Recognised by the World Health Organisation in the eleventh International Classification of Diseases, Clare County Council are the latest local authority to pass a motion seeking recognition of parental alienation.
Recommendation 36 from the Report of the Reform of the Family Law System read that “consideration be given as to whether laws should be amended to take into account situations where one parent is wrongfully influencing their child or children against the other parent, thereby creating unfair and unwarranted alienation that can be destructive and life lasting”.
At a motion to the February meeting of Clare County Council, Cllr Mary Howard (FG) called for the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality, Children and Youth Affairs “to recognise that parental alienation is ‘substantial and sustained dissatisfaction within a caregiver-child relationship associated with significant disturbance’”. She described it as “a form of child abuse”.
“When I got involved in local Government ten years, social justice was at my heart,” Cllr Howard outlined. She said the concept of parental alienation was brought to her attention by a friend, Trudy Leyden. “Subliminal messages are being sent to children, ‘Daddy or Mom doesn’t love us’ as a result of anger, bitterness and the stress of a relationship breaking down.
“I believe you can’t tell a child enough that you love them. This needs to be identified as a crime, it is recognised by WHO as a crime,” the Ennis representative added. “The relationship breaks down with the parent but they lose a relationship with half their family, aunts, uncles, cousins and most importantly the grand-parents. I find the whole thing so upsetting”.
Clare County Council became the fourteenth local authority to pass a motion on the subject as Cllr Shane Talty (FF) seconded the proposal. “It is a concept new to myself but it has been quite striking. I’ve been taken aback by the number of people who have contacted me on the issue”.
It was a subject that “tugged my heartstrings”, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) confessed. “When I read this motion first I didn’t have a clue what was going on, when Mary explained it to me I got emotional. It is a crime, I commend Mary for bringing this forward”.
Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF) warned of the long-lasting affects of parental alienation. “Using a child as emotion is extremely wrong, it has emotional affects. I really cannot stress the emotional damage that can be done when a child is used emotionally, it affects their upbrining and future relationships”.
An honest account on the breakdown of her first marriage was shared by Cllr Ann Norton (IND). “I made a decision that I would never criticise or say anything bad to my children about their father. I left it till they were 18 for them to decide what they wanted to do. I see how children can be used as pawns against each other. It’s important that children are looked after, that they are protected because at the end of the day, they are our future. There is no supports for these children, there is no counselling support, no one taking them aside and giving them support, it is something that needs to be looked at if and when this comes into reform. I want to see children respected and adults respecting their own children. Family law is a very difficult area to be in”.
Her views on protecting the children were reiterated by Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF). “Adults may have their differences but the two most important people in a child’s life are their mother and father. Poisoning the whole child’s mind, the children need to be protected”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo following the passing of the motion, Trudy Leyden said she saw tears in people’s eyes as the motion was discussed in the public gallery. “I am so proud to have played a part in the changing landscape of social justice in Ireland. I want to thank Cllr. Mary Howard for putting forward this motion as I requested and all the councillors who spoke about it with passion. There were a few in the public gallery with tears in there eyes and I hope that very soon it will be national legislation. Now, in County Clare if you abuse a child by alienating them from a parent, everybody will know that Clare County Council recognises it as a criminal act”.