Mr Fergus Finlay, Chief Executive at Barnardos Children’s Charity talks candidly about ‘disability’ ‘children’s rights’ and ‘redefining the family’.

The man behind Barnardos, the grey suit, and the beard, who is he? The child who is taken into care because their parents are proven to be unfit to care for them, who is this child? The person who is discriminated for having a disability, who are they?

All of these questions deserve an answer, but sometimes when trying to describe a person or situation, certain aspects need a little more time and perhaps as some would say a re-evaluation.

The man behind Barnardos children’s charity is Mr Fergus Finlay Chief Executive. The child taken into care and the person discriminated against because of a disability; are the people Mr Finlay fights for.

“A reluctant disability activist for over 40 years” says Mr Finlay but not for reasons one would think. Instead because, “My Mrs and I had a daughter Mandy, born with Down syndrome, and from that moment disability enters your house, you have to fight to not let your house be turned into a second class citizen household. The fight against prejudice begins."

Speaking openly and honestly, the man behind the grey suit and the beard is very much a family man. Opening up to his own personal family history with disability was a touching sentiment to the work he does with other families. The reasons why the Chief Executive of Barnardos has been a reluctant activist is that it is his strongest belief that “We are always happy to put money in a tin but not to fight for basic rights”

A campaigner, a father and now a grandfather, Mr Finlay talked of “the most shaming thing he has ever done” and this shaming act I hear you ask, what is it? It is an aspect of parenthood that challenges the majority of parents in Ireland and this is the age old question, Should you smack your child?

A believer in honesty, Mr Finlay owned up to his own misgivings for having once smacking one of his children. What captivated me was that he asked his child to forgive him years later. This gives great faith in the character of Mr Finlay and an air of honestly that many parents would now be scared or afraid to admitting smacking their child.

Witty humour and a genuine presence of integrity filled the room; Mr Finlay discussed The Lafoy report, institutional abuse, and Baltimore. This raised the greatest question from this talk, and this is a fact that has been reitered again and again. What is it? It is the reverence that Catholic Ireland created for itself, until children, now adults began to tell of their abuse.

“Children were sent to these institutions by judges in a court who signed the order to take them away from their parents” says Fergus Finlay. The reason that the Children’s Referendum will take place in Ireland on November 10th is because; abuse victims from institutions such as Baltimore had no representation. Instead they were sent to a childhood of abuse, a stolen childhood.

Reverence for the laity was the moral grounding for Catholic Ireland but what did this reverence teach us? It taught us that the children of Ireland who were abused and had their childhoods stolen were betrayed, betrayed by the system, betrayed by those in power.

The referendum, which takes place in Ireland next month, has five main purposes. They include aspects of childhood that for years have been ignored in Ireland. They include the voice, protection, best interest, equality and adoption of legislation regarding the child.

“Putting our kids at the heart of the constitution” says Fergus Finlay, is what will prevent the mistakes that happened a previous generation of Irish children.

The notion of “kissing the ring” is what led me to question the Barnardos Executive on comments made on the family and the fact that two parents are proven to be better than one. Catholic Ireland condoned homosexuality, and the notion of gay parenting was unheard of. The question raised was whether gay parenting should come to the forum now too, because just as people with disability were treated as second class citizens, so too were the homosexual population of Ireland.

This referendum is about the rights and best interests of children, and it is my strong belief that children in care would be better would be better off in a loving environment, whether this be a heterosexual or homosexual family. Children are now going to have the right to a choice, a choice which should include having same sex parents.

We are no longer the Ireland that has to bow to the constraints of the powers of the Catholic Church. They had their chance and they messed it up. November 10th  2012 will see the redefining of the rights and best interests of Irish children, but what we were led to believe by the Catholic Church was right, was so gravely wrong. Generations of Irish citizens “kissed the ring” of the Catholic Church and what was happening behind closed doors, vast amounts of neglect, torture, and emotional pain.

The man behind one of Ireland’s leading charities is the person that Ireland should be lining up to “kiss the ring” just as the structure of the family will be redefined on November 10th by giving the power back to our children. My faith in a new-age reverence grew intensely today sitting in the presence of Fergus Finlay.

A family man, a worldly man, it makes for a happy thought to realise that there are good people still in our world that care what happens to the most vulnerable in society.

“Now, I’m not against the naughty step”, says Fergus Finlay; the witty chuckle is the vision of a man who cares. He represents everything we should believe in, he will redefine the mistakes of a previous generation. This is why all need to vote YES on November 10th 2012. It’s time to redefine the future by learning from the past.