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Children's minister plays down referendum 'forced vaccination' fears

Frances Fitzgerald says a constitutional reference to children’s rights would not result in forced vaccinations or adoptions.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive

CHILDREN’S MINISTER Frances Fitzgerald has said fears that the forthcoming referendum on children’s rights could lead to forced vaccinations or adoptions are unfounded and the result of people carrying arguments “to extremes”.

Fitzgerald said that while she anticipated some opposition to the referendum – which the government hopes to hold later this year – from people who were ‘purists’ about what should be included in the constitution, she hoped the move would win broad public support.

“There is no law in our state that says parents should have to vaccinate,” Fitzgerald said on RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny. “People take different approaches as we know.

“Any court is not going to come in, at a constitutional level, and say, ‘This is obligatory for all children’.”

Fitzgerald also sought to dampen fears that an explicit constitutional guarantee of children’s rights could see the State forcibly taking children from parents and into its own care.

We get 30,000 cases a year of children were people have [reported] concerns; we get 1,500 confirmed cases of abuse.

The State already, through legislation, has the power to intervene and do their best.

The amendment could in fact offer a counterbalance to this, she said, by ensuring that authorities only intervened “proportionately” and with due regard to the rights of families and parents.

‘Anticipate the arguments’

The minister added, however, that she could “anticipate the discussion and the arguments, and the concerns that people might have” about including a constitutional guarantee of children’s rights.

“You’re never going to get the wording 100 per cent correct,” she said. ”I’m more interested in having a referendum along the lines of the recent one [on the Fiscal Compact treaty], where we got the information out to the public.”

Fitzgerald said the referendum hoped to “equalise” the position for children to avoid circumstances where a child living with a foster family could not be put up for adoption simply because their biological parents were married.

“It might sound strange to some people, but there are 30 per cent of children in care whose parents are married,” Fitzgerald said, saying at present children could seek court permission to be adopted by foster parents once they had reached the age of 17-and-a-half.

“So we’re saying to those parents now, who genuinely want the best for their children, they can now voluntarily place those children for adoption.”

The wording of the referendum is due to be agreed before the Dáil reconvenes in eight days’ time, meaning it is likely to be approved by ministers at a cabinet meeting either tomorrow or next week.

Read: Ombudsman: Children’s rights referendum won’t bring “radical change”

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Gavan Reilly

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