The referendum on children’s rights marks a potentially “historical and internationally significant step” and a “defining moment for children and young people in Ireland”.
This is the view of the UNESCO chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement, NUI Galway Professor Pat Dolan, who was speaking following the publication of the wording for the referendum on Wednesday.
Prof Dolan, one of Ireland’s leading experts on child and family issues, said opening up debate on the issue, and asking the public to make the decision “is vital”.
“The rights and well-being of children, parents, and society are inextricably linked and complementary,” he said. “This could be a defining moment for children and young people in Ireland. And it needs to be – the best legacy that we can leave the next generation is a commitment that their rights are protected and enhanced, that they have some certainty in an uncertain world.”
The wording for the referendum reads that the State “recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights”.
It also proposes that in “exceptional cases”, where the parents “fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected”, the State “by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents”.
Provision will also be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed “in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require”.
Labour Galway West TD Derek Nolan is calling for a Yes vote. He argues that the wording, if it becomes law, “will have a profound impact on the way children are treated in this country and enshrine the protection of children in the Constitution”.
“This referendum will copper-fasten the protection of children in the Constitution,” said Dep Nolan. “It will ensure we all take a child-centred approach, by making children the focus of every decision that is taken about their welfare. It will mean that when decisions are taken affecting them, their rights would have to be taken into account. The wording also crucially states that the views of children will be taken into account in legal proceedings.”
The referendum will be held on Saturday November 10, a date that Dep Nolan has also welcomed.
“It will facilitate students and people who have busy work schedules during the week,” he said. “Hopefully it will lead to a large turnout.”
Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames, has also welcomed the wording.
“It is important to stress that this important constitutional change, while protecting and upholding the rights of the child to a childhood, will not in any way detract from the special place of the family as expressed in Article 41 of our Constitution,” she said. “Thus, the passing of this referendum will represent a win-win for both the child and the family.”