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Opinions contained in The Iona Blog are not necessarily those of The Iona Institute. The Iona Blog is open to anyone who broadly shares the views of The Iona Institute. If you wish to post a comment on a relevant topic please email 200 – 400 words to [email protected] and it will be considered for inclusion in the blog.

Divorces no quick fix for New Year blues, says author (Tom O'Gorman)

Libby Purves, a columnist for the London Times has written a fine piece on the pitfalls of divorce for individuals and their children. Her main point is that there are no winners when it comes to divorce.

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Poverty, marriage and lone parents (David Quinn)

Lone parent benefits are currently predicated on the parent living alone. It could hardly be called ‘lone parent’ benefit otherwise. Once the lone parent marries or cohabits, however, the benefits are cut back meaning there is an incentive not to marry or cohabit. This is bad for the lone parent and bad for the children because children need fathers.

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Alan Shatter and biological parenthood. (David Quinn)

Does it matter who a child’s biological parents are, or is the only thing that matters who actually raises the child, who it has bonded with? There is a growing school of thought with respect to parenting that biological ties, or to put it another way, natural ties, matter hardly at all, if even that. I don’t know whether Alan Shatter is part of this school of thought but one could be forgiven for thinking that he is.

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A libertarian perspective on gay marriage (Tom O'Gorman)

Readers might be interested in following this link to a novel take on the gay marriage debate. It is by Tony Allright who is probably best described as a libertarian rather than a conservative. Coming from this perspective, which tends to stress individual freedom above all else, his argument is especially interesting in that it still ends up coming down on the pro-traditional marriage side.

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Minister, why does marriage exist? (David Quinn)

Equality Minister, Sean Power, today addressed the National Lesbian and Gay Federation at a symposium held at the Royal College of Surgeons. In his speech he dealt with the topic of same-sex civil partnerships. He said that due to the Constitution, same-sex couples would not be able to marry, nor could they be given the functional equivalent of marriage. However, he then went on to describe what the Government will give same-sex couples in its forthcoming civil partnerships Bill, and it looks an awful lot like marriage.

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Commitment needed to create stability, says columnist (Tom O'Gorman)

This is an excellent column by Camilla Cavendish in today's London Times. Her basic point is that the modish argument that family diversity should be defended at all costs is at variance with the reality of family forms such as cohabitation and single parenthood.

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The INTO vision for our schools. (David Quinn)

The head of the INTO, John Carr, delivered a very far-reaching and radical speech at an education conference last weekend. The implications of his speech are potentially immense. Essentially he wishes to see an end to State-funded denominational education and its replacement with what he calls ‘community national schools’.

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Sweden and religious freedom (David Quinn)

The Swedish government is severely curtailing religious activities in Swedish schools. The restrictions will apply even to religious-run schools, including Church-run ones. The only religious activities that can be conducted on school property under these regulations will be prayer, so long as it is not communicated that there is any objective reality behind the prayer, and religion in religion class, so long as it is not communicated that the religion in question has any objective reality behind it.

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Single Young Females...and Males (David Quinn)

The US magazine, City Journal, has a very interesting article in the current issue dealing with the worldwide rise of the Single Young Female (SYF). The piece, by Kay Hymowitz, says that the Carrie Bradshaw type (she’s the Sarah Jessica Parker Sex and the City), has gone global. She’s to be found in Dublin, London, Warsaw, Tokyo, Seoul, and, of course, in the home of the species, New York.

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Conceptual Swing from Tax Individualisation (John P.Byrne)

The conceptual significance of the apparent Labour re-think on the value of marriage, particularly within the taxation system, is potentially significant. The United Kingdom introduced Tax Individualisation in 1990 under a Conservative administration after a conceptual swing towards an individualised tax system in the 1980s. Individualisation allows the Inland Revenue services to effectively ignore marriage and treats people purely as individuals for the duration of their working years regardless of responsibilities to a spouse or children. In general, the British Labour party was supportive of this type of policy as it was seen as advocating 'personal freedom' and 'tax neutrality'.

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Labour U-turn over marriage? (Tom O'Gorman)

It's been a turbulent few weeks in British politics. In a little over three weeks, Labour have gone from being 11 points clear of the Tories to being seven points behind in the polls. Gordon Brown has gone from having an image of sturdy reliability to being perceived as a ditherer. The opposite has happened to David Cameron. Previously seen as a lightweight, he's now seen as a strong leader.

