Submission to the Members of the Convention on the Constitution from Two Rights Now!

Submission to the Members of the Convention on the Constitution from Two Rights Now!

On
(1) General matters relating to the Constitution;
(2) Lowering the age of eligibility for voting to 17 years from 18 years;
(3) Reducing the Presidential term from seven years to five years, to coincide with local elections and elections to the European Parliament.
About Ourselves
1. We are three senior, Irish citizens; we are also parents and grandparents. We have a 25- year track record (shared with many others) in pursuing human rights issues, notably dealing with abuses at the hands of Church and State, sometimes in collusion with each other. We also have life-long involvements with voluntary activity such as scouting, utility cycling, consumer representation and lobbying, local government, an Taisce, etc. We got together formally recently to campaign against the “Children’s Referendum”, mainly because we believe that the State couldn’t be trusted to pursue children’s rights, seeing as it has failed to meet its two child-specific obligations to children in the Constitution already. These are (i) the right to free primary education and (ii) the right of any child to attend any school which is publicly funded without being indoctrinated in a religion, if that is the wish of its parents, and to do so in a way which is not to the child’s disadvantage.
2. We have a website, www.tworightsnow.org, where you may read detailed CVs and related information.
General Matters relating to the Constitution
3. We are very conscious that the members of the Convention are privileged to embark on what is a first in modern Irish history – a prompter of reform and refreshing of our 75 year old Constitution. When one considers how undemocratically De Valera’s Constitution was composed by a very elite group, quite untypical of Irish society, it has served society remarkably well, due in no small measure to judicious and perhaps too-sweeping interpretations by our superior Courts. We wish all the members well in their work in the time ahead. We hope that you will chart the way to a Constitution fit for a real Republic (in place of a State more akin to a neo-theocracy), where the Constitution is reduced to a minimum, leaving ordinary laws to take care of changing social mores, demographics, and technology. The excess detail contained in the original Constitution is exemplified by the 30 referenda held since 1937, (with mean turnout of only 51%) together with over 30 changes made to the original document by Parliament during the transitional period, 1937 – 1941.
4. With a republican approach in mind, we call on the Convention to endorse the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Whittaker Commission on the Constitution (1996) to require a similar change in Articles 34.5, 12.8 and 31.4, in each case to allow a person who does not believe in God to become a judge, President, and a member of the Council of State, without making a false declaration in the manner now laid down. The existing provisions in these Articles are in themselves in breach of another Article, 44.2.3, which states that “The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.” We contend that the fraction of the adult population of Ireland who are not religious in disposition is considerably greater than that purported to be the case by the CSO’s statistics as determined in quinquennial censuses, for reasons which we shall not go into here.
5. We would urge you to make decisions to reduce, rather than add to, the Constitution, because

  • The Constitution is hard to change once a matter is included. In contrast, ordinary (aka Statute) laws, and regulations derived from them, are easily changed by the people we elect to Dail and Seanad.
  • Court judges are the final arbiter of what the words of a Constitution mean; we can be surprised, especially if we put short sentences into it, of the meaning put on phrases by judges, all of whom are appointed by governments and none of whom are elected by, or accountable to, us. An example: the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.
  • With the flow of time, there can be very considerable cultural, technological and demographic changes, dating laws or principles made in another era. By doing legal business through ordinary laws, it is easier to accommodate change.
  • The Constitution is very wordy and very long. The English language version is over 80 pages long; by comparison, the English language version of the 1922 Constitution is only 34 pages.

