After 17 years living, working and single-handedly raising his four children in Northern Ireland, stalwart campaigner for men and boys’ rights, Peter Morris has returned home to Scotland with his family.
He goes back to his homeland after the courts in Belfast recently granted him permission to relocate to Scotland with his children and ruled there should be no contact from their mother.
Commenting on the decision Peter, who secured a contact order for his children in 2010, then a residency order said: ‘‘I’ve been through the system which some see as a horror, and gained every order relating to children a parent could gain.
‘‘I don’t know any other father in Northern Ireland who has gained the same to date.
‘‘To issue no terms of contact for the mother is not often heard of.’’
Peter Morris, 42, has always been vocal on the rights, or rather, lack of rights, of fathers, spurred on by his own experiences.
Originally from the small town of Penicuik, near Edinburgh, he grew up in ‘‘extreme poverty’’ due to the pit strikes, his family often surviving on food parcels and the generosity of neighbours.
Growing up Peter travelled back and forth to Northern Ireland with the flute band he was in, finally settling here in 2000 when he met a girl.
‘‘We had four kids together. It had its up and downs,’’ he says quietly.
‘‘Social services were involved with the family due to the kids’ mother.
‘‘She had four other kids, three of them had been in care.
‘‘She was addicted to prescription drugs and tried to hide it.
‘‘She would get violent with alcohol as well.’’
Peter became the victim of violence in the home, but no conviction was brought against his former partner.
‘‘I have no trust or faith in Social Services. They knew what was going on in the family home - the police kept coming, but I was the one getting put out of the house no matter what state I was in.’’
Peter did, however, end up getting full custody of his children.
‘‘There was no battle, there was no fight, I was supported by a new social worker who became involved for the kids.’’
The decision meant Peter had to give up his job and parent single-handedly on tax credits.
Over the last number of years there have been no holidays, few treats and little social life for this devoted dad to Carson, 14, Chelsea,12, Phoebe, 9, and Mason, 8.
‘‘It’s been tough, and it’s been lonely raising them on my own, but they are cracking kids. And I had great support from the children’s maternal aunt.
‘‘The four kids have had a hard time, they’ve had a really hard time,’’
And, he said, there have often been misconceptions about his role.
‘‘I was going round Tesco one day a few years back with the kids and Mason was playing up. There was a middle-aged couple and the woman said ‘now you know how the mother feels’. And I just looked at her and thought ‘you have absolutely no idea’
‘‘I think society still sees a man with kids and think that it’s a contact day. A lot of people don’t know I have my kids full-time.’’
In 2003 Peter started campaigning for fathers’ rights, setting up a branch of a group called Real Fathers 4 Justice - a breakaway group from Fathers 4 Justice, who are best-known for a series of stunts featuring dads dressed as superheroes - climbing bridges and buildings to promote the belief that fathers are discriminated against in family law.
Peter’s group employed similar high profile tactics to raise awareness around issues such as equal parenting rights, the secrecy of the family courts and the mothers who flout court orders allowing contact between children and fathers.
‘‘We started doing the Batman stunts in the town and at the courts, we held various protests at Social Services offices, trying to raise what was going on in society and how things were wrong and how fathers were being demonised,’’ says Peter.
Then in 2010 Peter and others opened a branch of a charity called Men’s Aid NI - which was affiliated to Men’s Aid on the mainland - a charity committed to helping those who have suffered from bias in the legal system, family courts or other areas.
Peter explains the rationale: ‘‘The reason we set up Men’s Aid NI was because when we were doing our protests at the courts, a lot of women and their sons were coming up to us saying their son was having difficulty trying to see their child and they had done nothing wrong - they were being accused of things, within the court process, that they hadn’t done.
‘‘We thought men needed help and advice on how to go through the court system, so that’s why we set up the branch of Men’s Aid NI.’’
Men’s Aid NI subsequently changed its name to Men and Boy’s Initiative (NI), but it is still focused on the same issues: the high male suicide rate; the challenges faced by boys and men at all stages of education including attainment; men’s health; shorter life expectancy and workplace deaths; the challenges faced by the most marginalised men and boys in society (for instance, homeless men, boys in care and the high rate of male deaths in custody); male victims of violence, including sexual violence; the challenges faced by men as parents, particularly new fathers and separated fathers; male victims and survivors of sexual abuse, rape, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based crime, stalking and slavery; and the negative portrayal of men, boys and fathers.
However, Peter is at pains to point out the group is not ‘‘anti-female’’.
‘‘A lot of people say we are anti-female because we focus on men and boys’ issues but that’s not the case; if we can help with the negatives for men and boys, then we can help life for females, we can improve life for their partners, their sisters, for their aunts, for their mums, their grandmothers, so it’s a collective improvement within society.’’
He adds: ‘‘If we can make a difference for young boys growing into young men that makes a difference for families and that includes the females within the families.’’
As an example of practical help for all, he points to the tax credit scandal last year involving HMRC and Concentrix, after the latter incorrectly withdrew tax credits from hundreds of claimants.
‘‘We raised the issue with politicians and it was our group that assisted upwards of 140 mothers to have their tax credits reinstated again.’’
Peter has been living in Scotland now for five weeks and says: ‘‘Although it’s hard to resettle for me, the kids are so much happier. The support is great.’’
He says he will continue to campaign for men and boys in Northern Ireland with his colleagues here, and will begin work to ensure the Scottish Government are made aware of the inequalities faced by men, boys and fathers.
*For more information on the Men and Boy’s Initiative (NI) visit www.menandboyscoalition.org.uk.