2 July 2015: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Given the new Article 42A of the Constitution of Ireland, will the Minister now conduct a law audit relevant to children to determine where gaps exist in full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and bring in a comprehensive Children’s Rights Bill.

 Article 42A provides an enhanced general visibility for the rights of children under the Constitution.  More generally, the new standard has the capacity to influence the approach to legislation beyond what is required by the letter of the new constitutional provision. The interpretation of the existing statute law is now subject to the new constitutional requirements and this will, no doubt, be reflected in jurisprudence in both public and private law in the years to come.

At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department will proceed with arrangements to submit the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill for consideration by the Oireachtas.

Specifically the amendment sets certain standards relating to determining the views and best interests of children in specified proceedings which both comprehend existing provisions and require that all future legislation must comply in the areas concerned.  The Government has also provided potent examples of this in the inclusion of provisions relating to the views and best interests of the child in the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

My Department has a number of other proposed legislative initiatives in train that aim to promote the rights and welfare of children.  These include the Children First Bill, 2014 to strengthen fundamental aspects of the child protection system which is currently before the Oireachtas; the Child Care Act (Amendment) Bill, to strengthen the legislative provisions for aftercare which is currently being drafted; and   work is continuing on the Heads of Bill for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill.  I also mention in a separate reply to Senator Van Turnhout, that my Department is working on policy proposals for significant statutory reform of provisions relating to Guardians ad litem under the Child Care Act 1991.

I note that there is a major and wide-ranging initiative underway to advance the rights of children on a cross-government basis.  I refer to the on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, which is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These values and principles will continue to guide the implementation and monitoring of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

This universal strategy, covering all aspects of children’s lives, is a challenging and highly-focused whole-of-government undertaking.  Delivery of the 163 commitments set out in the strategy will result in better outcomes for children right across the spectrum of State inter-actions with the child and his or her parents and family. Along with the legislative programme, these are the mechanisms by which the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is being advanced.

A further important underlying process relevant to the question raised concerns the examination of Ireland by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which is scheduled to take place next January.  This provides a basis for engagement between my Department and other Departments of Government, preparatory to the meeting with the Committee, on issues it will raise regarding the State’s discharge of Ireland’s obligations as a party to the Convention.

Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015: Second Stage 25 March 2015

I warmly welcome the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, which sets out the wording of the amendment that will be put to the people in a referendum on 22 May 2015. If passed, the amendment will allow two people to enter into civil marriage without distinction as to their sex. For me this is a simple question – one of equality, fairness and civil rights. It is very important that we distinguish what is hoped will be a new right to civil marriage from that of religious marriage. Civil marriage will be a relationship between two people, irrespective of their sexual orientation that is sanctioned and licensed by the State. In the same way as religious institutions are not obliged to remarry divorced couples, they will not be forced to marry same-sex couples, should civil marriage be extended to lesbians and gay men.

I was married in the Catholic Church and I have no sense whatsoever that my marriage to my husband will be in any manner, shape or form altered or undermined by the extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples. I welcome the decision by the Association of Catholic Priests not to take a position on the same-sex marriage referendum on 22 May and its recommendation to priests not to direct parishioners to vote either “Yes” or “No”. I also welcome the Minister’s confirmation that there will be no conscience clause about which my colleagues have spoken eloquently.

This is about ensuring equality and parity of legal treatment. Comparing the census figures for 2006 and 2011 shows a 100% increase in the number of same-sex couples. The 2011 census recorded 230 same-sex couples with children. Indeed we are talking about 7% of the Irish people based on national and international surveys.

I welcome the impact the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 will have in reforming, modernising and bringing legal clarity to many aspects of Irish family law, particularly to diverse parenting situations and diverse family forms including for the children of same-sex couples. That Bill, which we will continue to debate tomorrow, is very welcome.

I stand here in a very privileged position because I do not see this as a dramatic change. It has no impact on my life or on what I do. Along with many other people I am very supportive of the amendment. I want to be clear and unequivocal in my support. Senator Byrne was right to mention the journey. I do not know when I made a conscious decision that I supported it. For me this is very much about equality, fairness and civil rights.

