'Second chance' for children
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny yesterday promised the Children's Rights Referendum would give "a second chance to some of Ireland's most vulnerable children".
The wording of the referendum grants rights to the child but also allows the State to take the place of parents "in exceptional circumstances".
Mr Kenny said that for too long in this country the rule was that "children should be seen and not heard".
"With the Children's Referendum, it is proposed for the first time in the history of this Republic to ask the people to vote to insert an article in the Constitution dedicated entirely to children as individuals as citizens in their own right," he said.
The referendum on the wording will take place on Saturday, November 10.
The amendment to the Constitution says the State recognises and affirms the "rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights".
It will give the State stronger powers to intervene when the parents, regardless of their marital status, "fail in their duty towards their children".
The amendment is made up of one new article with four sections. The referendum will also provide for the adoption of children where the parents "have failed . . . in their duty".
The best interests of the child are described as the "paramount consideration" in any legal proceedings.
However, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald rejected claims that the amendment would give the State unlimited power to break up families.
She admitted there were additional powers for the State to intervene, and added: "It's clearer but it's also saying it's exceptional."
The definition of the family in the Constitution remains the same and the referendum has no impact on the area of the age of consent for young people.
The publication of the wording for the referendum was broadly welcomed, with opposition parties and campaign groups signalling they would also be calling for a Yes vote.
Fianna Fail noted the strong similarity with the wording produced by the last government's children's minister, Barry Andrews, at the beginning of 2011, describing it as "almost identical".
The party's children's spokesman Robert Troy said significant progress had been made in the area of child protection over the past 10 years.
"This constitutional change is the natural next step in that process," he said.
Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan said the referendum "represents a significant and positive step forward for children and families in Ireland".
One in Four director Maeve Lewis said the wording of the article was strong and robust and would actually allay fears of parents about intervention by the authorities.
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