“Farcical that we are running this Bill through the Seanad like an express train”
Independent University Senator Rónán Mullen was sharply critical of the Government’s Children and Family Relationships Bill, during his Second stage speech in the Seanad this afternoon.
Senator Mullen told Minister Frances Fitzgerald that the Bill would destroy her legacy and that of the Government as defenders of children’s rights and best interests.
There were features of the Bill that were “unobjectionable and indeed desirable”, Senator Mullen said. But the “legislation contemplates and facilitates a very fundamental attack on a child’s rights – by allowing some children to be deprived of the right to be brought up by their own mother and father or, in any event, by a mother and father.”
Senator Mullen accused the Government and the political parties of groupthink similar to that which led to the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.
“Important questions merit detailed and careful consideration. We should be guided by values and sober reflection when faced with making major changes to our society. Where would we be now if the Bank Guarantee was debated and considered, instead of being rushed through?”
“If this is true of economic policy, how much more true is it of the welfare of children?” Senator Mullen asked.
“With this legislation, history is repeating, in the social sphere, the tragedy of the groupthink that saw the Celtic Tiger boom and then bust. It is remarkable, and tragic, that this Bill saw no substantial changes in the Dáil.”
Mullen criticised the Government for rushing the Bill through the Seanad ‘like an express train’ merely to pretend that the marriage referendum had no connection with children and parenting issues. “Let’s recall that The Animal Health and Welfare Act has 78 sections and took 13 months before enactment, as every line was pored over, searching for problems and unforeseen consequences. This Bill has over 172 Sections and the Government wants to enact this Bill within weeks.”
“Obviously this Oireachtas believes that Animal Welfare deserves more careful consideration than Children’s Welfare.”
Senator Mullen also said the Government was ignoring the “explicit provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child” recognising a child’s rights to his or her father and mother except where the child’s welfare required otherwise. “The UN treaty references to parents do mean ‘mother’ and ‘father’, Minister. And this is no more than what most people all over the world have believed since the dawn of civilisation – that children are best brought up by their biological parents. I have heard Geoffrey Shannon, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, acknowledge more than once that ‘two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage’ provide the ‘gold standard’ environment for the upbringing of children. Nowhere does your legislation, Minister, acknowledge, reflect or attempt to promote this. And that is shameful.”
Senator Mullen also criticised the Children’s Rights lobby for failing to stand up for children’s rights in this instance. And Senator Mullen noted that the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, had not explained his abandonment of his 2010 statement that every child “has the right to a mother and father and, as much as is possible, the State should vindicate that right.” “This Bill shows the State not only denying the right of certain children to their fathers and mothers, but in particular separating such children from their genetic mothers or fathers or from both genetic parents during their formative years. And that’s supposed to be just fine for the children? The Beatles sang that ‘All you need is love!’ but that was never meant to be a legislative proposal. There is a right to the love of each genetic parent, and it shouldn’t be deliberately interfered with.”
The Senator concluded by saying that the Bill would be central to the debate about the forthcoming marriage referendum. “The timing of this radical Bill today is all about pretending that the change in the Constitutional meaning of marriage has no implications for children’s rights to a father and a mother. That is yet another way in which children’s rights are being subverted, for other more political, adult-centred purposes.”
“But this political cynicism is futile. Because the issues remain intricately connected. This Bill will need to be radically amended to restore the primacy of children’s rights and welfare. The Constitution, if it is changed in the way the Government proposes, will block the Oireachtas from restoring the prior right of children to fathers and mothers, where possible their own fathers and mothers.”
If the referendum failed, would the Government accept that children’s rights to fathers and mothers was the core issue, Senator Mullen asked. “And will the Minister commit to revisiting this legislation in that event?”
Senator Mullen will table a number of amendments to the legislation at Committee Stage.