Shatter confident of victory for 'Yes' side

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has predicted a victory for Government plans to enshrine children’s rights in the constitution.

With polls opening tomorrow on the back of a politically damaging Supreme Court ruling, ministers insisted the vote should go ahead.

More than 3.1m people are eligible to cast their ballot with polling stations open from 9am to 10pm.

And Justice Minister Alan Shatter said be believed the public will grab the chance to do something to contribute to further protect children.

“It gives many people who have been upset and outraged by revelations of child abuse of the past an opportunity to do something positive, to put provisions in our constitution to try and ensure we provide better protection for children in the future,” he said.

The proposed constitutional amendment looks at a number of areas of children’s rights including adoption, protection, state intervention in neglect cases and giving children a say in their own protection proceedings.

Forty-eight hours out from the vote, the Government’s use of public funds was held by the Supreme Court to have been wrong with extensive passages said to breach rules on fairness.

The judgment, in the case taken by Dublin-based engineer Mark McCrystal, found the Government wrongly used a €1.1m fund in some of the publicity put out by the Referendum Commission.

The court did not consider the actual constitutional amendment itself.

Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein all back the children’s rights reforms. However, five TDs wrote to the Government on the back of the court ruling urging the vote be delayed.

Mr McCrystal’s case, based on the 1995 McKenna, contested that public funds cannot be used to promote a vote one way or another in a referendum.

Less than half the 2,000-plus islanders eligible to vote off Donegal, Mayo and Galway went to the polls early in the week as stations open to avoid bad weather hampering collection and counting of ballots.

Counting of votes from the 43 constituencies takes place on Sunday from 9am. Results will be fed through to the Referendum Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile at Dublin Castle.

The first indications of the outcome should be known before lunchtime, unless the vote is split by a narrow margin.

There have been 24 amendments to the constitution following referendums and nine proposals rejected by voters, the earliest of which was on voting rights in 1959.

Leading children’s charities have thrown their weight behind the proposed constitutional reform on children’s rights, including the ISPCC, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Rights Alliance and lobby group Campaign for Children.

Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, who was the first to call for a children’s rights referendum following the notorious Kilkenny incest case in 1993, campaigned alongside the Children’s Rights Alliance under the umbrella group Yes for Children.

Those in the No camp include journalist John Waters, who has campaigned on the rights of fathers in the past, former MEPs Dana Rosemary Scallon and Kathy Sinnott, and the Parents for Children group.

The proposed new Article 42a calls for the first time for children’s rights to be recognised in the constitution 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.

Mr Shatter, a family lawyer, said he had dealt with dreadful cases while practising.

“I think many people throughout the country will welcome an opportunity to do something towards contributing to our doing better for our children in the future, listening to what they say when they say they are victims of abuse,” he said.

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