Why I’m Voting No

I’m not perfect. Nor am I a perfect parent. Though I do try. I want to be the best parent I can be. More than anything else, being the best mum I can for my children is the most important thing in my life.

In the 10 and a half years since I became a parent, every decision I have ever made has had the good of my children at its centre.  In fact, for the 10 years it took me to become a parent, I thought a lot about parenting and my values and what was important to me – and important to pass on to my children.

That, I believe, is how it should be.  Becoming a parent – no matter how one comes to it – is the most important thing a person will ever do.  How a parent treats a child will have profound reverberations and repercussions for generations to come. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact.

Ireland is going to the polls a fortnight from tomorrow (November 10th) to vote on a proposed referendum to the Irish Constitution. This has not come about because our government is committed to children and because we, the Irish people, have clamoured for years to have the rights of children enshrined in our Constitution. No. This referendum is taking place because the Irish government has been shamed in to it by the UN.

Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child over 22 years ago, yet we have done nothing to ensure that our laws are in line with it .

This proposed referendum is a mealy-mouthed sop to the people of Ireland so that the government can say ‘See? We gave you a referendum on the Rights of the Child!’
Honestly, it’s like giving a barefoot child a pair of socks with holes in them – it’s better than nothing, but not a whole lot better.
The referendum should address all the articles of the CRC and it doesn’t. As one (small) example, Article 42 of the CRC states:

“States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.”

And yet, I have never walked into a school or a Garda Station or a library or a church or any other place where children gather and seen the Rights of a Child displayed. (They are, however, displayed in my own home – UNICEF produced a beautiful, clear poster years ago which we have and which is stuck up – at child height – in our hall).
One of the other things that really bothers me about the proposed amendment is the way that the constitution is supposed to be flexible in order to accommodate the wording of any future law. Surely our constitution is supposed to be the instrument on which our laws are based, not a malleable document that should bend to accommodate our laws?! Shouldn’t our laws be based on our constitution and not vice-versa?
Another thing that bothers me about the proposed wording is this notion of ‘the best interests of the child’…..who gets to decide what the best interests of the child are? A panel of ‘experts’? People the child has never met before? People the child has known for all (or the majority) of his or her life? Or just one person? It’s not spelled out and it needs to be.
If I voted ‘Yes’ in this referendum, I would not be able to look my children in the eye – because I would know that I would not have done my best for them. My children deserve better than what this referendum is offering them. So do yours. So does every child on this island – and those who are yet to be.

Half a Loaf is NOT Better Than None

Monsoon Wedding (2002) is my favourite film. I can watch it again and again and again and my heart will still be caught by certain looks, gestures and lines. One of those lines is when Lalit Verma (played by the hugely talented Naseeruddin Shah) the patriarch, talking about his family, says – his voice thick with tears he is trying to check:

‘These are my children, and I will protect them from myself even if I have to.’

 

In spite of the fact that I have seen Monsoon Wedding several hundred times in the 10 years since it was made, the delivery of this line always chokes me up. I think it’s because I wish to God that I had meant enough to someone that they would have had the same thoughts and feelings about me. I’d love to think that I would ever have meant as much to even one of my parents. But I didn’t. I was abused and neglected by parents who should never have been allowed to keep dogs – never mind children.

 

The state knew. I have several documents in my possession that unequivocally mention that people in the (then) Eastern Health Board knew I was being verbally, physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and sexually tortured, and how my needs were being sorely neglected.  There are mentions over a number of  years of the ‘dangerously dysfunctional’ situation I was living in. There are references to how the Gardai needed to be involved and to how I needed to be removed from the situation for my own safety. Well, guess what? No one ever called the Gardai. No one removed me from that ‘dangerously dysfunctional’ situation and no one, not one single person – and there several who knew – lifted a finger to help.

 

At one stage, a member of the clergy (because, of course, members of the Catholic Church knew) told me that, while he would have a word with a few of the people who raping and otherwise abusing me several times a week, if they didn’t stop, I needed to remember that ‘Boys will be boys’.

 

As a little girl of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10  I used to dream of being kidnapped, stolen, taken away. Rescued. It was what I comforted myself with at night when I cried myself to sleep, my heart like a stone in my chest, my head wondering what I had done that was so bad that meant I deserved to be treated like this, and my vagina on fire from the treatment of rough and uncaring hands, mouths and pensies (yes, dear reader, plural).

 

By the time I was 10, however, I realised that I was never going to be rescued and I’d just be better off dead. So I tried ever-harder to kill myself and felt ashamed that I never managed to pull it off – imagine being such a failure that you couldn’t even kill yourself.

