Still No Movement on the Children's Rights Constitutional Amendment

It is almost 3 months since the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children released its final report. As previously highlighted on this blog, this report followed 2 years, 62 Committee meetings, 2 other Committee reports and numerous milestones highlighting the precarious position of children’s rights in Irish society, including the publication of the Ryan and the Murphy reports.

The process leading up to and the content of the report was the subject of extensive discussion by contributors to this blog (see here and here), while a blog carnival on the draft wording proposed by the Committee was held on this blog in the week following the report’s publication.

Concern has already been expressed about the government’s failure to commit to a concrete date for a referendum on the constitutional amendment on the child, despite previous statements on the part of the Government that a constitutional amendment on children’s rights would go ahead once the Committee’s work was completed.

Yesterday, the Children’s Rights Alliance reported that

it transpired in the Oireachtas, yesterday, during an exchange between the Taoiseach and opposition leaders, Enda Kenny TD, and Eamon Gilmore TD, that the Cabinet has not yet considered the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children Report, despite receiving it months ago. Consequently, the advice of the Attorney General has not yet been sought.

The exchange in the Oireachtas opened with Enda O’Kenny stating that

The Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, Deputy O’Rourke, recently called on the Government to hold a referendum. She also revealed that the Minister of State with responsibility for children has a budget of €3 million to hold that referendum. She confirmed that the wording was agreed and she presumed, as Chairman, that it would be accepted by Government. That was on 30 April … The Minister of State has a budget of €3 million. The all-party committee has agreed the wording of the amendment and the Chairman of the committee presumes the Government will accept that wording. Could we now have a statement from the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government to the effect that when the Minister of State comes back to the Cabinet, he will make a decision to hold this referendum some time in 2010?

In response, the Taoiseach stated that:

The report is currently being considered at senior official level in relevant Departments prior to its consideration by Ministers; the Attorney General is also considering the legal and constitutional issues that arise. The work is ongoing and after consideration by the Government, decisions can be taken.

Despite being pressed by a number of deputies, the Taoiseach refused to state that the Government was committed to holding a referendum on children’s rights – either before the end of 2010 or further in the future.

According to this Children’s Rights Alliance, the Labour Party has since tabled a motion for debate in the Dáil which ‘calls on the government to bring forward the necessary Constitutional Amendment Bill and to set a date in this year for the holding of a referendum’. The motion will be debated on May 18th and 19th from 7- 8.30pm.

In her post yesterday on Constitutional renewal, Fiona de Londras highlighted that,

There are some areas in which the Constitution plays an important role in inequality and unfairness, such as in relation to … the failure to recognise children as full constitutional citizens. However, report after report has been written and shelved on how these constitutional deficiencies might best be resolved, proposing the wording of referenda and engaging in deep and important constitutional and social thought. These proposals have neither been enacted nor put to the people … because of a political decision not to hold referenda on the issues.

The performance of the Irish government following the release of the Committee’s final report certainly seems to bear out long-standing suspicions on the part of children’s advocates and others about a dearth of political will on moving such a referendum forward. It will be interesting to see what will emerge during the debate of the Labour motion. Will the Government finally commit to holding the election by a particular date? Will they be held to account if they fail to do so?

Still No Movement on the Children's Rights Constitutional Amendment

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