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Hayes claims parental choice for schools disguises “active prejudice”

Fine Gael spokesperson Deputy Brian Hayes has said that there is a danger that preserving religious schools in the name of parental choice will disguise “active discrimination”. In an interview with the Irish Times, he attacked the “secretive” manner in which he alleged negotiations between the Government and the Catholic Church were being carried out.

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Irish society becoming a “religion free zone”; Bishop Murray

A growing number of areas of Irish life are becoming religion free zones, according to the Bishop of Limerick, Dr Donal Murray. In an address on Tuesday at this year's Ceifin Conference in Ennis, Dr Murray said that assumptions that religion had no place in public discourse “did not seem to apply to agnostics or atheists.

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Redefine family in Constitution, say Greens

The definition of the family in the Constitution should be changed to give equal rights to couples who are not married, according to the Green Party. Greens' justice spokesman Ciaran Cuffe made the call after the party was accused of backing off recognising gay marriage.

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Dr Mansergh cites Iona paper in Dáil

Fianna Fáil TD, Dr Martin Mansergh, has said that “the value and social utility of marriage and the family based on marriage remains paramount, particularly for the upbringing of children”. In his speech on the Bill, Dr Mansergh cited ‘Domestic Partnerships: A response to recent proposals on civil unions,’ the Iona Institute's document on civil partnerships.

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New legislation set to cater for dependent cohabitants, says Minister

The Government's proposed domestic partnership legislation, scheduled to be introduced next year, will address legal protection of economically dependent cohabitants, according to Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan. He announced the measures after the Government rejected the Labour Party's proposed Civil Unions Bill, which would have created de facto gay marriage.

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Sweden to ban religious activity in schools

The government of Sweden is set to ban any religious activities in schools, including Church-run schools, apart from those directly related to religion classes. The new laws will also insist that religious ideas must not be taught as though they are objectively true.

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Two parents have foster child taken away over gay rights

Two foster parents with a record of caring for almost 30 vulnerable children are to have their latest foster son taken away from them because they have refused to sign new sexual equality regulations.

The couple, Vincent and Pauline Matherick, claim that signing the regulations would force them to promote homosexuality and go against their Christian faith. The 11-year-old boy, who has been in their care for two years, will be placed in a council hostel this week and the Mathericks will no longer be given children to look after.

The devastated couple, who have three grown up children of their own, became foster parents in 2001 and have since cared for 28 children at their home in Chard, Somerset. Earlier this year, Somerset County Council's social services department asked them to sign a contract to implement Labour's new Sexual Orientation Regulations, part of the Equality Act 2006, which make discrimination on the grounds of sexuality illegal.

Officials told the couple that under the regulations they would be required to discuss same-sex relationships with children as young as 11 and tell them that gay partnerships were just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages. They could also be required to take teenagers to gay association meetings. When the Mathericks objected, they were told they would be taken off the register of foster parents. The Mathericks have decided to resign rather than face the humiliation of being expelled.

Mr Matherick, a 65-year-old retired travel agent and a primary school governor, said: "I simply could not agree to do it because it is against my central beliefs. "We have never discriminated against anybody but I cannot preach the benefits of homosexuality when I believe it is against the word of God."

Mrs Matherick, 61, said they had asked if they could continue looking after their foster son until he is found a permanent home, but officials refused and he will be placed in a council hostel on Friday. She said: "He was very upset to begin with. We are all very close, but he's a mature young man and he's dealing with it."

The couple, who have six grandchildren and one greatgrandchild, are both ministers at the nonconformist South Chard Christian Church.

Mr Matherick added that the regulations would have required them to give sex education to 11 year old children, as well as explaining “how gay people date”. "They said we would even have to take a teenager to gay association meetings. How can I do that when it's totally against what I believe?"

Religious campaigners say the couple are the latest victims of an equality drive which puts gay rights above religious freedom. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have complained that the rules force them to overturn long-held beliefs.

