Children's referendum for Cabinet talks today

Tue, Sep 18, 2012, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT is expected to formally approve the outline of a children’s rights amendment to the Constitution at today’s Cabinet meeting, with Friday, November 9th as the likely polling-date.

Details of the proposed amendment are still being finalised, so the wording will not be published for a short time yet, according to senior political sources.

Draft legislation to change the adoption laws is also likely to be approved to address the obstacles to having the children of married couples adopted, but this will be contingent on passage of the constitutional amendment.

Despite Opposition complaints about delay, sources close to Government pointed out that today’s Cabinet meeting is only the second since the end of the summer recess and that this issue has been debated “for 20 years”.

The wording of the amendment will have similarities to that proposed in February 2010 by the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

Membership of that committee included then senator Frances Fitzgerald, now Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and three other members of Cabinet: Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin and Alan Shatter.

In a reworking of the language of the 1916 Proclamation, the committee proposed that “the State shall cherish all the children of the State equally”. (The Proclamation says “children of the nation”).

However, this well-known formula has proven on closer examination to be legally very imprecise and will not form part of the proposed amendment.

Currently, it is virtually impossible for a child of married parents to be placed for adoption but the Government’s proposed amendment will authorise the principle of adoption, irrespective of the parents’ marital status.

The Government’s wording will set out, as one source put it, “what the State can or can’t do, when, and in what circumstances”.

A great deal of work has gone into the wording, with regular contact between Ms Fitzgerald’s office and Attorney General Máire Whelan. The Bill providing for this, the 31st amendment of the Constitution, is to be published shortly, with the final wording included, following which a referendum commission will be established by order of Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

The Dáil resumes today after the summer recess and the legislation is expected to be debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming weeks.

The Bill must have passed both the Dáil and Seanad before Mr Hogan can sign the order for polling day. He has to allow at least 30 days between signing the order and holding the referendum. In order to facilitate a November 9th vote, the order will have to be signed by October 10th.