A constitutional amendment on children’s rights could be drawn up by Christmas, it was revealed today.
Chair of Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution Mary O’Rourke said the group would call for a referendum on the issue.
Mary O’Rourke said legal experts hoped to have the wording ready in the next three months, but warned that the issue was a complex one.
“The child deserves to be heard and the rights of the child should be clarified,” the Fianna Fáil TD said.
While the rights of the family are enshrined in the constitution, no specific provision exists for children.
Ms O’Rourke said children were entitled to have their own guarantees set in stone.
“The committee will be recommending to the Houses of the Oireachtas and then to the Government and they in turn will take that up I hope,” she said.
Sexual abuse victims’ group One in Four welcomed a referendum on the issue.
“This is about balancing the rights of the family and the rights of the child so the State has the constitutional right to intervene to protect a child where it needs to do so,” the charity’s director Maeve Lewis said.
“Putting the rights of the child in the heart of the constitution will bolster our ability as a state and as a nation to protect children from harm.”
Meanwhile, the charity revealed it had been contacted by 700 new clients since the Ryan report into institutional child abuse was published in May.
“We’ve had more new clients in the months since the Ryan report was published than the whole year of 2008,” Ms Lewis said.
“That poses enormous difficulties for us. We find ourselves facing the greatest demand ever for our services with reduced staff levels.”
Ms Lewis said she had written to Minister for Children Barry Andrews to request emergency funding during the summer, but was told the minister was unavailable for a meeting.
The director predicted services would be further stretched with the publication of the Murphy Report into abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese next month.
“We have no spare capacity at all,” she said.
“I’m just not sure how we’re going to manage to cope.”