The most important people in any society are its children, for they are the future, and Cllr. John Leahy feels that the forthcoming Amendment to our Constitution, if passed, is the most important step we can take in ensuring that children have a voice in the future. Yes it is true that many people have concerns and worries about this Referendum and at times there has been a lack of clear debate about the issues concerned. However it is vitally important that we try to tease out the issues involved and turn out to vote on Saturday 10th November. While Cllr Leahy has some misgivings regarding the direction future decisions by the Government or the Courts may take, he believes that we should vote “yes” in this Referendum in order to ensure that children will have the opportunity to be recognised in their own right and will have the opportunity to speak for themselves.
At present the Constitution recognises the foremost place of family in our society and children in a loving, caring family are protected and cared for by their parents. This is as it should be and children are nourished and guided by their parents as they grow up to adulthood. However it is a fact of life that not all family units are able to provide the necessary care, love and attention that children need and so concerns arise about the safety and welfare of the children within these family units. It then falls to the State to step in and look after these children and in the past the State has been found wanting in this area. This has led to successive Taoisigh having to apologise for the mistakes made by various Departments and Boards in looking after the children in their care. The mistakes made in the past should not deflect us from doing the right thing now.
It is a fact of life that in the future there will be
a) child welfare and protection referrals to the HSE ( approx 30,000 in 2011);
b) children placed in the care of a relative or foster family;
c) physical and sexual abuse of children;
d) neglect and serious family problems;
Serious problems will continue to arise and we will want and insist that the State intervenes in order to protect these children.
The proposed Amendment will give children, for the first time,
1) clear recognition in their own right in our Constitution;
2) the right to have their best interests put forward at all times;
3) the right to have their wishes and views taken into account in adoption, guardianship, custody and access proceedings (provided they are sufficiently mature to do so)
Furthermore Cllr. Leahy says that the proposed Amendment will provide for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child and will allow the State “in exceptional circumstances”, as guardian of the common good, to try to take the place of the parents by proportionate means as provided by law. In effect this means that the State will still have to prove that there has been a failure in parental duties before the State can remove a child from his or her family.
Cllr. Leahy has been critical, in the past, about long delays in vetting foster parents, the lack of detail on the vetting forms to become foster parents and the monitoring of children in State care on a continuous basis. He recognises that parents may have some worries about legislation in the future, arising from this Amendment.
Despite the wrongdoings of the past and despite any misgivings we may have at present regarding this proposed Amendment, Cllr Leahy feels that we must focus on the important issue here and that is the right of all children to be heard, the right of all children to be given the opportunity to have their say and the right of all children to have these rights recognised in our Constitution. Cllr. Leahy urges you to vote “yes” on Saturday next and ensure that the State “recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate these rights”