Minister urges clarity in reform of child rights


IT IS up to children’s rights campaigners and child welfare professionals to convert the complexity of constitutional reform into clarity on how that reform will help children, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday.

The Minister was addressing a seminar, “Making children visible”, organised by the Campaign for Children.

Most people are not constitutional lawyers, she said. “They spend their time neither considering the intricacies of Bunreacht na hÉireann nor wondering about the Irish system of child welfare,” she said. They care deeply about child welfare, she added, but the horrors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and the persistent neglect of children are very difficult for the ordinary citizen to contemplate.

In finalising the children’s rights amendment, the first significant challenge is finding a wording that will find balance, finding the blend that allows the essential quiet revolution in child protection without creating constitutional hostages to fortune.

The second major challenge will be one of communication, as most people are not immersed in the realities of childcare and child protection, she said.

“In bringing forward an amendment the Government and I are committed to ensuring that there is no dilution of the equally important concepts of the duties of parents and the core position in Irish society of the family unit,” she said. “Supporting families and protecting children are simply two sides of the same coin.”

Child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon said some children are seriously disadvantaged by the absence of a constitutional provision for their protection. He said there were certain inconsistencies in judicial policy and if the wording of the constitutional amendment was not right children would remain susceptible to judicial prejudice and presumption.

At the moment the non-marital child got a better shot at the protection of his or her best interests than the child of a marital family, as the threshold for intervening in the marital family was much higher. If a marital child was to be available for adoption into a secure and caring family, the abandonment by the married parents had to be likely to continue until the child was 18.

“The people of Ireland would like to see this situation remedied. The Constitution should be able to have a very clear declaration of the right of the child to protection and to a second chance,” he said.