1. Treoir Annual General Meeting 2014
Treoir’s AGM was held on Wednesday 21st May 2014. There were two very informative and valuable presentations made on the day. The first speaker was Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary, Department of Children and Youth Affairs who outlined the measures for protecting children in the Children First Bill. Treoir has been advocating for clarity about reporting underage non-abusive sexual activity for many years. The second speaker, Justice Catherine McGuinness spoke about the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014. During the course of her presentation Justice McGuinness called for the initiation of a Central Register for Guardianship Agreements and while welcoming the Bill lamented the fact that the Bill continues to use the old terms ‘guardianship’, ‘custody’ and ‘access’ in the context of children. “These terms give rise to confusion and uncertainty and should be replaced by the terms ‘parental responsibility’, ‘day-to-day care’ and ‘contact’”, she said.
Margaret Dromey, CEO of Treoir, welcomed the fact that the Children and Family Relationships Bill provides for persons other than biological parents to acquire guardianship rights in respect of children in certain circumstances. “It is particularly important for step-parents and grandparents who might be full-time carers of children but have no legal recognition or rights”, she said.
Read Treoir’s Annual Report
2. Treoir’s Information Pack 2014
To get a free copy of the 2014 edition of Treoir’s ‘Information Pack for Unmarried Parents’ call us on 01-6700120 or email email@example.com . You can also order multiple copies for your organisation (donations towards postage are always welcome!).
The Pack is full of up-to-date information on legal issues, money matters and lots, lots more.
3. Mother and Baby Homes
The treatment of unmarried mothers and their children in Mother and Baby homes, while hugely disturbing, cannot be blamed solely on those running the homes. Institutions provided refuge, albeit in a harsh environment, while families, politicians, the church and society as a whole failed these mothers and their children.
In l976 when Treoir, formerly the Federation of Services for Unmarried Parents and their Children, was founded, the legal status of children born outside of marriage was “illegitimate” and unmarried fathers did not have any legal recognition except for the purpose of “affiliation and maintenance”.
In the early days of the organisation the Information Service was used extensively by single pregnant women who were desperately in need of accommodation during their pregnancy as they could not remain at home. Often they did not have the means to support themselves in rented accommodation and generally could not cope with the stigma of being single and pregnant or an unmarried mother. Mother and Baby Homes, Family Placement and travelling to England to give birth were the options for these mothers.
For more, read Margaret Dromey’s article – ‘Unmarried Parents – The Story So Far’
4. One Parent Family Tax Credit
In our last Bulletin we reported that the One Parent Family Tax Credit which was available to both lone parents where they are sharing the care of their child(ren) had been abolished and replaced by the Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit available to the primary carer of the child only. As expected the Treoir Information Service has received numerous calls from fathers telling us about the detrimental effect this change is having on their finances with many of them losing up to €50.00 per week of their income. We are now receiving calls from mothers who are having their child maintenance payments reduced as a result of this change. This change to the tax credit thus has a direct effect on children.
The only concession achieved by lobbying to-date is that where the main carer is not working she/he may assign the Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit to the other parent, provided that parent has the child in their care for at least 100 days per year. Treoir will continue to work to have this change
over-turned and would welcome any feedback you have in relation to how this change is affecting you or your clients. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
See below for more information on how the new Single Person Child Carer
Tax Credit works.
5. Changes to the One-Parent Family Payment
From the 3rd July 2014 the age limits of the youngest child for receipt of the One-Parent Family Payment will reduce to 16, 10 and 7 years respectively, depending on the date that the customer first commenced on the OFP scheme.
These changes were announced in Budget 2012. This means that some people will no longer qualify for the payment. Recipients that will be affected should have received letters from the Department of Social Protection in May of this year. These letters give information in relation to the date of termination of payment and will outline options under other schemes and supports which may be available. More information and advice about options can be obtained at local Intreo centres, social welfare local offices or Citizens Information Centres.
6. Children First Bill 2014
Treoir very much welcomes the long awaited Children First Bill, which was published in April this year. There has been a lack of clarity about obligations to report cases of consensual sexual activity between young people under the age of consent. We welcome the fact that this Bill clarifies the position as follows:
“A mandated person shall not be required to make a report to the Child and Family Agency where a child aged 15 years or more but less than 17 years is engaged in sexual activity with a person who is not more than 2 years older than the child and where the mandated person knows or believes that there is no material difference in capacity or maturity between the two parties, and where the child has made known his or her view that a report should not be made to the Child and Family Agency and where the mandated person relied upon that view.”
