I delivered a considerable part of the main thrust of my contribution on the last occasion on 27 June. I will resume by making a passing reference to some of the matters I mentioned on that occasion. It is generally conceded that from a party political point of view this subject is, metaphorically speaking, a hot potato. I realise that there is a situation where fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The advice might well be that of the popular song of the Clancy Brothers "Whatever you say, say nothing". There is the temptation to be bland, but I believe that the contributions that have been made so far have been very positive and I have no doubt that those to come will be equally positive.
The biggest contribution undoubtedly will be from those who are members of this committee. Professor Dooge said that in his contribution when he said we would be relying on those members of the Joint Commitee on Marriage Breakdown to make greater contributions so that they could bring into the debate in this House many matters that are not part of the report and which are not available in the public domain. This widens the debate to a very great extent and it is important that it should be widened to that extent. I recall that when we dealt with the first report of the Select Committee on Women's Rights it was pointed out that in the Library in this House there were copies of the papers and all the matters that had been heard by the committee. I made inquiries in the Library and reports to this committee do not seem to be available.
My input will be neither unduly long — nor of any great consequence. Senator Dooge also had some interesting things to say about how we should deal with reports of this kind. When we were dealing with the report Irish Women — Agenda for Practical Action Senator Dooge thought that there were various ways we could treat it. We could emphasise different sections or we could take a global look at the whole report. I would have made some contribution to that motion but to a large extent the two motions are parallel. By and large, what was treated in one is covered to some extent in the other. They are major reports. The one entitled Irish Women — Agenda for Practical Action has 392 pages: I estimate this runs to about 170,000 words. It costs £10.50. The report of the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown has 176 pages, I estimate about 60,000 words, and it costs £8.50.
There are many people outside who will be interested in reading those reports but there may be many who could not afford to pay such considerable sums of money for the reports. I suggest that those reports — and indeed all reports of committees and joint committes — be made available to public libraries at no cost.
I will deal in my contribution with some aspects of the report. As I said before, this committee has been termed the "divorce committee", for what reason I am not sure because divorce is not in the terms of reference. These are to consider the protection of marriage and the family life and to examine the problems which follow the breakdown of marriage. If it were intended that divorce should be specifically considered it should have been added there "including consideration of divorce" but this was not done. However, divorce in this context would have to be considered in some depth. The matter is considered from pages 71 to 91, which amounts to over 16 per cent of the total report.
Those who have different views on this subject get different labels in the media. Those who are looking for divorce, either campaigning for it or in a marriage that has broken down and where they require divorce are really taking a conservative stance. If they were radical they would be looking to eliminate marriage altogether, but those people accept the contract of marriage. People whose marriages have broken down want divorce to get married again in most instances so that by and large they take a conservative stance. Senator Dooge also referred to the structure of the book. In some ways it could be faulted in this respect but nevertheless the contents of the report are more important than the structure. This is an important report and, like any matter we are discussing, it is easy to criticise though there are many areas in this where we can criticise. Overall, the Committee having got 700 written submissions and oral evidence from 24 different people, the report is a major work and one that will be consulted for many years to come. Reports such as this should be available in abbreviated form for the convenience of those who have not time to go through an entire report.
Any analysis of marriage must be considered primarily from the point of view of the husband and the wife. There is overwhelming evidence of the beneficial effect of marriage on men but the opposite applies in the case of women. It is agreed by sociologists that women start out with an initial advantage which marriage reverses. I remember reading in one of Harold Robbins' books that a woman changes completely when she gets a ring on her finger, that from being a docile, dependent and obedient person, she becomes independent. I am sure criticism of this nature could be levelled at men as well but no matter what criticism may be levelled at women, they are by nature designed to fulfil a very difficult role and one with which we must have the greatest sympathy.
The growth in the rate of marital breakdown reflects the changing norms and values. In our society marriage is increasingly valued. More is expected from it. People want more from a marriage relationship. Some sociologists go so far as to claim that a rise in the divorce rate may indicate paradoxically a higher rather than a lower standard of marriage in society. This is something with which we might all agree.
Another contradiction I see is that some people who are opposed to divorce would welcome an early referendum on the matter. It is generally conceded that at some stage we will have a referendum and that the longer it is delayed, the more chance there is of success. I believe that nobody would object to a referendum at the appropriate time and by the appropriate time I do not mean the consideration of party political expediency but at a time when most people would be aware of the benefits of divorce and also of the problems that the introduction of divorce would bring about, and at a time when the Government would be in a position to make a determined, positive step to achieve this purpose. I do not think there is any point in holding a referendum without a commitment from the Government on those lines.
