Catholic News Service
DUBLIN — Voters in Ireland have backed a referendum that, for the first time, outlines rights for children in the country’s constitution.
Just over a third of eligible voters cast ballots on the constitutional amendment. The poll, held Nov. 10, was backed by 58 percent of voters, with 42 percent voting “no.” The margin was much narrower than expected, with opinion polls in the lead-in to the vote suggesting the amendment would be carried 80-20.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny welcomed the result, saying, “It is a historic day for the children of Ireland as it is the first time the constitution of this republic will recognize them as citizens in their own right.
“The passing of this amendment will help make childhood a good, secure and loving space for all our children. It will also give hope, reassurance and confidence to parents, foster parents and vulnerable children,” he said.
As a result of the amendment, the children of married parents who are in long-term foster care will be able to be adopted for the first time.
The wording also obliges the courts to hear the views of children when dealing with cases involving family law such as divorce and separation proceedings.
In advance of the poll, the country’s Catholic bishops gave a guarded welcome to the proposed wording but warned of unintended consequences.
In a statement, they said that they “share the concern of others to ensure that the proposed amendment on children does not undermine the rights of parents and the presumptive place of the family, based on marriage between a woman and a man, as the unit in which the welfare and rights of children are best exercised and safeguarded.”
However, the statement added that “when read in conjunction with the unaltered constitutional provisions on the family and education, the wording of the 31st Amendment on children suggests that a reasonable and balanced approach to framing the proposed new article on children’s rights has been taken.
“Critically, the current constitutional presumption that the welfare and rights of a child are best exercised and safeguarded within the family in all but exceptional circumstances is preserved,” the bishops said.
The statement added that “while the possibility of unintended consequences is always present in the context of constitutional change, it is clear that the wording of the proposed amendment on children is not intended to undermine the current constitutional balance between the rights of parents and children, or between parents and the state.”
Some Catholic groups campaigned against the amendment, insisting that the wording gave the government too much power over the family. Dana Rosemary-Scallon, a well-known personality on the Eternal Word Television Network and former Irish presidential candidate, was among those calling for a “no”’vote. She expressed concern that the amendment diminished the rights of parents.