Who knew that a referendum about children's rights could be so divisive? If you're not in Ireland you may not be aware that there will be a referendum on Saturday to change the Irish Constitution to include the recognition of specific rights for children. This referendum has been discussed for years. My impression was that it was long overdue and would be universally supported.
I was wrong.
I have never seen so much division among my on-line friends over any issue ever.
I had always assumed that I would be in the 'yes' camp as people whose opinion I respect and trust are promoting a 'yes' vote. I discounted the 'No' side at first. I did not like their spokespeople and their emphasis on parental rights and ownership as though children were no different to cars or kettles. That made my skin crawl. They've learned. Now they're talking about family rights. Articles and videos have been circulating raising fears about the State taking the place of parents in deciding how children will live their lives.
Especially the lives of children with special needs. So now I find that most of the special needs mums that I know and like are in the 'no' camp, and most of the organisations that I respect are in the 'yes' camp. I am very confused.
Is it significant that it is worried parents who plan to vote 'no', and organisations that may be part-funded by the State, that want us to vote 'yes'?
When I asked whether the referendum would prevent parents taking cases against the state to secure right for their children with special needs, I got this reply:
"This is not true, a parent can continue to take a case against the State in relation to their children and the amendment will not hinder this. Indeed, I believe the case taken by the parent will be strengthen as the amendment says children have rights and the State has a duty to uphold those rights. The amendment will help make the State more accountable, not less." *
As a separated mother whose custody and access arrangements are by mutual agreement, I am aware of many situations where the 'rights' of parents sometimes seem to take precedence over those of children in the family courts. My understanding is that children cannot leave the country to go on holiday or visit relatives abroad if one parent refuses a passport. They cannot refuse to see a parent, even if they don't want to go. Even if the child returns from an access visit tired, hungry or injured, because of the fear of being charged with parental alienation. Overnight access can be ordered even when the parent concerned has addiction issues unless it can be proved that the parent is a danger to the child. A 'yes' vote in the referendum should help to change that:
"The amendment will ensure in any decision about access, custody or guardianship the views of the child must be taken into consideration. Also the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration in the decision making. These two things combined will ensure that all family law arrangements set by the courts will be child-centred and if they are child-centred they better protect children."*
Is the State really a big bogeyman determined to rip children from the loving arms of their parents? I really don't think so. And how would I vote? Probably yes. But the seeds of doubt have been sown.
What about you?
* with thanks to Senator Jillian van Turnhout
Thanks also to Barnardos Ireland for this explanation: