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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C

'Dads aren't recognised in our Constitution and the Citizen's Assembly denied them a voice'

Parental equality isn’t only the right thing to do. It will create stronger, healthier, happier Ireland, writes Matt O’Connor.

WALK INTO ANY card retailer in the weeks ahead of Father’s Day and you’ll find a carefully constructed façade of clichéd cards peddling the myth that all dads will spend it either playing with their children, cooking on the barbecue, playing golf or fishing.

The facts behind the fiction for Ireland’s forgotten fathers and broken families are very different.

Despite the push for equality for all, the government and all political parties oppose parental equality for fathers, including a presumption of 50/50 shared parenting in the event parents separate.

As a result, fathers are increasingly trapped in a glass cellar, marginalised and discriminated against both by the courts and the state. The outdated, default position of a dysfunctional legal system results in first-class fathers being treated like second-class parents.

Unmarried dads have no rights

Many of Ireland’s 220,00 separated dads will struggle to see their children this Father’s Day. Unmarried dads have no rights and 189,000 children now live in fatherless homes according to Census 2016. But the cancer of fatherlessness and family breakdown is only just beginning.

In our brutal, prehistoric, family courts, dads are routinely separated from their children without good reason by Jurassic Judges, and court orders for parenting time between dads and their kids are simply not enforced. These courts are secret and unaccountable.

There isn’t even a complaints procedure to deal with judicial misconduct.

According to suicide charities, separation from children is a significant factor in some dads suicides. In addition, fathers are more likely to be displaced from the family home to unstable accommodation or homelessness, itself a risk for suicide.

Fathers who have been separated from their children face an elevated risk of alcoholism, depression and suicide as they are excluded from their families and homes with scandalously little, or no support, from the state or charities. They have literally been left for dead.

Suicide is still a taboo subject

Statistically, 11 men will take their own lives in the week before Father’s Day.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 in Ireland and ends more lives than car crashes or cancer, yet is still a taboo subject, hidden by a cultural wall of silence where families fear the shame of suicide.

For children, the outcome is equally as harmful. Fatherless young people are almost 70% more likely to take drugs, and 76% more likely to get involved in crime. The cost to society from family breakdown, truancy, anti-social behaviour, teenage crime, addiction and depression is incalculable.

The State has responded to this public health emergency by spending just 0.9% of the money it spends on women’s services, on men’s services and male suicide.

€20.6 million spent on women’s services, just €146,000 for men’s

In a letter to Fathers4Justice on 24th February 2017, the private secretary to Minister Katherine Zappone TD said that €20.6 million was spent on women’s services, whilst just €146,000 was provided for men’s services.

You might have thought that in this inhospitable climate the Catholic Church would be a place for comfort and solace for separated dads. You’d be wrong.

The Church has consistently refused to support the rights of separated fathers to see their children and while Pope Francis has eulogised about the role of mothers, he has repeatedly made discriminatory comments about dads.

In his 2016 papal pronouncement Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis went as far to describe fathers as “absent, missing…too controlling…they neglect families…fail to offer sure and solid guidance to their children.”

In fact, not a single priest has raised his voice to express concern for the plight of fatherless children and their dads.

Fathers are not recognised in the Constitution

Worst still, fathers are not recognised in the Constitution, and they are increasingly demonised by politicians as feckless “deadbeats” for cheap political capital. Even the Citizens’ Assembly denied men and fathers a voice on the 8th Amendment and any say as to whether they too should have a choice as to whether they become parents or not.

Dads have even been abandoned by human rights organisations like Amnesty International and the Irish Human Rights and Equalities Commission, whose silence is deafening loud. Pitifully little information is kept by the State about the plight of dads in Ireland.

The Central Statistics Office don’t keep a record of the parental status of suicide victims and is unable to provide data about the exact number of suicides involving dads, or the death rates for separated dads, which are three times higher than mothers in the UK.

The toxic truth then behind Father’s Day in Ireland is concealed behind a façade of colourful cards, papering over the cracks in Ireland’s macho veneer.

Masculinity and fatherhood is in crisis

The facts behind the fiction is that masculinity and fatherhood is in crisis, exacerbated by the cultural conditioning of our local GAA that perpetuates the myth that dads are doing just grand and are mighty and strong. That’s why we are sounding the alarm.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. Progressive legislators in the United States have already introduced shared parenting for dads in over 20 states, and in Sweden 40% of separated parents now share the parenting of their children. In the 1980s it was just 1%.

Better still, shared parenting will lead to better outcomes for fathers and families and allow mums more time to invest in their careers and businesses as fathers and paternal grandparents are plugged back into the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Parental equality isn’t only the right thing to do, but it will create stronger, healthier, happier Ireland for everyone. Its time our politicians started acting responsibly to tackle this issue and soon, before more harm is done.

Fathers4Justice (F4J) was founded in 2001 by father of three boys, Matt O’Connor. In 2005 he was named GQ Magazine’s 7th Top Communicator in the UK, GQ Magazine’s 92nd Most Powerful Man in Britain, Esquire Magazine’s 35th Most Powerful Man in Britain Under 50 and one of twenty people shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Great Briton of the Year Awards. In 2007 he published his first book Fathers4Justice: The Inside Story through the Orion Publishing Group and sold the motion picture rights to his life story to Buena Vista pictures, part of the Walt Disney group. Fathers4Justice is the world’s largest shared parenting campaign group with over 80,000 registered families in the UK and Ireland. 

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