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David Quinn: State will still let our children down even if we vote Yes in referendum

A very great deal of nonsense is already being spoken on both sides about the upcoming Children's Referendum.

Some on the Yes side pretend that the current constitutional arrangement is responsible for the State's failure to protect children in the likes of the Kilkenny and Roscommon incest cases.

Some on the No side are as much as saying that the proposed amendment will give the State totalitarian powers over the family.

Neither of these things is true. In respect of the first claim, the State already has the power, and has always had the power, to take abused and neglected children away from their families.

The failure to properly protect the children in the Kilkenny and Roscommon cases was due not to the Constitution, but due to a bungling and incompetent childcare system.

In Britain these sorts of failings also take place, but British social workers can't pretend the law prevents them from taking abused children into care because Britain doesn't have a written constitution or a legal definition of the family.

Here is an absolute, cast-iron guarantee; even if the Constitution gave the State the power to kick in every door of the land at the merest suspicion that child abuse was taking place, there would still be cases of the State failing children badly.

So when you hear proponents of this amendment citing very serious abuse cases as a reason to vote in favour; know that abused children can already be taken into care, are already being taken into care, and that in the future there will still be examples of the State failing children catastrophically.

This isn't a reason to vote No, by the way, but it is a reason to pay no heed when you hear the Constitution being wrongly blamed for cases like Roscommon.

In addition, it is not right for those on the Yes side to pretend that all those opposed to a children's rights amendment are against children. It's not that they're against children, it's that they don't trust the State.

It's crucial to understand that a No vote wouldn't be a vote against children, it would be a vote against the State.

Those opposed to the amendment don't trust the State on two counts. First, they have little trust in its basic competence. Who could possibly pretend the Irish State is anything close to being a model of efficiency?

Second, they don't trust it ideologically. They know that in countries like Sweden, the State has virtually banned religious parents from home-schooling their children in case the children are 'indoctrinated'.

This is an example of how quickly an ideologically driven State can become hostile and totalitarian towards families that fall too far outside an ever narrower mainstream.

However, the proposed amendment is extremely unlikely to permit anything of this sort to happen in Ireland and it is ludicrous to pretend otherwise.

Also, those on the No side should read the current Constitution and what is proposed to replace it before making pronouncements.

For example, one person has warned that the new wording will allow the State to "supply" the place of parents where the parents have failed in their duties. But the current wording already allows that.

I've come across an email from a group warning darkly that the phrase "in exceptional cases" (the State can intervene) could mean anything. But again, those words are already in the Constitution.

In fact, if Article 42.5 -- which allows the State to remove children from their families in exceptional cases didn't exist -- was being proposed now, there are groups who would oppose it on the basis of how it might be interpreted.

In the run-up to the publication of the amendment I repeatedly and publicly said that any change to the Constitution should not give the State too much power as has happened in countries like Britain and Sweden and Canada.

The amendment is certainly better than the previous wording produced by the Oireachtas Committee headed by Mary O'Rourke. It was far too sweeping.

The proposed amendment is welcome in that it makes it somewhat easier to adopt the children of married couples.

It also introduces the concept of a child's 'best interests' into the Constitution for the first time. Everyone is for a child's best interests, especially the child's parents.

But when should the wishes of a non-abusive parent be overridden by the State? That's the key question.

I haven't fully made up my mind which way to vote yet. It's clear to me that the amendment doesn't go nearly as far as some of its conservative critics say.

It's also comforting to know that there are critics on the left who believe it doesn't give the State enough power. We should be glad about that. 'Enough', to them, means too much.

The debate we need to have is a debate about what the actual wording of the actual amendment is likely to mean in practice and we need to have that debate in a calm, rational and balanced way.

Irish Independent