March 13 2019 was a red letter day for Men’s Voices because on that day we finally got to make a presentation at a hearing of the Oireachtas committee on Justice and Equality.
This was the third hearing on the issue of Family Law Reform about which the Chair of the Committee Deputy O Caolain stated on the first day of hearings on Feb 20:
“The Committee has made Ireland’s family law system a work priority for 2019. We plan to hold at least two more hearings on this important topic over the coming weeks involving key stakeholders”.
This issue has been one of six key issues on which MVI has been campaigning for the last three years. We made a submission on the matter back in 2017 and asked to appear before the committee to explain our concerns but there were no hearings being held at the time, so nothing came of this.
The Committee has made Ireland’s family law system a work priority for 2019
About nine different groups made presentations over the course of the hearings. We along with Nemo Forum, with whom we made a joint presentation, were the only men’s group to present. Other groups included the Law Society, the Bar Association and Dr. Roisin O’Shea who gave a memorable talk to our Conference in 2016 and who has done so much to inform the public of the procedures and outcomes of the dreadful family law system. Another key witness was Geoffrey Shannon the Child Protection Rapporteur.
Men’s Voices Ireland were represented by Frank McGlynn and David Walsh while Nemo Forum was represented by David Drakeford. Opening statements were first made by each group or individual and this was followed by a Q and A with members of the committee of whom there are eleven counting the Chairman, though only six were present on March 13.
There is an enormous problem, where people are estranged, of the primary custodial parent, who most often is the mother, deliberately obstructing fathers from accessing children
We made many points chief among them being the need to replace the courts with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and equal access for both parents. We were heartened to hear that there was agreement on many points including dealing with parental alienation, the sanctioning of breach of access orders, and automatic guardianship rights for unmarried fathers. We underlined the failings of the court system: “Instead of addressing a social issue Family Law has evolved into a high growth civil law industry which thrives on exploiting conflict and benefits only lawyers and solicitors and other professionals”.
We also referred to the sometime problematic nature of domestic violence allegations and lastly emphasised the importance of fatherhood and the wide consequences of father absence particularly on boys. Unfortunately, there were no questions on these issues which would have allowed us to elaborate further.
Our opening statement is here. You can view the full hearing here from the Oireachtas website but be warned that the Private Session lasts for about 45 mins so you will need to skip ahead to avoid staring at a blank screen.