Voter turnout remains low for referendum

Voter turnout in the referendum on children's rights is expected to be low.

With polling stations closing at 10pm, TDs including Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald have taken to social network site Twitter urging the public to vote.

Reports at around 6pm indicated average turnouts in Co Dublin, Cork City and Waterford were no higher than 30%.

Few polling stations had reported more than 20% turnout by noon, according to state broadcaster RTÉ.

Ms Fitzgerald, who had been canvassing in her Dublin Mid West constituency, tweeted her progress throughout the day.

"Bumped into the Currie family on my canvass of Lucan. They're voting yes. Hope you make time to vote," said Ms Fitzgerald in one update.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty also tweeted, saying he had cast his Yes vote, while Labour TD Joe Costello appealed for people to exercise their right.

"Low turnout so far. Please come out and vote Yes," he tweeted.

More than 3.1 million people are eligible to cast their ballot to determine whether the Government's plans to enshrine children's rights in the constitution should be accepted.

Polls opened at 9am on the back of a politically-damaging Supreme Court ruling over the misuse of public funds to inform the electorate about the campaign.

But Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he was confident the amendment would be passed as the public would want to ensure the utmost protection for 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 amendment addresses issues including adoption, protection, state intervention in neglect cases and giving children a say in their own protection proceedings.

Just 48 hours before the vote, the Supreme Court ruled the Government's use of public funds had been wrong, with extensive passages on information leaflets said to breach rules on fairness.

All political parties - in Government and Opposition - back the children's rights reforms. But five TDs wrote to the Government on the back of the court ruling urging that the vote be delayed.

The court ruled that public funds cannot be used to promote a vote one way or another in a referendum.

Fewer 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 opened to avoid bad weather hampering collection and counting of ballots.

Children's charities including the ISPCC, Barnardos, the Children's Rights Alliance and lobby group Campaign for Children have backed the reforms.

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.

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

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.

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