Irish voters will take up a referendum this Saturday to decide whether or not to surrender their parental rights to the government. The referendum would insert a "child rights" amendment into the Irish constitution and open families up to forced adoptions and the use of the "best interests of the child" standard in "all proceedings."
By eliminating the current presumption that parents act in the best interest of the child, the amendment would empower the government through its social welfare agencies to summon families to answer to secret courts if it were "likely" that a child's safety or welfare "could" be compromised.
International legal scholar Geraldine Van Bueren of the University of London says that the "[b]est interests [standard] provides decisions and policy makers with the authority to substitute their own decisions for either the child's or the parents', providing it is based on considerations of the best interests of the child."
The amendment also provides authority to the government to seize children and adopt them out "where the best interest of the child so require," while requiring no showing of parental unfitness. An informational pamphlet published by the Irish government credits the amendment to "the Constitutional Review Group which proposed change to reflect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), [a treaty] ratified by Ireland in 1992."
"This would be a grave tragedy for families in Ireland, and certainly something we do not want to see happen in the United States," says Michael Donnelly, adjunct professor of constitutional law at Patrick Henry College, speaking for parentalrights.org. "This amendment would completely take away the common sense safeguard and presumption that parents act in their child's best interests unless proven otherwise. Two former Irish supreme court justices have stated that this amendment is not necessary because Irish law and the constitution already allow state intervention in cases of abuse or neglect."
Despite the serious nature of the change, opponents have thus far been unable to get the attention of the Irish media. The measure is backed by every political party and many vocal non-profit groups in the country, and is the subject of a major information campaign by the government.\