herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Sinead Ryan: Why lousy, absent fathers should be hit where it hurts -- in the pocket

Newbie TDs learn to keep their mouths shut and toe the party line... most of the time. But well done to FG's Michelle Mulherin.

She spoke up and called for benefits to be axed for serial fathers who want all of the fun and none of the responsibility. Those who think fathering children all over the place is a great hobby -- but one they can walk away from when they choose.

Sadly, her call has fallen on profoundly deaf ears, and she had to stress she was speaking "strictly in a private capacity" .... erm, why? Would it be too embarrassing to announce it as Government policy?

We have a ferocious problem with two things in this country (yes, well, about 200 actually, I know); one of them is that in some parts of Dublin and Limerick especially the number of kids born to single mothers is greater than the number born to married couples.

The other is that we have viciously high social welfare benefits which the IMF -- our paymasters -- keep reminding us have to be cut - and now. But the pace of change has been agonisingly slow.

In the first, I'm no particular advocate for marriage over other couplings, so I don't really care if dad hasn't marched mum up the aisle; however, in so many families, dad isn't a feature at all -- and that is a problem.

Dad was someone who showed up for a few months, made a baby and disappeared -- possibly to repeat the exercise in another hapless household or six.

Single mums in the main are poorer than their married counterparts -- or at least those in stable relationships with their child's father.

Discourage

Some other TDs have suggested (sotto voce) that benefits should be cut to single parent households with more than two children to discourage them.

This is going to help, how, exactly? Make mum feel even worse for a bad decision made several years ago? Make her feel more worthless and inadequate for not being able to afford childcare to go out and get a job? Brilliant. So children will have fewer treats, less food on the table and more hand-me-downs -- all to punish dad who probably doesn't give a toss in the first place.

But we absolutely need to go out and find dad, and cut his benefits instead, and have hefty laws which allow it. Less going-out money wouldn't be a bad thing for him to get used to if it's targeted at buying a few nappies instead.

In the UK, David Cameron's government does this with vigour. No, it's not always successful, but where they find dad, they insist he pays toward the upbringing of the child he was 50pc responsible for bringing into the world.

Last week, the PM didn't mince his words when he said that people shouldn't have more children than they can afford. Tory-speak, for sure, but it hit the nail on the head nonetheless.

Pious

Ideally, kids need the influence of both parents. This isn't some pious sentiment -- it's a fact borne out by many studies. But there will always be families where it isn't possible .

No, of course single mothers shouldn't keep having more children and we need to find ways of educating them not to, but chopping off their only means of support is smashing an ant with a sledge-hammer.

I'm not beating down on all absent dads. While we're finding the lousy ones and hitting their pockets, we need to recognise how important they are. Currently, unmarried dads have few rights with their children.

Dads are vital for children and as important as mothers. Those that want to be good fathers should be allowed. Those that don't should be at least paying for their poor choices and bad judgment.

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