Question: In wake of ruling will it be illegal to slap a child?
Answer: The Coalition is fearful of wading into an issue where public opinion is divided
Slapping is widely practised, though it’s been declining sharply over recent years. Photograph: Getty Images
It’s highly unlikely – despite a ruling by the Council of Europe on Wednesday that Ireland’s laws, which permit the slapping of children, are a violation of children’s rights.
While legislation which allowed parents use force against their children was repealed in Ireland almost 15 years ago, the defence of “reasonable chastisement” still exists in common law for parents or child carers.
The council found this defence was a violation of the charter whose signatories promise “to protect children and young persons against negligence, violence or exploitation”.
Even though Ireland is out of kilter with much of the rest of Europe, the Government is fearful of wading into an issue where public opinion is divided. That’s why, for much of the past decade, it has tried to fudge the issue by claiming a ban is “under review”.
The Government’s response on Wednesday was strangely familiar: it announced plans for a new review of whether the defence of reasonable chastisement should be maintained in law.
It insists there are plenty of other laws which outlaw the assault or physical harm of children, such as the Child Care Act and the Criminal Justice Act, along with rules and guidelines.
It did, however, throw a bone to the council by pledging to explicitly ban the smacking of children in foster or residential care through new regulations.
If an outright ban were to be introduced, it could have major repercussions. Slapping is widely practised, though it’s been declining sharply over recent years. The Growing Up in Ireland study of three-year-olds found up to 45 per cent of their primary caregivers had previously smacked them, for example.
In theory, the State is now obliged to introduce a clear ban on slapping - or “corporal punishment” in the words of the council – on foot of this week’s ruling.
But the council issued a similar ruling on Ireland’s laissez-faire stance on slapping just over a decade ago – and little action followed.
In reality, Ireland only faces “political peer pressure” from other member states who have introduced bans on slapping. T he real pressure will come from children’s campaigners such as the Children’s Rights Alliance. The Government, meanwhile, seems more than content to keep the issue “under review”.