I’ve just seen your panel for tonight’s debate on the Children’s Rights Referendum. There are plenty of us who oppose this referendum other than for religious reasons. To exclude our voices from your programme will mean that your debate is unbalanced before it even begins. With respect to John Waters and Kathy Sinnott, some of whose concerns I share, they are unlikely to represent the views of people whose definition of family would include same-sex parents/guardians and unmarried parents/guardians many of whom also oppose this amendment.I have been the national coordinator for a campaign (on behalf of the member organisations of Inclusion Ireland) aimed precisely at securing just a few basic, legislated rights for children and other people with disabilities and I can tell you categorically that neither Fine Gael nor Labour would commit to unequivocally support that objective. So much for their conviction to rights for children. This amendment will do nothing to help secure those basic rights.While I accept that many of the proponents of this amendment are genuine in their concern for children, I believe their professional perspective is skewed so much towards extreme cases that they have lost all objectivity about the enormous danger they are threatening to inflict on the real rights of all our children in so many ways they appear not even to have contemplated – and on the rights of those who are proven to be children’s best primary protectors and carers in the vast majority of instances.This referendum is not about the rights of children – as its proponents disingenuously claim, it is about who should have the right to represent them. It’s not just madness to transfer that right to the state to the extent that this amendment would, it is also to put at risk the interests of many more children than already are. State services are also being deliberately underfunded and the proposed amendment would also substantially weaken the grounds on which parents could make a legal challenge to the state on behalf of children.Questions this parent hopes will be asked tonight include:
What legally enforceable rights, exactly, would this referendum confer on children themselves?
Who will have the authority to pursue the enforcement of those rights, if any – parents/guardians – or only the state and its agents?
How does the proposed amendment make the state more accountable than under the terms of existing legislation/constitutional arrangements for any future failure to protect children?
How will it make decisions and actions of the state with regard to vulnerable children transparent?
How can a government that is deliberately impoverishing so many children, and so many of them children with a disability like my son, make any serious claim to a concern about children’s rights?
And finally, how does the government propose to make the state (aside from the Catholic Church which it has also seriously failed to challenge legally) accountable for its past failures?
Miriam Cotton Clonakilty 31 October 2012