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Ruane - Immediate review of the Hague Convention on child abduction is essential

16 December, 2003

South Down MLA and Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality, Caitríona Ruane, has supported calls from Irish Women's Aid Organisations who are demanding that the Hague Convention on child abduction be amended.

Ms Ruane said: "Last week's high profile court case involving Derry mother Cara Gunn, who lost custody of her 5 year old son when a judge ruled he should stay with his father in the US, has exposed serious flaws in the Hague Convention on child abduction. Currently there are at least five Irish mothers in the North of Ireland involved in international custody battles with their foreign spouses or ex partners. They have found themselves in protracted and expensive legal battles to retain their parental rights and as Cara Gunn case proves, the odds are stacked against the mother of the child.

"I spoke with Newry grandmother Ursula Sweeney last night, whose daughter Ursula has been caught up in a bitter custody battle in Canada for her five year old child Melissa about the dreadful situation that her daughter and granddaughter find themselves in. I would like to congratulate the Sweeney family for their courage and tenacity in fighting for their daughter and granddaughter's rights over the past number of years. It is unacceptable that they have to do this alone and I am calling on people throughout the North of Ireland to support them.

"There must be an immediate review of the Hague Convention on child abduction as it is clear that this legislation is being regularly abused in mixed nationality relationships where the custody of the child is at stake. Women such as Cara and Ursula find themselves in a very vulnerable position and are unaware that they are breaking the law by returning with their child to their home country. This is usually an act of desperation on the part of the mother and is done to extract themselves from an abusive relationship. In effect, the law is abusing the mother further and it is vitally important that the circumstances surrounding the reasons for a person fleeing a country with their child be thoroughly examined and taken into account.

"Women living in foreign countries should be made aware of their rights and must not be separated from their children as a result of flawed legislation. In Cara's case Derry, and the six counties in general, was depicted as violent and dangerous and an unsuitable place to raise a child. Like must aspects of the judge's ruling it is based on a fundamentally flawed premise and Sinn Féin fully supports Cara, Ursula and the other women in their efforts to retain custody of their children. These children are Irish citizens and I will contacting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen to stand up for the rights of Irish citizens."

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