SPARK campaign response to Minsiter Joan Burtons’ new proposals

SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) is a diverse group of single parents who came together after Budget 2012 to campaign against various cuts that attacked our families.

Yesterday, Minister Joan Burton announced that fathers must be named on the birth certificates of all children born in Ireland to lone parents. SPARK believe that this sweeping generalisation by Minister Burton is an attack on lone parents and strongly criticises her motivation in this decision bring forward this legislation.  We see this as further stereotyping of both men and women parenting alone by perpetuating the myth that they are all lone parents by choice.  It particularly reinforces the stereotype that single mothers are abusing the social welfare system, inferring they are “scroungers” in seeking benefits via fraudulent claims and deliberately keep the fathers out of their children’s lives.  This is a myth and is patently untrue in the majority of cases.

Minister Burton is once again attacking lone parents and presuming that lone parents are unmarried parents prior to the child’s birth.  Lone parents also include those who suffered abusive relationships and split from their partner, those from divorce, separation and those for a variety of reasons are now parenting alone.  Also, 16% of lone parents are men.  Contrary to widely held belief, unmarried fathers do not get automatic guardianship as a result of their being named on a birth certificate.  Both parents (if unmarried) have to sign a declaration to attain joint guardianship and until that occurs the mother remains the child’s sole guardian.  We welcome the equal rights of single fathers but feel this legislation does not provide for the many diverse and complex issues it raises, nor does it adequately meet the child’s needs.

If you are unmarried and have a child, both parents must present themselves at the registration office to have their names included on the child’s birth certificate.  A mother cannot register a father’s name unless he voluntarily presents along with her and signs a declaration at the Registration office.  Alternatively, she can involuntarily add his name against his wishes by virtue of court orders, such as maintenance orders.

Our family court system is already under immense strain.  It will not be able to handle the extra court hearings that would have to be called under this proposed legislation.  If the Minister for Social Protection intends that this measure ensures maintenance can be recovered by the MRU, then we believe her actions to be onerous.  The current system does not work in practice and needs to be overhauled.  A new system put in place that treats both parents with respect would also reflect the rights of the child to know both parents, and these rights are paramount.  The name of the father being on the birth certificate is the case in the majority of births.  SPARK agrees the registration of fathers’ names on birth certificates is important for children.  However, adequate safeguards are also needed to ensure the best interests of children are met in all circumstances.

SPARK believes that ideally each child should have a relationship with both parents and we welcome Minister Burton’s championing of this right. By isolating this from other necessary reforms, she is crudely introducing legislation that will not serve our families well, but could cynically be viewed as playing to a populist view and diverting attention from the real issues.

We believe this decision is based on the Law Reform’s Report 2010 (LEGAL ASPECTS OF FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS).  While welcoming the necessary overhaul of the family law system, it is clearly wrong to take the recommendations in isolation.  Family Law is a complicated matter and needs sensitivity and expertise.  By isolating some of the recommendations placing them under the remit of the Department of Social Protection, it can only lead to a disjointed approach.  Furthermore, if this legislation is introduced by the Department of Social Protection, it links welfare payments to compliance and therefore the measure would be perceived as punitive rather than reformative.

The reality is that this affects a very small proportion of births (4,100 out of 23,170 unmarried births, CSO 2007).  We are especially disappointed to see this happening under the ministerial watch of a female Labour minister.  We call on her to meet with SPARK and listen to the views of those who will live with the effects of her decisions.  Finally, we insist that jurisdiction of this issue remains within the Department of Justice and Equality, who we believe have the necessary experience to deal with such complicated and sensitive legislation.

Single parent Andrea Galgey says “They are attacking lone parents again over a mistaken perception and a stereotype, one that is prevalent in this country today.  This should be both the mother and father’s responsibility and not the Government’s.  Why are we being stigmatised yet again?”

Single parent Leah Speight added: ”Minister Burton is perpetuating a false perception that lone parents are trying to defraud the system.  Under the family court system, it is up to the mother to pursue an errant father for maintenance.  This is pushing even more responsibility onto mothers to make a father sign the birth certificate, if he refuses to do so.  The majority of single mothers have the father named on the birth certificate.

Due to fathers absconding financial responsibilities to their children, single mothers have to name the absent father and attempt to get maintenance, in order to claim the One Parent Family Payment.  These comments by the Minister are media sound bites and the further stigmatization is an insult to single mothers”.

SPARK campaigner Louise Bayliss says: “I don’t understand why Joan Burton is trying to do this.  This is not a social welfare issue and surely she should leave this to the relevant department? She recently guillotined the Social Welfare Bill, seemingly because of time constraints, yet is now involving herself in things that don’t even come under her remit.  It is hard to see this as anything but another attack on single mothers.  Perhaps we have annoyed her?”

For further comment, please contact:

Leah Speight 087 1390278/Louise Bayliss 089 13909580/Grace Costigan 086 2222103 – Dublin

Andrea Galgey 086 3389416 – Waterford

Michelle Frawley 086 3735113 – Galway

Bríd Ní Chualáin 087 6774751 – Gaeilge speaker.

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