One week to go and I am still struggling with how to vote in this bloody Children’s Rights Referendum.  We have too many bloody referenda in this country anyway.  Do other so called civilised countries entertain their citizens with this stuff as regularly as we do?  It seems to rank right up there with our obsession with how others view us.

Anyway in order to make one final attempt to come to a definite decision I am going to try to articulate my feelings and ask questions, in the hope that I might get some answers to my concerns.

My first concern is about the wisdom of actually putting children’s rights into the constitution.  Surely children have the same rights as everyone else on the basis of their humanity.  My question is this.  If we are enshrining their rights on the basis of their vulnerability well then are we going to carry on and have further referenda to protect other vulnerable citizens?  I am thinking particularly of the elderly and especially those with dementia.  Elder abuse is possibly going to be the next big scandal to rock our society.  I am also thinking of those with learning disabilities etc.  Surely if children’s rights need to be specified, so should theirs?  Or does their humanity not automatically give them exactly the same human rights as the rest of the community?

Secondly I am annoyed by the Governments campaign on this issue.  Posters telling us to ‘Vote Yes for Children’ are the stupidest of all.  The vast majority of people in this country are ‘for children’.  This Government telling us to Vote Yes for children merely makes me see red.  I voted Yes for this Government in February 2011 and in so doing managed to reduce the circumstances of many vulnerable children in this country through this on-going austerity programme.  My question is this.  Will this amendment change the circumstances for poor children, for children who need SNAs in schools?  If not, then we are not voting Yes for Children… we are voting Yes for some children.

I understand that the main reason put forward for supporting this referendum is to sort out the legal limbo that many children currently in foster care find themselves in by virtue of the fact that they cannot be adopted by their foster parents.  But, if I understand things correctly, this situation will have to be rectified by legislation following the passing of this amendment.  So my question is this.  If the Government is so keen on sorting out these children why was this legislation not passed years ago?  Along with other legislation to sort out other anomalies (polite word) in our out of date, not fit for purpose adoption laws.

By amending our constitution next weekend we will be giving the state increased power over families and their children; a state who have failed children spectacularly in the past.  If my understanding is correct, the State already had the power to intervene in cases of abuse and neglect and repeatedly didn’t.  Children were left to suffer on.  My question is this.  Surely before we are asked to amend our constitution in this way we should have knowledge of exactly how the state is going to exercise this new power?  Who will decide if parents have failed in their duty to their children?  What safeguards are going to be put in place in order to ensure that children are not removed from families inappropriately?

If this referendum is passed will it really make children’s voices heard?  I have a number of questions relating to this.  Firstly, if passed will this open the way for adult children to access their adoption records?  Will it enable adult children in the future to get information on their biological parents – children who have been conceived through donations of sperm or egg?  Will it enable a family take a legal challenge over their special needs child’s right to an education?  Will this amendment force Government to really give all children all their human rights?  

My fear about this referendum is that we are being sold a pup.  The government will congratulate us all for making this a great country to be a child in.  And then they will sit back on their laurels and other than children in foster care, no other vulnerable lives will really change?

Maybe I am just an old cynic.  But I don’t trust our politicians or our system of politics.  I have a feeling in my gut that this referendum is just window dressing that actually won’t make a hill of beans to the vast majority of children.  I have a letter from 1996 from the then Minister of State at Dept of Health, Austin Curry which stated that he was aware with issues relating to step adoptions and was “having investigations made into…. an alternative mechanism.. in such cases.”  1996 – and nothing has changed.  I am very far from convinced that this Government like others before them, are serious about children?

Please tell me I am wrong?  And I am serious about these questions…. if you can provide an answer to one of more of them, please leave me an enlightening comment.  Thank you


One of the few ‘right’ things we did as a country during the boom years was to take a few steps towards valuing, in a real way, the work of caring for children in this country.
Back in 1992 debate began around the provision of childcare in Ireland for families where both parents worked.  The Commission for the Status of Women recommended that there should be a tax relief for the payment of childcare for working parents.  However that immediately led to parents who cared for their own children in the home feeling (rightly) discriminated against.
By 2000 we were also discussing child poverty and in the end it was felt that an increase in the universal child benefit scheme was the best way of addressing all of these concerns.
So parents in Ireland although not getting tax relief for childcare were paid what looks like a generous children’s allowance which could offset some of the cost of childcare while equally recognising the work of the army, of mainly women, who stay at home to care for their children themselves.  This seems to have been somewhat forgotten about although an excellent opinion piece by Evelyn Mahon intoday’s Irish Times goes some way to correcting our absentmindedness on the subject.
We all are familiar with that old cliché that we live in a society not an economy.  This is one area where that cliché is worth fighting for. 
Regularly we talk of how we lost ourselves completely in the excesses of Celtic Tiger Ireland; we got ideas above our station and lost our values completely.  Some of that may be true but in the midst of all the material madness we did one right thing.  We said that the work of caring for children has a value.  We recognised that value and we went a little way towards compensating the carers for that work.
That work has lost none of its intrinsic value.  Children are our future and our country’s greatest asset. 
Almost a century ago the Proclamation of the Irish Republic stated this new Republic’s aim of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”  We are only now getting around to beginning doing something about that as we prepare to amend our Constitution to include children’s rights.    
Isn’t it then ironic that at the very same time our Government are considering once again taking away the only value that has ever been given to the work of caring for children?  Talking out of both sides of their mouth?
Well hear this Minister Burton – Get Your Hands Off Our Children’s Allowance.  Let’s shout it loud and clear.  Our children are depending on us.

If you want your voice heard you could start by signing this petition