Seanad debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

2:40 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome this motion and fully support it. What we are discussing here is the protection of children. This motion is premised on the judgment of Mr. Justice John MacMenamin in the High Court last year. The judge has subsequently been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Justice MacMenamin has vast experience in the area of child protection prior to and since his appointment to the bench, and was to the fore, prior to any Government action, in ensuring that the best interests of the child were the paramount consideration in any case that came before him. Members should note that the judge was in charge of the minors' list in the High Court for three years and delivered some important decisions on the rights of children. In other words, the views of this judge need to be taken seriously.

Whilst I recognise that there are many different cultural practices and wishes in Ireland, particularly due to our increased ethnic and religious diversity, any wish not to offend a minority cannot take the place of the common good and society's need to protect children. In this regard there are several issues highlighted by the judge that we need to address at a minimum. These include the fact that an application to the courts to exempt a minor from the age restriction can be made without any notice to authorities, including child protection; the lack of legislation directly addressing forced marriages; and the need for a designated person or agency to provide support in such circumstances. Of course, none of the insufficiencies in the system noted by the judge prevents the Oireachtas legislating to remove the exemption fully, should it wish to do so.

Members should note that in England and Wales, parents of children forced into marriage now face up to seven years in prison and the practice has been outlawed in Scotland for some time. I would voice one note of caution. There is a distinction to be made, as in the new English legislation, between a forced marriage where one or both of the parties does not consent and an arranged marriage where the parties consent but can refuse to marry if they so wish. We should keep that in mind and not confuse the two.

I thank Senator Bacik for putting forward this motion. I refer, in closing, to the comment from our colleague, Senator Van Turnhout, that 14 million girls marry before the age of 18 annually throughout the world. We cannot criticise this practice internationally and yet have insufficient protections domestically to stop it happening here.


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