Healy O'Connor

Children’s Referendum

The Government has defended its decision to postpone the proposed referendum on children’s rights until next year and insists it is “completely committed” to holding a vote on the issue.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday the Government decided the referendum would not get the kind of focus it needed if it was held at the same time as the presidential election in the autumn. She said the wording of the proposed amendment to the Constitution on children’s rights also needed to be agreed in consultation with the Attorney General.

“This will happen next year and is a priority of the Government. We are not about putting this off – this is core. I mean this reflects the importance of establishing a department of children,” said Ms Fitzgerald at the launch of Social Care Ireland, an umbrella group of social work organisations.

She said the Government would not accept the referendum wording proposed by the previous government but instead would try to develop wording that reflected the all-party agreement reached on the issue by an Oireachtas committee chaired by Mary O’Rourke.

“We will take the committee’s wording and examine what the concerns were about that, see if the current Attorney General shares the concerns of the previous attorney general,” she said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil last week the Government planned to hold three referendums – on whistleblowers, the Abbeylara judgment and on judicial pay – on the same day as the presidential election in October.

Children’s groups such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have expressed frustration at successive delays to holding a children’s rights referendum, first promised in 2006.

That government decided the wording proposed by the all-party Oireachtas committee could prevent the deportation of parents unlawfully in the State and entitle children faced with expulsion from schools to legal representation. It later proposed new wording that would make some of the commitments on children’s rights non-judiciable.

Ms Fitzgerald said it was the Government’s intention to come up with wording that “reflects the wording of the committee” rather than that proposed by the previous government. “As soon as that is agreed and brought to Government, then we will publish it and we will begin an engagement around helping people understand why it is necessary.”

(The Irish Times, 21st June 2011)

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