We are all members of families in one form or another, formed in a variety of ways. All bound together by their love for one another. A family created by choice, is the smallest unit of community, it is where the real work of community begins. No individual is a community unto themselves. We must as a society recognise and support all of those who wish to make a life-long commitment to one another. That willingness to support another person in bad times is what takes us beyond the base instincts of the perpetuation of our genetic heritage.
In our model of society, much removed from the every man for himself mentality, we have an expectation that we will undertake to support one another in harsh times, even when there is not blood relationship. That is what makes modern society different to the pure tribalism from which it evolved. So the notion that in order for society to given recognition to the commitment to support to one another that a blood line must be potentially involved actually goes against the development of humanity from the time of our tribal origins. Indeed it is very much, in my humble opinion, unChristian too boot. We are asked on a daily basis to transcend the tribal, to pay our taxes to be spent on others, to love our fellow human beings, to extend to them the protections that we would want for one of our own blood.
The needs and wellbeing of children should rightly be given priority in all policy relating to those family families that have children. But what are the primary needs of children, to be loved and grow up in a secure environment confident that they have a place in the world. And that the world welcomes them into it.
There is perhaps some logical merit in the notion, that all other things being equal, children benefit from the experience of having a loving mother and father but better a loving mother and mother than an indifferent father or absent mother. Yet since when are all others thing equal in the real world. We don’t remove children from single parent households because of the absence of a parental type or because it makes the burden on the remaining parent that much greater. Nor should we preclude a child from having a loving upbringing simply because those offering it happen to be a particular sexual orientation.
That said we should keep in mind that there is no such thing as a right to adoption; there is merely the right to apply for adoption. The application process for parents of children seeking to normalise their relationship with their new partner in a 2nd relationship should not be making distinctions on the basis of whether those partners are of the same or opposite sex. However, we should not be expecting that everyone same sex couple wishing to adopt will be able to do so; just as not every opposite sex couple can do so either.
By all means let us have research on what the impact may or may not be of growing up in same sex headed households, just as we have ongoing research into the difficulties faced by single parent households or households where there is a significant age difference. Personally, I don’t see how the conclusions of this research are likely to conclude that a child would be so negatively affected or with such certainty that we would simply ban those in same sex relationships from presenting themselves for adoption. If there are people who will offer loving, secure, support environments to a child then we owe it to the child to ensure that we set aside our own personal biases and act in the best interests of the individual child who needs a home.
There can often be reluctance among those seeking public office, because of the sensitivity that people feel around their personal beliefs, to ask more of public than the public might appear willing to extend themselves to. You get elected much more often by offering easy, simple answers to complicated questions, by point out certain dangers than by offering less certain solutions. I don’t believe in that. I believe in asking more of people because the generosity of the human spirit is more often greater than we anticipate it to be.
Support for Family orientated work practices and childcare arrangements
We should progressively move towards a more shared notion of parental leave so that it can be availed of by either parent as suits their needs in those first formative years.
Parents should not have to choose between the twin goods of providing for their children and rearing them. We need to recognise the many grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other extended family members who have stepped into the breach as double incomes became the norm in order to afford housing costs. We should support and encourage the provision of accessible, affordable childcare close to or within work places.
How the Tax code affect family choices
The many married, single-income families in this State were unduly affected by the introduction of tax individualisation under the wastrel eye of Charlie McCreevy. This has changed the shape of Irish society, and it can be argued it fed the boom in house prices and forced more and more couples out into the workplace when they might have chosen to remain at home. We have examples used to compare a married couple with children, surviving on a single income, paying much more tax each year than a double income couple on the same total earnings.
Yet we should remember that we are comparing a couple earning 70K between them with an individual earning 70K. To suggest the couple and this individual should pay the same tax is crazy. If you are married and earn 100K and your spouse chooses not to work I don’t see why other taxpayers should subsidise that choice. For those couples who have children and where one partner wishes to remove at home we can decide to re-orientate more of the tax credits towards dependent children rather than dependent the adults.
The individualisation tax policies that mean that a parent who might want to opt for full time parenting while his/her spouse earns the family income, should not be used to reinforce a social model that favours women remaining in the home whether they have children or not. State policy should support those with children and not be gulled into changes that would benefit those who choose to be single income. Needless to say, any changes in this area would have to come about in a revenue neutral manner given the current economic climate.
Changes in family culture
The culture of acquisition and consumerism has made it increasingly difficult for families to be content with the real necessary components that make for good families. Time spent together, freedom for children to learn their own lessons, a sense of adventure, are all in short supply than they once were.
The evolution of the longer commute time for both parents means that time spent with children must be highly focused ‘quality time’ with limited opportunity for unstructured hanging around. The causal security offered by passive supervision has passed away in many areas, yet all of this comes back to choices we make as individuals. The state does not dictate how much we take on a mortgage; it does not compel us to seek after larger and larger television screens. We can and must exercise our own free will and act as we would wish to do not as the media and popular culture demands of us. The reason why most parents become ‘uncool’ over time is that they realise that being cool isn’t what is important in the long term.
Have such changes in family circumstances contributed to the many problems: educational, behavioural and adjustment, faced by children today? It would seem so to me. If elected, I would focus on furthering a conversation, not a lecture or series of legislative initiatives on family policy.
