Minister Frances Fitzgerald T.D. Publishes Wording for Children’s Referendum

19th September, 2012

 

31st Amendment to the Constitution Bill and accompanying Draft Adoption (Amendment) Bill published

Referendum seeks to protect children, support families, remove inequalities in adoption and recognise children in their own right

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Ms. Frances Fitzgerald T.D., is today publishing the 31st Amendment to the Constitution Bill which sets out the wording for the proposed Children’s Referendum which has been announced for Saturday 10th of November.

The Minister also published the accompanying Draft Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which she will seek to enact on the passing of the Referendum.

Announcing the publication, Minister Fitzgerald stated:

“It is nearly twenty years since Judge Catherine McGuinness first called for constitutional change of this nature, in her report on the Kilkenny Incest Case. Since then successive Governments have discussed the issue, made promises, examined options, set up committees; but today, after 17 reports detailing child protection failings, this Government is acting.

“Since taking office my Department and I have been working with the Attorney General to make the transition from an Oireachtas Committee proposal, to a robust Constitutional wording. Today I am publishing the 31st Amendment to the Constitution Bill and on Saturday November 10th we will hold one of the most significant referenda in the history of the state. We will put forward a proposed amendment which would represent a major and historic change. This Amendment proposes to include a new standalone article in our Constitution, Article 42A, titled ‘Children’.

“This referendum is the clearest statement the nation can make that that legacy is being left behind. This referendum will change the Constitution so it:

• Protects children

• Supports families

• And treats all children equally

Fundamentally – to quote the first lines of the proposed new article – this referendum will ensure “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”.

“Sub-article 2 begins by making clear that and I quote “in exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty to towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescribtible rights of the child.”

“It will also bring to an end the current Constitutional situation where children are treated differently on the basis of their parent’s marital status, when it comes to issues such as adoption.”

In support of the Referendum wording, Minister Fitzgerald has also published the Draft Adoption (Amendment) Bill. Commenting on this piece of legislation Minister Fitzgerald stated:

“This legislation has been the subject of considerable discussion between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General. It sets out in detail how we propose to address the issues of voluntary placement, the adoption of children in foster care as a result of serious and persistent parental failure, and the role of the High Court in deciding on such matters.”

In her explanation of Sub-article 4 of the Amendment the Minister stated:

“The fourth part of referendum Bill, if passed, will require that the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration; and the voice of the child given due weight, in Court proceedings taken by the State relating to child protection and in relation to adoption, guardianship, custody and access.”

The Minister also confirmed that the Government will be running a major information campaign for the Referendum which will include a website

www.childrensreferendum.ie

and information booklets which will be sent to every home.

Minister Fitzgerald concluded:

“The debate on this Referendum must not belong solely to constitutional lawyers or politicians. This is a debate for all of us. The Government will explain why this Referendum is needed, what it will change and how it will improve the lives of Ireland’s children, in particular our most vulnerable.”