O'Donovan, Denis, O'Donovan, Denis

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Joint Committee on the Constitution Debate

Family Issues: Presentations.

The first group to come before the joint committee today is the National Women’s Council of Ireland. I thank Deputies and Senators for their good attendance. While the hearings have been long...More Button

We have been so busy with the hearings in the past two weeks I have not given the question of hearing from political parties much consideration but I have not forgotten about it.More Button

The National Women’s Council of Ireland is represented by Ms Joanna McMinn, Ms Marie Hainsworth and Ms Orla O’Connor. They are all very welcome. Before we begin, I remind visitors that ...More Button

The delegation has given us a copy of its submission which we have studied. Rather than rehash it I ask delegates to synopsise the important aspects in about six to eight minutes, following which D...More Button

If the council wishes this material to be its official——More Button

All of the submissions received will be included. Rather than read out eight or ten pages, perhaps Ms McMinn will outline the areas she would like to emphasise and give your views to the joint comm...More Button

I thank Ms McMinn for her presentation. She has stated her position clearly and succinctly. I ask her to speak further on her statement that other relationships or types of family that do not fall ...More Button

Is there evidence to support that statement? In what way would this be relevant to the child of a single mother or that of a cohabiting couple? Is it possible to pinpoint specific areas where there...More Button

Does the NWCI believe it essential to have constitutional change because legislative reform is not sufficient?More Button

What is Ms Hainsworth’s response to the fact that the majority — in the region of 70% to 75% — of the submissions we have received do not want any change? Those who made these sub...More Button

Given that society has evolved over the almost 70 years since the Constitution was voted for by the people, does the council believe it should be a movable document that would reflect society as it...More Button

Does the council believe that the courts have taken a conservative view in interpreting the Constitution with regard to the family and to children’s rights?More Button

Deputies McCormack, Morgan and O’Sullivan will put their questions.More Button

The Deputy is asking if the council is proposing that gay and lesbian marriages should be permitted.More Button

Perhaps the council will respond to the questions from the three Deputies before I call Deputy Peter Power.More Button

Deputies Morgan and O’Sullivan asked a number of other questions.More Button

Deputy O’Sullivan also asked a question.More Button

That was the one in which the Deputy imagined the committee might be disbanded.More Button

Did Ms McMinn want to clarify something?More Button

To return to that point, we have heard from some significant groups concerning the right of the woman, if she so desires, to remain in the home. They are not necessarily Christian or other religiou...More Button

In other words, WITH is saying if women got better benefits it would not have an issue with that. There is an argument for changing the article but many individuals and groups say it should be reta...More Button

Yes, but it is not totally different. I know Ms McMinn’s view on it but I also want to listen to the other view, that is quite strong, from many people who do not want this change.More Button

They feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is a certain protection or cushioning with the article in question, although it is certainly not a view that is shared unanimously by women.More Button

In other words, if it was made gender neutral——More Button

I thank the delegates. Unfortunately, we are running out of time. We appreciate the representatives of the NWCI coming before us and giving us their submission, which we will be taking into conside...More Button

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.17 a.m.More Button

I welcome the Council for the Status of the Family. Its representatives are Mr. Louis Power, Mrs. Lelia O’Flaherty, Mrs. Eilis Bennett and Mr. David Bennett. I remind our visitors that member...More Button

The committee has received and looked at the council’s submission. Rather than get witnesses to rehash the whole thing, our normal protocol is for them to outline to us, in six to eight minut...More Button

Mr. Power has made the council’s position clear. Unfortunately, our time is limited. I will call members who wish to ask questions and other members of the council may comment then.More Button

Senator Norris, who was one of the leading activists for promoting other relationships, published a Bill in the Seanad earlier this year. In his Bill, he is not seeking to get the Constitution or t...More Button

Do you see merit in what Senator Norris is trying to do, providing for existing situations where, whether we like them, cohabiting couples, which are not necessarily gay or lesbian, are together wi...More Button

Is Mr. Bennett stating that the council would accept legislative change which could do this without tampering with the Constitution?More Button

What if it was done by legislation? I am not advocating what Senator Norris suggests. As Chairman, I am just being the devil’s advocate. If Senator Norris’s Bill were to provide such ta...More Button

The difficulty goes back to Mr. Justice Kelly’s judgment in the High Court in 1997 where he felt the Constitution prohibited him from recognising a contract between a cohabiting couple. Wheth...More Button

