Thursday, September 13, 2007

Irish High Court expands unmarried fathers' rights

On 11th September, the High Court in Dublin ruled in favour of an umarried father, Mr G, who had argued that his right had been breached by the removal to England, without his consent, of his twin children (see Irish case may force ruling on unmarried fathers' rights). The ruling seems to foreshadow the expansion of the rights of unmarried and separated fathers - so long as legislators are prepared to translate the ruling into legislation. The following is the text of my article on the topic, published in The Evening Herald on 12th September:

The ruling in the Mr G case, in which the High Court found that the removal of his twin boys to England without his consent was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights is a major boost for the rights of unmarried fathers and their children.

It also creates a situation in which fathers and mothers will look to the Oireachtas to clarify these rights and to lay them down as clearly as possible in law.

Unfortunately, the record of the Oireachtas in relation to difficult social issues makes it hard to believe that it will actually move on this issue. For many decades now, thorny decisions in this whole area have been left to the courts to the detriment of those who cannot afford to take the legal route.

Yet the involvement of lone fathers – I am using the word ‘lone’ here to refer to any fathers, married or unmarried, who are living apart from their children – has been shown time and again to benefit the children throughout their lives.

The grim days when the unmarried mother was shunned and her child put up for adoption whether she liked it or not are, thankfully, over. This attitude was at its height in the Sixties – for some girls in those grainy, black and white clips of people dancing to showbands, the party ended with a year in a mother and baby home and the removal of the baby to the United States.

Since then, society has changed enormously. Today approximately one third of births are outside marriage.

It is normal for parliaments to lag behind changes in society – very often these changes are not visible until after they happen.

Yet in 1994, the European Court of Human Rights signalled that marriage was not the only basis for family rights. In 1996, which is reasonably quickly as these things go, the Constitution Review Group recommended that the rights of all fathers in relation to their children be acknowledged so long as there was a stable relationship.

The Constitution Review Group may as well have spent the day at the races for all the notice Government took of this recommendation. But the report should be taken out of whatever dust-laded shelf it occupies and looked at by lawmakers at the highest level.

The fact is that everybody has an interest in this case. I would suggest that the vast majority of lone mothers promote contact between their children and the fathers of these childen. However, there will always be the minority who will allow their own feelings about the father to get in the way of that contact. Similarly there will always be a minority of fathers who will fail to honour their children’s need to be involved with them.

This judgement means that the onus is on the Oireachtas to provide for the rights of that majority of lone fathers who want to be involved with their children. And research by Barnardos and others has shown that children will do better at school and in their adult relationships if there is such involvement.

At the same time, mothers have a right to be worried about the prospect of a biological father who couldn't care less about his children coming in later and throwing his weight around.

But both the High Court and the Constitution Review Group have suggested strongly that it is the unmarried father who is genuinely involved with his children who has rights that cannot be taken away.

We need the Oireachtas now to step up to the plate and clarify these rights. Fathers and mothers need clarity on this issue.

But most of all clarity, and contact from fathers who care about them, is needed by the really important parties in this debate - the children.....


jim jones said...

As can be seen from this article, this issue is far from over

Padraig O'Morain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Padraig O'Morain said...

The url mentioned by Jim Jones in his article is truncated, at least in Firefox. The full reference is in this story, "Supreme Court appeal on High Court ruling on fathers' rights" just a little up from the story mentioned by Jim.