The New Relationship...
- The Commitment
- What does the Convention do for children?
- Are there any implications not immediately apparent?
- I have a great relationship with my kids..
(Ed note: Emphasis added) 16 January 2001
"The innovative idea of the Convention was that of moving from protection and caring to assertion of children's rights. That innovative approach had implications not only in abstract or ideological terms but also for the practical implementation of the Convention." (Mrs Karp, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to the Irish delegation, Geneva, January 1998)
In September 1990 the Irish Government under Mr Charlie Haughey (Mr Ray Burke, Minister for Justice) signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Two years later, the same Government ratified their accession to the Convention, without reservations.
The Irish people have not been informed of these decisions, much less agreed to them.
1. The preamble to the Convention offers protection to the unborn child; the rest of the treaty offers further protections. Most of the provisions are commendable, and they are, in any event, already to be found for the most part in the Irish Constitution.
In addition to these rights (which might be called "protective" rights), however, there are "autonomy rights", which were added in 1989 to the original Declaration.
2. As part of the Convention, and to ensure its implementation, a UN Committee was set up to monitor progress, to consider reports of State parties, to interrogate State parties, and to issue reports.
3. Irish non-government organisations (NGOs) are deemed to have a role in liasing with the State and with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to ensure compliance with the Convention. Such NGOs include an umbrella group, the Children's Rights Alliance, and also the Iirish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The Introduction above needs to be carefully read.
The "innovative idea of the Convention" means a profound cultural shift, replacing "natural" parenting with "parenting by permission of the state"
The autonomy "rights" in particular, though not solely, are based on a philosophy totally at odds with that on which the Irish Constitution is founded, and indeed would not be acceptable to the broad mass of humanity, were they aware of them. It is objection to these "autonomy" clauses that has caused the US delay to signing the treaty, and countries such as Germany and Switzerland to enter major reservations.
The essential difference centres on a claim that children's vulnerability derives from a mistaken social and political construct. In consequence, the role of the parents is no more than that of temporary guardian and provider, on behalf of the State. As Lynette Burrows puts it in "The Fight for the Family","parents are assumed to be hostile to the interests of their children until proven otherwise. Social workers, on the other hand, labour under no such demeaning assumption".
Just one or two test cases in the courts could undermine the relationship in virtually all families. A "new relationship" is the objective for all families, not just one or two. They will see to that. Go back to the introduction.
There has been little public debate on the subject. As far as is known, the only objection has come from Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council which passed the following motion on 14 May 1998:"That Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council express concern that recent legislation, combined with the Government adopting United Nations resolutions on the family, have significantly undermined, and indeed have negated, parental rights guaranteed under the Constitution,This Convention can't really be the law, can it?
and that the Council express concern that this has been brought about by the campaigning of unelected fund-raising children's organisations who have manipulated the general public and media's justified concern over children's rights and child abuse" (Irish Independent, c18 May 1998)
Well, that's the idea, anyway.
The Human Rights Commission Act, 2000, defined Human rights as "the rights, liberties or freedoms conferred on or guaranteed to persons by any agreement, treaty or convention to which the State is a party" (s.2(b)). Ireland is already a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Human Rights Commission, under the Act, "shall have all such powers as are necessary for... the performance of its function under this Act" (s.4(4)). This includes bringing test cases to the courts.
Test cases will impact on all families, not just on those directly involved. See also Gillick case.
Note that, in addition, it would seem to be Government policy to encourage what is euphemestically called "judicial activism" by the Courts. (See comments of Minister John O'Donoghue at Human Rights Commission Conference at Dublin Castle, 8/9 December 2000).
In the Good Friday Agreement, approved by referendum, the Government undertook to bring forward measures to "strengthen and underpin" the constitutional protection of human rights, drawing on international instruments, and to establish an (independent) Human Rights Commission.
1. Ireland submitted its first report in 1997, following which, in January 1998, Government representatives were cross-examined in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee subsequently issued its report. (See http://indigo.ie/~imr/otr-agmt.htm for links)
Ireland's next report was due to be submitted last year, 2000.
