National Children’s Charities Reunite Five Years after Children’s Referendum
Ireland’s leading children’s organisations Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the ISPCC are hosting a major conference in Dublin today (Wednesday, 8 November). This noteworthy conference takes place five years after the Children’s Referendum on 10 November 2012 to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution.
Fast forward five years, this conference brings together delegates from across the NGO, legal, academic and public and private sectors to see what positive change has happened for children and what gaps remain. Overall, while the referendum strengthened children’s rights in certain areas, many groups of children have not been impacted positively by this change, including those children experiencing homelessness or in poverty. Important contributors include Judge Catherine McGuinness, the Hon. Mr. Justice Henry Abbott, Mary O’Rourke, former Chair of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and Prof. Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection.
This conference will also ask some important questions such as how has constitutional change been interpreted by judges in the courts since the referendum was passed? Are the courts and justice system more child-friendly now for children? What more should be done to make sure children’s opinions are taken into account in public and private law proceedings?
Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said, “In the five years since the Children’s Referendum there have been some legislative developments such as the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the Adoption Act 2017, both of which ensure that families of all kinds are supported and protected equally. But we still have a long way to go to ensure the rights of children are at the heart of public policy and services. Legislation alone won’t work. We need sufficient investment in accessible quality public services to ensure that children’s rights are truly realised.”
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “It is five years since the people of Ireland said ‘Yes’ to children and in doing so, we pledged as a society to always put children first. In laying this foundation stone, we promised to do our level best for all children across Ireland. There have been historic achievements in that time including the establishment of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency and landmark legislation to protect and uphold children’s rights. Yet also since that time we have seen thousands of children entering homeless accommodation and thousands more on waiting lists for vital services like speech and language and mental health supports. The number of children living in poverty would fill Croke Park three times over. In our legal system, there are major deficits to be filled so that the courts and justice system is a far less intimidating place for children and that child-friendly justice is made a reality. Children’s voices must be heard in all spheres of their lives when important decisions are made about them. Today offers us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come but how far we still have to go.”
Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the ISPCC said: “For too long the Constitution did not value children in their own right. The consequences of society’s failure to fully protect and vindicate children’s rights in Ireland are now well known and understood. The passing of the referendum was a historic event – recognising children as individual rights holders and sending a clear message that children are equal citizens. Now, in order to fully realise the intent of the Referendum, we need to ensure that children are at the fore of all decisions that impact on them; this includes hearing the voice of the child in the development of policies, legislation and design of in services as well as in our justice system – only then will children’s rights be fully realised.”