As many Senators will know, my husband is Dutch and as the Minister outlined, the Dutch Parliament was the first parliament to take such a decision in 2001. I hope the Irish people will be the first to vote “Yes” in a public referendum. As I said, this vote has no impact on my life but I am very conscious that it will have a disproportionate impact on our gay and lesbian friends and that is wrong, because it is about equality. Whatever the decision, we need to ensure that it is about equality.

I want that what I have with my husband is available to my good friend, Senator Zappone, and her partner, Ann Louise Gilligan, who were married in Canada, and that before the eyes of this State all marriages are equal. It is simple. For me it is not dramatic or massive but I know the impact it will have on individual lives.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I had not got married in Ireland. Let us say I had got married in the Netherlands and for some reason my marriage was not recognised here. I cannot imagine what that would be like. It makes me realise the privilege I have and that is why I will certainly not only be voting “Yes”, but I will be actively campaigning for a “Yes” vote. Changes to our Constitution have legal importance but they also have an important resonance across our society and it reflects us as a society. I want to ensure we really are an equal society.

In ending I wish to quote from the Minister’s speech earlier when she said, “We will have to decide if marriage should be defined against the prism of the past or a vibrant institution embedded in the modernity of the 21st century.” I hope the people will vote “Yes”. I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill to give the people an opportunity to have their say.


33rd Amendment of the Constitution (Court of Appeal) Bill 2013: Second Stage

Wednesday, 24th July 2013

I welcome the Minister to the House. Unlike the arrangements in other common law jurisdictions, the Irish Supreme Court is the court of final appeal in all appeals from the lower courts. According to recent figures published by the Courts Service and reported in The Irish Times, the Supreme Court received 605 appeals last year, a 21% increase on 2011. It issued 114 judgments, up 56% from 2011. This is quite extensive compared with the US Supreme Court, which issued 64 judgments last year, and the UK Supreme Court which issued 85 judgments last year. We are all aware there is currently a four-year backlog of cases at the Supreme Court.

The establishment of a court of appeal would represent a major reform and streamlining of the court system, and will bring Ireland more in line with Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. While retaining the right of appeal from the court of appeal to the Supreme Court, in line with well-defined constitutional standards, it will help reduce the backlog of cases by removing from the Supreme Court’s remit cases that are not appeals on constitutional issues or cases of major importance. This will make the Supreme Court more of a constitutional court in the true sense.
I welcome the abolition of the one-judgment rule in cases involving the constitutionality of laws. This will allow the Supreme Court to issue more than one judgment and will be beneficial to the development of jurisprudence and public interest law. I agree with the Minister, Deputy Shatter, that an efficient and effective court system will help make Ireland more attractive to investors and multinational companies.

My one concern pertains to section 7, which deals with the interface between this Bill and the Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Eireann) Bill 2013. This is not so much a concern about the Bill before us, which I fully support and welcome, but more about the disquiet it raises in me about how uncertain and complex are the ramifications of the possible abolition of the Seanad. This is just one example of many instances of “if the Seanad is retained, then this, and if the Seanad is abolished, then that”. For example, section 7 references the vote on the thirty-second amendment. If the people vote “Yes” to abolish the Seanad – a big if – the date of that decision is not the same as abolition day, which is also mentioned by this Bill. Therefore, is the implementation day of the court of appeal expected for the term of the next Government rather than within the term of the current Government or will we have to have many Bills with all of these choices? There is a question with regard to the day of the vote and the date of abolition, if agreed, because these are not the same.
As I made very clear during yesterday’s debate, the question of Seanad abolition is one for the people and the people alone to answer. However, I remain concerned about the lack of clarity and certainty about what our Constitution will look like without the Seanad and how the gaps that will be left will be filled.

Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill 2013

Wednesday, 26th June 2013

As leader of the independent group of Taoiseach nominees, with Senators Fiach Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone, I begin by stating clearly that each of us has our own individual perspective on the Bill before us today. We are, as everyone knows, a group of Independent Senators in the truest sense, independent of Government and of each other in the positions we adopt in the course of our Oireachtas work. We come from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including civil society, NGOs, the arts, education, business and human rights. It is this diversity in our expertise which prompted the Taoiseach’s choice of appointment.