6. We invite the Convention to give consideration to the recommendations made by the Whittaker Commission on the Constitution (1996) in respect of those elements it is charged with considering. It should also consider the Colley Commission’s recommendations of ca 1969 on the Constitution. The latter would strongly indicate why provisions should not be included in the Constitution which would have the effect of putting future generations in a cultural headlock.
7. We would urge you to ‘think outside the box’! If your focus entirely on that which is written in the existing 1937 Constitution, you will be drawn into focussing on the latter alone.
8. Article 25.5.4 of the Constitution requires the Irish version to prevail in any dispute as to its interpretation. As the Constitution was drafted in English, and Irish is not widely spoken or understood by the citizens at large and by the judiciary, and by the bulk of our burgeoning immigrants, we regret to feel compelled to recommend that the Convention recommend the removal of this provision of the Constitution.
9. You are free to make recommendations which would be implemented in law, regulations or guidelines which do not have to be inserted into the Constitution.
Lowering the Voting Age to 17 from 18 years
10. If you members typify Irish society, you won’t have a family copy of the Constitution (unless you were educated in a fee-paying private school, surveys show!), nor will you have studied it in school. So already, in our view, Irish citizens are very poorly educated in civics, knowledge of their Constitution, human rights and obligations, consumer law, employment and local government law. That situation will remain, in our view, until a comprehensive civics subject is examinable and obligatory in the latter years of all pupils’ primary education and in every secondary school. The necessity for this is all the more pressing given the large number of migrant scholars to Ireland from developing nations.
11. We advise that the Convention does not recommend a reduction in voting age to 17 years for the purposes of those elections covered by the Constitution.
12. However, if the Convention is so minded to lower the voting age, we suggest that it advise that this be done for local government elections only in the first, pilot, instance.
13. If the Convention is determined to recommend lowering the voting age for Dail and Presidential elections and for Constitutional amendments we recommend that its recommendation should not be brought into force until such time as a full cohort of students pass through compulsory civics courses in school.
Voting for other citizens
14. The growing migration into Ireland (and out of, in reciprocal fashion) of citizens of other States who find gainful employment here, raise families, participate in society and are, voting rights apart, essentially indistinguishable from native-born citizens, has created an unhappy and unhealthy alienation amongst them. We believe that it is time that these migrants were granted parliamentary voting rights in Ireland and that this might be done in reciprocal arrangements with their country of origin, using the EU and UN as the means of bringing this harmonisation about. This would be consistent with the several Articles of the Constitution which feature citizens and citizenship (Article 9, 16, 40, 44, 44, 47). It is a fact that Irish judges habitually accord to those immigrants (who don’t have voting rights) the attributes of citizenship in other matters heard before the Courts.
15. We advise the Convention to consider making recommendations to broaden or ease the entitlement of immigrants to vote in parliamentary elections (They have the vote in local elections already), and to recommend that this be done via ordinary laws and regulations rather than via a Constitutional amendment.
Reducing the Presidential Term of Office from Seven to Five years and harmonising it with EU and local elections
16. Some years ago the local elections were synchronised to coincide with the quinquennial EU elections, most likely because the turnout (percentage of the voters’ list who voted) was uncomfortably low in EU elections. The principal reason for the latter was that it did not matter much to the voter who was elected to the EU Parliament. The turnout in all elections has been falling because the register of voters is inaccurate: voters who died, moved on elsewhere or emigrated are not being removed as they once were from registers. This is extremely difficult to do in urbanised rural areas, for the reason that nobody has an official house number in old streets and only town councils are empowered to legally assign house numbers to old streets! Secondly, county councils are no longer calling door to door to compile the register and thirdly neither are political party activists who used do this, for the reason that there are fewer activists now. Thirdly, computation of the turnout is usually based on the total number of voters in a constituency; the growing number of ineligible voters (ca 2%, of foreigners etc) is ignored.
17. Voter turnout can be increased if Government alters the procedure for compiling registers. Turnout in elections can be increased if voting is made compulsory, with modest fines for not voting. Australia is a country which has such a system and secures very high turnouts as the norm. Synchronising elections helps cut costs of running elections. However, these costs can also be cut if the number of voters per station is increased to reflect the lengthened voting hours and to reflect the most efficient local authority areas. (Recently, Dublin had 1,000 voters per polling station, whereas an adjoining county had 500 voters per station, even in urbanised areas; this is pure waste in the latter case.) At present the determination of this is a matter for a legal personage, the County Registrar. It should be reassigned to the County Manager.
18. Turnout in Presidential elections has been falling. We suggest that this is because the election is widely perceived to be an honorary function, a perception aided and abetted by the media. So the election turns on who is the most personable candidate, the person who best did their last job, a post of honour. Once elected, the President is perceived to spend their time making bland speeches at social functions, receiving dignities from at home and abroad. This is gravely false. The most important job the President has is his or her right to consider, after consultation with the Council of State, of Bills which are referred to him or her for signing into law, whether they appear to be Constitutional or not. And if not, to refer them to the superior courts to test their Constitutionality or part of a Bill as the case may be. While the President is not accountable to the Oireachtas, we ask: why is the President not accountable, and indeed the Council of State for its advice to the President, to the public who elects him or her for this decision-making power? There is nothing in the Constitution as it stands to prevent the President from acting transparently in respect of his or her consideration of Bills. Why should we not expect informed citizens, or groups, to write to the President exhorting him or her to consider referring Bills to the Courts?
19. Presidents are slow to refer Bills to the Courts. This is because in July 1941, during the period of transition after the Constitution of 1937 had been passed in the plebiscite of the people, the De Valera Government exercised its power to amend the Constitution as it had been passed by an Act (2nd Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1941) to preclude the consideration ever again of a Bill (or part of one) the Constitutionality of which had been once considered and determined by the superior courts. This Act actually amended 30 parts of the Constitution, most in a minor way, but Article 34 was amended – at the prompting of one civil servant – to prevent going back on Bills which had been cleared. This was a major mistake which should be reversed. An example: the decision by the Court that the Act legitimising provision for the compulsory fluoridation of drinking water was taken on foot of allegedly false evidence sixty years ago and, in any event, modern research suggests that fluoridation isn’t as innocuous as it seems to all people. This amendment to Article 34 freezes the Constitution for all time, notwithstanding cultural, demographic, scientific and other developments in the meantime. An example of a Bill that ought to have been referred to the Courts includes the Planning and Development Bill, 1999, in respect of the powers given to planning authorities (ie, county councils) and the office of Public Works to be judge and jury of their own development proposals, without any right of appeal, such as exists to an Bord Pleanala for others developments.
20. We content that if the President was more accountable to the public for his/her important decision making and the amendment to Article 34 were reversed (enabling the President to do his or her job better) we, the public, would have more regard for that office holder when choosing one, and thus the turnout in Presidential elections would be higher.
21. At present we vote for them and then there is no accountability from them to the electorate until the next Presidential election. The election is now more akin to a ‘Rose of Tralee’ contest, or a plebiscite on the government in office.
22. A related issue in Presidential elections is the difficulty political parties have in securing nominations of candidates for the office. A Constitutional mechanism for enabling a large number of electors to nominate a non-party candidate should be explored.
23. At present elections to the Dail are held not less frequently than once every five years. The period has been set by ordinary or Statute law. However, constitutionally Dail elections need not be held until seven years have elapsed (Article 16.5). So it is merely a matter for a Government with a majority to change the Act from five to seven years or some other period less than seven years. There is merit in having governments in office for a period of longer than 3.5 (the typical period of office under the current strictures) years, particularly in difficult times such as the current one.
24. There is, in our view, merit in NOT have the Presidential term of office coincide with any other elected arm of government, local, national or international. (We may not always be members of the EU!). While not thought of often, a President may resign from office before his or her term expires. Two such Presidents have resigned in recent times – O’Dhalaigh and Robinson. We recommend that the Convention express support for the current term of seven years remaining as it is. We advise that the other changes we have advocated, namely accountability or transparency from the incumbent be created, either by Statute law or Constitutional amendment, or, indeed, by custom and practise, or perhaps by an amendment of the FOI Act and that the undesirable amendment made to Article 30 of the Constitution be revoked.

