THERE is a lot of talk these days about children. Very welcome too, especially when it's accompanied by the sort of actions we see from the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, with which those of us who have a genuine interest in the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children are familiar.
A lot of the talk most recently is in the context of the children's referendum set for Saturday, November 10. This referendum comes in the context of many changes in the area of child protection including the Children First Bill, the National Vetting Bureau Bill and the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act. You'd be hard pressed in the current climate to conclude anything other than that children really do seem to matter these days. It wasn't always so.
Almost 18 years ago, I went public about my experience of child sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, Fr Ivan Payne, in the Dublin parish where I had served as an altar boy. In doing so, I was telling the people of Ireland that certain Catholic bishops knew of the abuse, that I had just received financial compensation and, most importantly, the priest concerned was still a serving priest in a Dublin parish.
I was expecting quite a reaction. I had thought that, like me, people would all be demanding to know from Catholic bishops around the country how many priests had had credible allegations of child sexual abuse made against them and where exactly were those priests now?
Instead, I was met with a raft of phone calls from various sections of the media, disingenuous denials from the Catholic church and a wall of silence from everyone else. Children did not seem to matter one bit.
What about the people in St Fintan's in Sutton? That was the parish Fr Payne was sent to when I first reported him years earlier. Would they care that a known child molester had been sent to them? Would they demand answers? Would they rally around the children of the parish and find a way to ascertain if any of them had been sexually abused? No, they did not.
They applauded the priest who 'reassured' them that the money they put on the collection plate on a Sunday morning was not used to pay compensation and then they threw an RTE camera crew out of the church.
This is what happens when the best interests of children are not considered by people making decisions which affect them. This is what happens when child protection is considered only to be an issue for a certain class of people.
This is what happens when people in positions of great authority know they won't be held responsible for putting personal and institutional reputation before the safety and welfare of children.
This is what happens when children don't matter.
This is not good enough. Saturday is an opportunity to say never again. It's an opportunity to state unequivocally that children in Ireland, all of them, do matter. It's an opportunity to say yes to having defined and expressed rights for children in our Constitution. Please vote Yes.
Andrew Madden is author of 'Altar Boy, a Story of Life After Abuse'. Twitter: @andrewmmadden. Blog: andrewmmadden.blogspot.com.