Undermining of marriage 'repeats mistakes of UK'


Family matters: Céifin conference in Clare

IT IS "remarkable" that Ireland is preparing to repeat the mistakes of societies like Britain and the US by introducing legislation which encourages cohabitation and dissolves the special status of marriage, Cardinal Seán Brady, Primate of All Ireland said yesterday.

Addressing the Céifin conference in Clare, Cardinal Brady criticised Government plans to give greater protections to same-sex and cohabiting couples in the proposed Civil Partnership Bill.

He said that one in four children of cohabiting parents experienced family breakdown before they started school, compared to just one in 10 children of married parents.

"Other studies in Britain and the US suggest that children born outside of marriage are more likely to do worse at school, suffer poorer health and are more likely to face problems of unemployment, drugs and crime," he said.

"All the more remarkable then that Ireland looks set to repeat the mistakes of societies like Britain and the US by introducing legislation which will promote cohabitation, remove most incentives to marry and grant same-sex couples the same rights as marriage in all but adoption."

Cardinal Brady said that families based on marriage between a man and woman were so intimately connected to the good of society that they deserved special care and protection.

"Other relationships, whether they are sexual or not, do not have the same fundamental relationship to the good of society and to the bringing up of children."

And he claimed the proposals undermined, rather than promoted, equality because they limited protections to relationships which were presumed to be sexual.

"Anyone in a caring, dependent relationship, whether sexual or not, should be given certain protections such as hospital visitation rights and a stability of residence in the event of that relationship ending."

He said "marriage, and with it the common good, is directly undermined when legislation and policy reduce marriage to simply one more form of relationship among others".

This year's Céifin conference is focusing on the family.

Fr Harry Bohan, chairman of the Céifin centre, said families and communities had undergone a "revolution" in recent years.Values which belonged to the world of business had permeated family and community life.

"The economy and its values dominate current affairs programmes. What is happening to family, community, relationships no longer occup[ies] the same place in society that it used to."

The conference also heard that the growing trend of working from home could have profoundly positive effects on family life.

Writer and broadcaster Charles Handy said we could see a return to pre-industrial days with the home becoming the centre of life again as it was when people primarily worked on the farm.

Technologies such as laptops, mobile phones and the internet meant that more and more people were working from home for one or two days a week.

This meant that breadwinners would no longer be absent for most of the week, unlike when his family were growing up and his daughter referred to him as "the man who comes to lunch on Sunday".

In recent years, children had no concept of what their parents worked at as they never saw them at work, Mr Handy said. "The home is the real schoolroom for life," he said and now children would see their parents at work and learn skills such as self-discipline and consideration for others.

The shift in working life might also encourage families to eat together, he suggested.

The British-based writer said some homes in Britain did not have a kitchen table because people balanced their food on their knees while watching television. In some wealthier homes, teenagers had microwave ovens and televisions in their bedrooms so they hardly needed to leave their rooms.

He referred to one experiment which found that 50 per cent of young teenagers did not know how to put a place setting on a table. "They didn't know because they had never put a knife and fork on the table," he said.

Social and economic research consultant Kieran McKeown told the conference that people tended to exaggerate the importance of prosperity for our wellbeing.

He pointed to Eurobarometer surveys which found no substantial improvement in our life satisfaction - which was already high - since the onset of the economic boom.

Mr McKeown said our habitual ways of thinking and feeling were the most important influences on our wellbeing. Our innate disposition to feelings such as enthusiasm, alertness or distress was much more important than our socio-economic status, he said.

Mr McKeown called for the regular measurement of our well-being, similar to the way in which our economy is measured. "As you know, what gets measured gets valued," he said.