Child maintenance agency must be priority for Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality – O’Malley Dunlop

-   Cliona Doyle

A statutory agency to ensure child maintenance is paid should be part of the work of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality, a Fine Gael General Election candidate has said.

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, a candidate in Dublin South West and current chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said:

“We need to overhaul our court system to establish separate family courts, distinct from our civil and criminal courts.

“Key to this reform however, is the establishment of child maintenance agency, which would have real teeth to oversee child maintenance and ensure it is paid in the case of a relationship breakdown.

“This would give single parents, who are usually mothers, a more accessible avenue to ensuring that maintenance payments are paid to them in a timely manner.

“It would also make it easier for the victims of domestic abuse to ensure that payment is made in full and on time in a safe and secure manner.

“Through my work on the Legal Aid Board, as well as my work on the NWCI, I have seen first-hand the distress non-payment of maintenance can cause for a family.

“I have seen single parents having to resort to using St Vincent de Paul or rely on their extended family for support when maintenance is not paid.

“Irrespective of the circumstances of a relationship breakdown parents must fulfil their obligations and we must not allow the courts to continue to be the only avenue open when people decide not to meet their responsibilities.

“Currently if there is a dispute over non-payment or other issues a mother has no option but to pursue the father through the court system which is difficult, complex and time-consuming.

“There is a better way and I believe that the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality is a prime opportunity to discover how we can address this issue once and for all,” she added.

Ms O’Malley Dunlop has discussed the need for reform of child maintenance with her party colleague, Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty.

Minister Doherty said: “I believe we do need to take a serious look at how child maintenance is handled in Ireland. We must look at ways which we can alleviate the burden for parents faced with non-payment in a compassionate manner.

“There is certainly space for the Citizens’ Assembly to consider this area and I would welcome any emerging proposals in this area which is something I have been considering closely for some time.”

Welcoming the appointment of Catherine Day as chair of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality.

Ms O’Malley Dunlop continued:

“It is also important that the Assembly looks at the issue of care and that specific policy proposals emerge on areas including childcare, early years education and supports for those who adopt caring roles in the family.

“There must be a holistic examination of our framework for childcare and early education as part of this also.

“It will be critical that the Citizens’ Assembly makes clear recommendations on Art. 41.2 so that a referendum can take place without delay.

Ms O’Malley Dunlop continued: “The Citizens’ Assembly is a unique opportunity to make concrete recommendations for new legislation and policies to advance women’s equality.

“We have seen the truly transformative and influential role the Citizens’ Assembly model has had on Irish society in recent times and this is a real chance to effect lasting change for Irish women.

“The Assembly has the potential to bring about a sea-change in gender equality and I look forward to its work getting underway.”

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