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Children's referendum not likely until next year, says minister

Children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald says the draft text should be ready by autumn, but a referendum won’t be.

CHILDREN’S MINISTER Frances Fitzgerald has told the Dáil that the wording of a referendum giving constitutional rights to the child should be published later this year – but that the long-awaited referendum will not be held until 2012.

Speaking in her first round of Ministerial Questions in the Dáil this afternoon, Fitzgerald said the wording of the referendum was in line to be sent to the Oireachtas for its approval in the autumn.

The wording would be “along the lines” of the wording published last year by the all-party committee set up by the last Dáil, Fitzgerald said.

The minister said she believed the last government had been delayed in holding the referendum because of concerns raised by the former Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, who believed the wording could have had “unintended consequences” in terms of the State’s financial obligations.

Fitzgerald said Gallagher’s successor, Máire Whelan, was reexamining this wording to see if she agreed with those concerns, but that it was intended that the wording be similar to that put forward last year.

The concerns of other government departments would also be considered before a final wording was published, the minister said.

When the wording of the proposed Constitutional amendment was published, the government would then have to prepare legislation putting it into effect, as well as enact other legislation to allow for its provisions on adoption.

This delay would push the referendum into 2012, Fitzgerald said, saying that it was “not possible to outline” when exactly a final ballot could be held.

The committee that recommended the wording being considered by the Attorney General was formed in December 2007 by the previous government.

Fitzgerald had not taken parliamentary questions before now as the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was only established on June 2, when it formally replaced the now-disbanded Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.

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Gavan Reilly

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