By PAUL CULLEN
AN OUTRIGHT ban on the smacking of children by their parents is under consideration by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.
A new law to ban corporal punishment in the home is one of two options under consideration. The other is an amendment to existing laws to restrict the circumstances in which parents can plead a defence of “reasonable chastisement” of their children.
While the issue has been under review by successive governments in recent years, this is the first time a Minister has outlined specific options for modernising the laws protecting children against corporal punishment by their parents.
Ms Fitzgerald says she will choose between the options “in due course” but has cautioned against expectation of an immediate change in the law. A review of practice in other countries has been carried out.
“At the present time it is not intended to bring forward any immediate specific proposals in relation to this matter as the possible constitutional implications for any such proposals will need to be carefully considered given the special protection afforded to the family under the Constitution,” she told Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn in reply to a parliamentary question.
The Children’s Act, 1908, gave parents the right to use “reasonable and moderate chastisement” in disciplining children but this provision was repealed by the 2001 Children’s Act. However, removal of the common law defence requires an explicit provision in new legislation.
Corporal punishment of children is prohibited in all settings, including the home, in 18 of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, but in Ireland outlawing physical punishment is seen as problematic given the constitutional guarantees regarding the family. The council and other international bodies have repeatedly criticised the absence of a ban in Irish law.