Mothers at Home intends to show that Articles 41.2.1° and 41.2.2° of the Constitution are in the interests of the rights of woman and are anything but outdated. They do not stereotype woman but respect her role as mother and homemaker. They are liberating, rather than oppressing. They do not present an obstacle to the fulfilment of woman. Mothers At Home considers that the assertions to which I have referred are offensive and discriminatory. It intends to show that the only thing that is outdated in this regard is the flawed feminist ideology that has underpinned political thinking in Ireland and elsewhere for far too long.
Articles 41.2.1° and 41.2.2° of the Constitution are for all seasons and will never be outdated. They support a fundamental life principle that is universal, timeless, self-evident and unchanging. As instruments for social order, they are as valuable today as they were in 1937 when the Constitution was introduced. Those who claim that the articles are outdated are primarily influenced by a strain of feminism that, while condemning authoritarian and patriarchal practices, is guilty of authoritarianism and the worst forms of patriarchy. It purports to know what is in the best interests of every woman and forces this knowledge down the throats of every woman. It is marked by a negative and hostile attitude towards men, marriage and motherhood.
Mothers at Home has studied some reports of the debates which took place in 1937 when the Constitution was introduced. It is extraordinary how little has changed since then. We have two opposing forces now, as was the case then. Hardline feminists, who engage in a form of tunnel vision, are on one side and ordinary and decent family men and women, as well as some politicians, are on the other. While the language of the feminist argument may have changed since 1937, the substance of the argument remains the same.
Although it is obviously unconstitutional, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, is the bible of hardline feminists. Sincere democrats are angry that the terms of such a blatantly unconstitutional treaty have been illegally introduced into Irish law without prior consultation with the people. Mothers at Home members have directed us to ask why this happened. Why have successive Governments failed to seek the will of the people for the ratification of this deeply disturbing convention? No Government has authority to cede power over the family to anybody, least of all to the unelected, unrepresentative CEDAW committee. That committee has shown itself to be exclusive, divisive, narrowly focused and, sadly, sectarian. Mothers at Home respects its freedom to hold its opinions but we strongly object to it forcing its doctrines down the throats of every man, woman and child in the State. We have informed the CEDAW committee about this on a number of occasions.
The CEDAW committee rapped Ireland on the knuckles because of Article 41. The committee said Article 41 stereotypes women by implying that the proper sphere of women's activity is in the home and only there. Mothers at Home wishes to state that this is feminist spin-doctoring of the most offensive kind. Article 41 does not imply this and was never intended to do so. CEDAW et al are either misinformed or deliberately choosing to misinterpret Article 41. A similar minority of vocal middle class feminist groups attempted to put the same spin on Article 41 during the debate in 1937 on the Constitution. I have given a number of references to this for those who wish to access them. Time and again the framers of the Constitution repeated that when they spoke of woman’s life within the home, they were dealing only with one aspect of that life. The Dáil debates of the time support that.
The feminist argument is belied by Article 45.4.2° of the Constitution which protects the rights of men and women who work outside the home. Article 40 also protects the individual rights of women as well as men.
Article 41 does not stereotype women, far from it. Its real purpose is to elevate motherhood to its rightful place — one that demands absolute respect and a duty of care from legislators and the State. The Constitution review committee, obviously influenced by CEDAW dogma, got it dreadfully wrong. Mothers at Home calls on them to review their review. Article 41 is not outdated. It is respectful of women as wives and mothers and of a woman's right not to be denied the right, "de dheasca uireasa" to choose the profession of full-time wife and mother.
Common sense tells us that marriage, as defined by the courts, is the only state that could give the majority of women this freedom to choose. In marriage, wives become co-carers with their husbands of their families. I put it to the committee that successive Governments have abdicated their constitutional responsibilities to properly defend marriage and the marriage-based family, particularly the rights of the stay-at-home mother. Ordinary decent family men and women are asking why this is the case.
Why, for example, was the recommendation of the first Commission on the Status of Women disregarded by the Government of the day? The commission to which I refer acknowledged that equality legislation would create major problems for the stay-at-home mother and the family where the husband was the lone breadwinner. The commission, chaired by Dr. Thekla Beere, daughter of a Church of Ireland rector, made a number of positive recommendations to protect the stay-at-home mum and the traditional family, including the recommendation that a State allowance be paid to these women. This was the one major recommendation of the commission that was never implemented. Obviously, the work of the stay-at-home mum and the importance of the single income family did not count with the legislators of the day.
