Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Children's rights reform defended

The children's rights referendum wording has been revealed by the Government

Long-awaited modernisation of children's rights will not signal the death of the family, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald has insisted.

The radical constitutional reform looks set to pass on November 10 following a warm welcome from leading children's and human rights charities and opposition parties. Ms Fitzgerald said the new laws will improve children's lives and allow Ireland to leave behind its legacy of failing the country's youth.

"We have to recognise that children can suffer in families and it's about a strong proportionate response," said the Minister.

The Government published the wording of the referendum, which is expected to get wide public support in just over seven weeks. But Ms Fitzgerald insisted strengthened powers to intervene when parents are thought to be failing their children will not mean undue interference by authorities.

"It's not about the State micromanaging parents or wanting to interfere," she said.

Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan will head up the Referendum Commission to advise the public on details of the reforms.

The proposed new Article 42a calls for the State to recognise for the first time in the Constitution the fundamental rights of all children and to ensure their protection. The State would have the authority to intervene in neglect cases, regardless of the marital status of a child's parents.

A child's own views would also be taken into consideration during child protection proceedings. Where parents are found to have continually failed in their responsibilities, a child could enter the adoption process.

And, in some cases, the reforms would enable parents themselves to voluntarily put their child up for adoption. A separate draft Bill amending existing adoption laws has also been published, so that when the reforms are passed, the current legislation will be updated to enable them.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny called for cross-party support. He said: "For too long in Ireland we lived by the dictum that children should be seen and not heard. On November 10 we have the opportunity to change all of that."

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