Comment & Analysis

Shatter’s attack on the family
A forthcoming law will be the most far-reaching attack on the family, writes David Quinn

Minsiter Alan Shatter

Philomena, starring Judy Dench is currently playing in cinemas and has been getting plenty of play on RTÉ’s Liveline. It is the tale of how a mother was separated from her son when her son was still very young and the son was raised by adoptive parents.

It is the tale of how both mother and son went looking for one another and eventually succeeded. It is a tale of how important the natural ties are to us. We want to know who we are and where we come from and a big part of this is knowing all about our natural ties.

It’s what explains the appeal of programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? and also the appeal of The Gathering which brought together extended families who could tell who their first, second, third and fourth cousins were because they could draw their family trees.

Circumstance

It is one thing to have the tie to your natural family cut by circumstance. Maybe you weren’t in a position to raise your child and had to give the child up for adoption. Adoption is a good and necessary institution, but adopted children who grow up in loving, caring families still often go looking for their natural parents because they want to see who they look like, act like and where they are from.

Natural tie

But its another thing entirely when the natural tie is cut deliberately without any thought at all for the rights of the child. However, it appears this is what Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and the Government generally, are planning to do via a new law set to be published next month.

The law, to be called the Children and Family Relationships Act looks set to be the most far-reaching attack on the natural rights of children this country has seen in a very long time. Minister Shatter’s planned reform of Irish family law is ultra-radical. It will permit the deliberate creation of motherless or fatherless children, and the deliberate cutting of the natural ties between children and their parents.

It will allow cohabiting heterosexual couples and same-sex couples to have children via egg donors and sperm donors and surrogate mothers with the full approval and blessing of the State. It is not clear yet whether it will give single men and single women the same rights.

A child who is brought into the world by a single man, a single woman or a same-sex couple will by definition lack the care of either a mother or a father.

This should go without saying. A single man can be a father to a child, but not a mother. A lesbian couple cannot give a child a father, nor a homosexual couple a mother. These children will deliberately lack the love of either a mother or a father and to that extent will be motherless or fatherless. The State will give this its full support.

IVF

The vast majority of couples who use IVF use their own egg and sperm, that is the child they will have will be genetically and biologically their own.

But when a same-sex couple wish to have a child via IVF, they must use someone else’s egg or someone else’s sperm. That is, the child will be the biological child of only one member of the couple. Either the mother (that is, the egg donor) or the father (that is, the sperm donor) will be missing.

That is to say, the natural tie to either the mother or the father will be cut deliberately, not through circumstance.

What are we going to say to these children in years to come when they appear on radio or television and demand to know why society allowed the tie to at least one of their natural parents to cut?

What are we going to say when they ask why did we let them be deliberately deprived of either a mother’s love or a father’s love?

Do we think it’s going to cut any ice if we say we did it out of a desire to be ‘modern’ or ‘tolerant’, or that we were trying to destroy the last remains of old, traditional Ireland?

At least in the case of adopted children we can tell them that we didn’t cut the natural tie, that circumstance did that. But in the case of children produced via egg or sperm donors we will have no such excuse. We will have authorised and approved the deliberate cutting of the natural tie.

Angry

As it is, there are already thousands of children of egg and sperm donors grown into adulthood who are looking for their natural parents and are extremely angry that they will never know them.

What will Alan Shatter and Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore say to these people in the future? They will have long passed from the scene by then and so won’t have to answer for what they are about to do.

But a future generation of politicians will have to explain what happened. They will have to explain the kind of Ireland that permitted the deliberate creation of motherless or fatherless children. They will have to explain how we ever justified the deliberate sundering of the natural ties.

And Ireland of the future will look back on Ireland of the present and wonder why it didn’t defend the rights of children when those rights came under such strong and far-reaching attack by the Government of Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore.