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Limerick has highest rate of marital breakdown in country

Limerick is lreland's divorce capital, according to the latest figures from the Courts Services. More than 70 couples secured divorces or judicial separations at a sitting of the local Circuit Court in just one day.

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ISPCC calls for “united front” on children's referendum

A leading children's welfare group has called “a united front” to achieve a children's rights amendment to the Constitution. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) said that such a referendum must stay “at the top of the political agenda and that a Referendum be held as soon as possible”.

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EU targets religious exemption

Ireland has been told to change its laws by the European Union because Irish equality legislation contains an exemption that allows religious-run institutions such as schools to protect their ethos by not hiring employees who could harm that ethos. The European Commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, has begun legal action against 12 member states, including Ireland, France and Germany, for their ‘failure’ to fully or properly implement an EU employment directive.

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Same sex marriage an “attack on right of children to mother and father”

Recognising same-sex marriage would be an attack on the right of children to a mother and father, the director of the Iona Institute, David Quinn, told the Irish Times yesterday. Mr Quinn said that marriage as a social institution was designed primarily to ensure “that as many children as possible are raised by their mothers and fathers”, and therefore is “intrinsically heterosexual”.

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State run schools to provide range of religion classes for different faiths

Pupils in new State-run primary schools are to be taught religion according to their own faith, the Department of Education revealed yesterday.

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Increased use of IVF could mean “infertility timebomb”: report

Britain could be on the brink of an infertility timebomb due to the increasing use of IVF, according to a report in today's Daily Telegraph. According to the report, scientists worry that greater levels of IVF use means that couples with inherited fertility problems are able to have children and pass the condition on to the next generation.

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Court ruling may force changes to birth certs to accommodate transsexuals

THE Government may have to repeal parts of Ireland's birth registration laws following a High Court ruling last November, which found that transsexuals have the right to have their birth certs retrospectively altered. Dr Lydia Foy, the person at the centre of that case, yesterday became the first recipient of a declaration of ‘incompatibility’ with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

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Postponing referendum puts children at risk, TD tells hearing

The Government's refusal to hold an early referendum on child protection this summer will place children at risk from sexual predators, according Fine Gael's spokesman on children Alan Shatter. Speaking at a hearing of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, Mr Shatter said that a gap in the law relating to statutory rape means that an adult who has sex with a child is able to offer a defence of "honest mistake" over a person's age.

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Fathers crucial for children's development says Swedish study

Children with an active father figure are less likely to experience behavioural and psychological problems, according to new research from Sweden. A team of researchers from the University of Uppsala analysed a series of studies on the impact of fathers on children's lives. The research found that active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in girls.

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McDowell calls for rights for unmarried fathers

The fact that unmarried fathers do not have access rights to their children is “indefensible”, according to the former justice minister, Michael McDowell. He warned that, unless legislative action was taken by the Government soon, the European Convention on Human Rights would impose such rights on the Irish legal system.

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Support for marriage on the decline, poll suggests

Nearly half of voters approve of couples with children who are not married, according to a poll in last weekend's Sunday Independent. The survey, carried out by Milward Brown/IMS, found that, when asked whether they approved of couples with children not getting married, 49 per cent of people said yes. This figure rose to 70 per cent among 25 to 34 year olds.

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Children’s rights vote must not give State unnecessary powers over family, says Iona

The Government must ensure that its proposed referendum on children’s rights does not give the State unnecessary powers of intervention at the expense of the family” according to the Iona Institute. In a submission to the Oireachtas Committee examining the proposed wording, the Institute points out that the family is generally the place in which the interests of children are best protected. Any undermining of this presumption, even if unintentional, would ultimately be harmful to children, the submission says.

The wording should ensure that the legal system continues to presume in favour of the family when the best interests of children are being considered, the submission continues. In particular, it argues that the term ‘best interests’ is open to very wide interpretation.

Echoing the view of Justice Adrian Hardiman in his ruling in the Baby Ann case, the submission contends that the Constitution does not favour parents over children, but that it favours parents over third parties such as the State or the Church. Parents, not some third party, ought to decide what is best for children except in exceptional circumstances, it goes on.

While the submission accepts that the State can and must be able to intervene in families to protect children in exceptional circumstances, it warns that a badly worded amendment could give the State more power than it needs.

