Young people should be given choice on marriage, says ombudsman

New Children’s Ombudsman was “surprised” by Pope’s comments on smacking

Dr Niall Muldoon: has outlined his plans to make direct provision the main priority of his upcoming tenure. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Dr Niall Muldoon: has outlined his plans to make direct provision the main priority of his upcoming tenure. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

 

The new Ombudsman for Children says young people should be trusted to “make up their own minds” once they reach the legal age to marry.

Dr Niall Muldoon was speaking in the wake of criticism over the practice of young people getting marrieds at the earliest legal opportunity. The discussion was prompted by the marriage of a 16-year-old groom to a 17-year-old bride at a Fermanagh ceremony where a man was shot dead and another injured.

Celebrant Fr Michael King said teenagers should be allowed to gain more life experience before engaging in matrimony and expressed the view that the custom of marrying early was particularly prevalent in the travelling community.

“My understanding was that both young people were of an age that they could make up their minds in that regard,” said Dr Muldoon, who gained official approval from the Government as the new ombudsman this week.

“Customs are different all over the world and it wouldn’t have been unusual in Ireland many years ago,” added the former charity director.

Individuals must be aged 18 or over to marry in the Republic, as opposed to 16 in Northern Ireland.

Responding to comments by Pope Francis about corporal punishment for children, Dr Muldoon said there could be no justification of physical violence against children. Pope Francis was speaking at a general audience when he said it was okay to smack children to discipline them, as long as their dignity is maintained.

“It was certainly a surprise to me,” Dr Muldoon told The Irish Times. “Child protection is improving all over Ireland in all institutions and all organisations that work with children, and I think the concept of smacking a child is something that we would never feel is appropriate,” he said.

Speaking earlier on Friday, the former Trinity College and UCD lecturer outlined his plans to make direct provision the main priority of his upcoming tenure. He said it is unsatisfactory that people within that system are not given direct access to his office when making complaints.

“There’s a lack of clarity in relation to the remit from our point of view . . . we’d like to see that clarified so we can become the independent complaint handler for children within the system,” he said.

Overall, he believes the restrictive nature of the system which asylum seekers must go through inhibits the development of children. “The system doesn’t lend itself to positive relations, both within the families who come here and within the actual community. If a family is there with children growing up, going to school but not able to bring their friends home, it makes it much more difficult for the family to fulfil their potential.”

He also indicated that the issue of child adoption for same-sex couples shouldn’t necessarily be framed in light of individual pieces of legislation, and reiterated that children have an expectation for reasonable standards of care regardless of their domestic situation.

“We’re working on the basis that all children need to have the same protection under the law regardless of the make-up of the family that they find themselves in. There should be equality for all children, it’s not the child’s issue what the parental or family makeup is, and that would be the view that we would always have carried for these situations,” he said.