The Shame of Ireland

The Shame of Ireland

Failure to hold poll on children's rights slated

ÉIBHIR MULQUEEN in Lisdoonvarna

FORMER MINISTER and Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke has said she is very disturbed at the lack of progress on a referendum on a constitutional amendment on children’s rights.

Speaking at the Merriman Summer School yesterday, Mrs O’Rourke, who formerly chaired the Oireachtas joint committee on the constitutional amendment on children, said that while the current and previous governments had announced a range of child protection measures, rights was an entirely different issue and one “in which I feel fiercely involved”.

“Rhetoric is great and we have had startling expressions of this by Enda Kenny in Dáil Éireann. Again, a speech from which he gained great kudos, but then on reflection the doubts creep in,” she said. The recently-revealed social work reports, exposing the Health Service Executive’s failure to protect vulnerable children, had failed to provoke criticism from him, she added.

“Where were the loud cries of condemnation . . . when these reports emerged? There was only a deadly silence.”

In the collective mind of the joint committee members, an amendment on the rights of children, once approved by the electorate and inserted in the Constitution, would truly safeguard children, she said. “Until we do it, to my mind all the rest is just talk.”

She added, however, that she was pleased that one of the three reports the all-party committee delivered, on the National Garda Vetting Bureau, was on the Government’s agenda.

Chairing the committee, she said, had been the most fulfilling role she had as a member of the Oireachtas. “It was as if I knew it would be my last hurrah and I gave it huge time, energy and a very full commitment, as did every member of the committee.”

Maria Corbett, policy director of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution would set down a marker that every childhood counted. The Constitution was not just a fundamental legal document but a statement of Ireland’s values as a society “The power of asking the people of Ireland to tick a box that says ‘Yes, children have rights’ should not be underestimated. We believe this will have a significant impact on how we shape our future.”

Irish Times journalist Carl O’Brien said the most enduring monument to the young people who suffered clerical abuse would be to create a culture where children’s rights were fully respected and protected.

A strong wording for the constitutional amendment could have a profound cultural change in the way Ireland approaches children’s rights.

“It could change the way politicians, public servants and judges think about children’s rights, because they would have to apply those principles in their decision-making,” he said.

Earlier, Joseph Dunne, professor of philosophy and education at DCU, speaking on Childhood and Adulthood: Boundary Explorations, said childhood had crystallised as a distinct sphere of life, most recently evident through the creation of a separate Government ministry for children.

There was a new intensification of sentiment around children, expressed in rituals such as christenings as a celebration of birth rather than reception into a faith community, birthdays as celebrated markers of their progress through childhood, and Christmas as a sentimentalised occasion for benevolence.

But while there was a natural assumption that every child had the right to a childhood, that concept could be under threat from a “new culture of the image” provided through video, internet and other high-tech devices. It was a culture that was more immediate, undifferentiated, accessible to children and much harder for adults to patrol, he said.

In addition, the private zone of the family and the separate space of the school were more easily penetrated by media and market forces, which turned children into consumers, prematurely eroticised them, transformed their innocence into knowingness and cynicism, and competed in all kinds of ways for their attention and allegiance.


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