TUESDAY 03/08/2004 16:50:17  
Unionist support for fathers group

Fathers campaigning for the rights to see their children following a family separation tonight received support for their campaign from Stormont.
By:Press Association

However they were told by one Assembly member their cause would not helped by protests which breached national security.

Ulster Unionist Esmond Birnie and Democratic Unionist Mark Robinson pledged their support for the campaign group, Fathers-4-Justice at a meeting in Belfast.

However Mr Birnie said: "As Ulster Unionists we have some reservations concerning some of the tactics employed by Fathers-4-Justice.

"To take one example, we do not think that the case of estranged fathers was served by breaching the security of Parliament in the context of the threat posed by international terrorism.

"Such acts, we believe, undermine rather than advance the cause for which Fathers-4-Justice stands."

In May, Fathers-4-Justice sparked a major review of security in the Houses of Parliament when protesters threw a purple flour bomb which hit Tony Blair during Prime Minister`s Questions.

The pressure group has staged protests across the UK to highlight their call for family law reform.

Last month, two men dressed as superheroes climbed onto the roof of Worcester County Court.

Protesting fathers have also scaled the Tower Bridge in London, including one in a Spiderman outfit.

South Belfast DUP Assembly member Mark Robinson told members of the pressure group the Government needed to address the need for a family justice system which took into account the rights of fathers.

"Unfortunately a feature of society today is that marriages and relationships break down," he lamented.

"However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the breakdown of a relationship in which children are involved can have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the family unit.

"The number of divorces granted in Northern Ireland has gradually been on the increase, and statistics for the year 2002 show that there were 2,034 children under the age of 16 who were affected by divorce.

"It is also a sad fact that within two years of divorce a substantial number of children lose all contact with their non-custodial parent, usually their father.

"I must therefore commend the work of "Fathers for Justice" who are campaigning on the basis of equal parenting rights. "

UUP Assembly member Esmond Birnie said it was in society`s ineterest that the bond between parent and child was allowed to continue.

"Countless studies have shown that children benefit from a relationship with both their parents," he said.

"It should be the aim of family courts to ensure that this is the case wherever possible."