Seanad debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

2:40 pm

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour) | Oireachtas source

Lest we confuse the issue before us, I come from an Ireland where my grandparents, I am fully convinced, were the victims of an arranged marriage. My grandmother told me in one of those confidential moments one can only have with one's grandmother, not with one's parents, that her marriage to my grandfather had been sorted. I am fully convinced that many of us sitting here in this room today are the progeny of arranged marriages sorted by somebody in the local village who knew the families well and made the arrangements that, perhaps, shy retiring men could not make for themselves, etc. We all have read the John B. Keane Letters of a Love-Hungry Farmer, and the particularly gruesome end to that trial comes when the person concerned finds himself in an unfortunate rural situation where no arranged marriage was prepared for him and he ended up, in his 50s, living in a rural area with no arranged marriage. I raise this, not to be whimsical but purely to say that the fact we live in a society where arranged marriages were the norm a number of decades ago does not take away from the situation we are dealing with today and the reason we are debating this motion. It is important to distinguish between the experience in Ireland all of those decades ago and the situation today because arranged marriages are now firmly a thing of the past. While I would love to be the one who suggests to my daughter that I would arrange her marriage for her, we have to be cognisant of the fact that this is a serious motion and it is one that we must take very seriously.
Forced marriage, as the UN statistics show, is a real issue in the world today. We, in Ireland, in all of those years gone by, were not dealing with immigrant cultures living in our community. We were not dealing with the idea of child marriage. We were not dealing with the idea of somebody effectively being sold into slavery at a very young age without having any say over her own future. All of that having been said, we have our own murky past to deal with. There is the fact that many Irish women who did not accept what their families said found themselves living in mental institutions and county homes for the rest of their lives and we cannot simply place this in the remote distances of the past.
We have to acknowledge that this is a multicultural society and children are the victims of forced marriage. Internationally, we cannot remove ourselves from that picture. We have to acknowledge that it is a practice, as has been acknowledged already, similar to slavery and it was made illegal in international law nearly 60 years ago. It is easy to say this is something that happens, in remote Pakistan or remote India or, indeed, in looking at the way society is developing in countries such as Iraq, and the practices of ISIS today, that there are 63 additional women and children who have been kidnapped in the very recent past.

This is a live issue, for which a law is needed that is reflective of the practices in the world as it currently stands.

I had intended to raise the MacMenamin judgment that my colleague, Senator Naughton, has already mentioned. It is an important judgment and may be one of the few available relating to this issue of age restriction. However, it gives pause for thought and must be taken seriously. As such, the question being posed to the Government by this motion is whether consideration must be given to the current position in Ireland with regard to allowing marriages below the age of 18. There is enough international knowledge and practice extant to state it must. As to whether there is a need to get more complicated about the issue, I am unsure whether there is. We do not have a great deal of legal precedent but have a lot of United Nations documentation relating to the issue of forced marriages. In a similar example, I was proud to attend an interparliamentary assembly at which I could cite Ireland as one of the few jurisdictions with female genital mutilation legislation that goes beyond its own jurisdiction in which we penalise people who remove children from this jurisdiction to engage in this practice in other countries. The important point is that our laws must be fit for purpose and must reflect a multiethnic country. Moreover, our laws cannot hanker back to an Ireland in which we had arranged marriages as that all is in the past. It might all have been grand, to take an example from the books of Peig Sayers, when she rowed over on the currach and met her future husband and they basically winked at each other across an open fire. We must acknowledge those days are long over and a legal system is needed that reflects this.


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