Democratic and informed debate is predicated on all sides and all viewpoints being able to make their point freely and that is why Fathers4Justice have launched a campaign calling for the Eighth Amendment to be changed to reflect what they view as the unrecognised rights of fathers in the constitution, argues the group's International Campaign Co-Ordinator, Nadine O'Connor.
I read with great sadness Suzanne Harrington’s recent comment piece in the Irish Examiner in which she argued - among other things - that a new Fathers4Justice campaign around the Eighth Amendment was completely ill-conceived and one through which men were acting out 'private psychodramas on the side of our public buses'
I will come to Ms Harrington's arguments in time but first let me explain who I am.
I am a woman and I am the International Campaign Co-Ordinator for a father’s rights organisation called Fathers4Justice (F4J).
Our campaign team are mostly women and a third of our registered supporters are women.
The women at F4J - and I would suggest the vast majority of women in general - have got involved in this campaign because we support equality for all, not just the few.
F4J are simply attempting to be a voice for the 100,000 Irish children living without a dad, the 77.9% of separated fathers who live without their children and the many courageous men who are fighting through secret courts every week just for the right to see their children.
Ms Harrington, however, offers no humanity, compassion or concern for these men and children. We would just ask why?
For our part Fathers4Justice are just attempting to start a democratic debate about the 8th Amendment. To do that we announced a six-week ad campaign on Bus Eireann buses in Cork beginning next Monday, December 5.
The advert features a picture of a father cradling an infant child with the words ‘a father is for life not just conception’ and calls for the Eighth Amendment to be changed to protect the rights of fathers which are not recognised in the constitution.
We are merely raising an important question that we feel should and needs to be debated, that is, should men and women have an equal say in whether they become parents or not?
We have said we would consult with the public (like the Citizen’s Assembly) before publishing our policy in early 2017.
Despite that the response from some in the pro-choice lobby has been deeply troubling. We have been subject to an abusive tirade of threats on social media and a range of irresponsible allegations about our campaign have been made.
It is clear from this response that for some ‘pro choice’ means no choice for anyone who dares to disagree.
To express your democratic voice is to leave you at risk of attack from an unpleasant minority who have explicitly stated that men should be denied any democratic right to have a voice on this issue, yet paradoxically concede men will have a vote, should a referendum be held.
Emerging from Ms Harrington’s narrative is a suggestion that dads fighting to see their children are doing this to ‘try to retain coercive control’ over mothers.
In the years that I was running the campaign in the UK, I never once came across the type of father described in Ms Harringtons’ article.
Now I work on an international level it’s even clearer that her stereotype is manufactured by some for cheap political propaganda.
One could argue that recalcitrant mothers who deny children access to their dads are actually the people who are controlling.
Equally controlling and coercive are people like Ms Harrington and others who are trying to shut down this debate.
Ms Harrington goes on to demands absolute rights for women but feels it is ok to deny fathers any basic rights or protection in the constitution on this issue whatsoever.
These are dangerous sentiments and dangerous times.
I can see that there are many valid points on both sides but it has come to something when democratic debate is shouted down by a minority too hostile to even consider there is another voice in the room.
Some in the pro-choice lobby are attempting to pervert the meaning of our language and twist it into a propaganda tool.
So let us be clear. Fathers4Justice represents the forgotten men and women of Ireland.
We represent over 80,000 families in both the UK and Ireland.
Our campaign objectives are clear: an equal voice and equal rights for men and fathers and a presumption of 50/50 shared parenting between mums and dads.
As a woman, and a mother concerned about the lack of rights for men, my message is simple: It’s time to stand up for your rights.
They are rights that do not exist in the constitution and they are rights you will need to fight for.
You need to find your voice and find it soon.
Nadine O’Connor is the International Campaign Director of the Fathers4Justice group
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