Treoir will engage with its members to develop a comprehensive response to the Bill. Read the Bill here.
7. General Scheme of a Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014
Following the publication of the General Scheme of a Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 by the former Minister for Justice Mr. Alan Shatter, Treoir made its written and oral submissions to the Oireachtas in February this year. In the main, Treoir very much welcomed this groundbreaking Bill which if implemented, would modernise family and child law to cater for the growing number of families whose needs are not adequately addressed in current law. Following the many submissions and presentations made in relation to the Bill the Joint Committee of Justice, Defence and Equality has issued a report that attempts to summarise and set in context the points made. Many of Treoir’s recommendations have been included in this report.
The Bill itself is very complex and contains a significant number of provisions for families. If enacted, it will allow civil partners, step-parents, cohabitants and those who are providing day-to-day care for children (such as grandparents) to apply for guardianship or custody of a child. It provides for the assignment of parentage in Artificial Human Reproduction (AHR) and surrogacy. It also contains provisions relating to guardians ad litem, substitute guardians, interim custody and access orders amongst others.
There is a provision in the Bill whereby an unmarried father who is cohabiting for a year or more with the mother before the birth of the baby will acquire guardianship rights to his child automatically, and this provision is very welcome. However, we know from calls to our national specialist information service that there are many unmarried fathers who are not in cohabiting relationships with the mothers of their children, who are very committed fathers and who wish to be actively involved in the lives of their children. There is no provision in the Bill for acquiring joint guardianship rights more easily that at present for these fathers.
Treoir hopes that the new Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD will progress this Bill. Whether or not the Bill is enacted a Central Register for all guardianship declarations must be established. Treoir has been campaigning for many years to have a Central Register for statutory declarations of joint guardianship. The Child Care Act 1997 introduced the facility whereby a father could obtain his guardianship rights by signing a statutory declaration with the mother where she is in agreement and thus avoiding a court procedure. Since then there have been thousands of declarations signed by unmarried parents that have not been registered in any central location. Should a father lose that declaration he has no proof of his guardianship. This is most unsatisfactory – it is akin to losing a marriage certificate and having no facility to acquire a copy.
8. Unmarried Fathers
In January of this year a very tragic case occurred in a Dublin maternity hospital whereby a very ill baby boy was born to a young mother who died shortly after giving birth. As the parents were not married to each other only the mother was the automatic guardian of the baby. The father therefore had no right to make any major decisions regarding his baby. This case highlights the lack of rights afforded to unmarried fathers.
As a result of this case we received a number of calls from worried unmarried pregnant women. If an unmarried pregnant woman is concerned she could make a Will appointing the father, or another appropriate person (for example a grandmother) as a Testamentary Guardian. This person would then have the right to make decisions regarding the welfare of the child in the event of the mother’s death. Normally you must be 18 years old, or married, in order to make a will. However, a mother under 18 can make a will if it is to appoint a Testamentary Guardian for her child.
For more information see the article by Margot Doherty, Assistant Chief Executive of Treoir in www.thejournal.ie
9. Child to be given vaccinations against the wishes of the mother
This dispute between two unmarried parents, both guardians, went all the way to the Supreme Court. The father in this case wanted his child to have the MMR vaccinations against the wishes of the mother. Mr. Justice John MacMenamin said that the mother’s claim of an effective “veto” over vaccination would, if upheld, set at naught the father’s rights and status as his son’s legal guardian appointed by a court. The mother also had no veto on grounds of the constitutional protection afforded to a “family” because such protection is based on the family “as established by marriage”.
The courts were not required to give way to the wishes of either married or unmarried parents and the welfare of the child is their “first and paramount consideration” he said. It was decided that the child should receive the MMR vaccinations.
10. Cross Boarder Disputes / International Parental Child Abduction
The European Commission is currently conducting a public consultation on the application of the current rules that apply in cross-border disputes. This follows the publication of a report published by the Commission, which highlights legal problems that international couples still face across Europe. When families separate, cross-border judicial cooperation is necessary to give children a secure legal environment to maintain relations with a parent or guardian who may live in another Member State. The report published today underlines the fact that more needs to be done to help international families find legal clarity in situations such as which court is competent.