In the introductory chapter on page 1, the committee state that the majority of marriages which are contracted in the State are and remain viable and stable. This is something which I would not challenge but it is a very vague statement. It may be 51 per cent of marriages that are referred to or it may be a much greater number but in this situation a general statement of this kind is not much use without statistics. The committee went on to state that much of their deliberations consequently focused on the protection of marriage and family life. This was precisely in response to their terms of reference. The committee recognise that the number of people who marry has not increased at the same rate at which the number of persons of marriageable age has increased and has not been matched by the number of people who have married. The number of marriages taking place has decreased and this, the committee say, gives cause for concern. There are tables on page 132 of the report which give the marriage rates from the years 1971 to 1983. These show a reduction from 7.4 per 1,000 population in 1971 to 5.5 in 1983.
Since then, to emphasise the matter further we have the statistics for 1984 and the marriage rate has gone down to 5.2 per 1,000.
I do not like to introduce religion into this subject except in a broad sense to say that according to Matthew, chapter 19, Jesus condemned divorce. We are told his disciples said to Him that if this is the way it is between a man and his wife it is better not to marry. His followers were saying that if marriage imposes such strict obligations and if there is no question of divorce it is better not to marry. We know what His reply was. It is strange that almost 2,000 years later there are many people, some of them good and decent Christians, also saying precisely the same thing — that if marriage has such pitfalls out of which it may not be possible to extricate oneself, is it not better to remain unmarried. I believe that in marriage the important factor is the contract between two people, commitment for life.
The committee acknowledged that the present law does not provide adequate protection for those persons whose marriages do not remain viable and this in itself is a threat to marriage. Some details should be included there as to what precisely the committee are referring to. A table of some kind should be included to indicate what the committee considered was desirable and what was possible under the Constitution. That is what was done in the case of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Building Land, which committee worked precisely within the terms of the Constitution and advanced suggestions that could be implemented within the terms of the Constitution. Having made that statement to which I referred it is a pity there was no followup by way of saying what should and could have been done. In chapter 2, paragraph 2.9, the committee on marriage breakdown had this to say:
Submissions received by the committee refer to extra-marital unions which are occurring in the State. Single persons living together, married people who have separated and are living with single persons or with other separated persons, persons who have had their marriages annulled by the Ecclesiastical Courts and who have "remarried" within the Church, persons who have obtained divorces abroad which are not recognised by the State and have purported to remarry, are all, in varying degrees, living in extra-legal unions, enjoying only limited legal recognition and protection.
It is necessary that statistics be furnished here. We are all aware of those matters even without such submissions having been made. The important thing is to know the level of the problem in all those areas and without statistics that cannot be ascertained.
In chapter 3 under the title "The Protection of Marriage and Family Life" in the introduction there appear the following remarks:
In addition, in considering how best the State can lead the way towards protecting marriage and family life, the committee is conscious of the disturbing economic and social pressures which add to the interpersonal pressures which can arise in the course of a marriage. The Committee does not have the resources to engage in a detailed examination of these pressures and agreed that to do so would require research of a kind not envisaged in the Orders of Reference of the committee....
I am not too sure whether that is so. Even if it had been necessary to have a further extension of time, that should have been done. The committee urges that in-depth studies be undertaken as a matter of urgency by the appropriate bodies. That is not sufficiently positive; it leaves the matter hanging in the air. It may be done, but on the other hand it may never be done. If there had been a suggestion that within a certain timescale something should be done, that would have been more acceptable.
Dealing with the subject of education in chapter 3 paragraph 3.1.1 the report states:
Throughout the deliberations of the committee, there was a constant emphasis on the importance of being prepared for marriage.
We all agree on the importance of education. Later, in paragraph 3.1.4, it states:
The committee, aware of the constitutional provisions relating to the protection of the family, is of the view that the State has a specific responsibility to promote a system of education for marriage.
I do not think there is anybody who would disagree about the importance of education. But, much as we should like to believe otherwise, education also has a negative effect because many of the people living with these problems are educated people. Possibly because they are educated, they expect more and are searching for more. I am not saying that a solution to the problem would be not to educate people — I am not saying that. I agree wholeheartedly with the views of the committee but there should be consideration given to the fact that education per se will also have negative effects. In that chapter on education there is a plea for relationships to form an essential part of education in schools. That is very important. Our schools should be geared to educate, not just for a job or for marriage, but for life, and to the extent that they do not do so they are a failure. I believe that there is now general agreement that schools should be of mixed sexes rather than single sex schools. As has been said before in this House, that suggestion involves some minimal problems, but it is very important in educating for life. As far as relationships are concerned, I believe that people must be trained to have consideration for others, to make sacrifices. There is no way that training can achieve any purpose if people are not prepared to be committed, dedicated and make sacrifices.
