Legal Rights NGO FLAC calls for stronger and clearer ‘Family’ and ‘Care’ amendments to be put to Referendum
12 January 2024
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) has provided Government and members of the Oireachtas with recommendations for strengthening and clarifying the ‘family’ and ‘care’ constitutional amendments which will be put to referendum on 8 March 2024.
- The independent organisation has previously outlined its serious concerns with the wordings proposed by Government.
- The Referendum Bills be considered by the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.
FLAC recommends new wording to ensure that a meaningful, enforceable obligation to support care is placed on the State and to bring about long overdue constitutional recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities. It has also called for the publication of draft legislation which spells out proposed new rights for diverse families.
Eilis Barry, FLAC Chief Executive, commented:
“The Constitution is not just about symbolism. It is our fundamental, overarching legal document - setting out the core rights of citizens and defining and setting the parameters of the role and responsibilities of the State. The wording of the amendments is key and will determine whether the new provisions require to State to provide real improvements in people’s lives and rights. The Repeal and Marriage Equality amendments did this by requiring substantial and historic legislation to be introduced.
For another similar victory, we must ensure that the current referendums bring about enforceable rights, stronger constitutional protection and practical improvements in the lives of diverse families, carers and people with disabilities - and not just symbolism and recognition. To achieve this, FLAC has proposed a number of straightforward alterations to the wordings which we hope will be supported by all those who wish to avoid these referendums becoming a missed opportunity for transformational change.
We are concerned that the Government has yet to clearly explain what improvements in law and policy the proposed wordings will bring about. We don’t believe that the ‘care’ amendment as drafted will create a meaningful obligation on the State to support childcare, eldercare and independent-living for people with disabilities.
We believe that the ‘family’ amendment will require the State to provide supports previously only available to marital families to families based on long-term co-habitation. It may also have implications for social welfare and taxation law more broadly, and for family and succession law. Research which has been conducted in this area by the Inter-Departmental Referendums Group should be published, as well as draft legislation outlining the changes the amendment will bring about.
The absence of any proposed legislative changes heightens the risk of misinformation during the referendum campaign. The lack of legislative proposals defining what these new provisions mean will also result in diverse families being forced to look to the courts to define and give effect to their new constitutional rights.
With the Referendum Bills still at the early stages of the legislative process, there is still time for these concerns to be addressed and for the full potential of these referendums to be realised.”
Notes to Editors:
FLAC’s Recommendations to Strengthen the Proposed ‘Family’ & ‘Care’ Constitutional Amendments may be accessed here: https://www.flac.ie/assets/files/pdf/flac_recommendations_to_strengthen_the_proposed_family_and_care_amendments_0124.pdf
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.
Our analysis and recommendations are 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.