Action by Ireland
1. In July 1999, the Irish Government announced its decision to develop what was called a "National Children's Strategy". High-level interdepartmental groups were set up to oversee its preparation.
It was decided that key elements of the Strategy would be "a more holistic, child centred perspective for thinking about the needs of children". This would include "recognition that the best interest of the child is a first consideration".
2. This was followed by:1. November, 1999 Call for submissions from the public.The public consultation
2. April, 2000 Similar invitation to children and young people.
3. Spring, 2000 Human Rights Commission Act.
4. June, 2000 Presentation of results of consultation to conferences at Malahide.
5. September, 2000 (Final) Report of the Public Consultation issued.
6. November, 2000 Publication of "Strategy" proposals, Our children - their lives"
1. In November 1999 and January 2000, the Department of Health and Children called for submissions through the newspapers. Those making submissions were asked to organise theirs responses around the following set of questions:Q.1 Towards 2010
What are the opportunities and challenges facing children
and young people over the next ten years?
Q.2 Provision of services and supports for children and young people.
What works well and why? How should these be developed over the next ten years having regard to these opportunities and challenges?
Q.3 Delivery of services and supports for children and young people.
What works well and why? What changes would improve service delivery over the next ten years having regard to these opportunities and challenges?
Three hundred and sixteen submissions were received: approximately one third each were from private individuals, from "service providing" organisations, and from professional personnel in the health, "child care", education, etc services.
2. In April 2000, children and young people were invited to give their views in writing on the following question:
Is Ireland a good place for you to grow up in? What's good about it? What would make it better?
(Younger children were asked to let their parents know if they were emailing the Minister).
In addition, the Minister of State with responsibility for Children, Deputy Mary Hanafin, visited ten schools and had discussions with some 60 children in each school. Eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had similar consultations with children connected with their individual organisations. 2,500 children made submissions.
The call for submissions in each case was under the heading "National Children's Strategy", and neither the invitation to adults or to children made any reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
3. The results of the consultation were presented to separate conferences of children and of adults at Grand Hotel, Malahide on 23 June 2000. A draft 73 page Report on the Consultations was supplied to each person present. (The final report, "Report of the Public Consultation" was circulated in late September 2000).
4. In view of the fact that the (draft) "Report on the Public Consultations" was only made available on the day of the Consultation Forum on 23 June, and there was little indication of the Governments intentions at that point, the Minister was asked if there would be a further consultation to discuss actual proposals when they would be known. The Minister said she would accept further written submissions over the following few weeks, but was unwilling to have any further consultation meeting. Considerable dissatisfaction with this was expressed from the floor.
5. There were few references to the Convention in the Report, and except for one section, few references to the role of parents.
The (final) "Report of the Public Consultation" can be obtained from the National Children's Strategy Office, Floor 3, 94 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Phone 418 0582.
Selected from from "Report of the Public Consultation" (which see), and very much abbreviated:
"Although the contributions ranged over a great many topics, there were some predominant themes":
Play and leisure: Comments negative.
The environment: Concern expressed
Social issues, such as drug use, early drinking and smoking; personal safety.
Having a say: Want to be active participants in shaping their own lives.
The right to a good quality of life: Need for balance and freedom to enjoy childhood.
The "overwhelming thrust" of responses to the question "Is Ireland a good place to live?" was "hugely positive". Climate, absence of natural disasters, clean environment: "..life can be good generally, for most children and young people, who have good family supports and access to life's advantages, while very many other people had a very different experience."
At a more detail level, the beauty of Ireland, culture, services, safety, and the value and strength of close knit families and supportive communities were referred to.
2. "Adults" and organisations
"The majority of submissions had a very heavy focus on service inputs and service delivery…" "This resulted in an emphasis on those groups of children and families who are more likely to be in direct receipt of services.." (p.56)
"A new focus on children's quality of life,.."
