Frances Fitzgerald is the Minister for Children and a T.D. for Dublin Mid-West.
Protecting children. Removing inequalities in adoption. Supporting families. Recognising children in their own right. These have been my four guiding principles leading up to the Children’s Referendum on 10 November.
The proposed change to the Constitution is the one of the most significant changes that has been made to the Fundamental Rights section of the constitution since its enactment in 1937. If Article 42A is approved by the people in forthcoming referendum, the Constitution will have a new and dedicated article that sets out rights of a one of the most vulnerable groups in society, who are in greatest need of support and protection and to whom we as a society and a State have allowed considerable harm to be done in the past.
The significance of this amendment cannot be overstated. It will right a legal wrong, the continued discrimination by our constitution between children of married and unmarried parents; it will update and clarify the law around the role of the state in the protection of children suffering abuse in their family; and it is an essential step to make right a cultural wrong, the failure to adequately respect and protect children in Ireland. It will be a signal to our judiciary, to our government, to our legislators and policy makers, a signal to every agent of the state working with children that we as a society want to ascribe a new value to children and childhood in Ireland.
The insertion of Article 42A, a new, dedicated constitutional article titled “Children” will separate and make explicit the rights of children in the Irish Constitution. The referendum wording is the result of very intensive work in recent months and the contributions of so many dedicated people over more than a decade. All have informed and shaped a proposal which I believe will make a real difference. At the core of this long debate has been one question – why shouldn’t children have express rights in the Constitution?
For the vast majority of children in Ireland, life is as it should be within a happy, loving and caring home where they are valued and nurtured. The referendum is about all children, but it is particularly for those “exceptional cases” – that is, for those children most vulnerable and at risk.
How does this proposed change to the Constitution help protect children? Above all, it places at the highest legal level our national determination to ensure the safety of children. The focus is on the child and the impact of a parental failure on the child’s safety and welfare. It sets out when and how proportionate intervention by the state should occur if necessary.
How does it improve inequalities in adoption? Currently, some children can never be adopted, no matter how much it is in their best interest. Firstly, the amendment would change the current situation to allow married parents to voluntarily place their child for adoption. Secondly, the test to allow a child to be adopted in long term foster care to be adopted will be changed so it will not be so difficult to meet. I have published draft legislation on adoption which makes very clear the safeguards that will apply in these situations.
How does the proposal support families? My priority has been to ensure balance between the unique role of the family and the rights of children themselves. It outlines in clear terms the proportionate action the State may take in Continue reading “Minister Frances Fitzgerald: The Children's Referendum on 10 November 2012”