Submissions are being accepted up until the 18th July 2014. Click here to read report and/or make a submission. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/civil/news/150414_en.htm
11. Separating parents and their children
Treoir attended the launch on 3rd February 2014 of two informative and useful films for separating parents and their children. The Ombudsman for Children’s Office and the Courts Service have worked together to develop these two short films about key aspects of family law proceedings in the District Court, and possible alternatives to Court, in particular family mediation. Read more.
View films here:
- You are not alone – A short film for young people whose parents are separating or have separated
- Finding your way – A short film for parents who are separating or have separated
It is worth noting that Treoir’s publication ‘Taking the Stand’ is full of useful information about representing yourself in court and exploring alternatives to court procedures. The publication is available from the Treoir website, www.treoir.ie. Download here
12. Family Law Research – Judicial Separation and Divorce in the Circuit Court in Ireland
Researcher Roisin O’Shea carried out research from a four-year study, approved by the Department of Justice and funded by the Irish Research Council (IRC). The study involved almost 1,100 cases. Although this report focuses on married parents it does give a good insight into how the courts deal with family law matters in relation to access, custody and child maintenance issues. The researcher was shocked by the incredibly small uptake of mediation, just 8 cases, as an alternative to litigation. Mediation was misunderstood as a reconciliation process, and some mediated agreements were criticised by judges as being poorly written and incapable of legal enforcement. Ms. O’Shea said that “evidence based reform is really necessary” and that “we must now go beyond the traditional role of the court and develop a family justice system that effectively and meaningfully contributes to the cost-effective and timely resolution of family disputes, and is primarily designed to meet the needs of the users of that support system. Going to court should be the option of last resort, not the port of first call.”
Here are some of the findings of the report:
- The poorest outcomes were for men, followed by non-national lay litigants and 22% of all litigants were self-representing (lay litigants).
- In 95% of the cases observed the primary carer was the mother.
- The types of access orders made ensure that primary carers become the pre- dominant parent, with very limited time allocated to the non-resident parent.
- In no case was the primary carer sanctioned for persistent breach of court access orders. All of the judges interviewed acknowledged that persistent breaches of court ordered access was a chronic problem, but did not believe that attachment and committal was an appropriate sanction where the primary carer was the mother.
- One percent of children resided with both parents under 50/50 parenting arrangements. “Joint custody” in the Circuit Court appeared to be merely an acknowledgement that both parents have obligations to provide for their children, it did not mean shared parenting relating to the day-to-day care of children.
- In no case were the views of any child heard directly by a judge; the views of the child were expressed through the primary carer or through court ordered expert reports where there were allegations of abuse. No mechanism currently exists for the views of a child to be heard by the court, where that child wishes for their views to be considered.
- Where child maintenance was agreed or ordered by the court, €100 per child per week was set in 43% of the cases, in almost 1/3 of the cases it was set at € 50 per child per week. Child maintenance orders were frequently made by the court where the husband was in receipt of State benefits only. The court, in the main, prioritised the legal and moral obligation on the paying parent to financially provide for their child/children, making orders that effectively brought paying fathers below subsistence level, and took no account of their financial ability to exercise “access” in terms of any transport costs and providing for the child/children during those periods.
- Judges received no training specific to family law cases, particularly the emotional and psychological dynamics of relationship break-downs, or any training to assist the court in hearing the voice of the child. Most of the judges interviewed indicated an intense dislike for the emotional context of family law cases, and found disputes over the arrangements for children to be extremely difficult, and sometimes distasteful.
- Eighteen Section 47 reports were reviewed in court, and four were ordered by the court. It was clear that there were no guidelines available to the court or the practitioners, as to what a Section 47 should entail or indeed the required qualifications of the ‘expert’ who would carry out such an investigation.
- There was a problem with delays in accessing the court. Over-burdened lists, multiple adjournments and short hearings were found on all eight Circuits. The pressure of the list promoted inadequately short hearings and intense pressure to settle.
