Call for Referendum to Enshrine Children’s Rights in Constitution

2 October 2006

by Cllr Joe Costello

Labour TD Joe Costello claimed the Nation’s founding father would be completely dismayed at how far removed we are on the 90th anniversary of the Rising from the ideal of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” as espoused in the 1916 Proclamation. Speaking at the opening of the Labour Equality Seminar, “Cherishing the Children of the Nation” in the Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square, on Saturday, 30 September 2006, Costello said the Government has completely failed the “children of the nation” and condemned the record of Minister Michael McDowell for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister with responsibility for Equality has particularly failed the children of this state and under his watch he has, lowered the age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 10, thereby criminalising children at risk from the age of 10 giving them no hope for the remainder of their life. More seriously he has denied children in the custody of the state access to the Children’s Ombudsman and his complete failure to implement the Children’s Act which provides for alternative sanctions to detention for children and the application of ASBOs to children as young as 10. His record on the treatment of children born to non-Irish nationals is equally if not more appalling including the forced deportation of Irish-born children and the complete neglect of unaccompanied minors who arrive in the state without the protection of their parents. In the area of Family Law the Minister has failed to reform the law to recognise the child’s right to access to both parents. The State continues to discriminate against fathers in the social welfare code and fails to provide adequate accommodation for families in need. Our failure to recognise the rights of children in non-marital families in the constitution discriminates against thousands of children throughout the country. The Minister with responsibility for Equality has presided over the most unequal and discriminatory laws against our children, and has neglected to introduce measures to give them a chance in life. Deputy Costello also pointed to other areas where the Government has failed the children of the nation such as our high levels of child poverty despite Ireland’s economic success (15% in Ireland stands whereas in countries like Norway and Denmark it is below 3%), With this record it is no wonder that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child singled out the Irish Government for harsh criticism last week and demanded that action be taken. Deputy Costello asserted that the Labour Party in Government will address the many issues that this Government has failed to tackle such as child poverty, reform of the criminal justice system as it applies to children including increasing the age of criminal responsibility back to 12 (in line with the UN Convention on Children’s Rights). Deputy Costello concluded that the first priority for Labour in Government would be to hold a referendum to enshrine the rights of child in the constitution.