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Full text of Senator Martin Mansergh's article on religious freedom

Below is the full text of Senator Martin Mansergh's article on religious freedom. With kind permission of the Irish Catholic.

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Religious freedom under threat says Senator Mansergh

Elites “who want to reshape Irish society according to their lights with least possible reference to the people" are fundamentally threatening religious freedom in Ireland, according to prominent Senator, Martin Mansergh.

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UK social welfare benefits 'destroying family life' says new book

Couples who pretend to live apart can gain up to £10,000 a year in benefits, according to a new book published by UK think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. Written by sociologist and author Patricia Morgan, the book says that the scale of the fraud is the result of a Government policy which discourages couples from marrying or even cohabiting, dealing a "devastating blow" to family life.

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Greens welcome Iona policy on tax individualisation

The Green Party has welcomed The Iona Institute's new policy document calling for fairer treatment of one-income married couples in a statement released by Finance spokesman for the Greens, Dan Boyle TD. The Deputy said that a series of measures are needed to eliminate the anomalies.

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Fine Gael adopts 'Iona' tax policy

Fine Gael have pledged to begin easing the effects of tax individualisation if they are in Government after the General Election. Their plan involves increasing the stay-at-home carers tax credit, currently worth 770 euro pa, by 1000 euro pa. The proposal is in line with the tax policy document launched by the Iona Institute which called for the Government to begin closing the tax gap between double and single income married couples.

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Bishops favour delaying children's rights referendum

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference have called for the Government's proposed referendum on children's rights to be postponed until after the General Election.

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First Iona Institute policy document launched

Stay-at-home mothers have been heavily penalised by the Government's ongoing tax individualisation policy, according to a new report published by the Iona Institute. The report says that the growing income gap, which now stands at up to €6,240 between single and double income married families should be an issue in the forthcoming election.

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An interview with Iona director David Quinn

Catholic news website Zenit has just published an interview with our director David Quinn on the reasons behind the establishment of the Iona Institute.

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Brother and sister challenge Germany's incest law.

A German brother and sister, who have four children together are campaigning to have their country's incest laws quashed.

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Irish Times article on gay adoption

The Irish Times yesterday printed an article by Iona Institute researcher Tom O'Gorman on gay adoption. Here is a link to the piece to enable readers to go online and engage in the debate. (Subscription required)

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Irish children more likely to binge drink and abuse drugs, study finds.

Irish children are more likely than those in other countries to abuse drugs and alcohol, a new Government-sponsored study on child well-being has found.

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Women twice as likely as men to file for divorce

New divorce statistics show that women are twice as likely to apply for divorce as men, a conference on family law was told on Tuesday.

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Blair rejects marriage-based cure for social ills.

Prime Minister Tony Blair today rejected calls to put marriage at the heart of social and family policy. Rejecting Conservative Party leader David Cameron's suggestion that family breakdown and fatherlessness were at the heart of Britain's social ills, Mr Blair said that anti-social problems were not limited to to fatherless families.

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UK marriage rates plummet

The number of new marriages in Britain has fallen to the lowest level in 111 years, according to new data which emerged last week. Latest figures reveal that the number of marriages has dropped by 30,000 between 2004 and 2005 to a total of just over 244,000.

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Aggressive secularism a “betrayal of republican traditions”: Taoiseach

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has praised organised religion as a force for good in Irish society. Speaking at the opening of an ongoing structured dialogue between the State and religious groups, the Taoiseach said that there was no place in Ireland for “aggressive secularism”.

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Text of Professor Binchy's Trinity address

The following is the most relevant section of Professor Binchy's talk as delivered at TCD on Wednesday evening.

The Proposed Amendment to the Constitution

From my perusal of the text over the past forty eight hours I have come to the following conclusions. The amendment has considerable effect on these matters, a number of them clearly positive. The scope of the impact is, however, uncertain, since the text raises several important questions of interpretation. On one interpretation, the impact is very considerable indeed and goes into areas well beyond those indicated by the Government.

