The referendum proposes a new Article – 42A - to the Irish Constitution and the deletion of the current Article 42.5.
In summary this referendum is about protecting the most vulnerable in society – children and young people - and ensuring that the law is shaped to protect them while imposing a legally binding duty on the state to provide the strategies, policies, services and resources needed to achieve this.
The referendum is the outworking of a debate on children’s rights in the south that goes back decades. It also reflects the concerns raised as a result of a succession of damning reports - including the Ryan Report; the Ferns, Cloyne and Murphy reports, as well as the scandal of the Magdalene Laundries - that have exposed the horrifying extent of child abuse – both physical and sexual – inflicted on children in state and Catholic Church run institutions, by clergy, and within some families.
In addition the increasing numbers of children living in poverty as a result of government policies; the 500 vulnerable young people who were recorded as homeless on census night in 2011; and the report last June by the Independent Child Death Review Group into the deaths of children in care, are disturbing examples of the failure of the existing child protection systems.
Consequently, there are some citizens who oppose this constitutional change because they do not trust the state on this issue.
There are also some who argue that the proposed constitutional change will undermine the rights of parents and of the married family.
However, if all of the reports and accounts of abuse prove anything it is that the key to successfully protecting children is early intervention. The June report from the Independent Child Death Review Group found that earlier and more consistent intervention could have helped the young people who died in care to overcome their vulnerabilities.
So, this constitutional amendment is about enshrining in the constitution the early intervention that is needed to help families and children and where practical to ensure that children remain with their parents.
It will also impose on the government the requirement that its policies and laws reflect the demands of the constitution to protect children.
The purpose of the referendum is to provide strong legislative protections for children in the time ahead and to tackle these issues in a positive way.
This is an important legislative advance and Sinn Féin welcomes it.
Sinn Féin has long campaigned for the rights of the child and this amendment is for us a first step toward incorporating the UN Convention on the rights of the Child into Irish law.
We would have preferred a stronger wording but nonetheless this is a significant step in the right direction. However, the amendment is a positive step in the right direction.
• The Constitutional Amendment as proposed expressly recognises children in their own right.
• The Amendment affirms for the first time in the Constitution that children have rights.
• The best interest of the child principle is established.
• The view (voice) of the child must be heard/taken into account in all judicial cases concerning the child’s care, adoption, guardianship, custody and access.
• The Amendment, if adopted, will allow for the first time, for the adoption of children of marital relationships, affording them full integration into a loving, supporting, family relationship.
• And finally, the Amendment upholds the constitutional protection of the traditional family construct.
Last Saturday I was in Dublin and Dundalk on the campaign trail urging a YES vote. Across the 26 counties republicans have been canvassing support for the referendum change.
The purpose of this amendment is to get the balance right for children. It is especially important for vulnerable children to ensure that all possible legal safeguards are in place to protect them. I believe this referendum is an important step in the right direction. If you have a vote on Saturday Vote Yes for Children.
Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution
PROPOSED NEW ARTICLE 42A
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° 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.
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