2/12/2012

John Colgan johncolgan [at] iol.ie 01 6244631; 085 100 73 69
Mike McKillen mike [at] mckillen.com 01 269 4210; 087 231 46 13
Dick Spicer dickspicer [at] gmail.com 01 286 9870; 086 609 57 99

END OF SUBMISSION

Oireachtas’s Convention on the Constitution inaugural meeting today

Oireachtas’s Convention on the Constitution inaugural meeting today

The Convention on the Constitution meets today, 1st December, 2012, in Dublin Castle. It is comprised of 33 TDs, Senators and a few public reps from Northern Ireland; and secondly, 66 ordinary citizens who are representative of Irish adult society and who are willing to serve, making up the total of ordinary members to 99. Additionally, Tom Arnold, former CEO of the world-wide charity, Concern, and trustee of The Irish Times newspaper, is chairman. The Convention is served by a Secretariat of civil servants who, it seems, have unspecified powers, in addition to acting as a passive Secretariat. To date they have decided that the names and particulars of the ordinary citizen members shall not be made public. Nor shall the public have access to their deliberative meetings in Dublin Castle.  Representations may be made to the Convention. The names of the public reps, their party affiliations and substitutes and other useful information are on Wikipedia.

The Convention’s Secretariat’s address is 16 Parnell Square East, Dublin 1; telephone 01 697 55 44.

