Deputy Bernard Durkan raised the issue of parental alienation in the Dáil 18 May
“I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to bring this matter up again.
I am aware there is a lot of support for the content of the question, both inside this House and outside.
It has recently come to pass that the issue also takes up discussion in other parliaments too, including yesterday and the day before in the House of Commons, as well as at the United Nations Human Rights Council, whereby custody, violence against women, and violence against children is the subject matter for discussion.
It is a peculiar thing because as other Members and I well know, I thought we had put in place sufficient protections to ensure that women, children and all human beings have an entitlement to protection in whatever court they may be in, without the prerequisite of complying with this pseudo-condition that is supposed to affect a certain number of people.
The UN special rapporteur report addresses the link between custody cases, violence against women, and violence against children.
There is a focus on the abuse of the term “parental alienation” and similar pseudo-concepts.
The fact that this particular pseudo concept was never accredited by peers at the time it was first floated is a question in itself.
The fact that it continues on this basis is not a question in itself because it would appear that a certain group of people now have an interest, for whatever reason I do not know – it has not been explained to me – in ensuring its perpetuation to the continued harassment and disgraceful punishment of women and children.
These children are left crying and whimpering for their mother because, allegedly, they have been found guilty, prior to the court, to this condition of turning the other spouse against their children.
I would have thought, to bring it to a logical conclusion, that it was similar to people falling out of a relationship and where there are natural things that happened.
Maybe they are not as friendly with each other as they were before and people who were in a friendly and loving relationship previously may not be in the same friendly and loving relationship afterwards.
A lot depends on what they said to each other, what the level of aggression was, and whether there was physical or mental violence.
No human being, men or women, should be put through that kind of torture, and especially authorised torture in the court, which is supposed to protect them.
I strongly hold the view that any person – man, woman or child – in the legal system, the judicial system, the courtroom and whatever forum in family law is entitled to a fair course, due process and natural justice.
It is a good line to abide by in all cases, in any kind of circumstances. This is particularly so because it affects custody and the degree to which the custody is bargained around by the various sides in the course of the legal proceedings.
I have spoken about the issue many times in the past, and I have spoken to several Ministers about it.
The problem now is that it has an urgency, because the longer this continues, the longer women will not be able to see their children.
There are people that I know who have not been allowed to see their children.
There are women who have not been able to see or talk to their children in a year.
It is crazy stuff that in this day and age, we should be subject to that kind of thing.
I have come to the conclusion that there is something there that we cannot determine. It is almost as if there were some secret organisation that had a predetermination of an attitude towards women, because they hate women – that is for sure.
Minister of State at the Department of Health
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue again.
I would say I have heard him raise it almost a dozen times at this stage. He is very passionate about it.
It is important to discuss the recently published report of the UN special rapporteur relating to the pseudo-condition of parental alienation in family law, wherein it was found that mothers and children are being denied their human constitutional rights.
It is soon to be discussed at the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council of the UN.
I convey the apologies of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Harris, who cannot be here for this matter due to another commitment.
On behalf of the Minister I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this important matter today, and for giving me the opportunity to provide clarity on some issues.
As the Deputy will be aware, management of the courts, operational matters and logistical functions are the responsibility of the Judiciary and the Courts Service, which are independent in exercising their functions under the Courts Service Act 1998, and given the separation of powers in the Constitution.
Therefore, the Minister is unable to comment on any individual case or category of cases. In fairness to the Deputy, he did not raise any individual cases. However, it may interest the Deputy to know that last year, the Department of Justice committed to undertake a public consultation on the issue of parental alienation as part of the Justice Plan 2022.
The consultation presented an opportunity for individuals and organisations to offer their views and experiences of parental alienation, its impact and how it could be responded to in the future.
It was a completely open process and concluded on 24 June 2022.
All views, opinions and experiences submitted as part of that consultation have been welcome. The responses received are currently under review.
The Department of Justice also arranged for independent research on parental alienation to be carried out.
The Minister is pleased to say that a final report has been received by the Department, and is currently being reviewed. Department officials are currently working to finalise a report, which the Minister expects to bring to the Government for its information shortly.
Once this has occurred, it is intended to publish both the research report and the policy paper on the Department’s website.
The report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls, its Causes and Consequences, Reem Alsalem, which considers the abuse of the term “parental alienation”, and the deliberations of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the report in the coming months, will be fully considered as work in this area is advanced.
As acknowledged on the Department’s website for the public consultation, there is no clear agreed definition of “parental alienation” in Ireland, and there are no reliable statistics on its prevalence.
The concept and its understanding in international literature, its perception by the stakeholders who engaged with the public consultation, and the consideration by the courts in Ireland is fully explored in the research report.
Deputy Bernard Durkan
I very much appreciate the Minister of State coming into the House. I know she has taken an interest in that particular subject as well, and rightly so. I thank her for the tone of the reply.
My only comment is in support in thanking the Minister of State and the Minister for Justice for bringing the matter this far.
The next important item is to bring it the rest of the way in the shortest time possible, because women who are mothers, and their children, are suffering in the meantime.
This is not one case, a dozen cases or two dozen cases; it is many. It has caught the attention of the United Nations, and rightly so, and something will have to be done about it.
The problem, as I said originally, is that it would appear to me that there is some source that I cannot identify, and the purposes of which I cannot identify, whereby a ring of steel is surrounding the mystery of what happens, and why the woman automatically should expect to lose in court.
Everybody is entitled to go to court at any time.
Women are going to court and expecting to lose because of their gender or because they have children, because of the advice somebody has given to the court.
A Supreme Court judge recently commented on it in a critical way, and more of that will follow. I thank the Minister of State for informing the House to the effect that she did today, and I thank the Minister for Justice for moving forward, knowing that there is a strong opposition to doing what should be done.
Deputy Mary Butler
As the Deputy will be aware, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, published the first family justice strategy in November 2022, which sets out a vision for a family justice system of the future.
This will be a system that focuses on the needs and rights of children, a system that assists their parents in making decisions that affect all of the family, and a system that makes it easier for vulnerable parents and families to get support and make informed decisions.
The strategy is foundational in nature, recognising the many issues that currently exist within the system, but outlining the steps needed to move towards a family justice system that is
streamlined and user-friendly, and which supports and protects children and their families.
The family justice strategy is an ambitious and wide-reaching strategy which aims to achieve reform through the implementation of over 50 actions across nine goals. It prioritises the need and voice of the child, containing a number of actions which stress the importance of children and their needs in a reformed family justice system, so that their voices are heard and their views considered in a most meaningful way.