Mask slips on pious humbug of child rights


Amendment’s purpose is not to strengthen child rights but to extend government control over children, writes JOHN WATERS

ALTHOUGH THE deferral of the proposed “children’s rights” referendum will be welcomed by anyone who understands what such an amendment is likely to mean, the reasons being advanced are instructive as to the official mindset lurking behind the platitudes which have attended this discussion from the beginning.

According to reports this week, the delay is unavoidable because of difficulties with the wording pointed up by various Government departments.

This, remember, was a wording we were told was close to perfection, requiring merely minor “tweaking” to place it beyond any reasonable objection. Remember, too, that the point was to enable the Irish nation to cherish all its children equally by acknowledging in our Constitution “the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children”.

The State is now, it seems, waking up to the dangers of hiding its true intentions behind pieties and moral blackmail.

The first objection, presumably raised by the Department of Justice, is that the amendment, once passed, may extend such a bounty of additional rights to the children of illegal immigrants that it may be impossible to deport them. Speaking earlier in the week, the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, said the emphasis of the proposed wording that the “best interests of children being of paramount consideration” may be problematic in this context.

No, you have not misunderstood: this Government, which persistently asserts its determination to ensure the equal citizenship and full participation of all children in Irish society, now belatedly realises that such an objective may interfere with its wholesale deportation of children who happen to be the wrong colour or pedigree. This, obviously, cannot be countenanced, thus necessitating a dilution of said Government’s commitment to what it seeks to characterise as the protection of children.

Several times, in debating this proposed amendment with politicians advocating the mooted changes, I have suggested that recognition of “the best interests of children” as the “paramount consideration” would seriously alter the ecology of family rights as currently guaranteed under the Constitution. My concern, I should say, was not that the Government would no longer be able to deport brown-skinned children, but that the term “best interests of children” is not objectively defined, and therefore could come to be defined in such a way as to dilute or vitiate the rights of parents to protect and care for their families as they see fit. I have pointed out that, in declaring something the “paramount consideration”, you may willy-nilly reduce the weight accorded to competing claims.

Each time I have raised these points, the politician I was debating with accused me of scaremongering. Now, it seems, somebody in the Department of Justice has decided that there is something in this argument.

A further objection has been raised by the Department of Education, which fears that the proposed amendment’s commitment to the “voice of the child” may mean that children threatened with expulsion from school may be entitled to legal representation. What a shocker! The very idea that, because you extend equal rights to “children as individuals”, you may end up with children having equal rights as individuals! Who could possibly have foreseen this?

The Department of Education clearly wishes to avoid a situation whereby, in undermining the position of parents, children might accidentally be enabled to take on the State. Whatever this may be called, it can no longer be deemed a commitment to the equal rights of children.

What is most remarkable, however, is that the State is now permitted to shelve or amend its own wording on the basis of arguments that amendment proponents have dismissed in the wider context of family rights. It is all right, it seems, for the State to insist on protecting its pool of powers and capacities, but if parents seek to do similarly they are “anti-children’s rights”.

There are, of course, many other situations in which a change in the current balance of rights will have implications also for the workings of the State. I anticipate, therefore, further waning in official enthusiasm for extending total equality to children. What, for example, about a child who wishes to sue a social worker for destroying his or her right to a family life?

Beneath the humbug, it has long been obvious that the purpose of this amendment is not to give rights to children, but to disable the constitutional protections currently available to families, and to enable the State to gain ultimate control over the lives of Irish children. This week, the mask has slipped a little.

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