The establishing resolution set the following agenda items:

  1. reducing the Presidential term of office to five years and aligning it with the local and European elections;
  2. reducing the voting age to 17;
  3. review of the Dáil electoral system;
  4. giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise;
  5. provision for same-sex marriage;
  6. amending the clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life;
  7. increasing the participation of women in politics;
  8. removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution; and
  9. following completion of the above reports, such other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by it

The first two items will be considered first, with recommendations due for report to the Oireachtas within two months of the Convention’s first meeting.

TwoRightsNow! rebuffed by Secretariat?

On 26th October 2012 we received an email circular sent us by Mark Kelly, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to inform us that they had been successful in their endeavors to ensure that the voices of civil society organisations will be heard in an effective way during the Convention, and to that end, that the new chairman of the Convention, Tom Arnold, wished to meet with representatives, such as ourselves, before the Convention met. The meeting was scheduled for Monday, 5th November, 2012, between 1030am and 1230am at a venue not then decided but in Dublin. We were urged to respond quickly to the Convention’s Secretariat by email at Nason.Fallon@constitution.ie. We replied the same day to Mr Fallon, expressing our interest in meeting Mr Arnold, enclosing a piece of market research done on attitudes to the Constitution by young persons. We also put on record our unhappiness at the restricted terms of the Convention and we stated that we favour the referral of the matter of rights for children and the rights of the State over them referred to the Convention. Nason Fallon replied stating that “the venue will be confirmed in due course”.  Well we were never informed of the venue and being busy with the Referendum of the 31st Amendment, the meeting slipped by.

We left a voicemail message for Nason Fallon early in November, expressing our disappointment at not being notified of the particulars of the meeting with Tom Arnold and we emailed him on 22nd November on the same matter asking, for a right of audience – a quiet audience – at the inaugural meeting today, so that we might get a feel for the manner of its deliberations?  Next day Nason Fallon emailed us to state that the “ICCL undertook to relay the details of the meeting [with Tom Arnold] to all those it had previously notified of the meeting in the first instance, including, I understand your organisation”. We received no notification from ICCL. Evidently, some forty person attended the meeting with the chairman, and not necessarily those who had indicated their intention to attend.

No, we can’t attend as audience on 1st December: “Participation is restricted to the Convention membership”. And it seems that we can’t attend as audience any of the subsequent plenary sessions either. But we “may wish to note that the launch of the Convention and future plenary sessions will be streamed live on the Convention’s website (www.convention.ie) which is currently being finalised.”  And submissions we in TwoRightsNow! may wish to make will be welcome through the website.

So there you have it.

We told you so! There is no such thing as ‘free’ primary education in Ireland.

http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/1127/schools-funding.html

RTE News today reported on a survey of National Schools conducted by the ‘Catholic Primary School Manager’s Association’ (CPSMA).

“Almost half of all primary schools here are not getting enough funding to make ends meet, according to a survey carried out on behalf of managers of Catholic schools.

 

The study found that 46% of primary schools are in deficit, while 22% are barely breaking even.

It also found that over half of schools in disadvantaged areas are unable to fund maintenance and repair works in deteriorating buildings”.

This is what we in TwoRightsNow! kept saying to you during the Children’s Rights referendum – the State cannot be trusted to properly fund anything to do with children.

However we would gently point out to parents and the CPSMA that with ownership and control of our schools goes the responsibility and duty to take up the slack left by failure of the State to fully fund the school system. It is the institutional church that has to fund the deficit, not the community. That’s what control means.

The survey of 540 schools was conducted by Amárach Research.

Ireland’s elevation to a seat at UN Human Rights Council

Here is a Letter to Editor sent a week ago that looks unlikely to be published at this stage.

“An Tanaiste revealed this morning (13 November) that Ireland had secured a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, so I went to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade web-site to learn more about this triumph only to find that the Human Rights section of his department’s web-site has not been updated since 11 January 2010 when it was still headed by Minister Micheal Martin (FF).

This would be amusing were it not for the fact that the the Minister claims in a press release (13 November) that the seat on the UNHRC “represents a major endorsement of Ireland’s international standing, in particular, our advocacy of human rights across the globe”. I hope that the Minister will not forget the continuing abnegation of children’s human right here at home in our classrooms where there is no free primary education and where it is not possible for children to avoid religious instruction as set out in our Constitution [Articles 42.4 & 44.2.4]. We need to put our own house in order before we admonish others about their human rights’ records”.
Mike McKillen

Ends

RTE coverage of Children’s Referendum

This is the response received yesterday (14 November) from Peter Feeney of RTE’s referendum steering group.

