Referendum wording welcomed
The wording of the children’s rights referendum published by the government today has been broadly welcomed by politicians and organisations working with children.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on children Robert Troy welcomed the publication of the wording, but claimed it was very similar to a text provisionally signed off by the previous Government before the general election, when Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews was minister of state for children.
This followed the publication of a draft wording the previous year by a cross-party committee chaired by then Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke.
“The wording is almost identical to what was published back in January 2011 by then minister Barry Andrews. One would wonder what was the delay in 18 months to bring it to this day,” Mr Troy said. “But that being said we welcome the fact that it has finally been published and as a party we’ll be supporting it.”
However, Sinn Féin’s spokesman on children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the wording proposed by the Government was stronger than that put forward by Mr Andrews.
Mr Ó Caoláin was a member of Mrs O’Rourke’s committee, as was Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.
Aspects of the Andrews wording were “weak”, Mr Ó Caoláin argued.
“This is stronger. I will acknowledge that it is in a position somewhere between what Barry Andrews had indeed mooted and what the committee had agreed,” he said. “We’re positively disposed towards it there’s no doubt in the world around that.”
Mr Ó Caoláin said Sinn Féin were consulting their legal advisors about the text and will propose amendments if they feel they are required.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy also said she was very happy to support the referendum. “Minister Fitzgerald has clearly given extensive thought, time and commitment to producing this vital document and I think the wording is a positive move towards finally defining the rights of Ireland’s children,” Ms Murphy said.
Labour TD and vice-chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children Ciara Conway said the use of the word “shall” in place of “may” in the text was an important change that would give the Constitution “much more robust legalistic force”.
“There is no room for indecision,” she said.
The publication of the wording was also welcomed by the National Youth Council and Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI).
Miriam Duffy, chairperson of RCNI, said the absence of children’s rights in the Constitution until now “added to their vulnerability and contributed to a culture where children’s interests and voices were not of primary importance”, but the referendum would offer the public an opportunity “to put right that gap in our Constitution”.
The Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan said her office had been calling for stronger protection for children’s rights since its establishment eight years ago, and the publication “represents a significant and positive step forward for children and families in Ireland.”