Parents must be free to choose

22nd November 2000

A LONG time ago (seems like decades now) the anti-divorce camp insisted that the introduction of divorce would lead to a divorce culture here.

It was an idea that was derided by the liberal set who put forward the view that adults are far too well adjusted to be influenced by mere fashion and certainly not in the serious things in life like relationships.

Eventually, by dint of characterising everyone who employed the argument an ignorant redneck backwoodsman, the point of view has fallen out of fashion.

Which is a shame, because it is absolutely spot on.

The history of the world is that of whole masses of people following prevailing fashions or mores. In the last century you only have to look to the rise and fall of nationalism, communism, fascism, Islamic fundamentalism, apartheid, and so on.

In all these cases individuals and indeed whole nations of people were inspired to give their lives and to take many others for, ostensibly, the sake of an idea.

People of my generation ask what on earth made our parents put such trust in the Catholic authorities during the past 50 years.

I wonder if in 20 years we will look back and cringe at some piece of stupidity that seems so reasonable or so natural now.

The reason for all this is that human consciousness is malleable.

We are hugely influence by our society and by the powers that underpin it. To demonstrate how powerful these cultural forces are we can take the case of gender.

If you are a man, imagine yourself walking down O’Connell Street in a dress. I think that most men in Ireland would be mortified at the prospect.

And yet there is no physical reason why men don’t wear dresses. It’s purely cultural but very powerful.

The reason I mention all this is because it lays down the principle very strongly that you get the type of society you aim for.

If we create a society (or economy) that values the individual more than the community or the family – that’s the society we’ll get.

The underlying forces in society are economic. Capitalism aims for short-term profit. It is not part of profit seeking to see the whole picture.

In this country we now have, for the first time in centuries, a labour shortage. Last year, with the introduction of individualisation, the Government targeted stay-at-home mothers in order to get them out to work.

This year the labour shortages are even more acute. And the question of childcare is more critical than ever.

It seems that in next month’s Budget there will be major new spending on childcare.

But will the point be to care for children or to produce extra labour?

If the Government simply opts to build more creches and to institute professional childcare across the board it will be creating a situation where children are just another cog in the economic machine.

A vital balance in our communities will be lost. Stay-at-home parents, over-whelmingly women, provide a huge prop for local civic life.

For many years people argued that women had a right to choose to work.

Now that right will become an economic imperative. If the individualism of the tax code is taken to its natural conclusion it will become an act of stupidity for parents to stay at home.

So watch carefully for the big decision in the Budget next month. The big choice is between increasing children’s allowance, which will go to all parents, or whether it will go to childcare for working parents.

I wouldn’t mind if the rush to get stay-at-home mothers working was about equality but it is patently not.

The case for men sharing more parenting is unanswerable but rather than encouraging men to stay at home the Government is saying that it doesn’t want anyone at home at all.

Parents must have the right to decide whether to work or mind the kids.

As well as that…

Common sense about to break out?

The FAI treasurer is heading for the courts if he can’t get to see all the figures for the costs of building Eircom Park.

By any standards this is a bizarre situation. The credibility of this project is now in tatters.

The £65 million price tag is a joke. You wouldn’t build a decent tennis court for that now.

And somebody (Bertie, specifically) is offering to build the FAI a stadium for free. They can even keep their corporate boxes and ticket sales.

And the FAI aren’t tempted. Is this a wind up or what?

Across town, it’s dawning on the GAA that they will be down £100 million vis-a-vis the FAI and IRFU if Bertie Bowl goes ahead.

Last week the GAA denied that they were talking to the Government. So it must be true.

Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing in the GAA’s rules to prevent soccer being played at Croke Park. All it takes is the approval of Central Council.

So let’s get real. As I suggested in a recent column, the best result would be a combination of Croke Park and an Eircom Park type stadium in Blanchardstown, catering for all sports, crowd sizes and weather.

It’s beginning to look like it might happen.