Sent this to the All-Party Commiteee on the Constitution
To the Committee:
Changing the constitution of this country is going to be a difficult and at times thankless task. The constitution needs to be updated to take into account a world we live in now that was not contemplated when the constitution first came into being. To change a constitution is a serious task and something that rarely happens. I would like to see changes made, as outlined below and it is my hope the new changes will ensure that it is another few decades before the constitution needs this area modified again.
No doubt there will be people sending in submissions who are afraid of change and want to still live in the land our grandparents grew up in, but that was a far different time with a very narrow view of the world and of life. Some decisions might prove controversial and may not be what the majority want, but enhancing the constitution is not just for the present people of Ireland but for future generations too. Sometimes in a democracy decisions need to be taken to protect a minority from groups that claim to represent a largely silent majority.
I wish to let the committee know that they have my support in their decision making process and I urge them to stay strong.
* how should the family be defined ?
Cultural change cannot be governed. Society’s model of a family, like that of a Heraclitean Fire, is a constant succession of transitory states. Society changes and with it do families. This is a symbiotic relationship though and so changes in family structures will also change society. The traditionally defined family unit of mother, father and children is evolving into something more complex and
Families were never simple but they were simply defined. These binding definitions need to be re-examined and the flux-like nature of society and family needs to be catered for in order to future proof our constitution.
Just as the law criminalising homosexuality did not prevent homosexual acts but instead marginalised homosexuals, any law with strict rules for what a family is can only marginalise some families. The legislative framework surrounding the family is one that should be inclusive, rather than exclusive, it should act as a guide to the values that are important, while being flexible enough to encompass the diverse range of relationships that are part of our modern society.
* how should one strike the balance between the rights of the family as a unit and the rights of individual members ?
As much as possible all members of a family should be equal. Children too should be allowed a say and a voice.
* is it possible to give constitutional protection to families other than those based on marriage ?
In my answer to the first question above I stated that this new culture, almost 100 years more evolved than when the constitution was created, now has a different understanding of what a family is. All families should be protected whether some contain married couples or not. Families are very important in society and very beneficial to stability and social care. In return for this the state needs to provide a means to allow these families to continue and grow.
* should gay couples be allowed to marry ?
I am proud to say that Ireland allows it’s citizens great freedoms and the government cares about the social needs of the people. However there are still some inequalities in this state and like Orwell’s Animal Farm – some in Ireland are more equal than others. Same sex relationships are a reality and are not so uncommon or shocking anymore, as it should be.
With all the talk of catering for the needs of all these alternative relationships from various political parties it was only in the 2004 Civil Registrations Act that saw the first mention of same sex marriage in Irish law but it was to ban same-sex marriage. Political parties need to back up their words with deeds.
It’s not a question of whether gay couples should marry, it’s a question of whether the state should adapt and allow all it’s citizens to be equal. In my view the state needs to make sure all citizens are equal.
* is the Constitution’s reference to woman’s ‘life within the home’ a dated one that should be changed ?
This is indeed outdated. The reference should be changed to provide for any spouse or partner or guardian. Any role that strengthens a family and makes it better needs to be recognized.
* should the rights of a natural mother have express constitutional protection ?
The rights of a parent/guardian and not just a natural mother need to have equal protection once it is deemed that these people are fit to associated with the child and to look after the child. In regards to cases of unborn children and abortion, the rights of a father need to be considered once he is deemed fit to be a parent. However the mothers well-being may be needed to be the deciding factor and she should have final say, but the father should be allowed to give testimony and have it on record.
* what rights should a natural father have, and how should they be protected ?
See answer to last question.
* should the rights of the child be given an expanded constitutional protection ?
See answer below.
* does the Constitution need to be changed in view of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ?
Ireland needs to adhere to this convention. It should have done a long time ago. This convention significantly improves the rights of children and gives them the ability to choose their future. I don’t see why it might have to be enacted into the constitution though. As much as possible I think the constitution should remain unchanged, it is meant to be something that binds us through generations of change. The rights of a child need to be mentioned in the constitution but they should be defined in law.