Children's referendum pledged

Thu, Jun 21, 2012, 01:00

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has confirmed a referendum on the rights of children will take place in the autumn.

He said the referendum would be taken on a “standalone” basis to avoid confusion.

Speaking in the Dáil today, he told Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Dara Calleary the necessary legislation to allow the referendum go ahead would be introduced after the summer recess.

Mr Calleary raised the issue during leaders’ questions this morning following publication of the report on the deaths of 196 children in care or known to the HSE between 2000 and 2010.

Mr Gilmore pointed out that these deaths occurred in “the period of our great prosperity”, when “so much partying was going on, so much clapping on the back was going on about how wonderful we were as a country, how great we were doing, how much more money we had”.

During all of this, “there were children dying in appalling circumstances, neglected, in some cases by the State, in some cases by families”.

He agreed the House needed to work on a non-partisan basis “to progress the measures that are need to protect children”.

Mr Calleary expressed concern the referendum might be rushed and “would be hijacked by people campaigning on issues with nothing to do with the referendum”.

He feared “they will use that rush to create the confusion” and that a genuine issue would get lost in the melee of an uneven debate.

Mr Gilmore insisted the referendum would not be rushed because it had been signalled for some time.

“The Government’s intention is that this referendum will be held on a stand alone basis” because they had experience of referendums being held where a number of issues had been put on the same day. “In the whole melee of what happens, one issue can impact on another,” he said.

Because of the importance of this particular issue, it was intended to be held on a standalone basis, he said. Mr Gilmore agreed TDs should “endeavour to provide unified leadership on this issue”.

Mr Calleary said it was important there is all-party agreement in dealing with the recommendations of the report on the deaths of 196 children in care or known to the HSE.

He said there was a need to discuss the introduction of a 24-hour social work system and agreement sought to move it. The whole notion of files of children in care or under the watch of the HSE being unavailable or missing is wrong. “The computerisation process needs to be speeded up,” he said.

The Mayo TD also stressed the need to continue to ensure the social work service was exempt from the moratorium on recruitment.

The Tánaiste highlighted the Government’s decision to prioritise the “needs and protection of children, the establishment of a dedicated department and the putting of guidelines on a statutory basis and the ringfencing of budgets”.

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