We leave you to judge whether or not our complaint was apposite.

Dear Dr McKillen,

Thank you for your email of 13 November. When the referendum was called the RTÉ Referendum Steering Group compiled a list or organisations and individuals who were campaigning for a No vote (pasted at end) .  That list was circulated to programme editors and producers.  Production teams were asked to ensure that a range of voices were heard.

RTÉ carried 11 debates across radio and television.

29 Sept              Saturday with Claire Byrne (Mary Ellen Synon v Olivia O’Leary)

10 October       Today with Pat Kenny (Kathy Sinnott v Olivia O’Leary)

17 October       Late Debate  Peadar Toibin, Robert Dowds v Malachy Steenson, John Waters)

28 October      Week in Politics (Frances Fitzgerald v Fr Brian McKevitt)

30 October      Prime Time (report followed by Catherine Ghent v Kathy Sinnott)

31 October      Today with Pat Kenny (Fergus Finlay v Richard Greene)

4 November    This Week (Alan Shatter v John Waters)

5 November    The Frontline (Frances Fitzgerald v John Waters)

7 November    Drivetime (Varadkar, Van Turnhout v John Byrne, Dana Rosemary Scallon)

8 November    Morning Ireland (Tanya Ward, Kathy Sinnott)

8 November    Late Debate (Fergus Finlay v John Byrne)

As you can see from the list of no speakers  (Mary Ellen Synon, Kathy Sinnott, Malachy Steenson, John Waters, Brian McKevitt, Richard Greene, Dana Rosemary Scallon, John Byrne) a genuine effort was made to allow a range of voices with a range of different reasons for voting no.  In addition to the debates there were many reports carried in various programmes.  I fully accept that not all groups  that declared they were campaigning for a no vote were included.  But I think it is fair to day that a good range of people were heard.

Yours sincerely

Peter Feeney

Secretary

Referendum Steering Group

RTÉ

Those Campaigning Against

Alliance of Parents against the State, (Kathy Sinnott)

Mothers Alliance Ireland (Nora Bennis)

Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse, (Tom Cronin)

Christian Solidarity Party (Richard Greene)

Parents for Children (Maire Mhic Mheanmain )

Two  Rights Now! (John Colgan)

Campaign for Conscience (Enoch Burke)

Unmarried and Separated Families of Ireland (Ray Kelly)

Fr Brian McKevitt, Editor Alive magazine

Individuals:

Malachy Steenson (lawyer)

John Waters, (journalist)

Mary Ellen Synon  (journalist)

Formal complaint to RTE about its biased and inadequate coverage of Naysayers in Children’s Referendum campaign

Sent to RTE by EMail today – 13 November 2012

Dear Mr. Feeney,

I understand from my friend, John Colgan, that you headed RTE’s referendum coverage group for the 31st amendment of the Constitution. If this complaint is not for you then I would be grateful if you could forward it to the appropriate RTE officer.

As you probably know John, Dick Spicer and I formed a group called Two Rights Now! to advocate for a No-vote in the referendum. We have been advocating specific human rights touching on religion and education for over 25 years, and this, too will have been known to you and to RTE. We are not strangers to this area of human rights advocacy.

Since our formal launch on Friday 19th October 2012, we issued many media releases to all print and broadcast media. Our launch was attended by the three national broadsheets and local and other national broadcasters, but neither RTE nor TV3.  We had expected that as a public service broadcaster, your service would have covered some of our press releases on news programmes and discussion panels dealing with the Yes and No aspects of the referendum. Your news-desk and specific programme-makers were sent them all. They were also put up immediately on our web-site [www.tworightsnow.org].

We were disappointed and feel let down, as were the public, for the following reasons.

