Bishops say amendment is 'reasonable'


Prelates’ stance:The Catholic bishops have given qualified support to the children’s referendum in a statement that said a “reasonable and balanced” approach had been taken in framing the proposed constitutional amendment.

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which is the assembly of bishops, said it was clear the referendum wording was not intended to undermine the current constitutional balance between the rights of parents and children, or between parents and the State.

However, they expressed concern about the “potential out-working” of future legislation and said citizens should remain engaged as laws arising from the proposed amendment were developed.

They did not expressly recommend a Yes vote but strongly encouraged participation in Saturday’s poll.

The bishops said explicitly recognising the rights of children in the Constitution was an important and principled position that deserved serious consideration.

The “legacy of failure” by the Catholic Church, the State and others to protect children adequately in Ireland “strengthens the case for signalling our commitment to the dignity and welfare of all children at a constitutional level”.

The preservation of the phrase “exceptional cases” in the Constitution and the introduction of the phrase “proportionate means” were welcomed by the bishops, who noted that the provisions on the family and education would remain unaltered.

They said the proposed amendment largely reflected existing rights enshrined in legislation and case law.

“Many of the concerns that have been raised about possible future negative consequences arising from the proposed amendment exist whether the proposed constitutional amendment on children is passed or not. This highlights the need for active and ongoing engagement as citizens in the democratic process as the legislation arising from the proposed amendment is developed,” they said.

“As it is, we as bishops repeat the view of the Committee for the Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 2008, that in the context of a decision to hold a constitutional referendum on this issue, ‘the case is strong for signalling the value which society and the Church attach to children’s rights’.”

Newspaper criticised

Earlier, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald accused the Catholic monthly newspaper Alive!, which is edited by the anti-children’s rights referendum campaigner Fr Brian McKevitt, of “misrepresenting” the proposed constitutional amendment.

Fr McKevitt said he stood over the content of the newspaper. “I would love to debate the issue with the Minister,” he said.

Ms Fitzgerald insisted parents’ rights would not be altered in the event of a Yes vote. The latest edition of Alive! describes the referendum as “anti-parents” and carries headlines such as “State to back teenagers over parents”.

“The kind of headlines that I saw in Alive! are very extreme and they’re not correct. They are misrepresenting what the amendment is about. The amendment is about protecting children,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Parents’ rights and family rights are extremely central to our Constitution. Not a word in relation to those has been changed in the amendment. Parents’ rights remain absolutely central but we’re putting a greater focus on protecting the vulnerable child in exceptional circumstances.”