Broadcast rule 'problematic' for referendum
on 24/09/2012 15:10:49
A lack of opposition to the proposed reforms could end up limiting how much information is fed to the public in the run-up to the long-awaited referendum on November 10.
Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said the 50-50 rule demanding an equal amount of broadcasting airtime is given to both sides of the debate could be problematic.
"There's generally broad support. All the major political parties and all the major organisations working for children's rights are supporting this referendum," she said.
"It's a problem, I think, that there won't be enough people on the No side to get the debate going because people need to understand what the debate is about."
The Alliance of Parents Against the State is among the groups opposed to the reforms, fearing that the Government will be given powers to interfere with the family and rights will be taken away from parents.
The alliance has support from former MEP Kathy Sinnott and anti-abortion campaigner Nora Bennis.
Elsewhere, children's charities, human rights organisations and all political parties including the Opposition are all campaigning for a Yes vote.
Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, who was the first to call for a children's rights referendum following the notorious Kilkenny incest case in 1993, is campaigning alongside the Children's Rights Alliance under the umbrella group Yes for Children.
The group, consisting of the alliance, the ISPCC, Barnardos and Ms McGuinness's Campaign for Children, has argued that the case for constitutional change is undeniable.
National broadcaster RTÉ will have to arrange an effective response to the McKenna Judgment: the rule demanding 50-50 coverage on a referendum debate, Ms McGuinness said.
There is a danger of public apathy on the children's rights vote, she also warned.
"Our difficulty might be that everyone will sit back and think 'everybody is voting in favour of this so we won't bother to vote'," said Ms McGuinness.
"So it's very important that people exercise their right to vote."
Meanwhile, the organisations making up Yes for Children have insisted that no money will be taken away from children's services to fund their referendum campaign.
ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirnie said resources are already stretched enough within his organisation, as well as Barnardos, so not a single penny would be diverted from their services.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced last week that the referendum would be held on November 10, a Saturday.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who revealed the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment, said it is important that as many people as possible have the opportunity to cast their vote.
The proposed new Article 42a calls for the state to recognise for the first time in the constitution the fundamental rights of all children and to ensure their protection.
The state would have the authority to intervene in neglect cases, regardless of whether their parents are married.
A child's own views would also be taken into consideration during child protection proceedings.
A child would be eligible for adoption, where their parents have been found to have continually failed in their responsibilities.
In some cases, the reforms would enable parents themselves to voluntarily put their child up for adoption.
A separate draft Bill amending adoption laws has also been published. When the reforms are passed, the legislation will be updated to enable them.
A Referendum Commission has been set up to oversee an impartial information campaign, informing the public of both sides of the debate.
Judge Mary Finlay Geoghegan was appointed chairman of the group.