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Voters may get say on rape law reform
Irish Times 28/07/2006

by Liam Reid

The Government is willing to consider a constitutional referendum to provide specific protection for children and to deal with  the outcome of the Supreme Court "CC" case on statutory rape, it has emerged.

The examination of a potential referendum on both issues is included in the Government's draft terms of reference for the special Oireachtas committee to investigate child protection in the wake of the controversy.

However, it will not examine the breakdown in communications that led to the Government and the Attorney General being unaware of the progress of the case and the impending Supreme Court decision last month.

Detailed discussions on the draft terms of reference are to take place over the coming week between the Minister of Justice Michael McDowell and Opposition TD's in a bid to reach consensus on the establishment of the all-party committe, which would sit over the Summer.

The Government's proposed terms of reference are almost identical to those produced  by Fine Gael and Labour on Sunday, and include proposals to "consider the implications arising from the Supreme Court decision of May 23rd, 2006, in the "CC" case including the desirability or otherwise of a constitutional ammendment to deal with the outcome of that case".

This refers to the possibility of removing the potential defence of "reasonable doubt" which will allow those accused of statutory rape to argue they did not know the girl was under 17.  The committee will also "examine the issues on the desirability or otherwise of amending the constitution to include a general right of protection for children."

It will review criminal laws relating to sexual offences against children, child protection legislation and court procedures relating to child sex abuse cases.

It will also examine the issues surrounding the age of consent relating to sex offence.

However the Governement has effectively ruled out  conceding an independant commission of investigation to be established alongside the Oireachtas committee as called for by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and labour leader Pat Rabbitte.

A report by Dept of Finance offical, Eddie Sullivan on the controversy is due in the next two weeks.