By Lorna Farrelly

In the weeks succeeding the overwhelming rejection that occurred at the polls, the media has been following the political repercussions after the two Irish referendums. While there is no single explanation as to why the government failed to read their electorate or what prompted this electoral reaction, it has sparked much debate, especially following Leo Varadkar stepping down from his position as Taoiseach. The aftermath of these referendums may point to bigger issues at hand in our political system.

The referendum was brought forward by the coalition government in aims to modernise the Irish constitution by changing terminology in articles surrounding the definition of the family and care in the home. The Vote Yes campaign made reference to it as an escape from the remnants of DeValera’s Ireland in removing gendered and sexist terminology from the wording. One of the bigger issues was much of the electorate felt ill-informed and disengaged. Even after the establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission with the objective of informing the public, there was still a level of institutional mistrust to be seen amongst the electorate. The government has acknowledged this in the fallout, admitting they had misread this issue and overestimated the extent to which the public wanted change in this area.

In the midst of a housing crisis where young people feel unheard in the political arena, this has been a further marginalisation. Throughout a year of student union protests such as the TCDSU as well as the Union of Students in Ireland in 2023, this was not a major area where people wanted change. As it was revealed earlier this week, the government’s housing targets were insufficient to tackle the ongoing crisis. Additionally, not only students but many demographics of the public felt it was highly performative and not a substantive representation of change. Organisations such as the Citizens Assembly for Gender Equality and Equality Not Care took issue with the referendum and its intent as the proposed changes would not go far enough to change any area of actual concern for these communities.

Lastly, a broader issue at hand that is not often discussed despite the ensuing discourse surrounding ‘modernising’ Ireland for Irish women is their significant under-representation in government. Under a quarter of Irish TDs in the 33rd Dáil are women. While we see a rise in female leaders such as Holly Cairns (Social Democrats) and Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin), there are still significant systemic barriers that need to be addressed within our political system.

One significant issue that has gained more attention with increasing calls for a general election, is the re-election rates of women. In 2020, while more women were elected to the Dáil, many experienced female politicians lost their seats making it harder for women generally to establish themselves in the political arena. Furthermore, female ministers have a higher chance of managing a social portfolio than an economic one.

No one reason can simplify or explain the political fallout we are experiencing now, however, performative action will not help tackle any of the broader issues at hand and the government is now awakening to this truth.

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