We have got to change how we see family life, said Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection and founding patron of the Children’s Rights Alliance.
“This is about half a million children living in families that do not have the protection of the State,” said Dr Shannon at a Children’s Rights Alliance seminar on the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015.
“Until recently family life in Ireland was synonymous with marriage. The increasing fluidity and diversity of family forms means it is no longer tenable for Irish law to recognise only one type of family,” he said.
“The constitutional preference for families based on marriage remains intact, but it is essential to provide certainty for all families, whatever their status.
“While the bill is a hugely positive development, it should be accompanied by structural reform,” he said.
Dr Shannon said the establishment of a specific family court system, promised in the Programme for Government, was necessary for a fair and effective forum to vindicate the rights of children and families.
For the first time courts would have to consider the impact of domestic violence on a child when looking at their best interests.
Justice and Equality Minister Frances Fitzgerald told the meeting in Dublin Castle yesterday the issue of guardianship rights for unmarried fathers had been raised extensively during the Dáil debate on the bill last week.
“I am looking into this issue to see if practical steps can be taken to enable more non-marital fathers to acquire guardianship rights,” she said.
The bill passed second stage in the Dáil last Thursday with contributions from 60 members.
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said the bill could be even better if the voice of the child was given stronger legal protection in family law cases.
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