Seanad Éireann was established to give a voice to different and challenging opinions in Irish society. I am confident we are fulfilling this role with honesty and integrity. On behalf of us all, we thank the Taoiseach for the privilege of the position in which he has entrusted us. We have taken time to reflect on our individual viewpoints in this debate today on the Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill. I look forward to hearing the deliberations of my colleagues as the debate ensues. From this point onwards, the views I express are entirely my own.

I was greatly honoured to accept this position as Senator and at the time I was cognisant of the Taoiseach’s position with regard to the abolition of the Seanad and the commitment in the programme for Government. In trying to work through my position on the Bill, I have had to separate my role as a Senator from that as an individual citizen who will vote in the referendum. When it comes to Committee and Report Stages, I will, as I do with all Bills, consider each amendment tabled and will vote on the merits of the rationale behind it. That said, and as a matter of principle, I will not impede the passage of this Bill through the Seanad. This is a decision for the Irish people to make.

Finalising my personal position on the Bill and its ramifications has not been an easy journey, and in fact it is a journey I have yet to complete. I have embraced my role as Senator with enthusiasm and dedication. I relish the opportunities presented to me to further issues through legislative amendments and policy debates. I am one of life’s optimists but I do not wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the Seanad. I see the flaws, I live the frustration and I understand the critics. The Order of Business can sometimes seem more like a recital of “It Says in the Papers” and all too often is dominated by local issues, making us seem more like a council meeting. I decided some time ago to participate on the Order of Business only where I believed an issue of national relevance needed to be raised and debated immediately and where there was no other channel through which I could raise it. Several colleagues remarked this decision would mean I would reduce my media presence, as it is the only part of our work in the Seanad on which most media report. I stand by my decision, as the record will show. However, these comments make me wonder how the public is supposed to get a true picture and understanding of the work we do.

Proponents of abolition have stated small countries such as Ireland do not need second chambers, which are more common in large, federal countries or countries with deep divisions. The countries cited as good models for us to follow have a strong system of local democracy. Ireland has widened the role and functions of local authorities, but very few powers have actually been devolved. Increasing powers over the years have absorbed by the Executive, and one only needs to watch Bills as they progress through the Houses to see the quality and openness of debate is really up to the approach of individual Ministers. I have sat here and watched, in dismay, as some Ministers have basically rammed a Bill through the House. Equally, I have had the ultimate privilege of being able to robustly and appropriately debate my points and amendments with Ministers who respect and engage fully in the parliamentary process. On a few occasions I have even won my point. Moving Ireland to a unicameral system is something I can understand in theory, but I am concerned we are being asked to take this decision without having any safety nets in place.

I was very interested in the proposals for reform outlined by the Taoiseach at the opening of Second Stage in the Dáil and today. There are many worthwhile proposals which are not contingent on the abolition of the Seanad so why do we not progress ahead with these reforms? George Bernard Shaw stated, “The best reformers the world has ever seen are those who commence on themselves”. This is a sentiment with which I fully concur. I respectfully put it to the Taoiseach that all of the questions we are debating about the ability for the Seanad to reform apply in equal measure to the Dáil and local government. There have been a number of reports on Seanad reform.

I imagine we could stack this room high with articles and books on all aspects of political reform in Ireland. If we were to take all decisions based on the number of reports written then I would like to know how many more reports on alcohol-related harm we need before action is taken on marketing and minimum pricing?

I have seen first-hand how difficult it is to change a procedure or a Standing Order in the Seanad. People do not resist change in principle but they do resist being changed. Is there a reason some of the proposed changes cannot be immediately commenced? What is the incentive to change for Deputies? Will the proposals get diluted as time progresses and why wait for the result of the referendum to effect wider political reform? From working in Leinster House I see the competing demands on Deputies’ time, not to mention local and constituency demands. Will they be able to free up the time needed to take on an increased legislative role? I would have greater confidence if I saw more evidence of actual change and ability to change. In the words of US President Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.

