Preparing for 'children referendum'

Fri, Nov 2, 2012, 00:00

Sir, – I am glad to see some important points about the proposed amendment raised by John Byrne (Opinion, October 31st). As a professionally qualified social worker and as someone who has worked with vulnerable children and adults for 20 years, I agree with him on several points.

He raises the very important issue of adoption without parental consent. This is a very significant change for Irish society and for Irish social work practice and I think it merits more debate than there has been to date. One of the most important rights of the child is to know his family.That is why so much of social work practice is about facilitating relationships between parents and children.

A child does not have to live at home to know his family. In fact sometimes it is crucial he does not. For most of  the children I have worked with in care, it has been a fundamental need to have a sense of identity.

“Family” is not just parents. It is siblings, grandparents aunts and uncles and cousins. To permanently remove a child by having him adopted is to deny him this right. Very interesting work on relative fostering and the importance of kinship ties has been done in New Zealand. This has come about as a result of reflecting on the experience of many Maori children being removed from parental care and forcibly adopted because the parents were seen as “unfit”. In Ireland we have had the industrial schools where mainly the poor and marginalised were incarcerated.

Parenting is hard work. It is harder still if you have grown up in care/ are poor/  living in substandard accommodation/ struggling with addiction. Intervening early in such situations with targeted support for parents and children could prevent much of the firefighting down the line. There is already a sound legal framework for protecting children.

The problem is the current child protection system is not working; and until we have a very frank debate about why this is so, nothing will change. – Yours, etc,


Clos du Blankedelle,

Auderghem, Brussels, Belgium.

Sir, – In 2004, the 27th Amendment to the Constitution was passed. The new Article 9.2.1 stated: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of the birth of that person, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless provided for by law.”

The proposed 31st Amendment intends that the State protects and vindicates the imprescriptible rights of all children. Yet Article 9.2.1 is discriminatory against a child born here of non-EU national parents?

Will the new amendment, if passed, render the deportation of children of non-nationals impossible because the child will surely tell the judge that he/she wants to remain here with parents and school friends? I consider that living in Ireland protects the interests of the child much more than living in destitution elsewhere.

The issue is not referred to in the information booklet issued by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. This 2012 amendment seems to partially overturn the effect of the 27th Amendment. I can see the issue being decided by our learned friends in the Supreme Court. – Yours, etc,


Glasnevin Avenue, Dublin 11.

Sir, – Kieran McGrath, child welfare consultant (October 31st) should, in my opinion, be listened to ahead of many others with God knows what agenda, for two reasons: 1. His letter makes perfect sense and 2. Unlike the others, he is at the front line and so knows the facts rather than the fantasies engaged in by those others. – Yours, etc,


Barrow Lane,


Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Could I please ask for clarification regarding this referendum. This evening, I saw a TV commercial on RTÉ for “The Children Referendum”. This morning, an information booklet was dropped to my house, entitled, “Children’s Referendum”, from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Is there a grammatical error, a typo – or, are both versions correct, namely, “Children and/or Children’s”? Is this confusing in the context of the target audience – are they talking to children or adults? – Yours, etc,


Frankfort Avenue,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, –   Carl O’Brien, (“How new wording might have helped other children”, September 22nd) asks whether the proposed wording of a constitutional amendment on children’s rights would have changed the outcomes of previous high-profile cases. The article refers to key reports and court cases over the years where the issue of children’s rights – or their absence – was cited as a vital factor. However, it contains factual inaccuracies and fails to challenge a number of myths that have been successfully propagated by the Yes side in this debate.

The Kilkenny Incest Case:   “In March 1993 a Kilkenny father was jailed for pleading guilty to rape, incest and assault of his daughter over a 15-year period”, your report states.

This shows the State is allowed to protect children when the family fails in its duty towards their children in accordance with Article 42.5. However, the State failed in its duty to the children by not intervening earlier. This failure was explained with “The Kilkenny Incest Investigation group found there were basic problems of poor communication, little consistent record-keeping and a lack of co-operation between arms of the State”.  The Investigation Group found that the State failed but indicated that “the Constitution may consciously or unconsciously be interpreted as giving a higher value to the rights of parents than to the rights of children”. Just because the Constitution may be unconsciously interpreted incorrectly, does not mean that the Constitution requires an amendment. What it means is that the State employees involved need retraining and instruction on how to properly interpret the Constitution as it stands.  It also means that parents’ rights do not hold a higher value than the rights of children.

The Baby Ann case:  “This child was born to an unmarried couple in July 2004 who decided to give their child up for adoption. Within days, the baby was placed in care; later, a couple were found who wished to adopt the girl. Then, two years later, the unexpected happened: the birth parents withdrew their consent”, your report states.

This is simply not true. It was not two years later, as claimed. Neither was it unexpected. Baby Ann was born on July 7th, 2004. She was placed with the prospective family in November 2004. Consent for the adoption was withdrawn less than a year later in September 2005 but the child was still with the prospective family in February 2006. Judge Hardiman (in his Supreme Court judgment) remarked “This was not a wholly surprising development: there seem to have been uncertainties on the topic from the beginning”.

So, the natural parents did not leave it two years but informed the HSE of their wishes less than one year later. However, the State, through the HSE, failed to take any action when they became aware of the withdrawal of consent.

The Ryan Report: “Between 1936 and 1970 170,000 children were consigned to the 50 or so industrial schools”, your report states.

These children were taken from their families by the State (aided and abetted by the ISPCC). They were abused in State-funded institutions over a period of 35 years, even though the Constitution had not been amended, proving that the threshold for interfering in the family is not as high as it is made out to be. All that was needed back then to claim that children had been failed was that the family was poor.

Adoption of children:   “An estimated 2,000 children have been in foster care for long periods of time, with little or no contact from their birth parents”, your report states.

This will not change, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. Prospective adoptive families generally want to adopt babies, not troubled children who have been “in foster care for long periods of time”. Those children will most likely remain in foster care until they are unceremoniously dumped by the State at the age of 18. – Yours, etc,


Equality For Fathers In Ireland,

Stanley Heights,

Slane, Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – The Constitution requires there be the Office of Comptroller and Auditor General “to control . .. and audit . . . all moneys . . . administered by . . . the Oireachtas”.

Surely what is required in the referendum is an additional article upgrading the Ombudsman for Children to the unfettered status of an independent constitutional office. The Ombudsman would then have a wider authority as regards the “welfare or best interests” of all the State’s vulnerable children and, most particularly, those who lack “separate representation”’ to quote the former chief justice, Thomas Finlay?

Perhaps the advocates of a No vote will reconsider their stance and campaign for this additional amendment establishing a Constitutional Office of State for Children? – Yours, etc,


Thor Place, Dublin 7.