Fergus Finlay: A first step toward improving lives of children facing abuse
IN the 50 years that Barnardos has been working with children in Ireland, the country has been through many changes. Since 1962 everything from our landscape, to the food we eat and the way we live our lives has changed gradually, each change reflecting the journey we've been on and the attitudes we've accumulated along the way. Little else in recent years has been so reflective of how much we've changed than the passing of the Children's referendum yesterday, Sunday, November 11, 2012. It is a date that we should all remember, one that will no doubt be reported in history books in years to come.
It is not an exaggeration to say that today marks a new beginning for Ireland's children. They are no longer unseen and unheard in our Constitution. They are now placed exactly where they belong: in the very heart of our law and our society.
The passing of this referendum is momentous. It demonstrates the things we can achieve when we put aside differences and work to a common goal in the best interests of the issues and people who matter most. The unprecedented support for the referendum across political parties; the unions including ICTU, SIPTU and IMPACT; sector representatives as diverse as the Irish Countrywoman's Association and the Bar Council of Ireland; and countless civil society organisations working across a range of issues shows just what can be accomplished in solidarity. It's an important lesson because the referendum is a first step on a new road towards improving children's lives in Ireland, especially those at risk.
We should not move away from the achievement of this weekend's vote too hastily. Many people worked for many years to get here, not least those who have tirelessly given voice to the suffering of children in the past. The amendment represents the hard work of those who spoke out, even when no one wanted to listen, especially those abuse survivors who courageously told their own stories to make things better for future generations of children. But it is also vital that we use the momentum created by the referendum to get down to business.
Article 42A represents a bedrock for building a better child welfare and protection system. It is a blueprint for better laws and policies that will mean children are heard, that their best interests are prioritised and that we create better structures and services for meeting their needs. Now that we've laid our foundation, it is critical that we don't delay in constructing the elements that will improve outcomes for vulnerable children across Ireland. Key to this is the Child and Family Support Agency, which is due to come into operation in 2013.
After the referendum, this agency is the greatest hope for better child welfare and protection services that Ireland has ever seen. For the first time, we will have a body whose sole remit is to deliver services to children and their families to ensure that all children have a chance to grow up safe and happy.
The people of Ireland have given a clear statement of how much the protection of children matters and it is incumbent on all of us in a position to deliver on the commitment laid out in Article 42A to make better provision a reality. This is especially true for Government. As we approach another harsh budget, it is critical that the Child and Family Support Agency is set up with a full remit to meet vulnerable children's needs, across the full spectrum of prevention, early intervention and crisis services. And it is fundamental to the success of the agency that it is given the resources to do this.