All Families Not the Same Means All Families Not Equal

One-parent family organisation One Family (formerly Cherish) today called on the Government to look beyond the limitations of today’s All-Party Oireachtas Committee Report on the Constitution and to shape a Constitution that reflects the diversity of family life in Ireland today.

Commenting on the report One Family Director, Karen Kiernan noted that ‘the review of the Constitution is a real chance for Ireland to support all of its families equally. We welcome moves to ensure that all children will be equal before the law and that ‘regard shall be had to the best interests of that child’, but the Constitution needs to go beyond this, to ensure that the welfare of the child shall be the paramount consideration in all proceedings concerning the child’s best interests.

Full equality for children requires that the State acknowledges and supports all families from which children hail, regardless of the form that such families take. The failure to expand the definition of family is effectively declaring that children in non-marital families are second class citizens in second class families. This is clearly unacceptable. We urge the Government to reconsider the recommendations made in the 1996 review of the Constitution to broaden and redefine the term “family”.’

According to One Family Chairperson, Dr Fergus Ryan, ‘it is possible to support marriage while simultaneously acknowledging and celebrating the contributions made by parents and children in one-parent families and we strongly disagree that an extension of the definition of the family would ‘cause deep and long-lasting division in our society’. The failure to acknowledge the diversity of family life in Ireland in our Constitution brings Ireland into conflict with its obligations under international law, particularly in relation to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires the State to respect private and family life, home and correspondence of all persons resident in Ireland. The decision to take a legislative rather than a Constitutional route also poses a serious problem and we run a serious risk of any legislation stemming from the Committee’s recommendations being unenforceable if it conflicts with the Constitution.’

One Family welcomes greater choice for families, whereby ‘the State shall endeavour to ensure both parents shall not be obliged by economic necessity to work outside the home to the neglect of their parental duties’. One Family calls on the Government to clarify what such a change will mean for one-parent families, and how such new rights will be reflected in the current policy reviews of the One Parent Family Payment and Lone Parents and Poverty. We welcome the recommendation that ‘legislation to promote the welfare of children should have a special concern to secure adequate resources for lone-parent families.’ We look forward to seeing this being reflected in these key policy reviews.

For further information contact:
Ruth Coleman 01 662 9212/086 174 2315 or Karen Kiernan 01 662 9212/086 850 9191
For legal comment agus as Gaeilge Dr Fergus Ryan 086 8534761

One Family made a submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in February 2005 calling on the review to achieve the following objectives.

1. To displace the privileged position of the marital family by the recognition of alternative family forms.
2. To place the child and his or her interests at the heart of our family law policy and to make practical efforts to realise this aim.
3. To bring Irish law into line with the ECHR by placing an obligation on the state to respect and support family life in all its manifestations and to create laws which reflect the realities of the diversity of family life in modern Ireland.

In order to proffer a way forward in reforming the Constitution to take into consideration the variety and diversity of families and the needs for equality of treatment under the law and to increase the visibility of the protection of the rights of children, regardless of their family situation, One Family suggested the following addendum to Article 42:

Article 42A

1. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, the State guarantees to respect and shall endeavour to support all families in the State, regardless of the form that such families may take, and to protect and defend the rights of all individuals who are members of those families.
2. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, the State guarantees in particular, and as far as practicable, to assist and support all parents and guardians in promoting the best interests of the child. In so doing, the State shall promote the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration in all proceedings concerning the child’s best interests.
3. The State shall in particular, endeavour to assist and support parents and guardians, as far as practicable, in securing for all children a basic quality of life and in particular food, clothing, education and accommodation sufficient to his or her needs.