Politicians hail result 'historic'

Sun, Nov 11, 2012, 00:00

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said she was delighted the children’s rights referendum has been passed, describing it as a very historic day for Irish children.

Speaking at the count centre in Dublin Castle today, Ms Fitzgerald described the vote as a “strong endorsement” of the proposition despite the low turnout and stronger than expected No vote.

“I am very pleased with the yes vote that’s there. It’s a strong endorsement. It’s a historic day for Irish children in terms of their place in the constitution and the protections offered to them,” she said

“It’s a democracy. People have different views. I accept that and there were issues that people had strong feelings on. My job now is to go out and ensure that people can trust the services.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the referendum was a “first step” and a lot more work needed to be done in regard to legislation and reforming child services.

Asked about the Supreme Court decision last Thursday that found the Government’s information booklet and website “not fair, equal or impartial” or whether Attorney General Máire Whelan had advised against using some of the material, Ms Fitzgerald said it had been the Government’s intention “at all times” to comply with the McKenna judgment.

“All of the normal processes were followed by my own Department and by the Office of the Attorney General in relation to that.”

She said the issue of Saturday voting “needed to be examined.”

“We didn’t want to close the schools again … We felt that a Saturday had been called for for a long time particularly by students and we thought it would be a family friendly day but in fact I think we’ll have to examine that.”

In a statement, Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the result. “This Government has a deep commitment to families and children. The passing of this amendment will help make childhood a good, secure and loving space for all our children,” he said. “It will also give hope, reassurance and confidence to parents, foster parents and vulnerable children.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the Supreme Court decision would be addressed when the detailed judgment is delivered on December 11th.

“I think there’s been a lot of issues discussed in the lead up to the referendum and I’ve no doubt there’s going to be a lot of discussion later on. But the central and most important thing that we have achieved is a sea change in our constitution in the manner in which we treat children, recognise that they have rights and the obligation given to our courts and social services to truly listen to the voice of the child,” he said.

Asked about the low turnout, Mr Shatter said he wasn’t going to criticise anyone for not voting.

“We live in a democracy. People choose whether they wish to engage or not, whether they wish to vote or not. I think it’s a day to celebrate. We are changing our constitution in a very important way.”

Mr Shatter said legislation to provide greater transparency in family court proceedings would be published before Christmas.

Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael’s director of elections for the referendum, said he would have liked if the turnout had been higher.

“We did expect the margin to be a little bit wider but we’ve had plenty of low turnouts before in referenda and we’ve had a lot of referenda that were a lot tighter and in the fullness of time people forget those details,” he said.

“What history will record is that the Irish people voted today to enshrine children’s rights in our constitution and that makes it a historic day and a day for celebration.”

He acknowledged that there was a growing mistrust of anything considered to be part of the establishment in Irish society.

“Everyone from social workers, to NGOs working with children, to the media and to the courts and that’s something we need to reflect on,” he said.

He said thought needed to be put in to future referenda.

“We’ll have to think long and hard over future referenda and particularly ones that relate to controversial subjects and social issues and given the decision made by the Supreme Court anyone looking for a change in the constitution will have to raise a lot of money to finance their own campaign.”

He said he “wouldn’t close the door” on Saturday voting, attributing the low turnout to the nature of the referendum rather than the day of the week on which it was held.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also welcomed the result saying people had “made a strong and unequivocal statement on the values they attach to children and childhood.”

Sinn Féin Children’s spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the vote was a clear endorsement of the amendment to strengthen the rights of children but said the Government now needed to “match words with actions”

“The Government must now put in place the legislation necessary to give the amendment legal effect. It must also put in place the resources needed to vindicate children’s rights, especially for vulnerable children who require the protection of social services,” he said

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children Robert Troy welcomed the result but said questions remained over the Government’s handling of the campaign.

“It is an important moment for Ireland… but the amendment is not a silver bullet.. The Government must now prioritise the necessary legislation and resources to ensure that the Constitutional change the people voted for this weekend will really improve the lives of the most vulnerable children.”

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