Reproduced by permission of the Irish Examiner.
Ashley Balbirnie of the ISPCC is the latest in a line of people, including Jillian Van Turnhout of the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) and Fergus Finlay of Barnardos, who are effectively inverting the facts of the history of abuse in Ireland to secure increased power over our children for state bodies, other institutions and their associated professionals.
That they would do this at the expense of the existing, inalienable and natural rights of parents to care for and protect their children is to add insult to injury. The proposed constitutional amendment on children is as infantilising of parents a it is insulting to them and the condescension with which it is being sold to us is insufferable. They have no monopoly on the moral high ground and are no more concerned about the care and protection of all Irish children than we are ourselves.
The bottom line about real rights is that money has to be spent to uphold them. High principles and the best of motives are fatally undermined in the children’s rights amendment by elastic caveats such as ‘as far as is practicable’, for example. ‘As far as is practicable’ is not a guarantee of a right but its exact opposite. The rights that are actually at issue are the rights to act on behalf of children and the proposal is take this constitutional authority from parents and replace it with, in effect, nothing.
This is as dangerous as it is bizarre because the only protection most children have is the authority of their parents to seek redress for them – sometimes on the very grounds that these well-intentioned people are now trying to eliminate. Right now, there are children in agonising pain because of an arthritic condition. Mary Harney’s health service will not provide them with the medication quickly enough to alleviate the pain and help prevent the condition degenerating. This is a form of child abuse by any measure of humanitarian values. Parents need more legal authority, not less, to bring the state to account for this sort of failure.
The law already permits professionals extraordinary powers of intervention where there is reason to believe children are at risk. It is, therefore, not the absence of protective law or powers that has been the problem but the failure of the very professionals who are calling for more powers to exercise what power they already have.
Despite what Mr Balbirnie would have us believe, in many cases where children have been abused by their parents, there has been a frustrating failure by social workers and others to intervene effectively. Though some of this failure is a consequence of chronic under-funding, the proposed amendment would no nothing to address that problem. And where were the ISPCC, founded in 1889, throughout the period when so much state sponsored and facilitated abuse was taking place? Instead of establishing a default position whose legal effect is to suspect the worst of all parents – despite all the fine rhetoric about the importance of parents – the ISPCC, the CRA and others would be better employed tackling the ongoing failures of the sate in fulfilling its duty of care to children.
Lastly there has been a tendency to hold out as justification for the amendment the horrific details of the abuse by a tiny minority of parents of their children. This an unworthy tactic, a powerful form of emotional blackmail which seeks to imply those who believe this constitutional amendment will do the opposite of what is being claimed are not taking this abuse seriously. If this tactic is deployed much further, the referendum may well degenerate into a bitter and socially divisive affair – the last thing any of our children need to witness right now – especially those coping with abusive situations.
Miriam Cotton is a former National Coordinator of the Disability Rights Election Pledge Alliance.
Photo, called From the eyes of a child, was taken from Red Mum’s Flickr Stream with permission.
Latest posts by Miriam Cotton (see all)
- Strikes Now! - January 30, 2013
- A Curse on the Zombie Establishment - October 7, 2010
- Harney Remaining in Dept. of Health Illustrates the Priorities of the Government - March 29, 2010
- Denying Parental Rights is a Big Mistake - March 13, 2010
- Did his voters freeze George Lee out? - February 11, 2010