Considering the committee process in particular and the proposals put forward to strengthen it, we have seen a small number of Ministers bringing the general scheme or heads of Bills to joint committees for an initial consideration, which should be welcomed. I am an active member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which is ably chaired by Deputy Jerry Buttimer; I find my work on this committee very rewarding and I believe there is scope for members to influence legislative and policy outcomes. However, holding our work up to scrutiny one can see there is only a cohort of members who regularly attend for more than 20 minutes and who actively participate. One can consider the metrics. In July, we will have our quarterly meetings with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Health respectively. One month in advance of these meetings we are asked to submit questions; I have a long list but we are only allowed to ask three questions of each Minister, so I must make a shortlist. With 21 members on the committee, one can imagine the potential range of questions. However, I note that with regard to the Minister for Health’s quarterly review meeting on 25 July, only ten of the 21 committee members have submitted questions, and even more disappointingly, only six of the 21 committee members have submitted questions for answer by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Is this because of the competing demands on the time of representatives or is it because of resource constraints? Will this be addressed by the proposed reform?

We can critically examine the important issue of the child and family support agency that was announced in the programme for Government, with an anticipated budget of €546 million. Why was the committee process not used to give the heads of Bill the scrutiny they deserve, as this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for reform. I want to believe but the evidence suggests otherwise. I have on numerous occasions expressed my willingness to support and actively engage in the process to establish the new agency and yet, to date, I have never heard silence quite this loud. In any proposal to reconstruct and reform we need to ensure that there are members who are looking at issues with a national focus. We need balance in our discussions, and the Seanad has at times represented views that have otherwise been unheard.

EU scrutiny is another area in which the Oireachtas has, to date, been lacking. We are not using the red and yellow card system of the Lisbon treaty, for example. I would also have liked to address the issue of costs with the Taoiseach, as we should examine equivalent costs for strengthening competencies and resources. There is also the issue of timing of this referendum and the rush to hold it in the autumn. Why not hold it with the European and local elections in May next year? Why not introduce changes to the Dáil and local government while stepping up EU scrutiny? The heart of my dilemma is a question of why one action is contingent on another. I question the constitutional changes relating to the President, judges and certain officials like the Comptroller and Auditor General. We need a distinct debate on the constitutional impact of such changes.

I believe the events of recent years and days clearly show we need a political system that ensures we have a democracy built on accountability and transparency. We need to bolster our defences to ensure that powerful interests cannot have a free rein, and there is a clear and urgent need for political reform. My dilemma is that on the one hand I am unconvinced the Dáil will reform to the extent that is needed in order to compensate for the losses that will be accumulated through the abolition of the Seanad, while on the other hand, one must ask if a second Chamber is the most effective way to achieve the accountability, transparency and openness that we need to resuscitate political democracy in Ireland. I remain undecided

Order of Business, 13 November 2012

I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, his Department, the permanent missions of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva and New York, and everyone else involved in Ireland’s successful bid to secure a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It will be an interesting three years and I look forward to Ireland’s renewed focus on the implementation of the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review recommendations now that we have member status.

With very warm wishes I say “well done” to everyone involved in the successful passage of the referendum on children’s rights, especially to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. This is a gratifying time for me personally and professionally.

I have campaigned for many years for this referendum and I anticipated the margin to be much more narrow as this is a difficult issue involving profound social change. Much comparison has been taking place in the media with previous referendums and I note this referendum pertained to social change. As this was a major difference from previous referendums, it is difficult to make comparisons. I believe this referendum will be transformative and the full extent of its impact is not yet known. A case will appear before the Supreme Court in ten or 20 years’ time, after which people will know that on Saturday, 10 November 2012, they made a difference.

However, I also urge caution in dismissing the “No” vote. I spoke at many meetings throughout the country and some of that “No” vote reflected a real fear of the social services and this is something to which Members must listen. One cannot simply dismiss the “No” vote by suggesting they all were anti-government. People have had negative experiences, in the current period or previously as children or as family or friends. Consequently, the Leader should facilitate the appearance in the House of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs at the earliest opportunity to discuss in particular the report of the task force on the child and family support agency, which was published in July. I believe Members must play a role in shaping that new agency and they should address the fears people have raised.

