Children’s rights reduced to a game of political bluff

FERGUS Finlay writes (July 13) about how when in government the Labour party made good progress in improving services for people with disability.

He also credits Brian Cowen with having done the same when he was Minister for Health and regrets the fact that since then both have watched while the situation has regressed.

It’s implied that one has been as powerless as the other to do anything about the situation when in fact, in Brian Cowen’s case at least, nothing could be further from the truth.

Why — as we may be about to face into a general election — is Fergus Finlay, of all people, so generous about the Taoiseach’s failure to ensure that whatever progress he made while at the Department of Health was not protected and improved on?

Both will recollect that back in 2005 the disability lobby insistently opposed the introduction of legislation that utterly failed to deliver the much promised rights to fundamental services, such as a right to a timely assessment of needs on request and to the timely delivery of the needs identified by that assessment.

The present situation is one of unstable provision that can be reduced or withdrawn without notice.

When the legislation was disgracefully passed by Fianna Fáil TDs, all of the opposition parties voted against it and Fergus Finlay argued in the Irish Examiner for the Fianna Fáil-backed president to veto it on constitutional grounds — a request Mary McAleese ignored.

Since then Fergus Finlay has been at the forefront of a campaign for a referendum on children’s rights, the wording for which has cross-party support.

The situation is an instructive lesson on how the political class, despite the different colours on their jerseys, can unite against the true interests of the electorate.

It doesn’t appear to matter to any of them that, as with the disability legislation before it, the wording of the referendum does not guarantee a single child in Ireland a single enforceable right and that it is in reality about a transfer of power from parents and guardians to social workers and state bodies when it is well understood that they are neither funded adequately nor functioning to reliably safe standards — as the shocking fate of so many children in state and other care has demonstrated.

But there is at least some consistency in the situation.

Despite their oft-stated support for rights-based legislation up to 2005, all of the opposition parties refused to commit to making rights for people with disability (many of whom are children) non-negotiable policy when asked to do so before the last election.

So it is easy to understand why they are in so much happy agreement about the children’s rights referendum now — it doesn’t require them to make any real commitment to anything while they get to sound warm and caring about children at election time.

Who could resist voting for such nice people?

Still, it will be just one more issue that will have been rendered conveniently unthreatening by our political class when it comes to post-election horse-trading about who gets to share power with whom.

I ask Fergus Finlay now if he would use whatever influence he has on the Labour party for it, once and for all, to take the only principled stand it can take and make real rights for children and the disabled non-negotiable policy — preferably either by repeal or effective amendment to the EPSEN (Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs) Act 2004 and the Disability Act of 2005.

It’s well beyond time when our society should have seen to it that — as in many other countries — there are certain standards of decency and humanity below which we can’t even think of going.

Miriam Cotton



Co Cork

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