13. Parenting Supports in Limerick
Two new sources of support for parents living in Limerick city – Parenting Limerick and Barnardos Homemaker Family Support Service were launched in February this year as part of a programme by Limerick City Children’s Services Committee to strengthen Parenting Support based on the findings of a report “How Are Our Kids?: Experiences and Needs of Children and Families in Limerick City with a Particular Emphasis on Limerick’s Regeneration Areas” (2012). One of the key findings of that report was “a broad consensus that working with parents was an effective way of optimising outcomes for children and young people and that parental involvement in supporting young people through the education system was essential for success.” Parenting Limerick is a network of organisations that provide parenting and family support in Limerick. Parents can connect with Parenting Limerick through the Facebook page www.facebook.com/ParentingLimerick.
Barnardos Homemaker Family Support Service is a home-based service for parents who are struggling to cope with the demands of daily life. Parents can contact Barnardos directly about the service on 061-493588. Referrals are also accepted from professionals with the consent of the parents.
14. Annual Reports of Marriages, Births and Deaths from 1864 to 2000 inclusive – A snapshot
In April this year the Central Statistics Office for the first time released a series of reports on marriages, births and deaths from 1864 to 2001 on their website. Annual reports for the years 2001 – 2011 are already available.
Some of the trends include:
there were 5,180 births or 3.8% of all births that were stated as being “illegitimate”.
there were 1,520 or 2.6% of births that were stated as being “illegitimate”
there were 1,292 of births outside of marriage or 2.0% of all live births.
the number of births outside of marriage/civil partnerships represented over one-third or 33.9% (25,091) of all live births.
Overall the marriage rate per 1,000 of the population has remained remarkably consistent since 1864 when it was 4.8. The rate was also 4.8 in 1922 while rising to 5.7 in 1964 and decreasing to 4.3 in 2011.
See www.cso.ie for more.
15. New Social Housing for Cork
A €68m house building programme which was announced by Jan O’Sullivan, the housing minister, in March is enabling the development of two local authority housing projects to be built in Cork City.
As part of a 5m investment these projects will see the construction of a €3.9m 23-unit local authority housing project at Gerald Griffin St and Burke’s Ave, and a €1.2m eight-unit project at Shandon St and John Philpott Curran St.
16.skillstowork.ie The Department of Social Protection has launched this new online tool that allows both jobseekers and employers to access information on the full range of options available to them. Visitors to the website step through a series of simple questions which direct them to the most appropriate option for their situation. In particular the Skills to Work campaign promotes five initiatives run by the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Social Protection: Springboard, Momentum, Skillnets, JobBridge and JobsPlus.
17. The Book Rental Scheme is being extended to all primary schools Education Minister Ruairi Quinn announced in April this year that the book rental scheme was being extended to all primary schools. To read more about textbook-rental-schemes see www.education.ie
18. Iarnród Éireann Offers Free Travel to Community & Voluntary Groups
Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail in June launched the 2014 programme for The Journey’s on Us, an initiative to support organisations and groups in the voluntary, community, sporting and charity sector. The company has invited all community, voluntary, sporting and charity groups to apply for the 100 group travel trips available. Entry forms are available at all Ianród Éireann stations or online at www.irishrail.ie/journeys. Entry forms can be filled out online, emailed to email@example.com or by post to Corporate Communications, Iarnród Éireann, Connolly Station, Dublin 1. The closing date for receipt of entries is Monday 14 July, at 16.30hrs.
19. A Portrait of Ireland’s Non-Profit Sector
This report was published in 2014 by The Wheel in partnership with Crowe Howarth. The Wheel commissioned the research on which this report is based to address the dearth of detailed information available on the nature of activity in the non-profit sector and the challenges faced by organisations in sustaining their missions in the economic downturn. It is hoped that the findings will tell us a great deal more about the sector and will aid decision makers to design policies and strategies that will help the non-profit sector to thrive and fulfil its role in Ireland’s social and economic recovery.
20. Charities Regulatory Authority
In March of this year the then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced
the appointment of Ms Ní Dhubhghaill as the first Chief Executive of the new Charities Regulatory Authority. Ms Ní Dhubhghaill has to date headed the Department of Justice Charities Regulation Unit. This was followed in April by the appointment of Conor Woods as Chairperson and 15 ordinary members. The Charities Regulatory Authority will be an independent regulator for charities. It will have powers under the Charities Act to introduce measures to improve the accountability and transparency of the charity sector.