Cllrs Peter Ormond and Clare Claffey

Motion seeking recognition of parental alienation is adjourned

By David Power

Members of Offaly County Council agreed to postpone a motion in relation to parental alienation due to concerns over potential consequences for domestic violence sufferers.

Cllr Peter Ormond had a motion before a recent meeting of the council “calling on the Irish Government Departments of Health, Justice and Equality and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to recognise that parental alienation as a situation when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”

His motion also sought the implementation of recommendation 36 of the Report of the Reform of the Family Law System October 2019 now being reviewed by the Family Justice Oversight Group.

However, mixed views were expressed at the meeting, with several councillors stating they needed more information, particularly around the issue of domestic violence.

Cllr Ormond said he had received representations on the issue during his time as Cathaoirleach of the council and had agreed to put forward the motion.

Seconding the motion, Cllr Tony McCormack said he understood it was a sensitive subject. He said parental alienation was a well-known situation which had been identified in the high-profile cases involving Charles Dickens, the Earl of Westmeath and Albert Einstein.

Cllr McCormack said his own parents separated “when it wasn’t the done thing,” and he himself is also divorced. He said he has friends who are in “horrendous situations”.

“I was lucky that my mother always told us to respect our father,” he said.

Cllr John Clendennen said he would prefer if they adjourned the motion as he would have liked to have heard both sides of the argument.

Cathaoirleach Cllr John Carroll said they had asked both sides for information and any correspondence had been forwarded to elected members.

Cllr Clare Claffey said she had reservations about the impact the motion could have and said research had cast doubts on the phenomenon of parental alienation.

There has been a significant increase in domestic violence, particularly during the pandemic, she said.

“I would be concerned that this law would be used to exercise control and prevent people [suffering domestic abuse] from coming forward,” Cllr Claffey said.

She was concerned that the issue of domestic abuse would then be pushed aside. Cllr Claffey added that the council should not pass the motion when they had been made aware of the negative impact it could have.

She said concerns have been voiced by Offaly Domestic Violence and Arden Community Centre.

A commission has been set up by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to legislate on the matter, with Cllr Claffey stating they should withdraw the motion until this has been completed.

The issue is a very complex one, Cllr Ken Smollen said. “I would like to have heard from the experts and would like to have heard them speak at the meeting,” he said.

Concern on the impact this legislation would have for victims of domestic violence was also expressed by Cllr Sean O’Brien. He said if the motion went forward, he would oppose it.

As the World Health Organisation had rejected the concept of parental alienation, and the Department of Justice has set up a committee on the issue, he agreed that the motion should be withdrawn.

Cllr McCormack said he was in favour of the motion but knew that “not for one second do any of the councillors condone domestic violence in any shape or form”.

He said he knows coercive behaviour goes on, and has seen it happen to close friends. He said the motion was only asking for the issue to be put forward for consideration by the government.

“Minister McEntee has put together a committee. We are not trying to make any decision here,” he said.

Cllr Liam Quinn said he felt personally ill-equipped to make a decision and if the Justice Minister has given a commitment to look at the issue with an expert committee then, “I don’t know if it is a wise thing for us to plough ahead”.

“It would be very divisive,” to come down on one side or another on such a sensitive and difficult issue, he said. Cllr Quinn felt it was wise to wait until the committee set up by the Justice Minister had come up with their decision.

“I don’t want to divide the council on the issue,” Cllr Ormond said. He agreed to adjourn his motion.

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