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‘Faith in the System’ (David Quinn)

The Department of Education in Britain has recently come out with a fascinating report called ‘Faith in the System’. It was drawn up in conjunction with the major faith groups in the UK. It could hardly be more positive towards religious schools. A few things should be noted about this report. Note first of all that Britain currently has a Labour government which might have been expected to be suspicious of faith-based schools and yet can still produce a document like this.

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Attitudes to cohabitation (David Quinn)

The vast majority of women today think it is a good idea to cohabit before getting married, according to the recent Irish Times’ survey of women’s attitudes. In fact, it is almost certainly a very bad idea. The conventional thinking is that cohabitation is a good idea because it functions as a kind of trial marriage. It’s a bit like test-driving a car before you buy it. A couple live together to find out if they are compatible and if they find out they are not, then they split up before they get married rather than endure a messy divorce later on. What could make more sense?

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More on the survey of women (John P Byrne)

The Irish Times poll on Women Today in Ireland has thrown up a number of interesting, and a few alarming, findings. For instance the paper says that 42% of respondents are working in paid employment of necessity.

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What do women want? (David Quinn)

The Irish Times today has published a very interesting poll on women’s attitudes to life, love and everything. The paper highlights the fact that more women rate financial independence as ‘very important’ than they do any other facet of their lives.

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Four parents for one child? (David Quinn)

How many parents can one child have? An adopted child can obviously have four parents, its two biological parents and its two adoptive parents. However, the adopted child will only have two legal parents.

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Schools and religious diversity (David Quinn)

How does the educational system best allow for, and recognise, religious diversity? There are two opposing views on this. The first says that schools should welcome in all children regardless of creed and then teach them all faiths.

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Divorce falls in Britain – Why? (David Quinn)

The British divorce rate has fallen somewhat in the last couples of years. Why? Could it be that there is self-selection going on, that is, those who are temperamentally most likely to divorce are cohabiting instead, meaning those who are marrying are temperamentally more likely to stay married?

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Children's “rights” or children's welfare? (Tom O'Gorman)

The latest call for the explicit recognition of children's rights in the Constitution comes via a report by Dr Ursula Kilkelly, a legal academic from University College, Cork. Dr Kilkelly argues that children are “invisible” in the current legal system.

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Older divorces, an Irish problem needing an overseas solution? (Tom O'Gorman)

Today's story showing that divorce in Ireland seems to be a middle-aged phenomenon shouldn't come as too much of a surprise for regular visitors to this website. A quick look at the Census figures on marriage in Ireland (which we have been highlighting for a few months now) shows that people in their 40s and 50s are most likely to experience marital breakdown.

Between the ages of 40 and 59, the rate of marital breakdown is considerably higher than the national average of 13 per cent. Between the ages of 40-44, for example, 16 per cent of people have experienced either divorce or separation.

According to Louise Crowley, a divorce law expert at the University of Limerick, the reason for this is simple: Irish divorce law. Divorce in Ireland, she points out, is “quite different to other jurisdictions” such as the US and the UK, where people who are married for five or six years are more likely to get divorced.

“I think a lot of it is down to the process itself,” Crowley says. “A couple may find that they are unhappy after three years of marriage. But the State dictates that they have to live separately for four or five years before they can apply for a divorce. Once the application is made it could be another two or three years before the divorce is granted.”

Quite apart from the seeming implication that we should allow quickie divorces like overseas, the problem with this analysis is that the likelihood of experiencing marital breakdown actually decreases once people pass middle age. Just under 10 per cent of people aged 65-69 have experienced separation or divorce, below the national average.

Ireland's divorce laws are the same for them as for everyone else, yet they are experiencing less divorce. Clearly, there is another trend at work.

Former Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, in an Irish Times article some months ago, suggested that the reason this older age cohort tended to experience less marital breakdown was that they were raised in a culture where divorce was frowned upon. In contrast, those married in the 1970s came of age in an atmosphere where the gospel of individual autonomy was increasingly preached.

It is quite probable that this, rather than Ireland's admittedly unusual divorce laws, is behind the above average divorce figures among our 40 and 50-somethings.


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"If I were asked to design a system for making sure that children's basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two-parent ideal...The fact that both parents have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that the parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child, and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child.."

Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, "Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps."