Fitzgerald firm on children's vote


Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has stood over the holding of the referendum on children’s rights in the wake of a second former judge questioning its necessity.

Former Supreme Court judge Hugh O’Flaherty contended this morning that children were adequately protected in the Constitution and there was no need to include an amendment. His comments follow those of former District Court judge Michael Patwell who has also said that a referendum is unnecessary.

Mr Fitzgerald said this morning that many other experts and groups had argued that a referendum was necessary.

“I know that people who are in the front line and in the courts and working with children and making decisions about children are very clear that this change is necessary at constitutional level," she said.

“As I say, lawyers and judges will disagree. Catherine McGuinness, former Supreme Court judge called for this. She is a huge expert that deals in this area. She is very clear that constitutional change is necessary.

“The all-party Constitutional Review Group felt it was necessary. An all-party committee that sat and looked at this, and had 64 meetings, also came out with an unanimous recommendation. We are acting on what has been called for for 20 years."

Ms Fitzgerald was speaking on the final day of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Westport, where she briefed the party’s TDs and Senators on progress on the long-awaited referendum.

Mr O’Flaherty’s comments appeared in a article in this morning’s Irish Independent.

The meeting was also addressed by the Special Rapporteur on child protection Geoffrey Shannon who also pointed out that there had been calls internationally for a referendum

“The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the international standard-setter, has called on Ireland on two occasions to introduce constitutional reform to enshrine the rights of children in the Constitution," he said. "Not only domestic bodies but international bodies have called on Ireland to institute constitutional change."

Ms Fitzgerald reiterated that the referendum will be held in the autumn and that the Cabinet will begin its discussion on the final wording, and the accompanying legislation, at its next meeting. She would not be drawn on a date only to say that it will be held during this Dáil term.

“We are very close to finalising the workding and adoption legislation and Cabinet will be discussing it at its next meeting and subsequent meeting if necessary. We have the full Dáil term to consider it, it will be held during this Dáil term and it will be a standalone referendum,” she said.

She said that the wording would be about achieving a proper balance that also gave recognition to the rights of the child. “This is about balance. Children have been invisible. We want to make them visible and have better decision-making about their future.”

She disagreed with the suggestion that the referendum would be divisive. “When people understand what we are doing with the referendum and what we are trying to achieve they will be supportive of this referendum. There is no reason for it to be divisive,” she said.

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