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‘End corporal punishment’ as removal of defence takes effect

Minister Reilly signs commencement order for the removal of the defence of Reasonable Chastisement

‘End corporal punishment’ as removal of defence takes effect

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr James Reilly T.D, has today signed the commencement order on the removal of the defence of ‘Reasonable Chastisement’ under section 28 of the Children First Act 2015. The move means that from tomorrow (Friday 11thDecember) a person who administers corporal punishment to a child will no longer be able to rely of the defence of reasonable chastisement in the courts.

While in fact the Children First Act 2015 establishes no new offence in regard to corporal punishment it is a further demonstration of this Government’s commitment to the elimination of corporal punishment and to protecting children from violence. On signing the commencement order today, Minister Reilly said “The removal of the Common Law defence sends a strong message which will, I hope, lead to a cultural change across Irish society that corporal punishment is wrong.    We have not created any new offence but rather we are removing something that has its roots in a completely different era and societal context”.

The Minister added “The measure represents a significant advancement as regards the protection and rights of children. It reinforces the developing impetus in parenting practice in Ireland to use positive discipline strategies in the upbringing of children which reject the use of corporal punishment”.

In response to the recent passing of the legislation by the Houses of the Oireachtas the Special Representative for the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children wrote to congratulate Ireland. Marta Santos Pais wrote to Minister Reilly, regarding the removal of the defence of Reasonable Chastisement, “in taking this step Ireland is making an important contribution to the global movement towards a world where all children are free from violence. Political support at the highest level is critical to ensuring that sustained progress can be made in combatting violence against children. The steps that Ireland has taken augur well for a change in attitudes and behaviour that will help build a culture in which no form of violence against children is acceptable.

Minister Reilly stressed the value of ‘positive parenting,’ where we support our children’s self-discipline and behaviour by a learning strategy rather than by punishment. The Minister said “parental and family relationships are the most important factor in child development outcomes – therefore, supporting parents and families is the best way to improve outcomes for children”. 

The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, published its Parenting Support Strategy in October 2013. Just this week, Tusla held a Parenting Conference in Dublin Castle to encourage best practice in Parental Participation, including parents’ participation in their own children’s care and education; and to promote the Parenting24seven website - key messages from research about ‘what works’ in Parenting (


The Children First Act 2015 – which was passed by the Oireachtas on 11th of November and signed into law by the President on the 19thof November puts elements of the Children First Guidelines on a statutory basis.

The Act provides for a number of key child protection measures including the abolition of defence of reasonable chastisement under Section 28. The provision amends the 
Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 by the insertion of a provision to abolish the common law defence of reasonable chastisement. 

Heretofore, parents or others acting in loco parentis could use physical force in chastising their children; by relying on the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement”. The Government accepted that removal of the common law defence required an explicit legislative provision. 

A number of developments have supported the imperative to bring forward this change: 

•        The enshrinement of Article 42A (Children) in the Constitution particularly by reference to the first sub-article which provides that “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights”. 

•        The recent (second) finding by the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe of a violation by Ireland of the Revised Social Charter as regards failure to protect children from violence.  In particular the reference in the Committee’s assessment that “[T]he common law defence of reasonable chastisement continues to exist.  The Government does not dispute this” and “…..the Government has not referred to any decisions of the domestic courts which would indicate that they would restrict the common law defence of reasonable chastisement”. 

•        Following this finding, the Government gave a commitment “….to examine the potential, under the Irish legal framework, to remove the common law defence of reasonable chastisement…..”.   

In April 2015, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs developed and published a High-Level Policy Statement on Supporting Parents and Families to drive greater connectivity, effectiveness and efficiency between services to children and their families that are provided directly by the State or with its support. Publication of the Statement was among the commitments contained in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children & Young People 2014-2020. 

Parenting24seven website - key messages from research about ‘what works’ in Parenting ( in an initiative of Tusla – the Child and Family Agency to support parents.

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