Peter Ward SC delivers annual FLAC Justice Lecture
13 December 2023
- Lecture focuses on lessons for the future of access to justice and equality in Ireland, and successfully achieving impactful constitutional reform.
- Mr Ward expressed concerns (shared by FLAC) in relation to the proposed ‘family’ and ‘care’ referendums.
- He also highlighted the need for a housing referendum - and set out his view on how such an amendment can be successfully achieved.
Former FLAC Chair and veteran campaigner for constitutional reform Peter Ward SC delivered FLAC’s Annual Justice Lecture (in memory of Dave Ellis) last night (12 December 2023) at the King’s Inns. In his lecture – titled “Our Unfinished Republic” – Mr Ward reflected on his over 40 years of involvement with FLAC and looked to the future of access to justice and equality in Ireland.
He emphasised the role of independent non-governmental organisations such as FLAC in promoting access to justice and equality:
“For a successful democracy, all people need to feel fully connected to society and to the institutions in that society and people need to feel included and heard - in the true sense of the word - in how that society is governed. At a basic level, people need to feel that there is respect for them and that that respect will translate into fair treatment in their dealings with others and with the institutions and arms of the State. So they must be entitled to have some knowledge of the law that governs them and access to the legal system.”
Mr Ward also reflected on his involvement with referendum campaigns since the 1980s and his views on successfully achieving impactful constitutional reform:
“Constitutional referendums have provided very special and important occasions where we as a country have made important strides in the evolution of our republic and embracing our citizenry with enhanced rights and recognition. The most important amendments have combined recognition with the conferral of rights: the right to divorce; the rights of gay and lesbian citizens to marry; a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
If there is no clear conferral of a right it can be difficult to see the benefit and so difficult to promote the amendment.”
In light of this, Mr Ward expressed his concerns around the proposed ‘Family’ and ‘Care’ referendums – the wordings for which he noted have “have fallen short of expectations of campaigners on behalf of carers”:
The final report of the Joint Oireachtas committee on Gender Equality had recommended that there would be a provision that the State shall ‘take reasonable measures to support care within and outside the home and family’.
It seems clear that no rights will be conferred by the proposed constitutional amendments. Rather it will be merely a recognition of an expanded definition of the family and a recognition of the work done by carers in the home. It is certainly difficult to see where there is any concrete gain by anyone in these proposals…”
Mr Ward highlighted that a “housing referendum could be a defining moment in progressing our republic”:
“The greatest likelihood of success lies in the proposed amendment being put to the electorate together with a series of progressive legislative proposals - as part of an overall campaign to take radical measures to address a clear and present crisis… The constitutional amendment would firstly remove any obstacle to that legislative action by clearing away in the arguments that it is unconstitutional as being contrary to the constitutional rights to private property, and secondly, it would impose a positive obligation on the Government which would be reflected in the suite of legislative reforms proposed.
Reflecting on the lecture today, Sinéad Lucey, FLAC Managing Solicitor, commented:
“Peter Ward’s remarks were very timely and should give us all pause for thought as to the purpose of asking the People to vote on constitutional amendments and the positive social change they should bring about.
Not only did he set out a clear case as to why a constitutional right to adequate housing is needed – he provided an answer to how the right could be achieved in practice.
FLAC shares Peter Ward’s concerns in relation to the proposed ‘family’ and ‘care’ amendments. We have published a preliminary analysis of the Referendum Bills which highlights the need for information about the practical effects of the proposed ‘family’ amendment – which may have very significant implications for law and policy in a number of areas. Such information is vital if voters are to understand and accept the amendment.
We are also concerned about the proposed new ‘care’ provision – which is unlikely to be interpreted as imposing any enforceable obligation on the State to support care that is provided in the home or otherwise. It may also be incongruent with the rights of persons with disabilities.
Just yesterday, we wrote to the Taoiseach, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and relevant Oireachtas Committees outlining our concerns and calling for adequate time to be afforded to the consideration of the Referendum Bills by the Oireachtas.”
Photographs from the event are available from firstname.lastname@example.org
FLAC’s Preliminary Analysis of the Proposed ‘Family’ and care amendments is available here: https://www.flac.ie/news/2023/12/12/flac-highlights-concerns-with-the-proposed-care-re/
About Peter Ward SC
Peter Ward SC, former FLAC Chairperson, is a Senior Counsel with particular interest in employment law, public law and human rights.
He has been a member of FLAC for over 40 years, having first become involved with the organisation as a law student. Peter has been a Director of FLAC for most of that time and was Chairperson from 2005 to 2021.
Peter is a former Research Scholar at University College Dublin and Lecturer in Law at University College Cork. He is a former member of the Executive of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
He was Chairperson of the O’Devaney Gardens’ Regeneration Board from 2005 to 2012.
He was national spokesperson for the Right to Remarry Campaign in the Divorce Referendum of 1995. He was national spokesperson of the Labour Party in opposition to the proposed abortion amendment in 2002. He was a member of the Strategic Advisory Committee of the Campaign in favour of the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015 and a member of the Strategic Advisory Committee of the Campaign to Repeal the Eight Amendment of the Constitution in 2018.
Flac (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights and equality organisation, which exists to promote equal access to justice. As an Independent Law Centre, FLAC takes on a number of cases in the public interest each year and operates a Traveller Legal Service, Roma Legal Clinic and LGBTQI Legal Service. FLAC also operates a legal information and referral telephone line and a nationwide network of legal advice clinics where volunteer lawyers provide basic free legal advice.
FLAC's analysis of the proposed ‘family’ and ‘care’ amendments is informed by our work representing clients. In our casework, FLAC has sought to rely on the Constitution (in particular, the Equality Guarantee and the provisions concerning the family) in cases concerning discrimination, housing and homelessness, and social welfare (including in relation to the entitlements of non-marital families). As a result, we are keenly aware of the limitations of the current constitutional provisions.
In addition to a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality, FLAC provided a number of submissions and reports to Government in relation to the potential constitutional amendments.