On Saturday 10 November the Irish people endorsed the importance of children’s rights. In a referendum, Irish citizens were given the opportunity to vote on whether to give the state greater powers to intervene in cases of abuse and neglect of children. Although the proposed amendment was supported by all political parties and children’s charities, only 58 percent of the people casting their vote (33.5 percent) approved the new law. The new law, which requires a change in Ireland’s constitution, endorses various articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and will give Irish courts the possibility to prioritise the needs of the child rather than the right of family unit, which, until now, was given priority in most cases. Moreover, the law will give children the right to testify in court.
According to UNICEF Ireland the change in the constitution will give children more power over their own lives. “This referendum gives us an opportunity to listen to children on matters which can directly impact their lives” Peter Power, Executive Director, UNICEF Ireland stated in relation to a school project about the referendum. Children themselves have been very positive about the new law as well. “This referendum is about making young people visible in the constitution and giving them a voice” Grace Dignam, 18, of Foróige said in the run up to the referendum.
The new law is not without controversy; on the contrary, despite the support from political parties and charities, it has ignited others to campaign for a ‘no’ vote. “The oversight of this referendum and a reason to vote no is that nowhere does it give the child a right to be brought up by their birth parents. Surely, that is the most fundamental right of all and has no mention of grandparents or extended family” the Unmarried and Separated Families of Ireland stated. The campaign itself was not uncontroversial either. Just days before the referendum, the Supreme Court ruled that the Irish Government had distributed a biased information leaflet, supposedly a reason for the low turnout on the referendum. The uniform position of the political parties is also expected to have had an influence on the low turnout. "Probably an element here is there was no organized opposition to this particular referendum, people may well have been inclined to say: 'Well, it's going to pass anyway, isn't it?’" the Taoiseach said.
The new law endorses article 9.1 which gives the state the opportunity to separate the child from its family and 9.2 which gives children the opportunity to voice their opinions on such a separation in court. Ireland signed the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1990, the year that it came into force and ratified it on 28 September 1992.
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