Referendum on children's rights to be held on its own

 

A REFERENDUM on children’s rights to be held in the autumn will proceed on a “stand-alone” basis, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has told the Dáil.

He insisted preparation for it would not be rushed because it had been signalled for some time.

Confirming the long-sought referendum would go ahead in the autumn, he said “the Government’s intention is that this referendum will be held on a stand-alone basis”.

He said there was previous experience of referendums being held where a number of issues had been put on the same day.

“In the whole melee of what happens, one issue can impact on another.”

Mr Gilmore was responding to Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Dara Calleary, who expressed concern the referendum might be rushed and “would be hijacked by people campaigning on issues with nothing to do with the referendum”.

He feared “they will use that rush to create the confusion” and that a genuine issue would get lost in the melee of an uneven debate.

The Tánaiste said that because of the importance of “this particular issue” it was intended to be held on its own.

He agreed they should “endeavour to provide unified leadership on this issue”.

Mr Calleary said it was important “there is all-party agreement” in dealing with the recommendations of the report on the deaths of 196 children in care or known to the HSE.

He raised the issue in the Dáil yesterday following publication of the report on the deaths of 196 children in care or known to the HSE between 2000 and 2010.

Mr Gilmore pointed out that these deaths occurred in “the period of our great prosperity”, when “so much partying was going on, so much clapping on the back was going on about how wonderful we were as a country, how great we were doing, how much more money we had”.

During all of this “there were children dying in appalling circumstances, neglected, in some cases by the State, in some cases by families”.

He agreed the House needed to work on a non-partisan basis “to progress the measures that are needed to protect children”.

Mr Calleary said it was important there was all-party agreement in dealing with the recommendations of the report on the deaths of the 196 children.

The Tánaiste agreed the House should “endeavour to provide unified leadership”, not to politicise it or take partisan positions on it.

Mr Calleary said there was a need to discuss the introduction of a 24-hour social work system and agreement sought to move it.

The whole notion of files of children in care or under the watch of the HSE being unavailable or missing “is so wrong”.

“The computerisation process needs to be speeded up.”

The Mayo TD also stressed the need to continue to ensure the social work service was exempt from the moratorium on recruitment.

The Tánaiste highlighted the Government’s decision to prioritise the “needs and protection of children, the establishment of a dedicated department, and the putting of guidelines on a statutory basis and the ringfencing of budgets”.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on children Charlie McConalogue said later that since 2010 another 46 children in the State’s care or known to the HSE had died, and that this number reflected the report’s figures for the previous 10 years.

Calling for more social workers to be recruited for children and mental health services, the Donegal North East TD warned that the number of children in care with assigned social workers had declined.

Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan told him “there is a great deal of work to be done in respect of these very young and vulnerable children”.

They would “maintain a very strong focus on this matter in the coming years in order to ensure that we make better provision for these vulnerable children in the future”.