Sunday 25 March 2018

Government sets November 10 date for Children's Referendum

Lyndsey Telford

The Government has broken with electoral tradition and will hold the long-awaited children's rights referendum on Saturday November 10, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Details of the final wording of the constitutional amendment will be published tomorrow when the chairman of the Referendum Commission will also be named.

The proposed reforms include a general recognition of the rights of children, power for state intervention in neglect cases, new adoption laws and the need for a child's views to be taken into consideration with their best interests paramount.

The wording was finalised at a Cabinet meeting today.

The Taoiseach insisted details of the proposed constitutional reform would be set out clearly for the public to understand.

"The Government is committed to ensure that the Irish people have all the information they need to make an informed decision on the 10th November," said Mr Kenny.

"And to that end, there will be a well resourced Referendum Commission along with a comprehensive Government information campaign."

He added that the protection of children had been an area of concern for the country for years following many expert reports and recommendations.

Meanwhile, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who will publish the referendum - to be known as the 31st Amendment to the Constitution Bill - welcomed the fact polling day is on a Saturday.

"This referendum proposes a child-centred change to our constitution and I think it is only right that we are taking a similar, child-centred approach to the holding of a referendum, by naming a Saturday as polling date," said Ms Fitzgerald.

Earlier, a judge who was among the first to call for a children's rights referendum nearly 20 years ago warned about a long and irrelevant debate.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness said a lengthy campaign would result in fighting over irrelevant points, which would be counter-productive.

With just over seven weeks until polling day, Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay correctly predicted roughly a two-month campaign.

"I think a month in the Oireachtas and a month out being debated by the people is more than enough time," said Mr Finlay.

Mrs McGuinness, retired Supreme Court judge, first called for constitutional change to children's rights in 1993 during the Kilkenny incest inquiry.

Children's rights activists also urged Government to ensure the wording of the referendum is as simple as possible to avoid similar confusion on the complex proposed reforms to Oireachtas inquiries last year, which the public refused to pass.

The principles of the proposed constitutional change include:

  • A general recognition and affirmation of the rights of children;
  • Provision for the state in certain cases to intervene to protect a child where its parents fail to do so;
  • Provision to ensure that the law treats all children equally in law, whether or not their parents are married, including in relation to the law on adoption;
  • Provision to enable a requirement that the best interests of children be regarded as the paramount consideration in the resolution of proceedings affecting children;
  • Provision to enable a requirement that the views of children be ascertained and given due weight according to their age and maturity in proceedings affecting children.

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