In addition, Members also could discuss the fifth report of the special rapporteur on child protection and the Ryan report implementation plan, on which a three-year progress report was published earlier today. I also ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to introduce the adoption Bill to this House first. This issue is intricate and some of the relevant concerns were raised ensuring the debate. I believe this legislation will require timely and well thought-out debate.

Finally, I ask the Leader to schedule a debate in a timely manner after the Supreme Court judgment is given on 11 December. As the date on which the Supreme Court will give its detailed judgment is known, Members should have a timely debate to discuss the full implications.

Matter under Standing Order 30 – Children’s Referendum

8th November 2012

I thank the Minister for coming to the House.

We are all aware the Supreme Court has today made a ruling against the Government by finding that its €1.1 million spend on the children’s referendum information campaign did not comply with the principles of the McKenna judgment. It should be noted that the Supreme Court did not make any order against the Government but rather rightly assumed that the Government would cease publishing and distributing the material, which the Government did with immediate effect.

The Supreme Court has reserved its judgment until 11 December. While I welcome the opportunity, and thank Senator Norris for putting forward the motion, in ways this debate is premature and we will need to revisit this debate post 11 December to discuss and answer questions on the handling of referendum information campaign, the role of the Attorney General and the McKenna principles themselves. We need to do it when we are dispassionately unconnected from a particular referendum because these issues are overdue for discussion.

In the immediate term with polling day less than 40 hours from now, we must not lose sight of the principles at the heart of the amendment or the fact that many other wholly non-State-funded parties have campaigned long and hard to secure the successful passage of this referendum, none of which has been impugned in any way by today’s judgment. I also note, because there is confusion among the public around this judgment, that the Referendum Commission has not been impugned in any way by it. I understand the commission has been given €2 million in funding and it has been informing the public.

There have been many vocal opponents of the amendment against whom I have had the pleasure to debate on the national airwaves and at public meetings up and down the country. We must find a better way to inform the public and have debates because all too often I found myself in yes-no debates in which the “No” side had nothing to do with the wording that was in front of us. Yesterday, for instance, when I was on RTE’s “Drivetime”, Ms Dana Rosemary Scallon asserted on several occasions a statement which I counteracted. She even asked if I was calling her a liar. RTE’s “Drivetime” announced only a few minutes ago that she has contacted the station acknowledging that she was in error and retracting all of her comments, but yet I was put in a position of having to counteract and not having an opportunity to inform the public of the debate at hand.

The Referendum Commission clarified in a statement that a referendum cannot be postponed. The law on the conduct of referenda is set out in the Referendum Act 1994. Once that order is made the only circumstance in which it may be changed, according to the Referendum Act, is if a general election is called, and there is no sign of that. There are no other circumstances and for good reason. The Houses of the Oireachtas passed this referendum Bill. We in this House had an excellent debate on it.

I agree with the Minister that we must maintain our focus on the substance of the referendum. I did my own research and I decided to vote “Yes”, not because the Minister, the Government or anybody else told me to do so. I did so based on the facts which can be summed up as follows.

This referendum will make children visible in the Constitution. It will provide a signpost to the courts, to policymakers and to decision makers that children are independent rights holders. It will shift the focus away from the failure of parents to the impact on the child and allow the State to intervene earlier and proportionately where necessary. By voting “Yes” in this referendum people will enable the 2,000 children who have been in foster care for over five years to become eligible for adoption. This referendum will give a voice to children and ensure that they are heard in judicial decisions that affect their lives. Finally, this referendum will ensure judicial decisions are made in the child’s best interests.

I recall in June, shortly after the child death review group report came out, expressing my profound sadness and the sense of responsibility and shame I bear as a member of a society that has systematically failed to protect the most vulnerable children. On rereading the report in preparation for this referendum, it was obvious that if the referendum was passed and in place, the outcomes for these children would be different. What is striking, and the most disturbing feature, was the invisibility of children in the social work case files. Children would have been required to have been heard. This referendum will change that. It will give children a voice. It is not a panacea but it is a first, albeit critical, step.

