DUBLIN, October 25, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – According to opponents, Ireland’s upcoming Children’s Rights Referendum is nothing more than a ploy by a power-mad State to grant itself the right to snatch children from parents and seize control over the most fundamental unit of society. Polls indicate the Irish public is about to pass the measure.
Critics have called the proposed amendment to the Constitution “a beachhead by the state into what has traditionally been the preserve of the rights of parents in the upbringing of their children”. The amendment’s wording allows state agents to remove children from the family and place them in care if they believe it is in the child’s “best interests”. It allows children to be adopted out to other families without parents’ consent. Richard Green of the Christian Solidarity party said the State has already “failed dismally” to protect children already in their care.
Government and the amendment’s supporters have said that the amendment will “give a voice” to children. But those who oppose the amendment, who began organizing later than its proponents, have warned that a yes vote will force the country’s families into an unenviable position: play along with the prevailing ideology or lose your children to the mercies of state social services. Such a threat is only too familiar to homeschooling families in Germany and Sweden.
The group Parents for Children has said, “This referendum will remove the most important right that children can have: the right to parental protection and advocacy.”
“Instead there will be the State and the child, and the parent is removed. The State will be the final arbiter of the child’s rights, will decide what a child’s rights are.”
Polls show 74 percent of respondents saying they would vote yes, with just 4 percent saying they would vote no.
Maria Mhic Mheanmain, spokesman for Parents for Children, told LifeSiteNews.com that it is “untenable” that so many are supporting the amendment “while at that same time only 10 percent understand the issues involved”, something she called “highly irresponsible”.
The current provisions of the Irish Constitution already recognise the same personal rights for children as for other citizens under article 40. It recognises that children, being immature, are unable to protect themselves, and therefore stands upon the duty of parents to uphold and protect their children’s rights.
Its current provisions already obliges the State to intervene in those cases where parents fail in their duties. “When the State fails in its obligations no one will be in a position to vindicate a child’s rights,” Mhic Mheanmain said.
The amendment’s supporters claim that current constitutional protections for the family exclude the “voice of children.” Mhic Mheanmain responded that, in a 2006 by Supreme Court case, Justice Adrian Hardiman described the claim as “breathtakingly inaccurate”.
Hardiman said the Constitution does not prefer parents over children, but preferred parents over the State.
“If this is passed,” Mhic Mheanm added, “that balance will be removed and the State will be preferred to parents when it comes to deciding children’s matters. So the child still won’t have a voice, the only difference is who will be the child’s voice!”
Still, the No campaign is already well behind in the race and, with support for the Yes side coming now from the Church, have an even steeper hill to climb.
Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin has said he believes that the proposed wording tries to address the rights and obligations of all involved “in a balanced way”. Martin said he believes that a “reasonably good job” has been done protecting the family, with state intervention permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
Father John I. Fleming Ph.D., Adjunct Professor of Bioethics, Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, Adelaide, South Australia Corresponding Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, wrote a legal analysis of the amendment’s wording. Fr. Fleming wrote that the new wording will add nothing to the rights of children already enshrined in the Constitution.
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The current wording, he wrote, gives “explicit recognition of the family as the fundamental group unit of society which preceded the formation of the state.” The ability of the state to intervene in the family is “carefully circumscribed” and starts by protecting the “natural and imprescriptable” [inalienable] rights of the child, including the “natural right of the child to be brought up by his or her own parents in the context of their family life”.
The new wording, however, “represents a dramatic ideological shift” away from these fundamental principles. This shift, he said, is “away from the prior rights of the family, of parents, to bring up their children as they see fit”. These principles are replaced by the notion of the State protecting the “best interests” of the child, which term remains undefined, without reference to the family. The only point of supervision for the State is the courts, “where an unelected group of individuals will be encouraged to move well beyond the black letter requirements of the law to impose their own personal preferences.”
These will, Fleming said, be supplemented by the opinions of “a plethora of ‘experts’”.
“The reality is that we will be left with state bureaucrats, politicians, and judges “balancing” the different opinions in some kind of utilitarian calculus, a calculus which has been aptly described as a ‘smokescreen for arbitrary preferences and desires” on the part of those who will have the power to judge and enforce’,” Fr. Fleming wrote.
Others have objected to the use of public funds to promote a particular outcome. It is estimated that as much as €1.1 million is being spent by the allegedly neutral government with media and internet materials having been prepared and disseminated since September. Mark McCrystal, an engineer from Dublin said that the materials are clearly supporting the Yes campaign, and this constitutes a breach of a 1995 judgment by the Supreme Court. McCrystal has launched proceedings over the matter against the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Government of Ireland, and the Attorney General. He has said he has no objection to the State arguing for a Yes vote but that the government should not be using public funds to support a particular outcome.
The Yes campaign is officially made up of an array of groups and individuals, and has the broad support of the country’s left-leaning mainstream media. Behind it are the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), the Children’s Rights Alliance and other organisations including Campaign for Children. Former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness is chairwoman of Campaign for Children, while board members include journalist Olivia O’Leary and former senator Joe O’Toole. It also has support from all major political parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin.
Funding from non-government sources has also been generous, totaling, as of September 20th, €1.5 million from two philanthropic groups: Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by US billionaire Chuck Feeney, and the One Foundation, co-founded by RyanAir heir Declan Ryan and Deirdre Mortell, according to the Irish Times.