  • Your RTE Radio 1 ‘Drivetime’ programme granted us approximately 1 min 16 s from a pre-recorded interview with Della Kilroy. That was the sum total of our RTE coverage;
  • None of your discussion programmes invited us to be participants on any panel;
  • You deployed John Waters and Kathy Sinnott, and effectively created them as the primary spokespersons for the No-side. This was done at the expense of ourselves and other opponents of the amendment with different and conflicting views. There was no single No-voice acting as a consortium. There was no valid justification for the creation by RTE (and TV3) of these persons as the primary spokespersons.  We have little in common with either of those polemicists who have very personal and specific axes to grind arising from cases involving their personal family lives. We would question the decision to almost uniquely use these two as the voice of the no-side – it was flawed and biased therefore against other naysayers;
  • The main issue raised by us was: Can we trust the State to give real effect to the referendum, if carried, when faced with its failure to implement two existing children’s rights – free primary education and the right not to be indoctrinated in a classroom? RTE and the other media simply air-brushed out any discussion of these issues. This side-lining by RTE of the second of these issues, in particular, is consistent with RTE’s failure to cover the Irish Human Rights Commission’s seminar (Autumn 2010) and Report with recommendations to Government (April 2011) on this issue and the failure to refer to this right in RTE’s Frontline programme of 12th March, 2012.
  • None of your programme presenters when dealing with this referendum explained that there were existing specific rights for children in the Constitution – the very rights that give the name to our organisation Two Rights Now! – never mind that a child is a citizen  and has citizens’ rights under the Constitution. It was as if these were to be the first rights enjoyed by a child.  Ministers, Government spokespersons and Yes-campaigners went unchallenged as to the falsity of their misrepresentation of the Constitution.

Last Saturday your radio coverage of the referendum voting kept making excuses for the low turnout by invoking the notion that it was primarily because it was held on a Saturday. That was effectively making excuses for the Government. It’s not RTE’s job to make excuses for any Government.

We will be making a complaint about media coverage of the No-side to other bodies.

Please regard this emailed letter as a formal complaint to RTE. In fact I would ask you to please forward it to the chairman of the RTE Authority.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Mike McKillen

For Two Rights Now!

Ireland and its elevation to UN Human Rights Council – time to end the abnegation of human rights in Ireland’s education system

Press release issued by Two Rights Now! For immediate use. 13 November 2012.

Ireland and its elevation to UN Human Rights Council

An Tanaiste, Eamonn Gilmore, TD (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade), said today that he hopes that our membership of the UN Human Rights Council will enable us to make a ‘distinctly Irish contribution’ to human rights.

We in Two Rights Now! hope that membership of that body will impel a long overdue rectification of ‘distinctly Irish’ human rights’ violations in this country.

Ireland has persistently failed to live up to its UN human rights obligations in education. The UN has repeatedly drawn attention to our State’s violation of the rights of children in the denominational education system. The inability to cater for and respect the rights of children not of a particular denomination or religious belief attending such schools is a ‘distinctly Irish’ contribution to human rights’ violations. This is in spite of there being protection in our Constitution for such children (Article 44.2.4).

It is quite extraordinary that a public debate on furthering children’s rights in the course of a ‘children’s referendum’ airbrushed these Constitutional rights (and the enduring violation thereof) out of existence. Perhaps the hypocrisy of being seen yet again to be in breach of these rights whilst serving on the UN Council will be seen as sufficiently embarrassing to force Church and State into remedial action before the next State-party report?

The State is not short of the means to rectify the situation. Indeed Professor Coolahan’s report (April, 2012) arising from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism points one way forward for ‘stand alone’ schools. We hope that the State can now earn the trust of the UN and its own people by addressing these issues, and we suggest that the forthcoming Constitutional Convention might be the forum within which they might be addressed, given that they were by-passed in the recent referendum on children’s rights, despite our best efforts in the Two Rights Now! campaign.

ENDS


Two Rights Now!
In our Constitution, children already have the right to free primary education, and the right not to be indoctrinated in classrooms. [Articles 42.4 & 44.2.4]. We cannot trust the State with further powers as it has ignored existing children’s rights. www.tworightsnow.org and on Facebook & Twitter.

Letter to Editors of national papers about RC bishops contribution to children’s referendum debate

So far this Letter to Editors remains unpublished.

To: Editor

In the debate on the children’s rights’ proposals, reference to the two existing child-specific Constitutional rights has been all but air-brushed out of the public arena. These rights are to free primary education (Article 42.4) and the right of any child to attend any school in receipt of public money without attending religious instruction at that school and in a way which is not prejudicial, i.e., harmful, discriminatory or disadvantageous, to them (Article 44.2.4, in the section headed Religion).

