No would 'set back child protection by a century'
A failure to pass the Children’s referendum would set back child protection by a century, to the 1908 Children’s Act, Geoffrey Shannon, Government rapporteur on child protection, said yesterday.
“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of going out to vote,” he said. He was responding to a media query as to whether complacency on the Yes side might affect the result.
Ellen O’Malley Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) described such complacency as “really worrying”. The referendum result was not a foregone conclusion, she said.
“It is for our children: people seem to be losing sight of that. It’s not about words in the Constitution.”
Both were speaking at a press conference in Dublin calling for a Yes vote on Saturday. It was hosted by groups involved in child protection for many years, including One in Four, Cari, Epic and DRCC, as well as Mr Shannon.
There to lend support to calls for a Yes vote were clerical abuse survivors Marie Collins and Andrew Madden, as well as June, Joyce and Paula Kavanagh, who had been abused in Ballyfermot as children by their father Kevin. In May 1990 he was jailed for seven years.
Mary Flaherty of Cari recalled that their agency had been calling for such a referendum since the 1980s. “Working as we do on the coalface of child sexual abuse we are all too aware of how things are stacked up against children in situations of abuse,” she said.
“Child sexual abuse has not gone away,” she said, noting that in 2010, the last year for which figures are available, “the HSE received 2,986 new allegations.”
Réidín Dunne of Epic, which works with young people growing up in care, said that just two weeks ago a District Court judge in the southeast refused to hear what a young person they represented had to say.
“This referendum will give a voice to that young person,” she said, “ ... we need a Yes in this referendum to ensure that children are no longer silenced”.
Ms O’Malley Dunlop said DRCC was supporting the call for a Yes vote “because for 34 years we have been listening to the stories of adult men and women, and witnessing the terrible devastation to their lives, because their childhoods were taken from them”.
Maeve Lewis of the One in Four group said after 20 years and almost 20 reports “we know what happens [to children] behind closed doors”. People “knew what was happening but felt powerless to act” .
A Yes outcome on Saturday would “help ensure better protection for children, now and in the future”, she said.
Calling for a Yes vote, Mr Madden said passing the referendum would mark a “very significant” cultural development where the protection of children in Ireland was concerned.
Ms Collins said “we can’t change the past but we can change the future”.