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Key People in Irish Child Protection – The Attorney General

May 30, 2011

This post is the first in what will become an occasional series looking at key individuals in Irish child protection and the role they play or influence they have.

In this post I will consider the influence of the Attorney General, the Governments Lawyer.

The Attorney General? What have they got to do with Child Protection? Well, the AG has a important role at the cabinet table, officially required to be “the adviser of the Government in matters of law and legal opinion”. In exercising this role the AG can have a significant influence over any piece of legislation, to the the point of an effective veto over radical legislation, such as a children’s rights referendum.

In the 31st Dail the  Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, with cross party support, put forward a wording for a children’s rights amendment. However, like all legislation, it would first need cabinet approval before it could be put to the people. At this point the AG veto kicked in. This was a radical piece of legislation that would open the flood gates and as such couldn’t be allowed! Perhaps with political will the legislation could have been pushed through, but the power of the AG is no small thing and as the 31st Dail limped to a close there wasn’t the political stomach for anything controversial. All this combined to leave the amendment on children’s rights dead before ever getting anywhere.

So now that we have a new Government, and a new AG, where does that leave the issue of children’s rights? While there are lots of other factors at play, such as the political will of the government parties to push through change or the horse trading that is part of the game of politics, it remains a fact the AG remains a key player in the progress of any bill to amend the constitution and so remains a key player in the progress of children’s rights. At the time of her appointment Maire Whelan was described in the media as an expert on child protection and child abduction and with a history of working in FLAC may well have seen many family law cases and the misery they contain. How will all of that effect children’s rights referendum? Will Marie Whelan’s role be as crucial as her predecessor was? Or will other factors win out?

Only time will tell.

The final report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children HERE 

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