Time to honour a forgotten vow to the nation's children
Most of the No campaign is driven not by justified anger but by ideology. There are people who believe “the family” as an abstract ideal must be protected at all costs – including costs to children.
They have campaigned relentlessly against the Stay Safe programme in primary schools, which aims to help children protect themselves from abuse. They oppose the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They accuse fellow-Catholic organisations such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Catholic Youth Care of being dominated by an “anti-family agenda”. They oppose the idea of “child-centred education”.
These people are campaigning the only way they know how – through paranoia. Alive!, which is the main forum for the No ideologists, characterises the vote as the “anti-parents referendum” driven by “UN left-wing radicals”. Its basic “argument” is the headline “Politicians and social workers to be given the role of parents?” (James Reilly is coming for your baby!) Kathy Sinnott tells readers that a Yes vote will become “a charter for child-predators of every sort to exploit innocent and immature children and teenagers”. (Jimmy Savile is coming for your baby!)
In truth, the easiest way to get a sense of how relatively tame and cautious the referendum proposals are is to put the word not before each of them.
There should not be any explicit acknowledgment in the Constitution that children have rights. The State should not be able to intervene, proportionally and in exceptional cases, where parents are putting the safety and welfare of children at risk.
Children born of married parents should not be capable of being adopted, even by foster parents who have actually brought them up. The best interests of the child should not be the primary consideration in court cases that concern their welfare. Children who are capable of forming their own views should nevertheless not be allowed to express those views in proceedings that concern them. Behind the hysteria and paranoia, this is what the No campaigners are actually saying.
If you find all of those propositions reasonable, by all means vote No. If you think that endorsing the ideology of people who have opposed every development that has given children in Ireland more dignity is the best way to kick out at the Government’s double standards, by all means vote No.
But if you think, as I do, that the exclusion of children from our Constitution was a disgraceful abandonment of the most noble principle of a would-be republic, you will see the referendum for what it is: a cautious, modest but utterly necessary restatement of what, in one of our better moments, we thought we might be.