Children’s referendum to go ahead
The 26-County Government has said the referendum on the proposed new 31st amendment of the Constitution, giving the State increased powers to take children into care, will take place on Saturday, November 10.
The Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald encouraged all people in society to be involved in the debate on the referendum.
“The debate on this referendum must not belong solely to constitutional lawyers or politicians,” she said.
“This is a debate for all of us. The Government will explain why this referendum is needed, what it will change and how it will improve the lives of Ireland’s children, in particular our most vulnerable.”
Sinn Féin children’s spokesperson Caoimhghin O Caolain welcomed the publication of the proposed wording, saying it was a significant step towards enshrining children’s rights in the Constitution. He said the wording was “stronger” than what was proposed by the coalition government last year.
But there have been suggestions that the amendment is a charter to break up the family.
A ‘Yes’ vote will give the State preference over the parent when deciding what is in a child’s best interests, according to former MEP and disability rights campaigner Kathy Sinnott.
Ms Sinnott claimed children are better protected under the current Constitution, where the State only steps in when the role of the parent has failed.
“This [proposed] wording and the other proposed wordings of the past all start from the premise that it is the State and not the parent who determines the best interests of the child,” she said. “It reverses the natural order.”
Ms Sinnott said there were particular concerns about how the proposed changes would impact on children with special needs, by giving the State “control over what it wants to do for children with special needs in individual cases.”
“This gives a neglectful State even more control over children. They are already not doing their job of protecting children and this gives them even more power to neglect,” she said.
But Minister Fitzgerald insisted children could only be taken away from their parents in exceptional cases and said the reforms were intended to be preventative, and to ensure they are protected.
“We have to recognise that children can suffer in families and it’s about a strong proportionate response,” she said.
Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan has been appointed to head up the Referendum Commission to advise the public.
Here is the wording of the proposed reform:
1. The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.
2.1 In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.
2.2 Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.
3. Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.
4.1. Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings -
i brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or
ii concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.
4.2. Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1 of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.