Although the submission accepts that a referendum may be needed to make it easier to adopt children who are in long-term care including the children of married couples, it has some concerns about the proposed wording. It cites the section on voluntary adoption as being too unqualified adding that it could give carte blanche to the practice of surrogate motherhood which is almost certainly against the best interests of children.

The submission also argues that consideration should be given to inserting into the amendment a wording based on Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which acknowledges the right of a child to know and to be raised, where possible, by his or her parents.

Meanwhile, opposition grew yesterday to the holding of a “mini-referendum” on child protection in conjunction with the vote on the Lisbon Treaty. Mary O'Rourke TD, the Chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, has come out against the idea of holding two separate referenda on children’s rights, arguing that none of the issues dealt with in the current wording ought to be “mingled” with the Lisbon Treaty.

"Neither Lisbon nor the children's issue would be well-served by mingling them together. These are hugely important and complicated issues," Ms O'Rourke said yesterday

The view held held by some Cabinet Ministers and Fine Gael that a simple referendum could strengthen our child protection laws was a simplistic one, she added. "This is much more complicated than just a 'yes' or 'no' issue. If we deal with this issue, we have to deal with the age of consent as well, which there are differing views on. "This is not just about filling a gap left by the 'C' case. It will bring in its wake much, much more. We have only touched on this issue peripherally in the committee's work so far."

The idea of a mini-referendum on child protection was originally put forward by Fine Gael, who said a gap in our rape laws exposed in the "Mr C" case needed to be filled urgently.

The Mr C case caused a political furore after the conviction of statutory rape against a 23-year-old man who had sex with a 14-year-old was ruled to be unconstitutional as it did not allow a defence of "honest mistake" as to a girl's age.


Opposition grows to holding separate referendums on children

Children's rights group and the Children's Ombudsman are opposed to holding two separate referendums on children's rights and child protection. Organisations such as Children's Rights Alliance and the Cari Foundation (Children At Risk in Ireland) have expressed strong opposition to Government proposals to hold a referendum on child protection on the same day as the European Union reform treaty.

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Creation of embryo with three parents-report

Human embryos with three separate biological parents have been created for the first time by British scientists, according to reports in the UK. The embryos, created by IVF, each contain DNA from one man and two women. The project that created them could lead to the first genetically altered babies being born in Britain. But opponents have said that the project represents a threat to the family unit.

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State must acknowledge “spiritual dimensions of its citizens”, says Taoiseach

The State is bound to recognise “the spiritual dimensions of its citizens”, according to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Speaking at a reception in honour of Cardinal Sean Brady last night, Mr Ahern said that he rejected the belief that religion “should be confined to the public domain”. The idea that “all reference to God, and the behavioural and ethical implications of that belief” should be excluded from public debate was not one shared by the Government.

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Teachers shouldn't use terms “mum and dad”: guidelines

Teachers should not assume that their pupils have a mother and a father, according to new guidelines commissioned by the Government and produced by gay rights group Stonewall. They say primary pupils as young as four should be familiarised with the idea of same-sex couples to help combat homophobic attitudes.

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Allegations against Catholic schools "unfair and offensive": Cardinal Brady

Cardinal Sean Brady has said that allegations that Catholic schools are non-inclusive are “unfair and offensive”. Speaking at the annual conference of the Irish Primary Principals Network in Killarney, Cardinal Brady said that he was frustrated by suggestions that Catholic and other faith-based schools were divisive and inconsistent with a pluralist society.

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Schools principals' head calls for ‘rethink’ on Church schools

The head of the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN), Sean Cottrell, has called for “a radical rethink” of the primary school system. Mr Cottrell, whose organisation has been holding its annual conference in Killarney this weekend, said that the State “needed to take control of more than paying teachers' salaries”.

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Archbishop of Canterbury criticises removal of need for fathers from new law

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has attacked proposals in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would remove the reference to the need for donor-conceived children to have a father.

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Housing costs double in fifty years

Mortgages and high rents now consume 20 per cent of the typical weekly budget for most Britons, as compared to just 8.7 per cent 50 years ago, according to new figures. The findings, part of the Office for National Statistics’ Family Spending report, a one off study, showed that, when insurance, maintenance and water are included, housing accounts for 25 per cent of the typical household budget.

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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.