Fianna Fáil Children Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue has demanded an explanation for the Government’ decision to push the Referendum on Children’s rights way down the list of priorities ensuring that the legislation will not be published this term.
Deputy McConalogue commented, “I listened in bewilderment yesterday to the Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe on RTE’s Morning Ireland admitting that long-awaited Children’s Referendum has been pushed down to the Government’s C List of legislative priorities. This has since been confirmed by the legislative agenda. It all but guarantees that there will be no Referendum on Children’s Rights in the first half of this year.
“During the General Election, Fine Gael promised that there would be a Children’s Referendum within the first 12 months in office. At the time the party’s spokesperson on Children Charlie Flanagan said: “Every day that goes by without a referendum acknowledging the voice of children in the constitution is a poor day for children, leaving them in a position of great vulnerability and hardship. So this will be a priority.”
“Fine Gael also indicated that a Children’s Referendum would be held the same day as the presidential election in 2011. In March last, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said “it should be possible to get agreement on a formula of words that could be put to the people on the same date as the presidential election”.
“The Presidential election has come and gone and this Government’s first 12 months in office is fast approaching. It is quite clear that Fine Gael and Labour no longer see children’s rights as a matter of priority. Since coming into power, they have relied solely on an empty notion that simply establishing a Department of Children is proof enough of their commitment to child protection. This will no longer wash with the public.
“As the Government continues to kick the wider issue down the road, there is one step we could take immediately to transform the lives of hundreds of children in care. Last year, I brought forward legislation to allow for the adoption of hundreds of children who are currently in long term care and who cannot be adopted because of rules arising from the current position of the family in the Constitution. This issue is not contentious and enjoys widespread support.
“The Government accepted the content of the Bill but refused to hold a simple referendum alongside the Presidential election as I requested. Instead they said they would deal with the problem in the wider Children’s Referendum. That was more than six months ago and the Bill has moved automatically into committee stage. But when I questioned the Taoiseach in the Dáil about this yesterday, he said the Government will not provide time for this Bill to be discussed at committee stage.
“This is extremely disappointing. Removing the barriers to adoption is something that could have been done quickly to improve the rights of hundreds of children. It would also have sent a strong message of our commitment to improving child protection in the State.
“I am again calling on the Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and the Taoiseach to support this Bill and allow it to be debated it at Committee stage. I am also calling on Minister Fitzgerald to provide some certainty on when the Children’s Referendum will take place. The wording was agreed by an all-party committee last year. It is unacceptable that something as fundamental as strengthening children’s rights would continue to fall down the list of priorities for this Government.”