Children's rights referendum may be held after Lisbon vote


GROUPS MEET MINISTER:IT MAY not be a good idea to hold a referendum on the rights of children on the same day as the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, said yesterday.

He was speaking following a meeting groups representing children and victims of abuse organised in the aftermath of the publication of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

Going into the meeting at the Department of Health, Maeve Lewis of One in Four said: “We’re going to be asking him to give us a firm commitment to have a referendum on the rights of children . . . we are suggesting to the Minister it should happen at the same time as the Lisbon Treaty.”

No date has yet been set for the Lisbon referendum, but it is expected to be held later this year.

Following the meeting, Mr Andrews told reporters that it might be difficult to get the children’s referendum to coincide with the Lisbon vote as an Oireachtas committee chaired by Mary O’Rourke is still looking at the issue and trying to find a wording for it that would be acceptable to the widest possible group of people.

“It may be too early to try to coincide with the Lisbon referendum, it may not be helpful to have it coincide with the Lisbon referendum, it’s hard to see how two more important issues for the economy on one hand and for society on the other hand . . . it may not be the best to have them on the same day,” he said.

The most important thing was to get the matter right rather than rush it, he added. The groups he met also included Barnardos, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Cari, Children’s Rights Alliance and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Ms Lewis said they wanted to impress on Mr Andrews the need to ensure the abuses documented in the Ryan report never happened again in this country. They asked him to ensure the Children First guidelines are put on a statutory footing “so that we all are obliged to report any concerns to the relevant authorities”.

Mr Andrews said the guidelines had been found to be fairly robust but not properly and consistently applied throughout the country and the delegation “had some positive suggestions in that regard and I have to say we are not a million miles apart in terms of how that can be achieved”.

Overall the meeting between the sides, he said, had been productive and useful in the context of creating a plan for the implementation of the commission’s report in coming weeks.

Mr Andrews said he was “very concerned” at reports that over 900 children in Health Service Executive (HSE) care do not have an allocated social worker.

He said there are children at risk that aren’t being reached at this time and “if we are going to ensure that there is a legacy of this report [the commission’s report] that’s the kind of issue that we have to tackle”.

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said she was very heartened by the meeting. There had been a long discussion on enshrining the rights of the child in the Constitution. “We are going to keep the pressure on to make sure that the rights of the child get enshrined in our Constitution,” she said.

Meanwhile, the HSE has said the increased number of referrals to its counselling service in the aftermath of the Ryan report are being dealt with.