Under the heading of "Counselling," at paragraph 3.2.5, the report had this to say:
The Committee is of the opinion that:
(a) the State is obliged to ensure that the education system provides a means to educate persons for marriage; and
(b) the State is obliged to ensure that there is an easily accessible and effective counselling service available to married persons.
While acknowledging the proviso that education should be for life it is a mistake to specifically state there that it should be for marriage, although I believe that a counselling service is most important.
With regard to the appropriate age for marriage nobody would disagree that it is not just a question of puberty, that there must be fitness for marriage. For example, in religious life, in the religious orders, for a considerable time past I believe there have been strict tests to ascertain whether entrants are mentally and physically fitted for that way of life. Furthermore, on account of such tests, I believe that many seemingly suitable people have been rejected. I wonder whether such suitability tests should be applied to people intending to marry when perhaps because of some personality trait, some other problems or for one reason or another some people might be rejected. I simply pose that question because I believe that maturity is the most important consideration. In the course of the report it was said that the committee received many submissions which stressed that marriages involving young persons are more likely to break down than marriages between persons of more mature years. That is a view widely held by social commentators. Indeed, all the textbooks on sociology in any country come to that conclusion: that the greatest breakdown of marriages occurs in the case of young people. In chapter 10, "Summary of Opinions of Committee", it is said:
That the minimum age for marriage should be raised from 16 years to 18 years. Marriage of persons between 16 years and 18 years should be permitted if the prior consent of any guardian or guardians and the prior consent of the court is obtained. Any marriage of a person under 18 years, without the necessary consent, should be considered null and void.
That is another conclusion with which I fully agree.
"Environmental Factors", chapter 4, is an area in which many questions can be posed. At 4.3.2 it states:
The development of birth regulation is increasingly playing a large and important part in the fabric of family life.
That is an important and very positive statement. I take it to mean that it is playing an important part for the good of the family situation. There are many ways we could look at this and indeed we could examine it from the point of view of the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1985, which was introduced here some time ago. I am quite conscious that in that context it may have a very good effect. I also believe that it can have a detrimental effect. I know the perception of sex. Attitudes towards it have changed. By and large in the Roman Catholic Church there has been no change from the overall view that sex outside of marriage is wrong and if there are changes I would like to have seen them referred to in this report. One could make the case, for example, that the Health (Family Planning) Act could encourage promiscuity because sex between consenting unmarried couples is not unlawful and the the availability of artificial contraceptives will inhibit people less and lead to promiscuity and that at the lowest level marriage is a licence for sexual indulgence. Sex is as important to marriage as a wheel is to the motor car.
I am sure that the development of birth regulation is playing an increasingly important part in family life but I would have liked to have seen that developed further. There are always a choice regarding the size of the family. Even hardened socialists agree that love plays a very important part in marriage and love is very difficult to define. Corinthians, chapter 13 says:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or conceited, or proud; love is not ill-mannered, or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up: its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal.
In Ephesians 5 there is a sentence:
A man who loves his wife loves himself.
All these things are very important. Perhaps romantic love is jealous and is a bit selfish but by and large the views expressed are my views of love. In the old days Father Peyton and his Rosary Crusade pleaded that the family that prays together stays together and I am sure that is so. I am sure also that in other religions these concepts are very important. Religion is simply a way to God, and there are many ways. I recall the love songs and love poems of the Irish. These played a very big part in life. As a young boy I recall my father singing song after song. These songs are basically patriotic songs, rebel songs and songs of love and hope. When we grew up we had this simple concept that people fell in love, got a job, married and lived happily ever after, but life teaches us that this is not so. Many educated people have worked to try to have a happy family life but have failed. I pity them and I would ask is it fair that these people should be left without hope. Many marriages have also failed because there have been insufficient sacrifice or commitment or communication. We all have a different concept of happiness and happiness must come into a marriage.
It is important to have a general notion of the history of marriage in Ireland. Young marriages were a feature of our society. A paragraph from the Population of Ireland 1750-1845, by K.H. Connell says:
Marriages, [the rector said] are contracted, in most instances, without any regard to love, affection, or any of the finer feelings, and are concluded between the friends of the young people, without any reference to their choice or judgment; and it frequently happens, that the bride is dragged to the Hymeneal altar, bathed in tears, and compelled to take a companion for life, who is chosen by her parents from prudential motives. The chief time for marriage is from Christmas until Lent, being the season of the year when people have most leisure for settling such business.
