home Features Children’s Referendum: All good and rosy? | Robert Joseph Bolton

Children’s Referendum: All good and rosy? | Robert Joseph Bolton

Robert Joseph Bolton expresses concern that the referendum will make us believe that our job is done when it comes to child abuse. Will this referendum instill a “sweeping under the carpet attitude”?

One sided debate

The lack of debate surrounding the upcoming children’s referendum is concerning. Since the five main political parties are campaigning for a yes vote, the media is struggling to find any trace of tension between the eyes and no sides. As a result we are bombarded with a constant stream of yes, yes and yes, creating an assumption that there is nothing to fault with this amendment.

What we are seeing here is a nation blinded by emotional blackmail. The emotional nuclear bomb, the Ryan report, has left its mark on Irish consciousness that will not disappear. Ryan was an elevator of conscious raising.

First, let me state this clearly. Supporters of the No campaign are all for the protection of children. They just feel the referendum isn’t the way to go about it.

I agree. Back a few weeks ago when I heard a referendum will be held on children’s rights, I took an immediate “Yes” stance. This was due to the horrible findings of the Ryan report and my general support on eliminating child abuse. I regret being ignorant. I should have done my homework first, because I now find myself in a state of cognitive dissonance. I am still undecided. Not because I don’t support children’s rights, but because I have a different view of how to tackle the problem of child abuse. I believe a good argument can be made against the referendum, contrary to the idea emanating in Irish minds that there is nothing to fault about the amendment. So let me offer some balance to the “debate”. We cannot be left bombarded with one side of the story. It is not one sided. Want a reason to vote no? Read on.

This referendum has been formulated because child abuse exists. I fully support the provisions for adoption in this amendment. But what this amendment shouldn’t do is lead us to believe that abuse cannot be prevented in the first place. The referendum is only small practical tool towards completely abolishing this torture. It will certainly help in relieving the pain that victims of abuse live with. But let’s remember this, the reasons why this referendum has been formulated are not rosy reasons. My argument is that we should strive for the elimination of the very reasons this amendment has been formulated. The amendment, if passed, will not reduce child abuse.

Journalist Vincent Browne claims that if “it is passed, there will be reason not to care at all, in the illusion that we have done our bit by voting ‘Yes’.” He argues that children still don’t matter in Irish society. I agree. The abuse highlighted in the Ryan report was not due to a constitutional deficiency. It was due to societal values. My concern rests with Irish laxidasical attitudes. We must not think that voting yes will solve the issue of child abuse. If you vote yes, do not think that you and the government have done your bit. Frankly my concern is that we will forget about child abuse. That passing this referendum will give us no incentive to prevent abuse in the first place.


SAVI and Irish blithe culture

We seem to like to sweep things under the carpet. My utmost concern on this point is based on the 2002 SAVI report and the practically 0% awareness of this report. This report, commissioned by the Rape Crisis Centre, documented, with harrowing results the number of victims of abuse in Ireland. Its methodology has remained unchallenged, meaning we can be sure of its accuracy.

The report found that one in five women and one in six men reported experiencing contact sexual assault when they were under the age of 17. 120,000 women and 54,000 men have been raped in childhood, a figure completely ignored by the media when the report was published. Vincent Browne, the only prominent media figure who has attempted to raise awareness of this report, claims that there was “not a single reference (to the report) in Dail debates.”

The report also found that 80% of the perpetrators were known to the child. Now when I asked eight people if they ever heard of this report, all but one said “no”. This report is a shocking documentation of the depressing reality of the extent of child abuse in Ireland. It is a dismal portrayal of human nature, on our capacity to inflict severe trauma and hurt.

Our attitudes have not even been enlightened by the Ryan report. In fact our attitudes have become worse. Ryan has now given us a false impression that child sexual abusers are priests. This is just archetypal of our habit of stereotyping, that anyone outside this class is saintly, innocent and good.

SAVI found that 25% of babysitter perpetrators were under 18. The ordinariness of abusers highlighted by SAVI demolish stereotypes.

The generation of young people growing up in Ireland today is a priest bashing priest paedophile stereotyping hoard. The idea that priests are the only perpetrators of child abuse must be cast out like hammer and tong. If my generation does not see the broader reality, as exemplified by the SAVI report, that abuse can be carried out by what seems to be innocent ordinary people, then I fear my generation will be that little bit less ill equipped to spot child abuse. We will be a carefree generation, ignorant of the continuing abuse in Irish society. We will think that the declining influence of the Catholic church will mean a decline in child abuse.


If Passed

If this amendment is passed, will we not do anything further to protect children against abuse? Will the Irish people believe that this amendment is adequate? Will politicians think that they have done their bit?

The website childrensrights.ie proclaims the amendment gives us an opportunity to break away from this our shameful legacy of child abuse. This is a just candy floss bribery, aimed at attempting to quell our shameful history, making us believe something good has come out of the Ryan report. Remember, it was values and attitudes that created endemic abuse, not a lack of constitutional jargon.

If passed this amendment will not, in fact, break us away from any legacy. Child abuse continues. Across society, hidden within homes, schools, swimming pools, places where children should absorb and be immersed in the enchantment of childhood, children live in pain, in fear, in torment, in hell. The legacy of child abuse in Ireland has not disappeared. SAVI exemplifies this. Ryan was not a reflection, it was a documentation. Child abuse is a continuing legacy across Irish society, in every city and town, in every village. Our politicians and people are not strong enough. Where is the energy, the passion, the ferocity needed to implement structures that could not only help children but also the abusers themselves? Where is the education? Where is the banishing of stereotypes? Where are the prevention programmes that could save the childhoods of thousands of children?


Is this amendment all we’ve got?


Read the counter argument here