Why Ireland's Religious Extremists Oppose Children's Rights

05/11/2012 17:19 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Sexual abuse of children in Ireland was widespread, systematic, and ignored at all levels of society, from senior government to clergy and laypeople. From the 1930s until at least the 1990s, tens of thousands of children were raped, beaten, neglected and, occasionally, murdered, on an industrial scale. Beyond this, and even within the past decade, notorious cases of abuse have continued to show up the fatal flows in Ireland's child protection policies.

The Children's Referendum, due to be held on 11 November, is Ireland's major response to 17 major reports since 1970 on child protection failings. The referendum would ensure that the state recognises, for the first time, that children have rights and are placed at the centre of decision making; it would enable the children of married parents to be adopted where those parents have failed in their duty of care; and guarantee that the child's voice is heard in legal proceedings.

The referendum appears to have overwhelming public support, with only 4% of decided voters opposed. But there's nothing like the scaremongering and lies spouted by the 'no' side to confuse undecided voters.

The religious right is pushing the ludicrous scenario whereby the state gleefully rushes in and tears apart innocent families, forcibly placing children for adoption because it doesn't like the colour of mammy's rosary beads. They fundamentally reject the idea that evidence and facts, combined with the legal requirement to listen to the voice of the child that the amendment would introduce, could be used to form an opinion on the best interests of the child.

The religious right is not being disingenuous here. They're being utterly mendacious. What's most astounding in their mendacity is that they don't truly believe the scary story of the overzealous, overreaching state intent on tearing families apart. They know full well that what the referendum actually does is ensure that the child's voice is given equal status in law - hardly a successful recipe for ripping crying children from their innocent's parents arms.

What really motivates the religious right is an unshakeable, religiously-guided belief in the primacy of the married man and woman as the foundation of the family, the single most important unit in society, and one that the state has no right to intervene in, regardless of the circumstances. They are dismayed at the idea that the Biblical commandment, "Honour thy Father and Mother" could be challenged by a child daring to have its own mind, thoughts, and rights. And they are irrationally afraid that the State could in any way challenge whatever way any family decide to bring up their children, their children who should have no voice or thoughts of their own.

These are the same views that, notoriously, led a hardline Catholic called Mina Bean Uí Chroibín to help the parents at the centre of an incest case who starved, beat, and repeatedly raped their children for over a decade. With her help, the parents secured a High Court order against the Western Health Board from even going near the house, let alone moving the children. Parents can do what they want. The children endured many more years of abuse and neglect.

The Catholic Church has stayed silent on the Children's Referendum, despite many calls for them to come out in support. This is widely taken as a sign that church authorities are not in favour of it. Only the liberal archbishop of Dublin offered qualified support in a personal capacity, while almost every organ and surrogate of the Vatican State is opposed. The Church itself won't speak on it because they know their vocal opposition would be met with almost universal revulsion.

Remember, this is the same organisation that systematically physically and sexually abused of thousands of Irish children over many generations, and who continue to go to great lengths to conceal their crimes - the torture and rape of children - and evade justice.

There's a bit of a concern for the 'yes' side: the referendum has not really gained much public interest precisely because children's rights, especially after Ireland's horrific legacy of institutional and endemic child abuse at all levels of society, seems like such a no-brainer. This is likely to affect turnout, with many yes voters assuming it's a shoe in and not bothering to vote. The 4% may be a rump, but they're organised and powerful. It's likely that the more angry and mobilised no side will win a greater percent of the vote than their true numbers actually warrant.

This week, barring some unforeseen national catastrophe or international incident, Ireland will almost certainly reject their message. But if Ireland is truly to begin the process of atonement for its national crimes against children people need to turnout, vote, and be heard.