1916 wording on children 'misunderstood', says judge


THE PHRASE “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” from the 1916 Proclamation is much misunderstood to literally mean young people, Supreme Court Justice Adrian Hardiman told the Parnell Spring Day Conference at the weekend.

The Easter Proclamation was referring to citizens generally rather than children, and “the reference to children has been gravely misunderstood”, he said during his presentation on the document at Avondale House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow on Saturday. “Many people believe the phrase is from the Constitution and not the Proclamation, and some people foster this mistake for reasons of their own,” he said.

The word “children” was treated literally to mean children or young people usually “by people espousing some campaign which, at least in their own view, would favour children as such”, he said.

The phrase has been used by children’s rights campaign groups and more recently in the final report by the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

Mr Justice Hardiman did not explicitly refer to this report or the proposed constitutional change. However, the committee’s report proposed a text for a constitutional amendment which would add the following sentence to article 42: “The State shall cherish all the children of the State equally.” The judge used one of other references to children in the document to demonstrate his point that the text did not literally mean children.

“For example, if children means literally children or young persons, what do you make of the reference in the sixth paragraph to ‘the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves [for the common good]’?” he asked.

“All the sacrifices were to be made by the little darlings? That seems most unfair,” he said.

Mr Justice Hardiman said the misuse of the phrase was not the only “abuse” of the document. He criticised an unnamed EU commissioner – but thought to be former Swedish commissioner Margot Wallström – for “historical illiteracy” in her reference to the Proclamation in 2008.

After the defeat of the first Lisbon referendum in Ireland, the commissioner had said from the earliest time it was manifest that Ireland favoured the European project, Mr Justice Hardiman explained.

“What did she cite as evidence for this? Why the mention of ‘gallant allies in Europe’ in paragraph two,” he said. “This level of historical illiteracy is almost incredible.”

The reference in the Proclamation to “gallant allies in Europe” is widely considered by historians to refer to the Germans rather than the Allies (UK, France and Russia).

Mr Justice Hardiman also proposed that like Europe, Ireland had its own “short 20th century”.

The concept usually refers to the period between the start of the first World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The judge drew similarities between the 1916 Proclamation and the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant of 1912.

“Each purported to set up a provisional government in defiance of Westminster . . . Yet each movement at times proclaimed loyalty to Westminster. Each was frustrated. One militarily and the other by the outbreak of the European war. Each cast long shadows forward,” he said.