Cowen refuses to set date for child rights referendum

THE Taoiseach has hinted that the proposed referendum on children’s rights will not take place this year.

Brian Cowen told the Dáil yesterday that such a referendum posed a range of implications, including financial issues and the degree to which it would impact on existing legislation.

The Government would need to assess all those implications before committing to a date, he said.

But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said this was the first time that such implications had been flagged.

The Government had not just “changed the goal posts”, but moved them off the pitch, Mr Gilmore said.

He expressed doubt that the referendum would be held before the lifetime of the current Dáil expires in 2012, let alone this year.

“The Taoiseach is now, in effect, telling the House that because there is such a range of resource and financial implications for legislation that must be prepared, etc, the Government has dropped the referendum on children’s rights. That is a very sad day for the Government and the House, and it is certainly a very bad day for children of the country,” he said.

Mr Cowen denied this and said he was committed to the referendum.

He acknowledged a proposed wording for the referendum was drawn up by a cross-party Oireachtas committee following exhaustive work on the matter.

But he said it was wrong to think that the wording could go “straight to the people” and assume there would be no implications.

“A range of implications have been identified by the office of the Attorney General and departments,” Mr Cowen said.

“If it is being suggested that when the committee brings forward a wording, the Government should step aside and we should get on with the referendum, that is not the process. The Government has to work out what are the implications of the referendum and what unintended consequences could arise from it. Every statement must be constitutionally right,” he said.

“We are in the throes of discussions... When one gets into it, this is an area that is becoming very complex and not easily resolved.

“When we become clearer as a result of the work that is ongoing, we can come back and discuss it more cogently.”


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