Marchers draw attention to plight of fathers denied access to their children


 ABOUT 40 "Santas" marched through Dublin city centre yesterday to highlight the situation of separated fathers who will not see their children at Christmas.

The march, organised by the support organisation Unmarried and Separated Fathers of Ireland, drew much attention from onlookers as it made its way down Dame Street to College Green and on to Westmoreland Street.

Some of the Santas, on trumpet, drums, accordion and tambourine, played upbeat Christmas tunes such as Jingle Bells, as shop-workers came to shop doors to see what was going on. People laughed, took pictures and clapped, and passing motorists beeped their horns in approval.

Others on the march, which included women and some children, carried banners with such slogans as "A Dad is for Life, Not Just for Saturdays" and "When is a dad not a dad? When he's Irish".

As they reached O'Connell Street, the marchers stopped and gathered on the bridge where they lined up along the footpath.

They then dropped 20 Christmas wreaths into the Liffey, to remember fathers who had taken their own lives due to the pain of being separated from their children.

Ray Kelly, the founder of the group, said the tone of the march was upbeat but it had a serious message. "Every week a child's rights are abused when they are taken from their father. Fathers are taking their own lives because of what is happening to them. It is terrible that this is happening."

He said a major aim of the march was to "reach out" to fathers who were in difficulty, "to show them there is help, there is support - if not from us there are the Samaritans too".

Christmas was a time when fathers who could not see their children were particularly vulnerable. It was also a difficult time for paternal grandparents where the father had little or no access to his children. "If we save one life by doing this march and getting the message out about the support that's available, that's a job very well done today," he said.

Event co-ordinator Paul Mannion said he got involved with the organisation in March when he was being denied access to his two-year-old son.

"They just supported me. They have meetings every Monday night and it was a place I could go and just talk about my problems and open up a bit. I see my son now twice a week but I don't know how I would have got through it without the unmarried fathers."

Green Party councillor Ruairí Holohan said he was there because the party supported "all family structures whether married, unmarried or adoptive and we believe all should be treated equally before the law".

He said he was a separated father and was there with his young daughter.

The fathers' organisation can be contacted on 01-4514200 and 01-4514295 or at