THIS is Enda’s eggshell referendum. For the Taoiseach knows all too well that there are few political minefields more lethal to the longevity of a government than a constitutional referendum and anything to do with children or family.
And so there was never any doubt that the wording of the Children’s Referendum would be meticulously picked over by legal-eagles for loopholes or for any hint of hubris before being unveiled — there couldn’t be the slightest suggestion that this was a charter for social-worker shock-troops to be able to snatch howling infants from their anguished mothers.
Lord knows, there are enough citizens cheesed off with the Government already, what with health cuts and household charges, without enraging a whole new swathe of voters by portraying themselves as something akin to the Child Catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’.
Finally the wording was ready for release yesterday (though its moniker 42A sounds more like a bus than an amendment).
Enda, Eamon Gilmore and Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald all trooped into the press centre in Government Buildings before noon. The trio were at pains to emphasise the importance of the referendum.
“Childhood only happens once, and on November 10, we have an opportunity to decide that every childhood is precious, and that every child is deserving of our protection and care,” stressed the Tanaiste.
The Taoiseach was equally at pains to highlight that “the extensive time and energy put into making and enforcing these new laws reflects the priority the Government attaches to child protection,” he said.
But any interested parties present at the press conference who had been following the painstaking progress of a children’s referendum through both this government and the last one, may have been gripped by a sense of deja-vu.
For the wording is very similar to that proposed by the previous children’s minister, Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews. Remarkably similar, in fact. There appear to be little more than a few words changed in total — the main difference seems to be that the word “may” is changed to “shall” four times.
And Four-Words Frances was eager to underline that this did not give the State the green light to snatch children with impunity. “In relation to a power-grab by the State, absolutely not,” she declared firmly. “It’s not about the State micro-managing parents, it’s not about the State wanting to interfere unduly.”
At it happens, the Taoiseach is going to be in Rome for a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti this weekend — and he’s also going to be among a group of EU leaders who will meet Pope Benedict.
So would the thorny topic of clerical child abuse be raised, given that Enda had a right lash off the Vatican after the Cloyne Report was published last year?
“The audience with the Pope is not a private audience, it’s on Saturday morning in Castel Gandolfo,” he said, before seeking refuge in a sports-related quip. “I mightn’t even have time to ask him for divine intervention for Sunday,” joked the Mayoman.
No point in getting all controversial when there’s a referendum to win — Gloria in Eggshells, indeed.