Consultations with the Ombudsman, the Children’s Rights Alliance, political parties, faith groups and the Attorney General are due to conclude in the coming days, after which the Government will be presented with “definitive proposals”.
Minister for Children Brian Lenihan said that if there is cross-party agreement, a referendum could be held before the general election.
The Government is thought to be planning one referendum on children’s rights which will include an amendment proposing the removal of the defence of “honest mistake” for an adult who has sex with a child.
The amendment is also expected to propose authorising the Oireachtas to draft legislation providing for a “zone of absolute protection” below which it would be criminal to have sex with a child.
Announcing details of the €12.3 billion Children’s Programme, Mr Lenihan said that €1.3bn would go towards childcare in an effort to create 50,000 childcare places by 2010.
This will include 5,000 school-age places and 10,000 pre-school places.
Some €3.4bn will be invested in Child Welfare and Protection, €49 million of which will be spent on redesigning existing residential institutions for more specialised care.
A further €367m has been allocated for youth justice in order to establish services needed to rehabilitate young offenders and divert them away from crime.
A Recreation Policy for Young People will be launched next month with funding directed towards the development of facilities for teenagers.
Meanwhile, recruitment of a new team of young advisors to help the Ombudsman for Children gets under way today.
Ombudsman Emily Logan will today launch a campaign in Dublin to recruit 20 to 35 advisors, aged between 12 and 17, to help with different aspects of the work of the Ombudsman.
The new recruits will replace the current Youth Advisory Panel.
Regular meetings are held with the Ombudsman’s office (OCO), to relay concerns and opinions and advise on how any issues should be tackled.
Panel members participate in other work of the office, including helping to “youth-proof” the OCO’s website; designing leaflets and materials, and sitting on interview panels for staff and for the Ombudsman herself.