Dáil Éireann - Volume 579 - 11 February, 2004

Written Answers - Ministerial Statements.

  88. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to an article where she is reported to have made certain comments (details supplied); her views on the way in which this relates to the constitutional provisions regarding marriage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3845/04]

  Mary Coughlan:The institution of marriage has been, and for a majority of families with children, still is the foundation for continuity and stability in family life. Its contribution overall to the well-being of individuals and, more generally, to social cohesion goes without saying and it is entirely appropriate that the State should, as stated in the Constitution, pledge “to guard with special care the institution of marriage”.

That being said, it is also the case that a growing proportion of marriages fail, with the spouses separating to live apart. The Constitution [1540] now also recognises this reality by permitting the dissolution of these marriages in certain defined circumstances and allowing those divorced to marry again under the law and set up reconstituted families. Of course, many who separate never marry again. There is also the growing phenomenon of couples living as man and wife but not entering into the legal relationship of marriage. Changing values mean that this form of family arrangement is becoming more socially acceptable.

Given the rapid changes affecting families and family life, the State is required to provide more support to assist families in difficulties than might have been the case in the past.

Families where the parents are experiencing marital difficulties or are separated or unmarried are generally more at risk, especially where there is just one parent carrying the double burden of breadwinner and care giver. It is my responsibility, as Minister with responsibility for family affairs, to ensure that the well-being of all individuals, especially children, is safeguarded within the family and that all families, irrespective of the form they take, receive appropriate State support in meeting their caring responsibilities.

Last year I established the Family Support Agency to draw together the main family-related programmes and services developed by the Government since 1997. Its functions include the provision of services in respect of family mediation, marriage and relationship counselling and family support services and programmes, including parenting, and support for the promotion and development of family and community services.

This year I have made some €20.185 million available to the Family Support Agency to fulfil its functions, €7.16 million of which is for the scheme of grants for voluntary organisations providing marriage and relationship counselling and other family supports.

I am also conscious that the rapid changes taking place may be leading to outcomes in terms of family life that many may not desire either for themselves or others. It is also possible that State policies and programmes may not be contributing as effectively as they might to strengthening families at this time of change. It was for those reasons that I embarked on the current wide-ranging consultation process which I intend will culminate in a clear, coherent and comprehensive strategy for supporting families to be issued by the end of this year, the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family.

The consultation so far has shown the deep concern many share on the impact of current changes on family life, a clear recognition of the importance of families for individuals and society and a determination that State support must be as effective as possible in strengthening families and family life. I am determined to ensure that [1541] the strategy which emerges at the end of the process will meet these concerns.