De Valera’s Constitution of 1937 already contains two specific rights for children, though you are unlikely to know that from the partial information emanating from Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s website and repeated by an Tanaiste, Minister Varadkar etc.
Here, in its second sentence is stated: “it [the Constitution] does not provide an express statement of rights for children.”
That’s a falsity. There’s much the same from the American and Exchequer-funded Children’s Rights Alliance and other ‘yes’ proponents. The two rights have been air-brushed out of the debate. Seventy-five years after the Constitution was enacted, neither have been granted by any Irish government. One of them is manifest as an outrageous, endemic, intellectual abuse of at least 20,000 Irish children and is likely to become the Magdalene Homes’ case of this generation.
The first right is straightforward: Article 42.4: “The State shall provide for free primary education…” It isn’t free, as Barnardos confirmed in annual surveys. Books, sham-voluntary subscriptions, stationery contributions and locker rentals amount to ca €300 a child; a hardship for poor and large families.
The second right is more controversial, for its subversion involves the Catholic Church. Article 44.2.4: “Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not [ ] be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.” The Referendum Commission’ information booklet has ignored this too. Some of the proposed wording is meaningless guff: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of children..” Imprescriptible means those that can’t be taken away. How will we know they aren’t taken away if we don’t know what they are? Are unelected judges to decide, and maybe at great expense to those who might rely on the clause?
Paddy Cooney, FG Minister for Justice, changed the adoption laws (1973-77 Government) to permit adoption by “mixed marriage” couples. I like to think this was on foot of my proposal at my first FG Ard Fheis of 1972 in Cork. The voluntary adoption of children of married folk is a long tradition in Ireland; legislating for it should present no Constitutional problem. Two Rights Now! doesn’t trust State authorities with some of the wording, eg, that used in Sub- Article 2.1: When “welfare”, ie health and prosperity, “is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State … shall [act].” Who is to guess, or decide, when a child is to be taken from its parents? When the family is poor?
We accept that constitutional changes will be required to put unmarried parents on a par with married ones in some circumstances and to provide for the involuntary adoption of children of dysfunctional families. The proper course is to openly discuss these matters before the Constitutional Convention and bring us all along as grown-ups, and not as a flock of sheep, with proposals which could be put before the people at the June 2014 elections. It seems that no lessons have been learned following the rejection of the all-party proposals for expanding the power of Dail Committees last year.
Two Rights Now! has been denied public funding. Between its launch on 16 October to 29 October, it was given one and a quarter minutes of the State public-interest broadcaster’s time, onthe latter date. www.tworightsnow.org
- John Colgan, community activist and former Leixlip Town Commissioner