FG ministers mobilise for Yes vote


The Government has no sense of complacency about passing the children’s rights referendum next month but a strong campaign will be mobilised for a Yes vote, Ministers said today.

Launching Fine Gael’s campaign for a Yes vote in the November 10th referendum, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was not yet clear what the scale of any opposition to the passing of the amendment might be.

He insisted, however, it was not going to be a “charter for trespass” into the family home.

“This proposed amendment to the Constitution does not give power away. It proposes to use power - always ethically, professionally and justly - to protect and uphold the rights, the safety, the dignity and innocence of children,” he said.

“Parents across the country know that innocence is something that we value and protect and guard with our lives. But a small minority of children do not know such love, such devotion, such security."

"They live broken, frightening lives, often silent and silenced by the very fact that they are just that; children. It is these vulnerable boys and girls who will be helped and supported and nourished by this proposed amendment.”

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said she was satisfied that even though these were challenging times economically that this was an area that would have resources allocated to it. She noted that responsibility for such issues would be removed from the HSE next year with the establishment of the new Family Support Agency in January.

She said the referendum was about protecting children from abuse and neglect.

“It’s about supporting families by re-affirming and underpinning early intervention and family support services, to protect children in their homes. It’s about treating all children equally, in particular by removing inequalities in adoption. It’s about recognising children in their own right.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he entered into the campaign with “a sense of excitement, a sense of anticipation and hope, but with no sense of complacency”.

“There’s a job we must all do to ensure that this proposal gets support from the majority of those who vote,” he said.

Mr Shatter said we had come through two decades of “shocking” revelations about the physical and sexual abuse and neglect of children.

This included failures of church and State, and legal confusion about the importance to be attached to child welfare when serious issues arose over a child’s future, or over children at risk.

There had been confusion in State agencies concerning the impact of our current constitutional provisions when issues or disputes arose relating to child protection.

Despite the enactment of the Status of Children Act 1987 which sought to abolish the concept of illegitimacy, in reality we had continued to distinguish between children born within marriage and those born outside marriage, because of the protection afforded to the marital family.

He said a “resounding” yes vote would say something very important about our values as a nation, the extent to which we valued children, and the extent to which we valued the importance of ushering in the new era and not being “locked into the failures of the past”.

It would provide the essential constitutional architecture to support the Government’s reform agenda in the area of children’s law and children’s services.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar, who is director of elections for the referendum campaign, said the party would mobilise its entire party organisation between now and November 10th.

The Ministers were joined by other Fine Gael TDs, including party chairman Charlie Flanagan, Brian Hayes, Damien English, Paschal Donohoe and Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

Fine Gael TD Jim Daly also spoke about his own family’s positive experiences of fostering children.

Mr Daly said the referendum would have no impact whatsoever on 99 per cent of the children of the State. The quality of their lives would not be affected. But for that group of children who could not stay in their own family home, the passing of the referendum would offer so much opportunity for them to develop loving and secure attachments in homes across the country.

Wayne Dignam, who grew up in State care and who is a board member of the Irish Foster Care Association, spoke about his own experience and urged a Yes vote.

Mr Dignam, who was first taken into State care when he was three years old, said he had been continually brought back to his family to “unsafe and difficult circumstances” because the law law presumed his best interests were always within his family, “despite the very clear evidence to the contrary”.

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