The coalition of 78 Irish non-governmental organisations described the proposed amendment as a regressive step and not in children’s best interests.
At a press conference held by the alliance in Dublin yesterday, chief executive Ray Dooley said the passage of the amendment would place some children in a separate class.
“Where this will ultimately lead cannot be predicted with any certainty, but if the recent past is the prologue, the future does not bode well for non-citizen children in Ireland,” he warned.
Barnardos chief executive Owen Keenan said they were unhappy with the explanations offered by Government spokespersons and believed it was fundamentally unsound to hold the referendum at this time.
Mr Keenan said there was no indication any child impact review had been undertaken even though the National Children’s Strategy obliges the Government to do so where a decision or action impacted on children.
Long-time children’s campaigner, Fr Peter McVerry, said the alliance launched a campaign eight years ago to have children’s rights protected under the Constitution. Changes to strengthen children’s rights were still awaited.
A barrister who specialises in human rights and family law, Teresa Blake, said the referendum was not consistent with the articles and principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including those concerning non-discrimination and the best interests of the child. “There is no indication that any consideration whatsoever has been given to these fundamental provisions,” she said.
Director of the Refugee Project of the Irish Commission on Justice and Peace Joan Roddy also questioned the Government’s defence of the amendment.
“If we are being asked to believe that no children will find their status diminished or their rights and entitlements weakened and that the Government will treat all children equally, what are we to make of the denial of child benefit and one parent payment to asylum-seeking children,” she asked.
Geraldine Graydon of the National Parents Council (Primary) said the proposed amendment should be replaced with another recommended by the Constitutional Review Group years ago to strengthen children’s rights by making their best interests in all actions affecting them the paramount consideration.