AG's advice to be sought on children's rights


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has said the Government will seek the Attorney General’s advice as part of its consideration of the children’s rights report, but did not specify a referendum date.

The Coalition was urged to commit to an early poll by members of the Oireachtas committee that produced the report, which contains a proposal for a referendum that could result in a new article 42 in the Constitution.

“Obviously there are complex legal and constitutional issues at the heart of this report. We will give it our attention obviously and seek the Attorney’s views on it,” Mr Cowen told the Dáil yesterday.

Asked to clarify a recent reference to the possibility of a constitutional referendum taking place “at the back end of the year” from Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin, he said she meant the second half of 2010.

Committee member Alan Shatter of Fine Gael, speaking at the launch of the report yesterday, said he hoped Government would make a “rapid decision to accept the wording as proposed”.

Mr Shatter said it would take “some weeks” to communicate the implications of the wording to citizens and a “defined timescale” was needed.

“I really do want to urge that the Government take on board this wording very quickly and that they set a date preferably in June for a referendum but certainly no later than next October,” Mr Shatter said.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin, also a member of the committee, said the proposed wording should be put to the people as a matter of urgency. “There is a public clamour to make the changes we are now recommending,” he said.

Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews, who attended yesterday’s launch, said he “certainly” wanted to see a referendum on children’s rights but it would be “invidious” to set a time limit.

He could not anticipate what the Government would say or the advice it would receive, he said. “For the first time we have party political consensus on the issue and the more important thing would be to get it right.”

However, Mr Andrews said: “We would consider this one of the most important referendums to take place ever.”

He also said the National Vetting Bureau Bill was at a “very advanced” stage and that heads of legislation had been prepared for the Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Bill.

Committee chairwoman Mary O’Rourke also emphasised the cross-party agreement for the wording. “I’m hoping that’s what will sell it,” she said.

If put to a vote and accepted by the people, it would have far-reaching effects in the future for children, she said.

A Government spokesman said Cabinet would now consider the report and, while no decision had yet been made on accepting the wording, the matter would be “progressed as a matter of priority”.

He said Mr Andrews briefed ministerial colleagues on the content of the report at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin also called on the Government to hold an early referendum.