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Children’s Referendum: New article gives State stronger intervention powers

THE Government has published the wording of the children's rights referendum.

The vote on the proposed new article 42A of the Constitution, which would be the 31st amendment, will be on Saturday November 10.

Here is the wording of the proposed reform:

1. The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2.1 In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2.2 Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3. Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4.1. Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings -

i brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or

ii concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

4.2. Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1 of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald encouraged all people in society to be involved in the debate on the referendum.

"The debate on this referendum must not belong solely to constitutional lawyers or politicians," she said.

"This is a debate for all of us. The Government will explain why this referendum is needed, what it will change and how it will improve the lives of Ireland's children, in particular our most vulnerable."

The minister rejected suggestions that the amendment was a charter to break up the family.

She insisted children could only be taken away from their parents in exceptional cases and said the reforms were intended to be preventative, and to ensure they are protected.

"But we have to recognise that children can suffer in families and it's about a strong proportionate response," she said.

Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan has been appointed to head up the Referendum Commission to advise the public.

Ms Fitzgerald said the reforms were not intended to allow the Government to intervene with families and put children with parents in care.

"There is no evidence in Ireland through our courts or our services that there is a huge wish to move the situations where many more children are in care," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said the Government would work hard to support families where problems had been identified to prevent this from happening.

The Children's Minister said her department had budgeted €3m for the referendum.

However, she said that figure could be reviewed.

The minister defended provisions in the referendum to allow a child to express his or her own views in proceedings.

She rejected suggestions there would be undue pressure put on a youngster having to speak up about their family situation, insisting the wording of the amendment ensures their protection.

"We have where the child is 'capable' of forming his or her own views," said Ms Fitzgerald.

"It could be an advocate for the child - not the child's own voice."

Read the new wording on childrensreferendum.ie