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.