Ironing out legal concerns could delay referendum on children’s rights

THE long-awaited referendum on children’s rights is unlikely be held until next year because of a delay ironing out legal concerns.

Legal wranglings being addressed include the possibility of children suspended from schools using a change in the constitution to seek redress through the courts.

Children’s Minister Barry Andrews yesterday indicated that the referendum on children’s rights was unlikely to be held before the end of the year.

“It certainly will take a number of months to organise it. The timing of the referendum is not of the highest significance, what is significant is that it’s done right. Every comma in the Constitution is full with meaning and will bemitigated over many years,” he said.

Legal concerns have delayed the exact wording of the constitutional change.

Concerns include a “continuity of care” provision in the legislative change which could see children placed in inappropriate foster families because of a priority to give them care.

Another concern relates to immigration policy where a child could possibly fight deportation on the grounds that it may not be in the “best interests of their care”.

Mr Andrews suggested every scenario was being looked at so the intended changes introduced with the referendum would not be used for inappropriate purposes.

He referred to a “child provision” in the wording which might require both sides to have lawyers in a situation where a child was suspended from school.

“I don’t think that’s what was intended [with the referendum],” he said.

The minister also admitted other Government priorities may be given more attention ahead of the promised referendum.

“There is a fear that with the whole political system focusing on three by-elections and possibly a mayoral election that the focus will be taken off a children’s rights referendum.”

Adding to the delays is the fact that the Government must establish a referendum commission once it decides on a date and that group must be given 12 weeks to complete its work prior to polling day.

Following the Dáil recess, it would be unlikely then that the Government would set a date three months later in or near December as it would be very close to the budget and it would instead wait until next year.

Mr Andrews made his comments while launching a voluntary standards scheme for youth workers, which includes guidelines on handling gay issues and children addressing their sexuality.


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