I have been campaigning for many years on this referendum. I should also note that some citizens have already started voting. Islanders have started voting. My own dad voted in hospital on Monday last. We cannot take this away. This referendum is now in place. It has a chance to culturally shift how we view children.

I heard the five Independent TDs state it should be postponed and I took the duty to contact each member in the Seanad Independent group. The six Independent Taoiseach’s nominees strongly believe that the poll should go ahead on Saturday.

There is a duty on all of us to vote on Saturday and I call on the public to come out in force to support a “Yes” vote, not because the Government has told it but based on the facts. The ruling today did not reflect in any way on the information and state it was misinformation. What it stated was that it was potentially promoting one side. It did not in any way question the facts put forward.

We all could list the campaigners for the “No” side, and it would be quite a short list. I am aware of so many organisations campaigning for a “Yes”. I merely want to put these on the record. This is the long list of “Yes” campaigners: the Bar Council of Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland, the Gaelic Players Association, IMPACT, INTO, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association which never before stated how it would vote in a referendum and on this one, stated it is too important, the Irish Foster Care Association, the Law Society of Ireland, Macra na Feirme, Mandate, Fr. Peter McVerry, Dr. Dáire Keogh, president of St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, Pól Ó Murchú, a solicitor who is working in the courts every day with such children,Arc Adoption, the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development, Barnardos, BelongTo, Bessborough Centre, the Border Counties Childhood Network, the Campaign for Children, The Children at Risk in Ireland Foundation, Catholic Youth Care, Childminding Ireland, Children in Hospital Ireland, Children’s Rights Alliance, COPE Galway, Crosscare, Doras Luimní, Down Syndrome Ireland, Dublin Rape Crisis Center, Early Childhood Ireland, Educate Together, Enable Ireland, EPIC or Empowering People in Care, Family Resource Centre National Forum, Focus Ireland, Foróige, GLEN, Home-Start, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Inspire Ireland Foundation, the International Adoption Association, the Irish Association of Community Training Organisations, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Irish Penal Reform Trust, Irish Rural Link, Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children or ISPCC, Irish Youth Foundation, Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, Kits’ Own Publishing Partnership, Kilbarrack Youth Project, Lifestart Foundation, Marriage Equality, Miss Carr’s Children’s Services, Mothers’ Union of Ireland, MyMind, National Parents Council Primary, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Youth Council of Ireland, No Name Club and Older and Bolder, One Family, One in Four, OPEN, Parentline, Parentstop Donegal, Pavee Point, Peter McVerry Trust, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Saoirse Women’s Refuge, Saol Project, Scouting Ireland, Social Care Ireland, Sonas Housing Association, Spunout, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Patrick’s University Hospital, Start Strong, Tennis Ireland, The Ark, Body Shop Ireland, the Integration Centre, the Irish Association of Social Workers, Treoir, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, UNICEF Ireland, Women’s Aid, Young Christian Workers, Young Irish Film Makers, youngballymun, Youth Advocate Programmes, Youth Aftercare Support Service, Youth Work Ireland and Youthreach.

That is an impressive list of “Yes” organisations that are campaigning. They have campaigned for years for the referendum, not just for the past few weeks. Let us put all of that in perspective. Many people are campaigning for a “Yes” vote. I call on the public to vote “Yes” because children need to be seen as independent rights holders. The referendum is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I urge people to vote “Yes.” It is the first step and the Minister knows that I shall tackle her on many more issues. I believe that strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution will make my hand stronger when challenging the Government’s policy on children’s rights.

5 Key Organisations join Senator van Turnhout to Endorse Yes Vote

Press Release: For Immediate Release
30th October 2012


Arc Adoption, Childminding Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Irish Youth Foundation and Treoir joint with Senator van Turnhout to call for a YES vote in the Children’s Referendum on 10 November 2012

Senator Jillian van Turnhout today, Tuesday 30 October 2012, hosted a joint press conference to announce the support and share the views of some key NGOs who through their work will be affected by the provisions of the Children’s Referendum.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout says: “the question I have been asked most frequently about the Referendum is whether I think strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution is really necessary? My answer is an unequivocal YES. This is not a time for complacency. I believe by strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution we will protect and support children in Ireland.”

