50-50 broadcast rule 'problematic'

Campaigners for a Yes vote in the upcoming children's rights referendum have acknolwedged that the  50/50 rule, arising from …

Campaigners for a Yes vote in the upcoming children's rights referendum have acknolwedged that the  50/50 rule, arising from the 1995 McKenna judgement which states that taxpayers’ money can not be used to promote one side in a referendum, was problematic in the context of a referendum for which there is broad support.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said she was concerned there would not be enough people on the No side to get a debate going.

"People need to understand what the amendment is about and what impact it will have on their children and on their family life. I think we’re probably concerned that the media won’t be able to run enough packages and enough items explaining the details of the amendment,” she said.

Ms Ward was speaking at the launch of a campaign by Yes for Children, an umbrella group representing Barnardos, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), the Children’s Rights Alliance and Campaign for Children, which is calling for a Yes vote on November 10th.


They say the proposed constitutional amendment is a chance to leave the past behind and will ensure children are better respected, protected and heard.

It will also, if approved, act as a signpost to decision makers and to the courts that they have to recognise that children have rights.

Former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness and Campaign for Children chair said cases such as the Roscommon incest case showed that not only did children not have proper constitutional protection but that the constitution could be used to prevent adequate intervention to help them.

She also said the proposed amendment would go some way to correct the imbalance in how children of married and unmarried parents are treated.

“Children are children and we need to protect all of them and to give all of them rights,” she said.

Ms Ward said the amendment would give a voice to children in family law proceedings.

“The amendment will put an onus on the Oireachtas to enact legislation to ensure that the best interest of children are taken into account in childcare and family law proceedings… Family law often involves a bitter fight between a mother and a father and children are often sidelined in those cases. It is very important to bring children back to the centre of those key decisions.”

ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirnie said no money would be diverted from children’s services to run their campaign.

“We are tightly strapped at the moment. We’re not going to divert a penny from our services into running this campaign.”

The Alliance of Parents Against the State is among the groups opposed to the reforms, fearing that the Government will be given powers to interfere with the family and rights will be taken away from parents.

The alliance has support from former MEP Kathy Sinnott and anti-abortion campaigner Nora Bennis.

The wording of the proposed amendment to the Constitution agreed at Cabinet last week would, if approved by the electorate, affirm the rights of the child and allow the State, in exceptional circumstances, to take the place of parents.

It contains a number of elements in a single article. The first element recognises the natural and imprescriptible rights of children.

The second is similar to the current article 42.5, which the amendment proposes to delete, relating to the State supplying the role of the family in exceptional cases. It makes clear this intervention can take place irrespective of parents’ marital status.

The third element provides for the adoption of children whose parents, again irrespective of marital status, have failed for a period of time prescribed by law in their responsibility. It will also allow for voluntary placement for adoption, meaning married parents can consent for the first time to having their children placed for adoption.

The fourth part says the best interests of the child must be a “paramount” consideration in judicial and custody proceedings. The fifth element says in such proceedings the views of children must be heard and taken into account, having regard to the child’s age and maturity.

A Referendum Commission has been set up to oversee an impartial information campaign, informing the public of both sides of the debate.

Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan was appointed chairman of the group.