Disclosures exploited to undo rights of parents


The amendment on children would transfer from parents many rights now bestowed by the Constitution, writes JOHN WATERS

THE SAFEST place a child can be is in the company of his or her father. The misandrist prejudices of our age notwithstanding, this remains an uncontestable statistical fact. It is therefore instructive as to the motives, intentions and agendas of the Oireachtas committees on the constitutional amendment on children that they failed to address the fact that about one-third of the children born in this State in any given year have no right to know their fathers.

The proposed amendment wording begins grandly, mangling the meaning of the 1916 Proclamation by proclaiming that “The State shall cherish all of the children of the State equally.” But, reading on, it becomes clear that this amendment would do no such thing. It would enable the State to transfer from parents many of the rights currently bestowed on the family by Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution, and reduce parents to, in effect, caretaker childminders acting on behalf of said State for as long as State agents, acting behind a cloak of secrecy, wish them to do so.

The report of the Oireachtas committee has been welcomed by Treoir, the self-styled “national federation of services for unmarried parents and their children”, which has ludicrously welcomed what it claims is “equality” between married and unmarried parents. But the only “equality” here is the equal right of all parents to have their children snatched by the State.

Under the proposed amendment, the State would be entitled to “supply or supplement” the place of the parents, “regardless of their marital status”. This is the only context in which the State shall, under this amendment, propose to treat the children of unmarried parents in the same way as those of married parents. This detail alone enables us to see that the framers of this amendment, far from having the interests of children at heart, have as much respect for children as they have for the children’s fathers.

There are many sinister elements in this amendment, which most media voices, being on the same ideological hymnsheet as the Oireachtas committee, will refrain from pointing out, and may indeed seek to suppress. In an editorial in this newspaper yesterday, it was claimed that the emphasis of the amendment is “on supporting families in their responsibilities to their children, and the removal of children from their parents will be a last resort”. This is fatuous: nowhere in the amendment is there any reference to intervention being a last resort. On the contrary, the vagueness of the provisions, together with the removal of key existing safeguards, would give the State a free hand to interfere in any family, on any basis or none.

The insertion in the Constitution of the ostensibly unexceptionable idea that “the welfare and best interests of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration” in all disputes concerning “guardianship, adoption, custody, care or upbringing” (interesting sequence, as we shall see) of children, is the cutting edge of this underhand initiative. This would mean that, in marital situations, the previous inalienable and imprescriptable rights of the family will be supplanted by a pseudo-principle which is nowhere spelt out and which will be defined at the whim of judges, social workers and so-called “child experts”.

Whereas the State can at present intervene in families only in exceptional circumstances, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty to their children, it will, if this amendment is passed, have the right to interfere, with force if necessary (“by proportionate means”) if parents are deemed by agents of the State, according to criteria not laid down, to have failed in parental responsibilities. In other words, it will replace an objective criterion with a subjective one. Should the State’s agents decide that parents have “failed” for “such a period of time as shall be prescribed by law”, the child or children may be put up for adoption.

All this will all be played out in secret courts, on a summary basis on the word of social workers and “experts” acting on deniable prejudice, ideology and spite. This amendment is the outcome not of a genuine scrutiny of the Constitution, but of a campaign waged by ideological interests who have used recent revelations of historical child abuse to argue for the dismantling of parental rights. Yes, Irish children need to be protected, but history tells us that mainly they need to be protected from the State.

These campaigns have been based on a lie: that the Constitution as it stands does not provide for the rights of children. As Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman has outlined, the Constitution already provides for the rights of children – within the context in which their interests are likely to be maximised: the care of loving parents. The one glaring issue which needed to be addressed here is the fact that children whose parents have never been married to one another have lesser rights than other children. The Oireachtas commission has chosen to ignore this genuine rights deficiency.

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