 

So, when I heard that Irish people were finally, finally, going to get the chance to vote on something that would make life better for little children on this island, I was delirious with excitement. Finally, little Irish babies and little Irish children and big Irish children and Irish young people – and even babies and children and young people who weren’t Irish but who lived here – would be cherished (isn’t that a lovely word?) and nurtured (another lovely word) and maybe even shown some love and kindness.

 

Then I read the proposed wording and my heart sank. This legislation doesn’t even begin to touch the hem of the skirt of child protection. It is a mealy-mouthed sop that will not prevent children from being abused, it will not rescue children who are being abused, and it will not confer on the state any more rights to intervene than the state already has. Crucially, it won’t demand that the state use the power it already has.

 

I know that a constitution is only a set of aspirations. It’s a wish list upon which we base our laws – a public declaration of what we would like most and best for the good of our people – not the actual  set of laws. It’s a reference point to remind us of what we want for our people. Given that, I believe we should aim for the moon and settle for the stars.

 

The proposed amendment is not an exercise in moon-reaching, it is an exercise in optics. In looking at the moon through a telescope, shrugging and saying ‘Shure, that’s too far away, we could never reach there at all, at all’.

 

We’re telling people – we’re telling little girls who are the little girl I was 30 years ago – that, really, they don’t matter.  It’s not enough for our children. It’s not enough for my children. I’d like to think that, were they ever in danger, they would be protected – even from myself if they had to be – but this proposed amendment won’t do that.

 

 

Kite Flying


With the budget closer than Christmas (which, apparently, is very close), the Irish government is engaging in a series of ‘kite-flying’ exercises. This is where our beloved leaders ‘leak’ information to the media and then sit back and see what public reaction is. If they get away with an idea without too much flack, then the idea makes its way into the budget. If the ‘leaked’ information results in a veritable shit storm of apoplexy (pardon my mixing of metaphors and medical conditions) then they quietly shelve it, claiming it was never being considered in the first place.

 

Last week, they mooted the idea of fiddling with the universality of universal child benefit. This week, it’s withdrawing funding from fee-paying schools. This talk worries me. I live on the edge. I am a loan parent bringing up two girls who have special educational needs. I have no help – practical, financial or emotional – either from a former husband/partner or my family of origin. My children cannot get the education they need in a ‘regular’ neighbourhood school. I tried that and ended up with a seven year old who, in her own words ‘just wanted to die’ because of how she was treated at school.

In Ireland, if you have a child who doesn’t fit into the expected box, they do not receive an education.  Let’s take a look at what I mean by that. When talking about education, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says:

“Article 29

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

Irish schools don’t do that. Unless you hover around ‘average’ you won’t do well in the mainstream Irish educational system. they only hoope you have is to seek out an institution tat will work with you and your child/ren and educate them. Or you can homeschool.  I did the latter for a year and, at the beginning of this academic year, my girls started at a different school. This school is more than 20kms from home and lessons start at 8am, necessitating a 6.50am departure from home. It’s a lifestyle change, but one that we decided, as a family to make. Nearly two months later, we have no regrets.

My children are happier than they have ever been at school. They are in small classes with teachers who are there for the children – not the holidays. also, this shcool caters fro the fact that my children are Hindu; which is important to us.

The good news is that this school has a secondary school attached to it. The bad news is that the secondary school is fee-paying. In spite of that, I am determined to do all I can to ensure that my kids – when the time comes – attend that secondary school. Going to a main-stream government run institution just isn’t going to work for my girls, I’m afraid.

Part of the reason that this school can exist is the money it gets from the government – in the form of (some) teachers’ salaries and capitation grants etc. The fees parents pay goes towards providing hot dinners during school hours to all students, to providing additional teachers and to providing other educational opportunities to the students. If the government took back the money it pays to these schools, I would absolutely not even be able to think about affording sending my girls there. It would be out of the realm of even my dreams. We’d have to emigrate (education is, to me, the most important thing I can give my children – after food and shelter).

I know it’s probably a bit daft of me even to suggest it – but how about the Minister for Education, instead of taking money away from fee-paying schools gives more to non fee-paying schools and brings up the overall standard of education in this country? How about the Minister looks at the services and extra educational value fee-paying schools offer and then implements them throughout all schools in Ireland? Then, by all means, withdraw funding from fee-paying schools.

Until he does that, though, a fee-paying school is the only way my children will get an education that fulfills the terms of Article 29 of the UNCRC. And aren’t we supposed to be finally legislating to bring our laws in line with the CRC?

That is, after all, the only thing on my Christmas wish list. You can keep your kites.