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All-party pact over children's referendum scrapped

THE Government has scrapped the cross-party agreement for a children's rights referendum because it would have knock-on effects on other areas of law and mean more funding would have to be allocated.

The Irish Independent understands the majority of concerns have been raised by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.

The Department of Justice fears that under the equality provisions outlined in the wording, it could see an avalanche of refugee and asylum cases.

There is still no sign of a date being set for the vote.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced yesterday that the all-party committee's proposed wording of a referendum article to protect children would not be used.

The Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, chaired by Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke, put forward the wording earlier this year.

The Irish Independent understands there are at least two major roadblocks to the children's referendum.

The Department of Education is understood to have expressed concern about the development of socio-economic rights if the referendum is passed -- with huge consequences for budgetary resources.

The Department of Justice is also said to be concerned it could face an avalanche of refugee and asylum cases on behalf of children if all children are treated as equal under the Constitution.

Yesterday, Children's Minister Barry Andrews said the implications included concerns about children being left in inappropriate care. It was also feared it would have implications for immigration policy and the idea of providing a so-called 'voice of the child' would lead to inappropriate arrangements.

An example of this would be if the child was suspended from school it could result in legal representation being required on both sides.

"There will be some changes to the wording. It is more important to get this right than the timing of the referendum," Mr Andrews said.


He said there were "various" electoral landmarks next year that would give the Government an opportunity to put a proposal to the people.

Mr Cowen said an examination of the wording by ministers had uncovered far-reaching implications, which could give rise to substantial costs to the State.

"Consequently, the Minister for Health and Children was asked to develop further work on the referendum, in co-operation with the Attorney General, and that has to be brought back to Government in due course," Mr Cowen said.

However, chief executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, said any significant change to the wording could result in the current consensus falling apart.

Irish Independent