Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan fears the upcoming referendum on children will not bring about radical changes to their rights because of political wariness about changing the Constitution.
Last week, Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that the Government remained committed to holding a referendum this autumn.
However, Ms Logan said any discussion around the referendum should be proportionate to what is going to happen.
“I think what we’re looking at is not a children’s rights referendum, we’re not taking about a radical change here in Ireland.
“People feel very attached to our Constitution, as they should. We have seen more recently with what’s gone on in Europe, the sense of sovereignty that the Constitution has given us.
“But also people see it as a barometer of our social and moral values so people feel very attached to it.
“And I think, politically, I have always seen a very cautious approach to any kind of change in the Constitution so I think what we will see is not radical.”
Last week, Ms Fitzgerald, in response to Fianna Fáil calls for the wording of the referendum to be published, said the referendum will go ahead in the autumn.
She said she expects it to be high on the Cabinet agenda when it returns from the summer break.
While the vote has been called for in the wake of numerous reports in recent years, mostly into historical child abuse issues, Ms Logan said she had been seeking a change to the Constitution since 2005.
“Long before any of the reports were published, it became obvious to me in this job that there are people who make really important decisions for children that often can have a profound effect on them, but there’s no obligation on these people to consider the interests of children,” she said.
In an interview with her husband Connell Foley on RTÉ Radio One’s Miriam Meets, Ms Logan said she felt very strongly that people had to respect the views of children — particularly in cases relating to children in care.
Retired district court judge Michael Pattwell said he had reservations about passing a referendum as the Constitution applied to all — adults and children.
He said the wording of the proposed changes should be published early so they could be examined closely.
“If you start giving extra rights to any section of society, it could very well work against the other citizens.”
He said this could include parents and there were already laws, such as the Childcare Act, for situations where a child needed protection, but much of it could be “tidied up”. He suggested initial applications for taking children into care could be dealt with at an inquiry chaired by a judge before going to a full court hearing.
“The laws of evidence wouldn’t have to be so strictly adhered to and [the judge] would then be able to make a recommendation at the end to the HSE or whatever body, and it wouldn’t have to go into a formal court until that procedure failed,” he said.
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