Referendum leaves child intervention powers unchanged
Published 14/01/2011 | 05:00
SOCIAL workers will not be given more powers to intervene in troubled families under the Government's planned children's referendum.
This is despite a series of abuse scandals and the deaths of hundreds of children in care.
At present, the State can only remove children from their homes "in exceptional cases" where parents, for physical or moral reasons, fail in their duty towards their children.
The Irish Independent has learned that the phrase "in exceptional cases" has been retained, amid fears of a 'nanny state' clash between parents and the authorities.
If the referendum is passed, children will only be removed from their homes in exceptional cases using "appropriate means provided by law".
Last night, Children's Minister Barry Andrews gave opposition parties the final wording of the referendum, already approved by the Cabinet.
The high test for family failure was retained because of concerns that any move to lower the threshold would be rejected by the electorate.
Several government departments also strongly opposed previous wording proposals over fears that the referendum, if passed, would 'open the floodgates' to litigation by neglected children who claim they were failed by the State.
Officials are preparing to publish a bill within days with a view to a poll on the day of the General Election.
The provisions, if passed, will apply to all children regardless of their parents' marital status without interfering with the constitutional protection afforded to the family based on marriage.
The proposed new Article 42 of the Constitution contains a provision that the welfare and best interests of a child be considered, as far as practicable, in adoption, custody and guardianship disputes.
It includes a provision for children to be heard in certain proceedings.
The wording is not as strong as some children's rights advocates wanted, but it is hoped that the compromise will enhance children's rights without provoking a divisive debate.