Monday 23 September 2019

Slapping law another case of the State taking a thin slice off personal freedom

'One man’s tap on the backside for a naughty child is another man’s serious assault'
'One man’s tap on the backside for a naughty child is another man’s serious assault'
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It was the smack that was heard around the soft drinks aisle. As exhausted office workers trundled through the supermarket and picked something up for dinner that night, a child started to act up with his visibly harassed and aggressive mother.

Rather than explain to the urchin that he wasn't allowed to grab whatever he wanted from the shelf and put it in the shopping basket, the woman smacked him with such force that a percussive crack was heard by everyone around her, including a security guard who promptly escorted mother and child - both of them screaming at this stage, although for very different reasons - off the premises.

As examples of bad parenting go, it was a masterclass. In fact, it stretched so far beyond the scope of bad parenting that it was nothing other than an assault.

In other words, what she was doing could not, in any reasonable environment, be considered 'reasonable chastisement', that murky piece of legalese which James Reilly now wants removed from the statute books.

The Minister for Thinking About The Children plans to bring proposals to the Cabinet to introduce a complete ban on smacking children because, as things stand, parents and child carers can potentially use the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' if suspected of beating their child.

The legal right to smack your child was repealed 15 years ago but as the 'reasonable chastisement' defence was allowed to stay on the books, it became an intractable quandary - after all, one man's tap on the backside for a naughty child is another man's serious assault.

Both the United Nations and the Council of Europe have been on Ireland's case in recent times about our reluctance to introduce a complete and total ban on smacking a child.

Of course, the average parent is unlikely to think about the latest vapid ruling from the UN when their child is about to stick his finger into an electric socket and this another attempt by the State to intervene in family life.

Few people will be prepared to defend the idea of smacking your child. Interestingly, those traditionalists who still hold to the old canard that saving the rod will spoil the child, usually on the basis that they were beaten as a kid and it did them no harm, tend to be the best examples of why you shouldn't hit a kid - because the results aren't pretty when that child grows up.

The woman who slugged her kid in the supermarket was guilty of an assault on a minor. While she was escorted, kicking and screaming and effing and blinding and generally making observers fear for the future of her terrified child, the gardaí should have been called.

But since what she did was already illegal, who is Reilly really trying to target by removing the defence of reasonable chastisement?

You don't have to be the proverbial lily-livered liberal to object to the idea of a grown adult striking a child. But having said that, you don't have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to object to the State encroaching into the traditional role of the parent.

Reilly, like his Cabinet colleagues, seems to have no problem with adopting the European 'progressive' model, where parents are expected to conform to whatever theory of social engineering is fashionable at the time.

For example, his introduction of fines of 80 quid for any parent who is caught smoking in their car while a child is present is merely a Trojan horse. Obviously, nobody is going to suggest that smoking in a badly ventilated car while their kids are sitting in the back is a clever idea. But once it manages to criminalise one aspect of behaviour it doesn't like or approve of, the State will always, always take that inch and turn it into a mile.

So, you start with smoking in cars when children are present and that opens the way to ban smoking in the home when children may be present. It's the slippery slope or, if you prefer, the salami effect on personal freedoms - you take slices that are so thin nobody really notices but before you know it the salami is actually gone.

It's yet another piece of legislation that makes State agents of us all.

After all, the parents are hardly going to report themselves, so that means the Government either wants us to inform on each other or, equally likely, it simply hasn't thought this one through.

If someone gives their child a smack on the backside because they have wandered too close to the pond in their local park, will people now feel entitled to ring the cops?

Like any attempt to artificially modify behaviour, this is doomed to abuse and failure because the laws that prevent a parent from assaulting their child are already on the books so this is just another example of publicly looking for a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.

Still, it will go down well with our demented overlords in the UN and the Council of Europe, and the first time a parent is reported to the police by a nasty neighbour or some halfwit who gets the wrong end of the stick, they will discover that individuals are always the victim when public legislation dictates private behaviour.

Maybe they can come up with a new Cabinet post for Reilly - Minister for Unworkable Ideas.

Irish Independent

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