I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
"WHEREAS the child shall enjoy a special protection, shall be given opportunites and facilities by law and other means to enable it to develop physically, mentally, and socially in a healthy and normal manner in the conditions of freedom and dignity.
WHEREAS in the enactment of laws for this purpose the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration. The child wherever possible will grow up in the care and under the responsibility of its parents. Society and the Public Authorities shall have the duty to extend particular care to children without a family and to those without adequate means of support: the child is entitled to receive education which will promote its general culture and enable it on the basis of an equal opportunity to develop its abilities.
WHEREAS the best interests of the child should be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance: the child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief: the child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation."
This amendment seeks to insert in our law part of the United Nations Charter which declares clear legal rights for children. It is aspirational in tone but it is also detailed. We have discussed this proposal in the select committee. At that time the Minister of State said there was an updated United Nations Convention which went further and that consultations were taking place which would lead us to ratify that Convention. The Minister can correct me but my understanding is that that Convention has not been ratified. Therefore, the purpose of this amendment still stands, that somewhere in our legal code there should be a clear assertion that we acknowledge the primacy of the need for the protection of children and the need to ensure that positive discrimination is given to the protection of children, and that in all aspects of our laws the best interests of the child should be served. That should be a guiding principle for those who are responsible for the care and education of our children. It would be a serious omission not to insert a preamble of this nature in the legislation. In view of the fact that the Minister's commitment to ratifying the Convention has not been adhered to, the arguments made on Committee Stage still stand. On this historic occasion — given that the last time we had a major children's Act was 1908 and that it may well be 100 years before we have another — I ask that the Minister accept this amendment as an aspiration and a statement from all the House as to our best intentions for children.