In Kerry, on Wakefield's authority, "the match is frequently settled by the parents, without the knowledge of the intended bride and bridgroom."
That applies to other areas of the country as well. On page 51 of the same book in relation to young marriages it states:
Table 17, in Chapter II shows that in 1839 (after some years during which it had become increasingly difficult over much of the country for a couple to find a settlement) 70 per cent of the brides in first marriages in the rural districts were under twenty-six. That only nine years before, 76.5 per cent were so young suggests that in the previous half century, when subdivision, the extension of arable and other agencies which we shall discuss in later chapters, provided settlements almost for all who want them, marriage took place even earlier. There is no dispute in contemporary comment that early marriage was an outstanding feature of Irish social life.
We know that many young girls of 12 and 13 years of age were married. There are references to that in all these books. As far back at 1623, advertisements for Ireland pointed out that the Irish generally, be they ever so poor, married timely or else kept one unmarried and cohabited with her as their reputed wife.
At present the income tax regulations favour people who are married rather than two people living together. That is proper. I do not say that from any moral point of view. I want to make that clear as there was an objection recently to the concept of morality as far as the State is concerned.
During the debate on the Social Welfare (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1984 which was passed here a few weeks ago, the Minister told us that a married couple fared worse than an unmarried couple. Each of two unmarried people, the Minister told us, living together could be entitled to a personal rate of unemployment assistance, giving them a higher household income than a married couple. This is wrong, not from a moral point of view but from the point of view of encouraging people to live together in a permanent state which is what I regard matrimony to be. It is wrong that the State seems to be encouraging people to live together unmarried.
Religion, too, plays an important part and it should not be underestimated. In a book which was published last week Women & Work in Ireland: A Social Psychological Perspective the analysis and write up was carried out by Dr. Margret Fine-Davis, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology in Trinity College, Dublin. I quote a short paragraph from pages 16 and 18:
As Table 3 shows, there are meaningful patterns among various attitudes and beliefs. For example, Religiosity (as measured by frequency of mass attendance and the importance to the respondent of prayer and religion generally) is strongly correlated with a negative Attitude to Maternal Employment. ...as well as to opposition to the Legislation of Contraception and Divorce... It also tends to be associated — although more weakly — to a Traditional Sex-Role Orientation with Perception of Female Inferiority. These relationships are not that surprising, since the Church has reinforced a traditional role for women and has also opposed contraception and divorce. Nevertheless, the findings illustrate the strong influence the Church has on social attitudes and thus indirectly on social policy.
It is important to take that into consideration.
On page 25 it is stated that:
Another important factor is the impact of Catholicism with its emphasis on the permanency of the marriage bond.
There are other points in that marvellous book which I could quote. It is a pity it took so long to have it published. It is not so much the actual doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church or any particular religion that matter but the influence of religious beliefs. In many instances, those beliefs and values are declining. I stated that on the last occasion that industrialisation plays a very important part in marriage because, by and large, in countries which are heavily industrialised there is a high percentage of divorce. In this country many people might think that the reason for the comparatively low marriage breakdown rate is really not attributable to religion but to the fact that we do not have heavy industrialisation.
On page 26 of the report there are two short paragraphs which refer to alcohol, and Professor Dooge commented on those. As far as I can recall he said he was mildly critical of the conclusion of the committee in this respect. He stated at column 1146 of the Official Report of 27 June:
It appears that the committee attempted to say here that drunkenness and alcholism do not always lead to marriage breakdown and when they do, they are not the single determining factor but in trying to emphasise that point they have gone a little too far the other way.
