EAMON Gilmore just couldn't help himself. During the launch on Wednesday of the Labour campaign in support of the children's rights' referendum, he couldn't resist taking a pop at the churches.
Deploring the attitudes of the past, he attacked "the way in which the State over those decades (following Independence) kowtowed to churches in respect of the care of children, to the detriment of children."
This was an obvious reference to the industrial schools but he said it on the same day that a report was published detailing the abuse of children as recently as last year in St Patrick's Institution for Young Offenders. Was the church responsible for that?
He said it even though the Irish State hasn't kowtowed to the church in decades. And he said it as the representative of a party that regularly kowtows to the unions.
Thus, the Tanaiste managed to sound like a nationalist politician of old, still fulminating about the effects of British rule in Ireland, decades after it had come to an end.
This was simply Gilmore pandering to his base, showing his true colours and linking the proposed change to the Constitution to the continuing campaign to eradicate every trace of Old Ireland that is not to their tastes.
I have still not fully decided which way I will vote on November 10. I'm not convinced by the arguments of the No side that the amendment will decisively shift the balance of power in respect of who makes decisions about children away from parents and towards the State.
However, if anything would convince me to vote No it is the blatant linking of the referendum by people like Eamon Gilmore to the ongoing Kulturkampf ('culture struggle') that has been raging here for decades.
As mentioned, the Tanaiste on Wednesday was referring indirectly to the treatment of children in industrial schools. In respect of those schools, however, the real problem had much less to do with the Constitution and much more to do with the nature of institutionalisation itself.
Sometimes placing people in institutions is unavoidable, but we can see once again from the report into St Patrick's that once you put people, especially minors, into an institution and give another group power over them, abuses are almost inevitable.
It certainly didn't help that we trusted the Catholic Church so much in the past. We trusted that it would look after the children in its institutions well -- and now we know it often did the complete opposite, even leaving aside the intrinsically awful nature of most institutions.
However, children's institutions in whatever part of the world were, and are, dreadful places as a rule. They were dreadful in Britain, Germany, Sweden, Holland, everywhere. And they were dreadful no matter who ran them.
The main reason we were able to get rid of the industrial schools is because the money became available to look after troubled children in better and more humane ways. More and better trained staff were available for a start.
Yes campaigners complain that the Constitution currently makes it too hard to remove children from their families in certain circumstances. But ironically they fail to notice that this same Constitution did not stop children from being removed from their homes and placed wholesale into institutions in the past.
So clearly the Constitution doesn't make it so hard to take children away from their families. In fact, with respect to children and their rights, a caricature of the Constitution is constantly being put before the public.
For example, it is said that it does not mention the rights of children, even though Article 42.5 explicitly mentions the "natural and imprescriptible rights of the child". Read it for yourself.
Read it and you will also find that the Constitution gives children rights adults do not have -- for example, the right to a free primary education.
READ it and you will find that children, by virtue of their citizenship, enjoy almost all of the rights adults enjoy, although certain rights do not exist until a child reaches a certain age, such as the right to vote.
Supreme Court Justice Adrian Hardiman has attacked the notion that the Constitution prefers parents over children. He says it prefers parents over third parties, such as priests or social workers. Hopefully, that will remain the case if and when this amendment is passed.
Professor Gerard Hogan, now a High Court judge, referring to what the Constitution currently has to say about children, told RTE in 2010 that he disagreed with "the suggestion that the present provisions haven't worked well, or that they don't strike the right balance, or are in some way responsible for lots of modern ills -- because I think that is just, with respect, a grotesque mis-statement and misunderstanding of the present constitutional provision."
There may well be good arguments in favour of the proposed amendment but Eamon Gilmore isn't making them. Instead what we got from him was a "grotesque" caricature of exactly the sort described by Justice Hogan.