Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012: Second Stage

Thursday, 27 September 2012

I am delighted to be in a position to speak on the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012.

I will be brief and will keep it simple. This is about the interests of children and about keeping the child at the centre of the debate. It must be acknowledged how serious the Government is with regard to children’s rights. This Dáil saw the formation of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, under the competent stewardship of the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. Since its inception less than 18 months ago, we have seen the creation of a new Department and a roll-out of a comprehensive wording for the new referendum for children. I congratulate the Minister and all those involved who have been burning the midnight oil on many nights to make this happen.

In a society which hangs on every word and looks for fault in every action, we need to readjust and view this amendment in the spirit in which it was written. We can have all the words in the world, but what is essential is that we embrace its spirit. We can legislate all we like and examine the legalese all we like, but the amendment must be embraced in spirit. It is about ensuring that children are recognised in our Constitution. This dedicated provision for children is very welcome and will protect children while also preserving the rights of the family. The new term “visible” will be used a lot in this debate, but what it means is that children will now, for the first time, be recognised in the Constitution as a defined grouping. Article 42 will now provide for the first time a strong affirmation of each child’s inherent rights. This must be welcomed. Of course, with these rights come a responsibility on the State to protect the most vulnerable children. While the need for protection only arises in exceptional circumstances, we are all aware such situations occur all too often.

The four main objectives of the Bill are the protection of children, the support of families, the removal of inequalities in regard to adoption and the recognition of children in their own right. Society is changing and the days of children being seen but not heard are long gone. In today’s modern world, the Constitution must reflect this. We must also recognise that children are growing up today much faster than they did in my generation. Children are being challenged from every side in our modern, technological society and we must never underestimate their ability to adapt, learn and contribute to society. It is our duty to recognise them in our Constitution and to protect them.

I welcome this Bill and it is good to see it being welcomed by all political parties. It is timely to put children at the centre of the debate, but we must remember that the amendment does not dilute the rights of the family.