National Women’s Council of Ireland blames ministers for ‘really, really poor’ campaign on care and family votes

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) “really failed” to explain to people what the disastrous care and family referendums meant, its director has admitted.

NWCI director Orla O’Connor said her organisation had begged the Government not to hold the doomed vote on International Women’s Day, which the women’s council insisted was a ­“really bad idea”.

Ms O’Connor hit out at ministers for their “really, really poor campaign”, which she said would be remembered as “how not to” run a campaign or win a referendum.

Last March, two referendums were comprehensively defeated when the public rejected two proposed changes to the Constitution.

The first – which proposed replacing a controversial reference to a woman’s duties in the home with a new definition of care – was voted down by 73.93pc, the highest percentage for a No vote in Irish electoral history.

A second proposal, to modernise the constitutional definition of “the family”, was also defeated, by 67.7pc.

“We failed to communicate what we meant by care, and what it meant for the women’s council in terms of all the work that we had done on it,” Ms O’Connor said. “I would say that really clearly now, we really failed to communicate what it meant for us.”

She remembers how the earliest debates in the referendum were dominated by questions about what “durable relationships” and “strive” actually meant.

“There are no excuses, we failed to communicate what that meant for the women’s council and for the women’s council members,” she said.

“And therefore, people saw us just in with what the Government were saying.”

Ms O’Connor said the Government had to take the blame for running a bad campaign.

“I think the Government did a really, really poor campaign,” she said. “If somebody wants to write a book on this campaign, there’ll be a lot in it for how not to run a campaign. They didn’t articulate clearly why this was important for society. And they were really absent from it, beyond the work that [Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman] did on it. I think their campaign was very, very poor.”

She said that the NWCI had objected to both the Government’s proposed wording, and the plan to hold the vote on International Women’s Day.

When asked whose idea it had been to hold the vote on March 8, Ms O’Connor said: “Well, that’s a very good question.

“The first I heard of it, I communicated to the Government that I thought it was a really bad idea. We did not support it being on International Women’s Day. It didn’t make sense.”

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