These rights of parents and their children have complementary obligations on the State and on the Roman Catholic Church as the overwhelming patron of the country’s national schools. Neither of these obligations have been met. The Church, in its Canon Law (Can.793 et sequi), continues to seek to undermine the autonomy and primacy of parents in the matter of their children’s education.  It is in this context I see the statement issued by the RC Bishops’ Conference (5th November) with a somewhat jaundiced eye. I am reminded of stone-throwing in glasshouses. They wisely note that the Constitution has an important role ‘in signalling the priorities and fundamental values of our society’.

The intellectual abuse of over 20,000 school children who are in the main, with their parents, denied the proper exercise of their right not to be indoctrinated in schools under their Graces’ patronage has been recognised by the Coolahan Committee. Coolahan’s report recommending remedial measures lies languishing in pigeonholes since last April.  Let Cabinet, their Graces, and their spokesmen, now proceed to live up to the priorities and fundamental values of our Constitution and society!

Yours etc.

JOHN COLGAN PC

Two Rights Now! interaction with the Referendum Commission in relation to bias

This is Two Rights Now! interaction with the Referendum Commission in relation to perceived bias and our reaction to the Commission’s response to us.

Date: 9/11/12            To: Morning Ireland by EMail

“Contrary to the statement made by Fine Gael’s Director of Elections, Leo Varadkar, on Morning Ireland, a few minutes ago, I, for Two Rights Now! made a written complaint to the Referendum Commission about the content of their ‘independent’ information booklet as it appeared on their website (ie before it was distributed to the public) on 20th October last. Below is the email I sent them and the email I received in response. There has been no other communications between us.

I do not regard these communications as privileged.

Feel free to report or use it. I have last night copied it to a collection of non-party TDs”.

John Colgan

Date:8/11/12             To: A selection of Independent TDs by EMail

“I made a complaint to the Referendum Commission regarding their ‘independent’ brochure last month on behalf of TwoRightsNow.org, campaigning against  the 31st amendment.  Below is the emailed complaint and the Commission’s response. The responding person has not identified himself by his status.

We were also refused public funding from Minister Fitzgerald’s Department when I requested it.

Although we have been campaigning for 25 years for specific children’s rights, we got 1 min 15sec of RTE radio air time in this campaign, and nothing on TV, either RTE or TV3.  In truth, the media, notably RTE, made John Waters the champion of the No side, thought he can hardly be said to belong to any of the groups involved.  All TV debates and one long one on RTE (with Claire Byrne) featured Waters”.

John Colgan
Two Rights Now!

 

Date: 20/10/12                     To: Referendum Commission Chairperson by EMail

 

FAO: Chairman of Referendum Commission

From John Colgan, (instigator of) Two Rights Now!  campaign against the proposed 31st amendment to the Constitution.

The section of the site headed ‘Other articles’
1.  First a minor point of dissatisfaction: The heading is obscure. It would have been helpful if it were called, and contained, Other Child-related Articles of the Constitution, and if that be deemed not acceptable to you, Other Articles of the Constitution

2. The absence of any reference to the second, child-specific right in the Constitution, contained within Article 44.2.4 namely:

Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school

[My emphasis]

The absence of mention of this, the second of only two direct, child-specific rights, with concomitant obligations on the State and others, in the Constitution shows an appalling and serious lack of balance and neglectfulness by the Referendum Commission in the information it is making available to the public.

I invite you to correct it immediately and announce the correction.

The all-smiling photographs of persons throughout the document

These photographs, gratuitously scattered alongside the text of the proposed amendment and all other Constitutional mentions are almost all of smiling persons. They convey, therefore, however subtly, contentment with what is proposed in the amendment. There is not an even number of concerned, or unhappy-looking, faces to be seen, which might be expected – if you glibly (?) chose to pepper the website with photographs at all.  This is an unfair presentation, whether consciously determined or not, and lacking in objectivity.

I invite you to correct it.

An early response would be appreciated.

John Colgan

 

Reply from Referendum Commission on 22/10/12

 

Dear Mr Colgan

I refer to your email below and reply as follows.

1. I presume you are referring to the Commission’s website. When you click on “Other articles” you get to the Commission’s Guide which is headed “Other articles of the Constitution”.

2. The Commission members, in consultation with its legal advisers, gave careful consideration as to the articles it would include under this heading. It is satisfied that it has quoted the relevant articles.

Photographs
Clearly, you are entitled to your opinion on the design of the Commission’s Guide. The Commission is happy with it.

Yours sincerely

Paddy Walsh