However, some decent-minded sincere political thinkers in Ireland were growing concerned. The second Commission on the Status of Women, which reported in 1993, and which many have since described as the "commission for women of status", was set up with a clear directive from the Taoiseach to pay special attention to the needs of women in the home. It is interesting to note that a significant percentage of submissions, 603 in all, to that commission sought more favourable recognition in law and policy for the full-time wife and mother. The sleeping giant was stirring.
Only one submission sought the removal of Article 41.2.1° and 41.2.2° from the Constitution. This lone submission for the removal of the mother's rights article became an official recommendation, while submissions on behalf of the stay-at-home mum were completely dismissed. They were, in fact, ignored.
It was now becoming clear to right-thinking family men and women that the second Commission on the Status of Women was what many had described it, a commission for women of status, controlled by old-line feminists hostile to mothers at home. The stay-at-home mum did not rate highly on their agenda. In fact, she did not rate at all. She was, according to them, "a private benefit to the earning partner, and as such [didn't] warrant a State payment". Article 41.2.1° and 41.2.2° of the Constitution clearly contradicts this feminist thinking. This contradiction was obviously behind the commission's call, based on just one submission, for it to be removed. To their eternal shame, successive Governments have supported this feminist agenda and in so doing have aided and abetted the downgrading and the devaluing of the work of stay-at-home mothers.
This All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution is being given an opportunity to redress the wrong done to the stay-at-home mothers of Ireland, many of whom — our own mothers — refused to abandon their chosen roles as co-carers with their husbands of their families and who remained at home against all the odds. It has the opportunity to redress the wrong done to those mothers who were and are still being forced — not by choice but by economic necessity — to seek paid employment outside the home. As the great Pope John Paul II said when he visited Limerick in 1979 "Ireland must choose". He was speaking on the value of the family and the need not to devalue or undermine in any way the stay-at-home mother. I have copies of the homily he delivered at Limerick if anybody would like to read it. He also spoke on other occasions of the need to value the work of the stay-at-home mother.
Successive surveys are exposing the damage being done to women when governments buy into the flawed feminist thinking such as that which underpins CEDAW. Many surveys show that mothers are stressed out and that their health is suffering. High profile men, such as the Governor of Mountjoy Prison, have recognised the value of the stay-at-home mum to society and have called for more respect from legislators for their work. John Lonergan said "Without them we are lost". Patricia Casey and many other experts in the field have also pointed out the consequences of disregarding the value of the work of the stay-at-home mum. We should also consider the rights of the child.
There is another compelling reason for a change of attitude to the value of the work of the stay-at-home mums of Ireland. The greying of Europe is a stark reality and the future is bleak for the sick, the elderly and people in need of social security. For reference, committee members should see Hubert Krieger's and others' reports to the Irish EU Presidency conference on the family in May 2004. In the 1930s, the fall in the number of births in many European countries, including Ireland and Britain, was seen by some as the reason for encouraging women to remain in the home. Fertility was a real concern. We have recently seen this concern coming to the fore again.
As already stated, falling fertility rates, the greying of Europe and the pension dilemma are real concerns. Political leaders can no longer close their eyes and ears to such concerns in the hope that if they ignore them, they will somehow go away. Mothers at Home has listened to the many EU and UN organisations that have been sounding the demographic alarm bells for decades. On behalf of Mothers at Home, I have attended numerous conferences both at home and abroad, including last year's EU Irish Presidency conference on the family held in Dublin Castle, where I was the official delegate of MMM International, the world movement of mothers. The genuine concern of ordinary decent family men and women was palpable there and those in authority were left in no doubt as to what people want.
The articles on the family in the Constitution, including that under discussion, are not outdated. What is outdated is the strain of feminism that has coloured the thinking of the Government, and world governments, for the past three or four decades. This type of negative, discriminatory, exclusive, divisive, sectarian feminism is no longer accepted and attitudes to women are already beginning to change in many countries, as witnessed by the growing number of national and international conferences supporting the natural law understanding of the family. Mothers have found their true voice and it will be heard louder and clearer on the world stage in the future because they now know their true worth. They know that the hand that rocks the cradle rocks the system.
Deputy O'Donovan took the Chair.