There is a precedent now.More Button

The point being made is that society has changed in the past 20 or 30 years during which time the issue of gay and lesbian marriage has arisen. I am sure members are aware of the Sodom and Gomorrah...More Button

The committee will take on board the sincerity of the submission which provides helpful statistics. Leaving aside the 462,000 family units made up of a husband, wife and at least one child, approxi...More Button

The committee is faced with the task of accommodating the many groups, children from non-marital relationships, cohabiting couples or lone parents who have come before it. Single fathers have expre...More Button

Most single mothers would not have been married.More Button

In other words, the other family groups, which are significant in number given the statistics provided by the Council for the Status of the Family, should not be given the same elevation in the Con...More Button

I thank the Council for the Status of the Family for its submission and for replying to members’ questions. The committee will take the council’s views on board. The committee will need...More Button

The simple answer is that the committee has no agenda. It is involved in a review of the Constitution which has been ongoing for approximately ten years. Whatever change is required to the current ...More Button

One of the submissions was a single page written on both sides and signed by 8,000 people. The committee has received the council’s submission and has not asked how many members are involved....More Button

Yes.More Button

Yes.More Button

There are a number of misconceptions about the EU constitution, if adopted, overriding the Irish Constitution. That is not correct. The committee is not addressing the issue of an EU constitution, ...More Button

There have been 23 amendments to the Irish Constitution since 1937. As can be seen from the referendum on the Nice treaty, the people are slow to make changes. It is the Government, not the committ...More Button

The next group is the council on social responsibility of the Methodist Church of Ireland, represented by Mr. Robert Cochran and Reverend Rosemary Lindsay. They are both very welcome. I advise our ...More Button

I thank Mr. Cochran for a clear and succinct presentation. It is nice to know the church does not wish to transpose its own religious views onto us poor politicians. However, the submission has mad...More Button

That is an interesting proposal. Many of the groups who have appeared before us have been concerned that much could be dealt with through legislation dealing with equal treatment and social justice.More Button

I thank Reverend Lindsay for her frank comments.More Button

That is the $64 million question.More Button

In other words, is it beyond Reverend Lindsay’s clerical remit to perform such a blessing or marriage?More Button

It is the view of the Methodist Church. Most churches whose representatives have come before us hold similar views and do not want to demonise anyone. As Reverend Lindsay says, it is felt that the ...More Button

That is more a legal matter. I advise the Deputy to consult a solicitor. As there is a division in the Dáil and we are running out of time, I thank the council’s representatives for a ...More Button

Sitting suspended at 12.33 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.More Button

The next item on the agenda is the presentation by Parental Equality which is represented by Mr. Liam Ó Gogáin, Mr. Paul Coleman, Mr. Dominic McKevitt who returns for a second time, a...More Button

We have received a copy of Parental Equality's detailed and interesting submission. Due to time constraints, I ask the delegation to present a synopsis of its submission in five to six minutes. We ...More Button

I thank the organisation for its detailed submission. Does Mr. Ó Gogáin consider that as it currently stands, the Constitution militates against men, especially single fathers? We hav...More Button

I thank the delegation for its submission. Over the course of two days, it has made its point very succinctly and clearly. It has presented the committee with a lot of material, which it will obvio...More Button

: That is a very unusual case. Does the mother of Mr. Soraghan’s child live close by? Are the parents estranged both physically and geographically?More Button

I praise Mr. Soraghan for his openness. It requires some bravery to come before the committee. I do not have an answer to his problem. Perhaps it would be appropriate for him to pursue his rights t...More Button

In most situations, if matters can be resolved amicably, courts should be the last resort because they can strain relationships and people can take sides. If a friendly approach by a father to see ...More Button

Other groups have made similar points. The committee is charged with discovering if it can make recommendations that will improve the situation. It is a complex area. The witnesses have told one si...More Button

Sitting suspended at 2.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.40 p.m.More Button

The next item on the agenda is the presentation by the National Youth Federation represented by Mr. Diarmuid Carney and Mr. Michael McLaughlin, both of whom are welcome. I remind the visitors that ...More Button

We have received the National Youth Federation’s submission which is quite interesting and well put. Will the visitors please outline their main points on the position of the family in the Co...More Button

I thank the delegation. It has made its points clearly and succinctly.More Button

On the rights of the woman in the home, is it correct that the federation would like gender neutral terms to be used that would apply to both sexes and be less offensive than the notion of the woma...More Button