I do not agree with Professor Dooge. I totally reject the conclusions here as being weak, insipid and not related to reality. Alcholism is the curse of this country. I have said that before. I am not against drink. I enjoy a drink myself. I know marriages which have broken down as a result of alcholism. There are very few marriages where a husband, for example, can afford to go out and enjoy himself drinking. I have seen homes broken up through alcohol. I have see careers ruined. I am sure other Members of the House could recall similar instances. I know many cases where alcohol has not caused complete marital breakdown simply because the wife was content to put up with anything. Far too much money is spent on alcohol. Young people at discos seemingly cannot enjoy them without alcohol. Treatment of the subject of alcohol would have merited a chapter on its own. I believe that the committee have failed to come to grips with reality in relation to alcohol. They have pinpointed nothing except in a general sense. People win in an event and they must celebrate with alcohol; if they lose they have to drown their sorrows in alcohol. Song and story tell us of the benefits and wonders of alcohol, about the "bould Thady Quill" type of person. The bould Thady Quill may indeed be worth writing a song about, but the life of many a wife was ruined by that type of individual through drink, and there are no songs and poems about that. I have said previously in this House that I believe that, generally speaking, alcohol cures no problems but creates many including marriage breakdown. I do not agree with the conclusions of the committee on this. It seems that with regard to alcohol in particular people are not prepared to make a sacrifice. I emphasise that I am not trying to encourage people to become total abstinence pioneers but I believe that people who control their drinking and do not over-indulge are bordering on the patriotic. I have had many requests from different groups of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, as I am sure other Senators have, urging the Government not to proceed with the extension of the opening hours. I support that plea because in the context of what we are considering here it can only do untold harm.
Other areas could have been included in the chapter on marriage breakdown. It does not go sufficiently into the problem of unemployment. That must be a major factor because I am led to understand by people who work on housing schemes that first indication is that they notice quite a number of houses being put up for sale over a period of time. The first indication is that maybe a husband and wife are working and have two cars at the house. Suddenly there is only one car and very shortly the other car is gone and then the sign is up that the house is for sale. In such a situation people are working to pay a mortgage which can be anything from £50 per week; indeed, most mortgages would be £100 plus per week. That must be a very serious problem, and I would have liked the committee to go further into it. Remember the novel Love on the Dole. A programme recently on television showed the grave and serious problems of people on the dole, and that situation could have been highlighted in the report.
The problem of boredom arises in many instances and can also be very serious. There is the matter of job satisfaction. How many people achieve job satisfaction? It is worth pointing out that the publication Women and Work in Ireland which I have mentioned seems to suggest that many women would welcome part time employment.
What is the problem regarding gambling in the area of marriage breakdown? I would have liked the committee to go into this subject but they did not do so. Let me say that on 9 July in this House the Minister when he spoke on Second Stage of the Designated Investment Funds Bill stated, and I quote:
I believe that an unnecessary mystique has been cultivated, perhaps intentionally, about share ownership. I believe also that most people, given a little time and with the right type of information, could develop the expertise to buy and sell shares sensibly and profitably.
Unfortunately, I know nothing about stocks and shares, but I believe that this is a gamble. It seems strange to me to encourage gambling in this House because I know, as I am sure many Members in this House know, of many instances where homes have been broken and houses and land had to be sold because of gambling. We know of the numbers who attend horse racing. We hear of the colossal sums gambled at small meetings. A State lottery is to commence. Should money be spent in this way? I am not pleading for the elimination of gambling. I am not opposed to enjoyment but I am opposed to money being spent on gambling which should not be so spent and I believe that is what happens.
The committee did not go into the problem of housing as far as I can see. In what way is this related to marriage breakdown problems? I know of one case where housing was the cause of the breakdown in marriage. What about the good time type of individual? To what extent is he or she a problem in marriage? In the old days we read about the importance of the mother in the home and with regard to priests it was stated that the best seminary in the world was an Irish mother's knee. That may well have been so, but many sons have been spoiled by their mothers perhaps to the extent that they are not able to maintain a proper marriage. The committee should have considered those matters.
To what extent has progress been the cause of marital breakdown? We know that in the old days people married very young, in their early teens and some times even before that, and there is no great record of marital breakdown at that time. In primitive societies people marry young for protection. Therefore, progress to my way of thinking is a factor which could have been taken into account by the committee.
I have mentioned people living on low incomes such as the dole and the poverty line. That is a problem, but it seems that affluence must be a problem also as these problems have increased as we have become better off. Has equality for women been a problem? I am totally committed to equality for women. Many women are prepared to take life as they meet it and they are not treated very well. Equality is their right but if they have to forego work in order to achieve what they want that work should be taken up by the men. To what extent is unreasonable expectation a problem? The most important quality in life is common sense, but it is something we do not have in abundance.
I would strongly criticise the views on drinking expressed by the religious. I recall my parish priest condemning from the pulpit people who broke the Sabbath by working in the bog, yet other people were drinking to excess in public houses. The implication seemed to be that the latter were not doing wrong but the former were.
On page 27 of the report it is stated:
With an increase in mobility and a greater emphasis on personal autonomy, the concept of exclusive commitment to another person for life may not be as attractive at the present time as it was in the past. Making personal sacrifices is often thought of as foolish, where once it was thought to be heroic.
There does not seem to be any follow-on from that important statement.