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Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] However, I would have preferred if we had the opportunity to tease out those issues prior to its passage in order that this organisation would not have felt the need to go to court.

  I welcome the fact that we are addressing the anomaly whereby the humanists were not included in the first place but we are doing so in a way that will cause problems in the future.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I wish to share time with Deputies Mattie McGrath and Catherine Murphy.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I welcome this important Bill and the debate on the new Ireland of 2012. It is important that we deal with change, enjoy diversity and difference and, above all, respect all citizens on this island. We also must respect people of all religions and those of no religion while, at all times, maintaining a strong separation between church and State. The debate gives us all an opportunity to build a democratic and inclusive republic on this island. Sadly, events in Belfast over the past few days and weeks are not part of that process. Those involved in violence, threats, intimidation and sectarianism have no place on this island and in our shared future. I was saddened and disillusioned by the deafening silence from the political establishment in the Twenty-six Counties when silence should not be an option when sectarianism or attacks on public representatives take place. The attacks on Alliance Party members initially and then on public representatives of other political parties were a disgrace and those stirring it up should be ashamed of themselves. Regardless of our political differences, it is important that we stand up to sectarianism and racism.

I raise this issue in this debate because I want to chart a new way forward for this country. That is why I support the legislation despite a number of the flaws mentioned by colleagues. The Bill amends the Civil Registration Act 2004 to permit secular bodies as defined in the legislation to apply to An tArd-Chláraitheoir for registration on the Register of Solemnisers. These registered secular bodies along with the HSE registrars and registered religious bodies will be permitted to carry out legal marriage ceremonies. Trends in marriage over the past number of years have shown a significant interest in civil marriage ceremonies. The legislation will provide for a wider range of civil ceremonies than currently provided. The State is the only current provider of civil marriages and I warmly welcome this change.

It is important to consider the context for this legislation. Ireland is changing rapidly and for the better when it comes to respect for different religions and people with no religion. The proportion of couples choosing a non-religious wedding ceremony increased from 6% in 1996 to more than 23% in 2006. The CSO has stated that in 2012 for the first time the number of non-religious wedding ceremonies may exceed the number of religious ceremonies. The office's statistics show that the number of persons of no religion continues to increase. In last year's response the second largest response to the question on religion was from those who identify themselves as having no religion. Approximately 270,000 people ticked the no religion box. This must be recognised in a broader, inclusive republic and the legislation is a step in that direction.

With regard to the issue concerning the Humanist Association of Ireland, humanism is an ethical philosophy of life based on a concern for humanity which combines reason with compassion. The two keywords are humanity and compassion. They are not the public property of any religion. Different religions can have these qualities as well as the humanist tradition. Humanist wedding ceremonies have legal status in Scotland, Australia and the Scandinavian countries. In Ireland, an increasing number of couples are seeking to have humanist wedding ceremonies even though they have no legal status. A total of 153 humanist ceremonies were celebrated in 2011 and almost 200 ceremonies will be celebrated by the end of this year. A total of 12 accredited celebrants perform non-legally binding humanist wedding ceremonies in Ireland. That is the background to the legislation and it is important to address this anomaly.

The Bill aims to permit humanists and similar groups to conduct legal civil wedding ceremonies. It will amend various sections in the Civil Registration Act 2004, which regulates the registration of civil marriages. We also should never take religious, civil and human rights and liberty for granted in our State or any other state. These are principles we should all be prepared to defend and protect for everybody. I will support the legislation as it is part of the reform and change process on this island and reflects the view of a new Ireland that respects all of our citizens in the tradition of Tone, Connolly and the late Tony Gregory.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am also pleased to contribute to the debate. While the Bill might have critics, I thank the Minister for getting it to the House because we have had a hectic session. It is peculiar that we are discussing this today after such a fraught ten days with the budget, property tax and so on. I note the list of groups the Minister will allow under the legislation but she did not include the Revenue Commissioners. After the property tax, I thought she might have allowed them to carry out marriage ceremonies as well.

The Bill will permit secular bodies to solemnise marriages. Currently, the power to do so is limited to registered religious bodies and the HSE. That is awkward for people Most weddings traditionally are held on the weekend to facilitate people travelling from aboard and so on and it is difficult if civil ceremonies can only take place during working hours between Monday and Friday. The Bill also reflects the change of views, religious practice and so on. The most recent census highlighted the number of people who ticked the non-religion box. It is important that this is reflected, as we are in the House to legislate on behalf of all our citizens to the best of our ability. In 1994, civil marriages accounted for 5.11% of all marriages but in 2009, they accounted for 28.7%. That is a telling statistic. This shows there has been a marked shift in the proportion of civil marriages versus religious marriages. This must be acknowledged and reflected in the legislation. An honest effort has been made in the Bill to deal with that.

However, there is a problem with the current legislation, which I ask the Minister to note carefully. The 2004 Act provides for the registration of a registrar. This needs to be clarified as it does not provide for the registration of a solemniser. When the Registrar General is acting as both registrar and solemniser, there is a serious conflict of interest. Following correspondence with a constituent of mine, Mr. Niall Dennehy, Commissioner for Oaths in Clonmel, the Registrar General is refusing to register him as a solemniser in spite of the fact he was appointed by the Supreme Court as a commissioner for oaths and is empowered to officiate at the making of any solemn declaration within the State. He is not the only commissioner for oaths and this discrepancy needs to be clarified. He can officiate at the making of any solemn declaration within the State. Why is he debarred in this regard? I would appreciate it if the Minister could follow up on this and come back to me on it.

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