Children's Referendum a chance to leave behind 'legacy of failure'

Thursday 20 September 2012 00.02
Govt proposes new article which affirms the rights of the child
Govt proposes new article which affirms the rights of the child

The Government has published the wording for the proposed amendment to the Constitution to protect children's rights.

It proposes one new Article with four subsections, which affirms the rights of the child and allows the State in exceptional circumstances to take the place of parents.

It also provides for the legal adoption of children where parents have failed in their duty.

The new article also says the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration in any legal proceedings.

The Chief Justice has appointed Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan as chair of the Referendum Commission.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the referendum was a chance to leave behind the country's legacy of failure towards children.

She said it would change the Constitution so it protects children, supports families and treats all children equally.

Speaking later on RTÉ's News at One, Ms Fitzgerald said that the proposed amendment on children and the accompanying legislation on adoption is not about the State micro-managing families.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said for too long children had been seen and not heard in Ireland and now they would be individuals in their own right.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the new Article would allow children, whatever their background, to be protected.

He said from now on the concerns of children would not be written out of history.

Opposition parties welcome publication of wording

Opposition parties were briefed this morning and Sinn Féin has welcomed the publication of the wording.

Its spokesman on children Caoimhghín Ó Caolain said that it is a "significant step towards enshrining children's rights in the Constitution".

Fianna Fáil has said it will be campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum.

Party spokesperson on children Robert Troy said: "It is a matter of fact that significant progress has been made in the area of child protection over the last ten years. This Constitutional change is the natural next step in that process."

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen has said that the balance of the amendment was right.

Mr Mullen said that he attached particular importance to the retention of the threshold for State intervention in families which it enshrined.

Broad welcome for publication

The publication of the wording has also been welcomed by UNICEF Ireland.

Executive Director Peter Power said: "This referendum, if approved by the Irish people, will fully enshrine these principles in the Irish Constitution."

The Irish Foster Care Association said the wording "heralds a new dawn for children" in Ireland.

Barnados Chief Executive Fergus Finlay said this was a historic day and the referendum was pro-family and very good for children.

One in Four Director Maeve Lewis described the wording of the Article as strong and robust and would allay any fears of parents about State interference.

Childrens' Ombudsman Emily Logan said the Article represents a significant and positive step forward for children and families.

Tanya Ward of the Children's Rights Alliance said it was a historic day that has "the potential to make a real difference to children’s lives".

Director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O'Gorman said the publication of the proposed wording is "an important sign that the wheels are moving" 20 years since it was first suggested that the rights of children in Ireland be expressly protected in the Constitution.

He said the organisation would carefully examine the wording over the coming weeks.

Chief Executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop said it is a historic day for the future welfare of children, but also for the many adults who suffered abuse as children at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them.

The referendum will take place on 10 November, which will be only the second time a referendum has been held on a Saturday.

The first time was the second vote on the Nice Treaty in 2002.

Law lecturer expresses concern

An adjunct lecturer of law at Trinity College Dublin has expressed concern at the wording of the Children's Referendum.

David Kenny, says where the amendment refers to "adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child", it says "the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration."

He says in the past, the presumption of the courts has always been that staying with marital parents is in the best interests of the child, and he does not believe this amendment does away with that presumption.

Mr Kenny is not sure the wording achieves what the Government wants it to.

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