The Labour leader was speaking in Dublin yesterday at the launch of his party’s campaign for a yes vote in the Nov 10 referendum.
He said that in a way, the referendum was “closing a circle” for his party, as Tom Johnson, the first parliamentary Labour leader, had made the welfare of children a key provision of the democratic programme for the first Dáil in 1919.
“Unfortunately, less than two decades later, when the Constitution of this State was written, those important words were written out of the script,” My Gilmore said.
As a result, “children were relegated to second-class status in our constitutional arrangements” resulting in “some of the darkest moments in our history”, he added.
“We have seen since 1937 the scandals that have occurred, the way in which children have been treated, the way in which, frankly, the State over those decades kowtowed to the churches in respect of the care of children to the detriment of children. We’re putting that right.”
He said the proposed amendment would “not solve all our problems” but would mean “that as a society, we are better equipped to protect children”.
Mr Gilmore was asked what difference the amendment, if passed, would make to those incarcerated in St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders whose human rights had been violated, according to a report from the Inspector of Prisons.
“Well, it would make sure first of all that they have a right to be heard in their own right; that in respect of their care, in respect of any issue of abuse, that those children have a right to be heard.”
Mr Gilmore urged people to “make a quiet, dignified statement” on Nov 10 by voting yes to “ensure that children are heard”.
The Parents for Children group opposes the referendum and has urged people to vote no.
One group member, Richard Greene of the Christian Solidarity Party, said power ceded to the State in this area would never be given back to parents.
“The second president of the US, John Adams, warned the American people never to trust their politicians or the state but to shackle their hands to the constitution.
“The Christian Solidarity Party believes that the wording of this referendum, if passed, will not protect children’s rights but will weaken them by undermining parental rights to protect their children from the State.”
Fr Brian McKevitt, the editor of Alive! magazine, claimed the referendum was a “confidence trick” by the Government against children and parents.
Lawyer Malachy Steenson, an unsuccessful Workers’ Party candidate in last year’s general election, said the referendum represented a fundamental attack on parents.