A crucial question, affecting three of the provisions which are of immediate relevance, concerns the impact of the phrase “[p]rovision may be made by law.” Undoubtedly, this permits the Oireachtas to introduce legislation for the purposes mentioned in the text; but does this mean that such legislation has to be read in conjunction with all the other provisions of the Constitution or is legislation which achieves the purpose stated in the text given automatic constitutional validity? The answer to this question is crucial since it defines the scope of the impact of the amendment.

If the latter interpretation were adopted, the impact would be greatest in relation to Article 42(A), section 2.20 and 42(A), section 4. As regards section 2.2, constitutional validity would be afforded to a law which (for example) provided for the non-consensual adoption of children where the parents had failed in their duty for a very short period – in theory a few weeks could suffice. The extra element that the best interests of the child should so require would be a restraint, of course, but, if a court is entitled or required to ignore the claims of the parents, cases could arise where the best interests requirement would point towards adoption. If the parents were very poor and the prospective adopters very rich and if the child was too young to have formed any close bond with the parents, the best interests could require the court to order an adoption.

It is to be noted that section 2.20, in contrast to the Adoption Act 1988, does not require that the failure of duty be likely to continue into the future: a temporary failure will suffice. While section 2.20 refers simply to cases where the parents “have failed… in their duty towards the child”, and does not expressly require that such failure be for physical or moral reasons, it may well be that this extra requirement should be read into section 2.20 since it is one of two subsections, the first of which includes such a requirement. The point is not beyond debate and is important since, if non-consensual, adoption based on failure of duty for reasons other than physical or moral were to be permitted, this would open the door to non-consensual adoption for what Finlay CJ in In re Article 26 of the Constitution and in re the Adoption (No 2) Bill 19871 referred to as “a failure due to externally originating circumstances such as poverty…”

A further implication would be that there would be no need to establish any abandonment by the parents of any, let alone all, of their constitutional rights in relation to the child. It is true that the jurisprudence on this requirement in existing law is somewhat incoherent2, but it does represent a brake on adoption that would not apply if the second interpretation of the phrase “[p]rovision may be made by law” is correct.

When one comes to section 2.4, the implications of such an interpretation would be equally radical. If a court is required to endeavour to secure the best interests of the child in all proceedings concerning adoption, guardianship, custody or access, and if it is not to have regard to the broader constitutional framework of rights, including the rights of parents, the conclusions which it would reach would be quite different from those which are arrived at under the present constitutional dispensation. Not only would there be what many - probably most – people would regard as beneficial outcomes, such as a reversal of the decision reached in cases such as Baby Ann3; the implication would range very much wider. Poor parents, very young parents and parents with disabilities could find it harder to retain the care of their children; of course the best interests of children in very many cases would still ordain that the children remain with their parents, especially where sufficient time had passed for the child to develop a bond with the parents which would be damaged by separation from them.

The implications of the second interpretation of the phrase “[p]rovision may be made by the law” are so hugely significant that one is tempted to conclude that the first interpretation is more convincing. What does it involve? It requires an integration of the proposed new legislative powers with the wider framework of constitutional provisions.

This opens up an area of huge uncertainty since there is no way of knowing how the courts would recalibrate the “delicate filigree of relationships” between the child, the parents and the State in the light of these new powers.


Effects of referendum “uncertain” says William Binchy

The wording of the Government's proposed children's rights referendum could have legal effects “well beyond those indicated by the Government” according to Professor William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin. Professor Binchy, an acknowledged authority on family and constitutional law, said the proposed wording “raises several important questions of interpretation”.

22/02/07 [date] 22/02/07
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Bishops to study children's rights amendment

The Catholic bishops are to examine the wording of the proposed children's rights amendment but will not issue a statement about it until after their March quarterly meeting at the earliest. A spokesman for the Bishops made the comment after the wording of the proposed amendment was announced on Monday.

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Fathers have key role in fighting crime, says Tory leader

A family friendly society is a key element in stamping out gang culture, according to Conservative Party leader David Cameron. He was reacting to the third fatal shooting in London in a month. Teenager Billy Cox was found dead from gunshot wounds on Wednesday.

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PDs should respect religious conviction - Tanaiste

The PDs should “honour and respect religious practice and conviction”, and be prepared to work with the Churches “as partners in social action”, Tanaiste Michael McDowell has said.

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"The child...shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents."

Article 7. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.