"The child as active citizen: There was a consistent focus on the many dimensions of children's rights and their entitlement to the status of partner in the planning, delivery and evaluation of service. In parallel, the submissions acknowledged the need for the structures and cultural shifts needed to accommodate the place of the child as active citizen and the skills needed by both children and adults for this new relationship".(p.56)
"A pro-active and comprehensive policy, based on a paradigm of children's rights, is required in order to enhance the welfare of Irish children". (p.70)
(Comments to follow)
1. The next stage was the publication by the Minister of State of a report on proposals for action entitled "The National Children's Strategy: Our Children - Their Lives" in late November 2000.
2. This Report makes it clear that the main objective of the Strategy is the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Convention is quoted in full, including the preamble, which contains the protection of the unborn. There is minimal reference to the family or parents, and increased reference to "non-government" sectors.
3. The Report puts forward three goals:1. Children will have a voice.The first goal seeks to ensure that children are listened to, and to "put in place mechanisms which achieve participation by children in matters which affect them".
2. Children's lives will be better understood.
3. Children will receive quality supports and services.
The second goal seeks to establish research and dissemination of information on children's issues.
The third goal seeks to develop the provision of services such as "childcare", early childhood education, "family-friendly" arrangements in employment, healthcare, etc.
4. Under the heading "The Engine for Change" (p.84), it is proposed to establish:
1. A National Children's Advisory Council, which will have an "independent advisory and monitoring role in relation to the implementation of the Strategy".5. The Report refers to a White Paper "Supporting Voluntary Activity", which "gives formal recognition to the partnership ethos that informs much of the working relationship between the two sectors", ie government and non-government.
Membership will "reflect the partnership of interests required and will include children's representatives, representatives of the Social Partners and the research community.
As at early January 2001, the National Children's Office (see below) was in the process of inviting nominations from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for membership.
2. A National Children's Office, an independent statutory body, will provide support to the Minister for Children, and ensure inter-department co-operation. (This Office now seems to have been set up as at early January 2001).
Membership of the Board will be drawn from departmental Assistant Secretaries. It will have initial funding of £2m, and can draw on commissioned experts.
3. An Ombudsman for Children.
4. Dáil na nÓg.
5. National Children's Research Dissemination Unit.
These structures are intended to be established in 2000/1.
6. The Minister and the National Children's Office will now carry out a communications programme on the implementation of the Strategy.
A website is to be established: as at 9 January, none was found. For Minister Hanafin's speech on launch of Strategy see http://www.maryhanafin.ie
7. The general tone of the Report suggests that the proposals are going ahead.
8. The report "The National Children's Strategy: Our Children - Their Lives" is available from Government Publications Sales Office, Molesworth St, Dublin 2, Phone: 647 6000, price £5 including postage.
The White Paper "Supporting Voluntary Activity" is available from the same address, price £5 including postage.
Comment on "Our Children - Their Lives" to follow later.
1. Ireland was due to submit its second report on implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by the end of 2000. At the time of writing, 10 January 2001, it appears that the Report may not yet have been submitted. The cross-examination of Irish Government representatives by the UN Committee at Geneva could take place 6 to 18 months after submission of Report.
Prior to the meeting with the UN Committee, Irish Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), (such as the Children's Rights Alliance and the Irish Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC)) would be likely to meet privately with the UN Committee.
The Irish Government's Report, the minutes of the cross-examination meeting, the UN Committee's Report (Concluding Comments) are all usually available promptly on the Internet. The proceedings of the priming sessions are not available to the public.
2. An international UN preparatory conference (called a "Prepcon") on the Convention will be held 29 January to 4 February 2001, will be held in New York. UNICEF will be the sponsors. Irish Government representatives, as well as NGOs will be present.
3. A further UN "prepcon" will be held in June 2001. Further details later.
4. A full UN Special Session on Children will be held in September 2001, as a follow-up to the World Summit on Children(?). Further details later.
Further updates of this report will be made in the weeks and months ahead.
13 January 2001