Former judge backs Yes side in referendum

Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 01:00

FORMER SUPREME Court judge Catherine McGuinness has said people living in the “comfortable nest of privilege” could find it difficult to understand that some children were not safe in their families.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness said Irish people had been historically hesitant to intervene in the family circle and it was often assumed that the best place for children was with their families in all instances.

“It’s easier to believe this from a privileged, middle-class, professional background where we all grew up in the loving care of our parents . . . this applies to judges too,” she said.

“Do we who live in the comfortable nest of general privilege really know much about the reality of other children’s actual private lives?”

She was speaking at a children’s rights referendum information seminar organised by the Yes for Children movement in Dublin last night.

Judge McGuinness said the proposed constitutional amendment avoided “over-interference” in the family. She rejected the suggestion that the amendment was not necessary.

“This is our time to have the rights of children set out clearly and without doubt,” she said.

Judge McGuinness is chairwoman of Campaign for Children, which is part of the Yes for Children umbrella group.

Solicitor Catherine Ghent said that in her professional career she witnessed tragedies unfolding that had left her feeling “extremely frustrated, sometimes angry and sometimes inconsolably sad”.

Ms Ghent said some children were going hungry and some were “black and blue”, having been injured “not by strangers, but by their parents”.

She added: “We don’t want to think it happens but we need to realise that it does.” Ms Ghent said the voices of vulnerable children had been “actively disregarded” but the proposed amendment would recognise the child as a legal person in his or her own right.

She said the Constitution was not just a legal document, but also a political one.

The Government would have to take account of the provisions she hoped the Irish people would vote into law on Saturday, November 10th. Parents’ rights would continue to be respected, she said.

“Picture yourself as a child in long-term foster care who can’t be adopted. You always live with that sense of being different,” she said.

Barrister Conor Power said the Constitution was a document of its time and every good, modern constitution being written today would cater for children’s rights specifically.

He said the proposed amendment would make it easier for the children of married parents to be adopted, which is extremely difficult at present.

Muriel Walls, a partner at McCann Fitzgerald solicitors, said the State needed to listen to children.

She also said social workers, doctors and others needed to be encouraged to take up the challenge of helping families going through a difficult time.

She said divorce and separation had an impact on children, but the impact could be minimised by the way in which the process was managed.

“Children have radar ears and eyes. They know something is seriously wrong in the home before anyone tells them.”