Thursday 23 October 2014

Tanya Ward: Never have the votes of so few meant so much to so many

Published 12/11/2012 | 17:00

YESTERDAY'S result is a relief, given we've been campaigning to strengthen children's rights in the Constitution for nearly 20 years. We can be proud to have voted for a new constitutional article on children that will trigger a new phase of child-centred decisions from our courts.

The low turnout was disappointing. The referendum was always going to be difficult to sell. It was mostly a child protection amendment. That is not to underestimate its importance and the cultural change it will bring to our legal system.

Coverage was extremely poor due to the lack of cont-roversy and rules requiring 50/50 balance in broadcast media. With so much political consensus, Yes campaigners found it difficult to get their message out, while journalists struggled to find credible No commentators.

This led to a disparate group of No campaigners clamouring for pole position to make extraordinary claims. Playing to parents' fears of losing their children resulted in many voters not coming out due to sheer confusion.

The Supreme Court ruling that paragraphs in the Government's information booklet and website were not impartial did not help. The Government did not set out to mislead the public, but questions remain about the legal advice it received following the court's decision.

Will the result be challenged? Quite possibly, but it won't be successful. The Government's information did not urge a Yes vote, which is in stark contrast to the offending material in the Divorce referendum that was challenged by McKenna.

Irrespective of a challenge, it must be remembered that this referendum is only a first step. We now must build a child protection system fit for purpose.

This means finding resources to establish the new Child and Family Support Agency.

If there is one thing this referendum has proven to me, it is that there is a lack of trust in the HSE and probably a lack of appreciation of the difficulties it faces in its job.

WE also need a review of Irish law to make sure the best interests and views of children are taken into account in childcare, access, custody, guardianship and adoption cases. We need further legislation to make sure the best interests and views of children are taken into account by a whole range of policymakers.

Though we now have the constitutional footing we need, there remains much work ahead.

Tanya Ward is CEO of Yes For Children.

Irish Independent

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