Fitzgerald defends referendum plans11/09/2012 - 13:17:49
Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald has defended government plans for a referendum on children’s rights following expert claims there is no need for one.
A public vote will be held this autumn regardless of claims from former Supreme Court judge Hugh O’Flaherty that existing legislation provides sufficient protection and that there is no need to change the Constitution, she insisted.
“We need constitutional provisions to give protection to children to make sure that children can be adopted that cannot be adopted at present, that their best interests be represented in the Constitution and that the views of the children should be taken into account,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Doing this requires constitutional provision to strengthen those rights.
The minister broke off from the second day of a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Westport, Co Mayo to challenge the former judge.
Special rapporteur on child protection Geoffrey Shannon backed the minister, insisting that there is a “compelling case” to change the Constitution, particularly in the case of adoption, which gives rise for the need for a referendum.
Ms Fitzgerald insisted government plans are well on track to hold the public vote in the autumn.
While she would not be drawn on whether it would take place in October or November, she said the Cabinet would consider the wording of the referendum at its next meeting.
Mr O’Flaherty wrote in the Irish Independent newspaper that while the aims of a children’s rights referendum are laudable, provisions for them can be found in existing legislation.
The only exception is the extension of adoption rights but that could be done through ordinary legislation, he said.
If the referendum is passed, the new laws will dictate that the state should not discriminate between children. They will also ensure that children are treated equally regardless of whether their parents are married. Rights to adopt will also be extended to ensure the child’s welfare is the central consideration.
Ms Fitzgerald said she understands that there will be opposition to the referendum and that she expects legal experts to speak out against it but she added that former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness called for a children’s rights referendum 20 years ago.
“That call has been echoed in a whole series of reports by a whole series of experts,” she said.
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