The NGO’s participating in the press conference; Arc Adoption; Childminding Ireland; Inclusion Ireland; Irish Youth Foundation and Treoir were equally unequivocal in their support for a YES vote:

Shane Downer, Arc Adoption says: “This referendum will allow us, as a society, to choose to protect and cherish our most vulnerable children. It is time to vote yes. It’s time to make a clear, strong statement that all our children matter, and that Ireland can be a great place to be a child. Arc Adoption urges everyone to vote yes on November 10th.”

Paddy Connolly, Inclusion Ireland says: “The rights of children with an intellectual disability and autism have been disregarded by successive Governments. Inclusion Ireland, in calling on its members to vote Yes, believes that the Children’s Referendum marks a progression towards the recognition of the rights of all children, including children with a disability. A Yes vote on the 10th November will tell parents of children with disabilities that the people of Ireland support the rights of their children to the supports and services they need.”

Niall McLoughlin, Irish Youth Foundation says: “The Irish Youth Foundation (IYF) supports children who, due to a wide range of social factors are denied their most basic rights – the right to be supported by caring adults, the right to a way of life that is free of fear and discrimination and the right to an education which meets all of their needs. The IYF strongly supports a strengthening of the rights of children in Ireland and encourages a Yes vote in the Children’s Referendum.”

Margot Doherty, Treoir says: “The Children’s Referendum, if passed, will mean that for the first time there will be a clear statement of children’s rights in the Irish Constitution. Treoir believes that inherent in these rights are a child’s right to identity and to a relationship with both parents.”

Patricia Murray, Childminding Ireland says: “Childminding Ireland urges every man and woman over 18 to remember our own childhoods, whether happy, wholesome, and healthy, or difficult, even dangerous, to vote YES in this referendum so that everyone of us will play our part to secure for each child the right to fair play, i.e. equal treatment with other children, as a young citizen of Ireland and the right for each child to have his or her own voice heard.”


For Media Enquires please contact:

Senator Jillian van Turnhout, on 087 2333784
Shane Downer, Arc Adoption, on 087 207 0634
Patricia Murray, Childminding Ireland, on 01 2878466
Siobhán Kane, Inclusion Ireland, on 01 8559891
Niall McLoughlin, Irish Youth Foundation, on 01 676 6535
Brenda Forde, Treoir, on 01 6700120

Note to Editors:

– Senator Jillian van Turnhout is a leading children’s rights activist and Leader of the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees)

– Arc Adoption is an intercountry adoption mediation agency enabling ethical adoption of eligible and available children in need of loving and secure home, into suitable adoptive families.

– Childminding Ireland is a membership organisation founded in 1983 to promote the development of quality in family based care for children

– Inclusion Ireland is a national organisation advocating for the rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families.

– Irish Youth Foundation is a non-governmental organisation seeking to provide opportunities for children and young people facing adverse and extreme conditions to experience success in their lives.

– Treoir is a membership organisation which promotes the legal and social rights of unmarried parents and their children in Ireland. Treoir provides a National Information Service to unmarried families and those involved with them.

Order of Business, 11 October 2011

11th October 2011

I raise the issue of the forthcoming referendums. The Referendum Commission has a website up and running but I am concerned that the campaign has just recently been launched. Having carried out informal surveys over the weekend, there seems to be very low public awareness that people must vote on two amendments to the Constitution on 27 October, in addition to the forthcoming presidential election. I worry about changing our Constitution without the electorate being sufficiently informed and involved in debate.

I note that last Thursday in Geneva the Minister for Justice and Equality announced that early in 2012 we will have a referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution. I ask that we have a debate at the earliest opportunity to discuss the proposals for that referendum to ensure we do not encounter the pitfalls we encountered before.