Is Ireland ready for a child rights referendum?

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children has published the proposed wording of a revised article 42 of the Constitution, dealing with the rights of the child.

This is not a new issue. The 1993 McGuinness report of the Kilkenny incest investigation said that “the very high emphasis on the rights of the family in the Constitution may consciously or unconsciously be interpreted as giving a higher value to the right of parents than to the rights of children” and recommended an amendment to include “a specific and overt declaration of the rights of born children”.

This recommendation was repeated and expanded upon in the 1996 Report of the Constitution Review Group (CRG). Recent years saw the reports of the Oireachtas Committee and the abandoned 28th Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2007.

Repeated returns to the drawing board highlight the difficulty in getting the wording of any amendment right. Dr. Aoife Nolan points out that the new wording “still evidences some serious shortcomings in ensuring holistic protection to the rights of the child.” Certainly, the CRG’s 1996 report emphasises the need for a balancing of constitutional provisions, but the Committee’s wording does not propose any amendment to article 41.

The cross-party support underpinning the new proposal and the fact that it has been applauded by a wide range of interest groups suggest that, subject to the approval of the Cabinet and the Attorney General, the proposed wording will be put to the people in a referendum. It seems fair to assume that the campaign in favour of the amendments will be supported by all major parties and the panoply of child rights organisations. However, recent constitutional history shows that cross-party support can quickly be derailed by non-party pressure grouping.

Within hours of the publication of the Committee’s proposed revisions to article 42, the Iona Institute published a statement warning that the changes would “lower the threshold at which the State can intervene in the family.”

[T]he proposed wording will give recognition to a child’s “best interests” … while “no-one denied that a child’s best interests had to be to the fore when making decisions about children, the crucial question is, who gets to make this decision, parents or the State?

Iona cite a Scottish example where children were taken into care because of concerns that the children’s health was at risk due to obesity and assert that such a move “is itself arguably a violation of the rights of the child”.

The statement by Iona suggests that it might oppose a referendum to introduce the proposed amendment. It might not be alone: the Renew campaign, which has to date only been heard in the media when campaigning against the Civil Partnership Bill 2009, lists the following among its campaign issues:

  • The promotion and protection of marriage and family life
  • To influence government legislation which protects and supports family life

In the February 2010 issue of Solas, the publication of Youth Defence, Maria McMeanmain writes that parents cannot “trust the state to do the right thing by their children”, primarily on the basis of the Ryan report and her surprising assertion that “[a]ny objective observer will conclude that the girl in the C-case was kidnapped by the state.” Ms. McMeanmain concludes:

The most reliable agent of a child’s welfare is almost always his or her parents. Denying a child those agents must only be done where it is absolutely clear that the child’s parents have repudiated that role. That is the position under our Constitution today. Anything else is an attack on children’s rights and must be opposed!

Further tweaking of the wording might result from Cabinet discussions but, whenever a referendum takes place, the contours of the campaign are beginning to emerge.

Update (18 February 2010):

  • Senator Ivana Bacik notes failure to address article 41 and, in particular, to update article 41.2 concerning the life of women “within the home” and their “duties in the home”.
  • Dr. Ursula Kilkelly‘s analysis: “Although not perfect, the proposals represent a significant step forward in Ireland’s commitment to realising the rights of children in Irish law.”


  • Redline showing the proposed changes to the original text is here.
  • Initial analysis of the proposal on the Human Rights in Ireland blog, which will provide further analysis in coming days.

4 thoughts on “Is Ireland ready for a child rights referendum?

  1. the child must be heard in court and hse must not be left near children THE CHILDS VOICE HAS TO BE HEARD AFTER ALL IT IS THERE LIFE

  2. The Children’s “Rights” Referendum is purely about 2 things;

    1/ Taking away Parents rights to vindicate for their child so that Ireland can be fully compliant on the UNCRC.

    2/ Allowing for Forced Adoption as has been policy in the UK.

    In the last few drafts, there was not ONE single, clearly defined right for any child. Rights for children already exist in several Statute Laws.

    The bias with Married Parents, which has never really been a barrier to removing children, is due to the Illegitimacy Act of 1933, yes, there are Illegitimate Children in Ireland under the law.

    To say that Children are not protected under Article 42 is dishonest to say the very least. At present 26,200 children are protected by “Care” Orders or Supervision Orders, although 500 are missing so the word “Protected” may be a bit of an exaggeration.

    The UNCRC is no mere statement of Altruism, it is a legally binding International Human Rights Treaty which over-rides all Laws, Constitutional or Statutory, of every country who ratified it. Here is why the USA wont ratify it{B56D7393-E583-4658-85E6-C1974B1A57F8}&DE=#_fn14

    The Government have also announced a second Children’s “Rights” Referendum which is most likey “putting the Family Courts” on a Constitutional basis”. This should not be supported and teh Family Courts closed the next day in my opinion. See my website

    Forced Adoption, putting children up for adoption against the parents wishes is a violation of Article 42 of the Constitution which is another reason for the Referendum. The UK is the only country in Europe who practice this. See to see what a disaster this has been for children and parents.

    The Child “Protection” Industry, the only growth-industry left in Ireland, costs the taxpayer over €200 million a year. Some “Protected” Children cost the State (Taxpayer) €300,000 a year. There is HUGE money to be made. For every child taken into “Care”, 25 “Professionals” take a piece of the pie. Cases can cost over a million, and that’s just the legal fees.

    Vote to change Article 42 and see the end of your Parental Authority.18 people in Geneva can change the laws of almost every country in the World, and once Sovereign Countries are powerless to make any law regarding children. Abortion becomes an automatic Right for any child regardless of the views or even knowledge of the parent. I’m not opposed to Abortion but many Irish People are. This is just one of the many surprises in store for every parent in Ireland if Article 42 is changed.

    Joe Burns
    Dublin, Ireland.

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