Doubts over children’s referendum

SERIOUS doubts overshadowed a way forward for a children’s rights referendum last night after the Government effectively kicked to touch any plans to adapt its two-year-old proposals for a constitutional change.

A shocked Oireachtas Committee on Children’s Rights heard how the Government look set to resort to supporting its original 2007 constitutional amendment changes.

But the decision, which the Minister for Children said was based on legal advice, was strongly criticised by TDs. Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter called the 2007 Bill “defective” and very “flawed”. Minister Barry Andrews told committee members that the advice was that the 2007 Bill did concentrate on the rights of the child and deal with the issue of all children being treated equally.

The situation surrounding possible changes to the constitution had “evolved very quickly” since July, when the minister was originally asked to consider the committee’s work, he added.

“I can only spell out the advice on the existing wording... and achieve consensus on that,” he said.

Mr Shatter suggested the Oireachtas Committee — set up in December 2007 to look at improving the proposed bill — had effectively now become a “talking shop”.

“The general view of the committee on all sides was that better wording was required [in the bill].”

“I’m not personally optimistic about where we’re going.” He said the committee had been “sitting too long” and suggested any potential legislation on its previous reports on soft information on sex offenders and liability for offenders was years away.

Children’s right advocates appeared before the committee yesterday to give their own proposed wording for a referendum, which would focus on strengthening a child’s right as opposed to that of a parent. However, the proposed wording by Barnardos, One in Four, CARI and rape crisis support groups among others was overshadowed by the revelation by the minister.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said he feared there was no longer a consensus among the committee about a possible referendum following the minister’s intervention.

The committee has until the middle of October to complete its examination of a referendum on children’s rights. Mr Andrews warned of the difficulties of coming to a consensus, with just two weeks left once the Lisbon Treaty referendum is over.

Going against her party colleague, committee chairwoman Mary O’Rourke, warned she was against the wording of the 2007 Bill.

She admitted the crux of the problem on changes to the constitution came down to the rights of the family versus the rights of the child.

“I do not think that it [the 2007 Bill] makes better the rights of children,” added the committee head.


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