The federation is an umbrella organisation for several youth groups; I believe that the number was 27.More Button

How many young people does the federation represent nationally? Are they numbered in their thousands?More Button

I wondered whether some groups are sending a great many submissions on the same issue because numbers count. In producing their submission, a good one that we found quite engaging, what kind of con...More Button

Whom did the federation consult?More Button

I thank the delegation very much for its submission. We will now suspend until 3.10 p.m., when the next group will come in. The suspension is in order to advise members that some other delegations ...More Button

Sitting suspended at 3.03 p.m. and resumed at 3.10 p.m.More Button

I welcome the Irish Foster Care Association. I understand that the association is represented by Mrs. Pat Whelan and Mrs. Anne Rennison. Before we begin, I remind our visitors that members of this ...More Button

Are we talking about children in long-term foster care for two years or more?More Button

Is the delegation stating the Constitution should be changed to allow foster parents to adopt a child for whom they have cared for ten to 14 years, if the child so wishes?More Button

In effect, they have less status than adopted children.More Button

I understand from where the Irish Foster Care Association is coming. We recognise the important work foster parents do. It is a noble gesture, whether they provide short or long-term care. They pla...More Button

The natural parents would have to agree.More Button

Many of the groups that have appeared here have told us that the right of the child in the Constitution should be enhanced as it is not particularly well defined. Do the witnesses support that noti...More Button

I thank delegates for bringing their perspective to the committee. They made an interesting case for long-term foster children. The notion that the foster family should be recognised is one we have...More Button

Sitting suspended at 3.40 p.m. and resumed at 3.45 p.m.More Button

I welcome Mr. David Manly, Ms Anna Maguire and Mrs. Angela Keavney who will make a presentation on behalf of Family and Life. Before we begin, I remind visitors that members of the committee have a...More Button

Mr. Manly may complete his presentation as it will only take a few minutes.More Button

Before I open the floor to the other members, I have some questions. A number of groups have informed this committee sincerely that they support the enhancement of the rights of a child in the Cons...More Button

The next issue concerns the right of women to remain in the home. Some groups have suggested to the joint committee that the relevant clause should be made gender neutral, to include men. For examp...More Button

My first point follows from a number of international conventions. Mr. Manly mentioned the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we have signed up. Ireland has more or less...More Button

Can children’s rights be elaborated in legislation?More Button

I am a solicitor by profession but like most of the joint committee, I do not claim to be a constitutional expert. Different members come from different walks of life. However, it might be worth re...More Button

A number of individuals from other groups have mentioned the Kilkenny incest case which as Mr. Manly knows, was a terrible case. A report on that case was carried out, which I have not read. Howeve...More Button

Mr. Manly made a clear and succinct case for supporting the family based on marriage. If one looks at the statistics, there are approximately 80,000 cohabiting couples and approximately 150,000 sin...More Button

Most of the weddings I have seen have cost a fortune.More Button

Society has changed so much that, between the 1996 and 2002 censuses, the number of cohabiting couples doubled. The number of gay and lesbian couples living together increased dramatically because ...More Button

I have been in politics for nearly 20 years and know from my time in local authorities the frustrations faced by single parents when trying to get housing. A significant stigma was attached to a wo...More Button

I welcome Right Nation and the members of its delegation, Mr. Justin Barrett, Ms Sinéad Dennehy and Mr. Denis O’Connor. I remind visitors that members of this committee have absolute p...More Button

The committee has received and examined the delegation’s submission and asks for an eight or ten minute synopsis of the important aspects. Reading all of it again would not make sense but the...More Button

That is fine.More Button

When people do not have many questions to ask, it indicates a submission is unequivocal. We have met many groups, including the Ombudsman for Children, the National Youth Federation and the churche...More Button

I presume that if a couple who could not have children adopted it would create a family.More Button

Unfortunately, if one takes the example of Kilkenny incest case, two young girls were severely abused, physically, emotionally and sexually, by their father for many years. That may be an extreme e...More Button

I ask Mr. O’Connor to be as brief as possible because the meeting is now running over time.More Button

I thank the delegation for coming before the committee. Its case has been made very clearly and we will take the viewpoints into account when we undertake our deliberations and produce our final re...More Button

The joint committee adjourned at 4.49 p.m. until 10.30 a.m.on Thursday, 28 April 2005.More Button