Taoiseach hails 'historic' referendum result despite low turnout




A referendum vote enshrining children's rights in the constitution has been hailed as historic, despite voter apathy and a lower-than-expected majority.

With 58% in favour of the amendment, Taoiseach Enda Kenny accepted that last week's Supreme Court ruling that public money had been misused in promoting the referendum may have been a factor.

"I think it probably had an effect," he said.

The turnout was one of the lowest in Irish referendum history, 33.49%, with just 1,061,594 people casting a ballot.

The Taoiseach suggested a lack of co-ordinated campaigning from the No side and subsequent lack of debate may also have led to some apathy.

"Probably an element here is there was no organised opposition to this particular referendum, people may well have been inclined to say: 'Well, it's going to pass anyway, isn't it?'.

"But the question has been answered very positively by the people, and I commend them for so doing," he said.

The Taoiseach added: "It is a historic day for the children of Ireland as it is the first time the constitution of this Republic will recognise them as citizens in their own right."

The Yes for Children campaign, spearheaded by the country's leading children's charities, said it was satisfied with the result.

The group, made up of Barnyards, the ISPCC, the Children's Rights Alliance and the Campaign for Children said the amendment would provide "a mandate for better laws, policy and services to improve the protection of children now, and into the future".

Only three of Ireland's 43 constituencies rejected the reforms. Protest votes were recorded in both Donegal constituencies, similar to the experience in last year's European referendum.

Donegal South West recorded a 56.47% No vote, with Donegal North East even more resounding with a 59.66% rejection following low voter turnout of 24.47%.

Dublin North West also voted No, but with only a difference of 137 votes.

It was only the second public vote to be held on a weekend.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald suggested the Saturday vote may have played a part, and that future weekend polls would have to be examined.

"We thought it would be a more family-friendly day, but in fact we will have to examine that," said Ms Fitzgerald.

"People are used to the routine of voting in Ireland before, if they are working, before they go to work and after work."

Ms Fitzgerald added that moving permanently to Saturday voting could result in too many issues arising.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Justice Minister Alan Shatter were among other senior Government officials to welcome the Yes vote.

"Up to now the failure of those in positions of power to protect children has been a blight on our nation's history," said Mr Gilmore.

"Today's result is a vindication of the values that we hold and how much we value children and childhood."

The Government will now move to have legislation to enforce the constitutional amendment.

Voters had gone to the polls just 48 hours after a damaging Supreme Court ruling.

It deemed the Government's use of €1.1m of public funds designed to inform voters had been wrong and that extensive passages on information leaflets had breached rules of fairness.

The court said public funds cannot be used to promote a vote one way or another, based on the 1995 McKenna judgment.

The new Article 42a will see children's rights for the first time recognised in Ireland's constitution to ensure their protection.

It addresses issues including adoption and the right to hear a child's views in protection proceedings.

Elsewhere, in a number of border constituencies there were reports of spoiled ballot papers voicing support for Sean Quinn, the bankrupt former billionaire jailed for contempt as the former Anglo Irish Bank chases him for debts of €2.8bn.

One ballot paper in Cavan-Monaghan was reportedly spoiled with "we want fair play for Sean Quinn".

The new Article 42a of the constitution will for the first time allow children's rights to be recognised to ensure their protection:

* It will allow for state intervention if parents neglect or fail in their duty to their children, regardless of whether the couple are married;

* A child's own views could also be taken into consideration during child protection proceedings;

* A child would be eligible for adoption, where their parents have been found to have continually failed in their responsibilities;

* In some cases, the reforms would enable parents to voluntarily put their child up for adoption;

* Custody, guardianship and adoption of a child will be determined by the best interests of the child.

Opponents of the amendment expressed concerns over the extent adoption rights may be reformed and that the state could have preference over parents' views.

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