Minister refuses to set date for children's rights vote
THE Government last night refused to set any timescale for holding the referendum on children's rights which has been promised for almost three years.
The publication of the final report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Child Protection has paved the way for a public vote on the rights of children after years of delays and disagreements.
But Children's Minister Barry Andrews claimed it would be "invidious" to immediately set a timescale for holding the referendum, which was promised by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as far back as April 2007.
It is now over a decade since promises to amend the Constitution to strengthen and protect children's rights first appeared in a programme for government.
The report published yesterday, which took 65 meetings to compile over three years, proposes that the famous line in the 1916 Proclamation "to cherish all the children of the nation equally" be written into the Constitution.
The proposed changes would require the State to intervene where children are at risk, and holds out the possibility of adoption of 2,000 children who are in long-term foster care.
If the report's proposed referendum wording is accepted, a new Article 42 would be inserted into the Constitution recognising children as "individuals, while maintaining the role of parents as natural carers, educators and protectors".
A spokesman for the Taoiseach said the report would be considered in full by Cabinet.
"It will be progressed as a matter of priority now," he said.
Cabinet will also take care to "get it right" when planning for a referendum, Mr Andrews said.
However, opposition parties and children's rights' campaigners ramped up the pressure on Mr Andrews and urged him to hold a referendum on a date between June and October in light of the Murphy and Ryan reports.
The Government may be reluctant to pinpoint a date for the public vote as it would force it to also pencil in two by-elections -- in Donegal South-West and Dublin South -- and the Dublin mayoral election at a time when Fianna Fail continues to languish at the bottom of opinion polls.
Heaping pressure on the minister, Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter said there needed to be a defined timescale for a referendum and urged the Government to make a "rapid decision".
In a joint statement issued by Barnardos, Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI), the Children's Rights Alliance, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the ISPCC, One in Four and the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, the organisations applauded the Oireachtas committee on a "significant achievement" and welcomed the inclusion of the best interests of the child.
The provision for children to be proportionally protected by the State where parents fail in their responsibility towards them, regardless of their marital status, was also described as a "very welcome development".
Breaking from the generally positive response to the report, the Iona Institute said any changes must not give the State more power of intervention in family life than it needs.