The abuse of illegal drugs does great harm to many people but we need to look at critically what we are doing to minimise this harm and whether our efforts are effective or more a kin a fig leaf. My personal libertarian leanings incline me towards a policy of allowing for the availability of all drugs with appropriate warnings as to the harmful consequences, yet I do not believe for a moment that such a policy at this time is practicable for Ireland to undertake on its own.
I believe that were a global approach taken to drug abuse stemming from dealing with the problem as a matter of public health and not as a matter of morality or law and order then we would, in very short order, remove the cause of the vast majority of petty crime that affects more ordinary people, from burglaries of the elderly to muggings and much of the impetus for local prostitution, while also undercutting the massive cash resources that the illegal drug trade places in the hands of the most violent and unscrupulous elements of humanity.
We have moved beyond the point at which more taxation on alcohol will have useful impact on behaviour. I am open to being convinced about the merits and effectiveness of banning alcohol advertising and sponsorship. The message that we must focus on has to be one of personal responsibility and we need to remove any suggestion of allowing people to use alcohol or impairment due to alcohol abuse as a mitigating factor in road accidents or other crimes. If you choose to drink and then act inappropriately or illegally, you are still responsible for what you have done.
There is a legitimate debate to be had about the availability of low cost alcohol in supermarkets and off-licenses but this debate should not be held hostage to the interests of those selling alcohol in other surroundings.
Ensuring Standards in the Media
We need to see more responsibility in the area of entertainment. There are things that are not intended for children and parents should simply not buy them for their children! We have policing of all sorts of activities but a degree of common sense wouldn’t go amiss either. There is too great a tendency in the press to look for the latest outrage and hype it up. While it can be difficult for parents to monitor what their children watch or listen to or do, it was ever thus. Time has to be made by parents to educate their own children to discern between what they consider appropriate and inappropriate material.
It is often forgotten that in child friendly environment should not mean that grown-ups can’t be grown-ups. I would personally play computer games that involve shooting mutants, invading nations or managing football teams and frankly it is fun. For all that, I doubt I’m going to be parading down the local street naked with a samurai sword or thinking I really am the next Sun Tzu or Jose Mourinho anytime soon. Suggestions that we should have some overarching council of parental elders adjudicating on what is available for us as grown-ups to watch or do or listen to is nanny statist of the highest order.
Parents need to be encouraged and supported in setting standards for their children and not to rely on some outside body or agency to police what they do in their own homes. Children need to learn to judge the truth or otherwise of the various messages they are targeted with, the best place to do that is in the home and the best equipped are parents. State censorship is rarely the appropriate answer. Personal control is better than outside control.
A health service based on medical need, excellence of service and values
Our health service should operate according to the principle that all members of society should be cared for on the basis of medial need. The surest way to do this is by ensuring that those providing the care are not rewarded more for treating one patient than they are for another. We have many dedicated and decent people working in our health care system but the system as currently structured serves them and us badly.
We need to reject the American influenced culture that fears aging and death itself. We will all die and most of us will face illness of one sort or another at some stage of our lives so we must ensure that we do not create a system where that need is open to exploitation. At a moment of crisis we would, all of us, give every last one of our possessions to save the life of someone we love that does not mean that we should be pushed into penury by those who literally hold our lives in their hands. We need to embrace once again our native perspective on death as part of the cycle of life.
The state should underwrite the cost and regulate the standard of care provided; it does not need to be the provider of first recourse in all cases. Many falsely talk of privatisation of the health service, yet the vast majority our GPs operate privately and many of the hospitals run and funded by the religious are privately managed. The system is already a mix of public and private provision. That is not the problem, the problem has stemmed from the fact that private consultants get paid differently for treatment given to public and private patients. This creates the incentive to prioritise the private over the public patient.
We should move to a system of universal health insurance, with the State paying for the premiums of poorer members of society according to a reasonable single means test. And we need to have a support model that means that missing the cut for the support does not simply mean that you get no support. A system of universal health care that offers a gradient system of subvention for everyone with 100% cover funded for those on the lowest incomes and step ups in 20% increments as we ascend the pay scales would end the all or nothing model of the medical card.
Indeed, it is not ridiculous in my view to consider if a nominal sum might be recouped from everyone using a public service. After all with proper cost controls in place the service provider will have to bill the state so asking for 50c. With a reasonable allowance to ensure that those with chronic problems are not unduly penalised. As we saw with the plastic bag tax, behaviour can be changed so that what was previously free and unvalued was seen as a cost and as having a real affect on the environment once a nominal price was placed on it.
Policy on health should strive to promote excellence and value for money by encouraging competition among healthcare providers. We need more efficient application of the current €14 billion health spend, and a greater focus on the need to cut down on waste within the system. We spend vast sums on the health sphere yet it appears that where it is spent and how is almost beyond the control of those charged with its distribution. The real scandal of PPARS, as I saw it, was not limited to the sums wasted on the IT system itself but the uncovering of many thousands of separate ah-hoc payments to staff. Managers in the health service had no clue how many hours people were working from month to month, or what this was costing. That is not a managed health service, it is bedlam.