According to official UK figures, there is a chronic shortage of foster parents, who work on a voluntary basis. About 8,000 extra foster parents are needed to meet current needs in the service. Researchers have found that continually moving children from home to home can have a devastating impact on their education and general welfare. But a report last year revealed that the shortage of carers meant that some children in care are being forced to move up to three times a year.

David Taylor, Somerset County Council's corporate director for children and young people, said: "No decision has been made about the deregistration of Mr and Mrs Matherick. "The council is committed to promoting the interests of children and young people and welcomes foster carers from all backgrounds and faiths."


Mortgage repayments “a heavy burden”, say one in five homeowners

A new survey has revealed that almost one-in-five home buyers say their mortgage repayments are "a heavy burden" while many more are struggling to make repayments. The survey, carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute for IIB Bank, found that almost three-quarters of mortgage holders (73 per cent) have said that they are finding it hard to meet repayments.

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Family role being eroded by the economy, says influential cleric

Market forces have dictated policy in areas such as the family, child care and care of the elderly for too long, Clare priest Fr Harry Bohan has said.

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Married families less likely to experience poverty, CSO finds

Households comprised of married couples with children are far less likely to experience consistent or basic poverty than other households, according to new data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). According to new figures from the CSO's Statistical Yearbook of Ireland, two adults living with children have the lowest rates of poverty, 5.3 per cent, of any households with children.

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New report on EU families shows marriage in meltdown.

One couple divorces every 30 seconds in Europe, according to a new study focusing on family policy in the EU. The report, entitled the Evolution of the Family in Europe in 2007, also shows that marriage is increasingly unpopular with fewer and fewer couples getting married.

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Labour minister signals change on marriage

A senior Labour minister in the UK has signaled the possibility of a major shift in policy over marriage. Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told a leading UK newspaper last week that marriage was “best for children”. He added that married couples should get tax incentives from the Government in recognition of the benefits their children and society gain as a result of the union.

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All work and no play leading to growing strains on relationships, say Family Support Agency

Gruelling commutes combined with a lack of free time for families is leading to a growing number of marriages and relationships collapsing, according to the latest report by the Family Support Agency. More than 1,500 separating couples sought help from the Agency's mediation centres last year, with many blaming disputes arising from “time poverty”.

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Archbishop says that levels of religious knowledge need to be raised

Much remains to be done to raise basic levels of religious knowledge, according to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin. Speaking at last weekend's religious knowledge conference in St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dr Martin said that he believed that children at different ages should be expected to have growing levels of knowledge.

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Cohabitation leads to worse outcomes for health, children, says report

Cohabiting families tend to produce worse education outcomes for children, according to Focus on Families, a report from the UK's National Statistics Office.

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British figures show benefits of marriage

New figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) show married people generally live longer and enjoy better health. The report, entitled Focus on Family, showed widowed men and single mothers suffered the worst health, with the greatest number of acute and chronic conditions.

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Family judges in bid to take divorce out of the courts

Britain's top family judges and lawyers have begun a campaign to ease the strains on divorcing couples by taking family law cases out of the courts. Family lawyers from the major divorce firms, along with senior judges, are backing a scheme being used in the US and Canada which encourages couples not to go to law when they separate.

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Fine Gael spokesman highlights “selective agenda” of Catholic schools

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes has called for a national forum on education and highlighted the position of Catholic schools in particular, stating: “The Catholic Church could not expect to continue the privileged position it had enjoyed for more than 150 years while pursuing a selective agenda at the same time.”

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Greater choice of schools necessary, says bishop

There is need for greater diversity in schooling in Ireland so as to respond effectively to the changing needs of parents and children, according to the Chairman of the Bishops’ Commission for Education, Bishop Leo O'Reilly. He made the statement of the launch of Catholic Primary Schools: A Policy for Provision into the Future, an outline of the Catholic Church's position on education in Ireland.

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Government backs UK against sisters for tax sovereignty reasons

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice has said that the Government's decision to file arguments with the European Court of Human Rights against a pair of elderly spinster sisters was taken on the grounds of national sovereignty. The statement was made to the Catholic newspaper Alive.

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"The child...shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents."

Article 7. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.