws, and also of costly litigation including for many who can’t afford it. It was open to the Government to keep the link between Marriage as the foundation for the Family, while also having a wording to acknowledge and protect people in non-marital family situations. Amendments were tabled to achieve this. But no time was allowed to consider them. The Government wants to keep the meaning of ‘Family’ as fluid as possible, however risky. That is the only reasonable conclusion.

2.  The Care referendum (40th Amendment) removes mothers from the Constitution, while seeking to reduce family and parenting responsibilities to caring, and while taking rights and responsibilities in the home out of future constitutional consideration.  Why would the Government want to take the words ‘mother’ and ‘home’ out of the Constitution in this way? Anyone who is aware of the cultural campaign to replace biology with identity will understand this intended diminution of ‘woman’ and ‘mother’.  Meanwhile the replacement clause on care is watery and does nothing for the general task in caring in society. And again, what is the Government up to? If they were sincere about putting in recognition of carers, why didn’t they use the stronger wording recommended by the Citizens Assembly? And why are they making even this weak recognition of care, conditional on a controversial removal of protection for mothers from being forced out of home due to economic necessity? To be clear, it was open to the Government NOT to attack the Constitutional protection for mothers, but to add in a guarantee for fathers and respect for their important parenting role.  But this Government is on a completely different track.

3. Why such vague wording and why such controversy now? Because, I believe, the Government didn’t want careful scrutiny of what it was proposing and wanted a quick public campaign based on emotion and the illusion of inclusiveness to get these new wordings past the people and over the line.  The Government:- refused to publish the results of its public consultation on the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations last year; published the actual wording of its proposals late in the day, allowing for a very restricted debate over the Christmas period; used its majority to prevent the normal pre-legislative scrutiny of the Referendum Bills; chose the gimmick of running the referendums on International Women’s Day (March 8th) thus forcing the debate in Dáil and Seanad to an early close; used the ‘guillotine’ to end the debates before all amendments were considered. refuses to show the public the minutes of its 16 interdepartmental meetings, and of meetings with insider NGOs, which discussed the meanings of these new wordings and what they would lead to. So the normal contract whereby the People get to vote Yes or No to Constitutional changes after they have been thoroughly scrutinised by the Oireachtas – was broken. The Government used its Dáil and Seanad majorities to prevent careful analysis of its wordings. And now they are asking us to vote for a ‘pig in a poke’. 

4.  If you are not yet convinced by my reasoning, consider that upwards of 15 million euro of taxpayers money is being spent on a standalone referendum on a proposal that, if the wording was more carefully chosen, need not have been controversial. That’s not counting the money being spent by NGOs which get substantial State funding. Even though the McKenna and McCrystal court judgements state clearly that public money should not be used to influence the outcome of referendums. These proposals fail on their merits (or lack of them). But even if they did not, the arrogance and insiderism that have marked this whole purpose calls, I believe, for strong pushback from voters on this occasion. Please go out and vote NO / NO on Friday, and send the Government back to the drawing board.