Referendum mainly a stunt but I'll still be voting Yes
There is a strong temptation to vote No in the children’s referendum on Saturday, not at all for reasons advanced by the No side, but to register a protest at yet another political stunt by this Government, for stunt is what this proposed amendment is mainly about (please note I wrote “mainly”, not “entirely”). Only to a marginal extent will anything in this proposed constitutional amendment make any difference to the entitlements of children and once the referendum is passed, the Government parties (as did the previous government parties) will continue their dogged indifference to the welfare of children, including even the widespread sexual abuse of children.
The most brazen stunt is contained in the very first section of the proposed amendment: “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.” This has been puffed up to suggest that now, for the first time, children’s rights are enshrined in the Constitution; indeed one prominent Yes campaigner has claimed children’s rights have not been part of the Constitution at all, up to now.
This is shameless nonsense.
Children as citizens of the State are conferred with as much in the way of rights as anybody else in article 40.3.1, which states: “The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.” The proposed change makes no difference at all legally but it conveys a cosy feeling that we care about children.
The bit of the proposed amendment that purports to protect children from future abuse is as limp as they could make it. At present the Constitution states in article 42.5 (which is to be repealed by the proposed amendment): “In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.”
This to be replaced by: “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.”
Only hysterics on the No side think this change amounts to a hill of beans. The same blather ordaining the family with a sacrosanct status is persevered with and I cannot see how any endangered child is going to be protected in a way that doesn’t apply at present.