Friday, February 17, 2012

Referendum on Children's rights

Ireland's Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald yesterday pledged that a stand-alone referendum would be held later this year with a wording that seeks to strengthen children’s rights.

Ms Fitzgerald said the Attorney General and senior officials were working on a wording that would stay as close as possible to the principles of a wording produced by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in 2010. This group endorsed a wording that sought to:
- Ensure the best interests of the child, applies in legal cases affecting them.
- Allow for the adoption of children – as many as 2,000 – originally from marital families who are in long-term foster care.
- Allow the State to intervene in a “proportionate” manner where parents have failed in their responsibilities.

The proposed referendum is being viewed with concern by pro-family organizations, which have significant misgivings about the entire proposal. The phrase “Children’s rights” is a deceptive fa├žade.  It is not really about “rights” for the child.  It is about who will decide – the State or the parent?

Not only that, but based on the most recently released wording from our government for a possible referendum, all powers in this respect will be removed from the courts and placed exclusively into the hands of the Oireachtas (Houses of Parliament)!  
Parents would then have no recourse to the Courts, as all power would rest with the Oireachtas!

There is also concern about some of the issues highlighted by the Minister in announcing the intention to hold the Referendum, such as the adoption of children from "Marital Families" and the proposal for the State to intervene in a so called “proportionate” manner where parents are deemed to have failed in their responsibilities. If the Swedish experience is anything to go by this provision has resulted in dozens of children being removed from their homes, many, simply because the parents wanted to home school them.
The Irish Times report that two philantrophic groups have provided €1.5 million to an organisation that is likely to play a major role in campaigning for a Yes vote in the forthcoming children’s referendum.
The Campaign for Children describes itself as a “public information campaign” and is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by US billionaire Chuck Feeney, and the One Foundation, co-founded by Ryanair heir Declan Ryan and Deirdre Mortell.
It is understood the organisation is preparing to mount a major campaign in favour of changing the Constitution if the wording of the forthcoming referendum is approved by its board.

The organization is chaired by former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness. Board members include Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay, ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirnie, Fleishman-Hillard PR director Mark Mortell and Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance.

Ms Fitzgerald, meanwhile, said a wording was being finalised on a referendum that would be stronger than a version produced by the previous government.
She said she hoped to secure cross-party support for the proposed amendment, and to ensure there was sufficient lead-in time to allow people to understand and debate the issues fully.