National Children’s Charities Reunite Five Years after Children’s Referendum

Published date: 
10 Nov 2017


Wednesday, 8 November 2017: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

National Children’s Charities Reunite Five Years after Children’s Referendum

Ireland’s leading children’s organisations Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the ISPCC are hosting a major conference in Dublin this morning (Wednesday, 8 November). This noteworthy conference takes place five years after the Children’s Referendum on 10 November 2012 to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution.

Fast forward five years, this conference brings together delegates from across the NGO, legal, academic and public and private sectors to see what positive change has happened for children and what gaps remain. Overall, while the referendum strengthened children’s rights in certain areas, many groups of children have not been impacted positively by this change, including those children experiencing homelessness or in poverty. Important contributors include Judge Catherine McGuinness, the Hon. Mr. Justice Henry Abbott, Mary O’Rourke, former Chair of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and Prof. Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection.

This conference will also ask some important questions such as how has constitutional change been interpreted by judges in the courts since the referendum was passed? Are the courts and justice system more child-friendly now for children? What more should be done to make sure children’s opinions are taken into account in public and private law proceedings?

Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said, “In the five years since the Children’s Referendum there have been some legislative developments such as the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the Adoption Act 2017, both of which ensure that families of all kinds are supported and protected equally. But we still have a long way to go to ensure the rights of children are at the heart of public policy and services. Legislation alone won’t work. We need sufficient investment in accessible quality public services to ensure that children’s rights are truly realised.”

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “It is five years since the people of Ireland said ‘Yes’ to children and in doing so, we pledged as a society to always put children first. In laying this foundation stone, we promised to do our level best for all children across Ireland. There have been historic achievements in that time including the establishment of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, the introduction of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures (National Strategy for Children) and landmark legislation to protect and uphold children’s rights. Yet also since that time we have seen thousands of children entering homeless accommodation and the numbers of children experiencing poverty have grown. The number of children living in poverty would now fill Croke Park three times over. The legal system has an important role to play in changing children’s lives but much has to be done to make our courts more child friendly and less intimidating place for children. Children’s voices must be heard in all spheres of their lives when important decisions are made about them. Today offers us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come but how far we still have to go.”

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the ISPCC said: “For too long the Constitution did not value children in their own right. The consequences of society’s failure to fully protect and vindicate children’s rights in Ireland are now well known and understood. The passing of the referendum was a historic event – recognising children as individual rights holders and sending a clear message that children are equal citizens. Now, in order to fully realise the intent of the Referendum, we need to ensure that children are at the fore of all decisions that impact on them; this includes hearing the voice of the child in the development of policies, legislation and design of in services as well as in our justice system – only then will children’s rights be fully realised.”


For further information, contact Emma McKinley, Children’s Rights Alliance on 087 655 9067 or

Notes to Editor
• ‘Constitutional Rights for Children – Five Years On’ is held today from 9:30am-1pm in The Alex Hotel, Fenian Street, Dublin 2 (formerly The Alexander).
• The full programme is as follows:

9.30-9.40 Welcome and Introduction
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, Children’s Rights Alliance
9:40 – 10:40 Chair and Contributor: Judge Catherine McGuinness, former Chair of the Kilkenny
Incest Investigation and Supreme Court Judge
• The Hon. Mr. Justice Henry Abbott
• Professor Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection and Founding Patron of the Children’s Rights Alliance
10.40—11am Break for Refreshments

11-12:30pm Open Plenary Discussion, chaired by Mary O’Rourke, former Chair of Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children
• Terry Dignan, Director, EPIC—Empowering People in Care
• Éimear Fisher, Assistant Secretary, Children and Family Policy Division, Department of Children and Youth Affairs
• Professor Ursula Kilkelly, Dean of the School of Law and Head of the College of Business and Law, University College Cork
• Grainia Long, Chief Executive, ISPCC
• Gareth Noble, Solicitor, KOD Lyons
• Fintan O’Dwyer, Member of the Picture Your Rights Team
• Tracy O’Keeffe, Principal Officer, Civil Law Reform Division, Department of Justice and Equality
• Jillian van Turnhout, Chair of Early Childhood Ireland and former Senator

12:30 – 1pm Chair and Concluding Remarks: Tom Costello, Chair, Children’s Rights Alliance
• Closing speech by Fergus Finlay, Chief Executive, Barnardos