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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath]  In these difficult and challenging times, people are struggling. I do not wish to stray from the Bill, but I must agree with Deputy Finian McGrath that bullying and intimidation of politicians is unwelcome. We thought we had moved away from it. This evening, I will travel to my own county to a very sad funeral of an eminent businessman whose family had been in business for generations and who committed suicide having been bullied by the State, the banks and the courts system. In Wexford recently, awful violence was perpetrated on a family. We have time to reflect on moral society in the Bill but we must also leave behind that baggage. We cannot allow a third force to destroy people's lives, their will to live and the air they breathe. They are entitled to that.

The Bill is an attempt to legislate for citizens with different viewpoints. We have to do that and be understanding and accepting. The Bill lists a number of groups that are deemed, for the purpose of the Bill, not to be secular. The list includes political parties or bodies that promote political candidates and bodies that promote a political cause. Some people have suggested that the Catholic Church should not be a designated body because of statements and pronouncements it has made. The Catholic Church is leading its flock and is entitled to do so and to make pronouncements. I only speak for myself in saying this.

I will not forget for a long time the hostility I was shown outside the gates of the House a few weeks ago when we were debating Deputy Clare Daly's Bill. The people concerned claim to be pro-choice. I accept that they were hijacked by an organisation. Anyone who engages in a legitimate protest these days seems to be hijacked by the same organisation. I was shocked and frightened by the hostility and vitriol shown to me by people who claim to be pro-choice. I suppose public representatives are used to this, but I could not believe their animosity towards people who choose to differ from them.

We must all deal with issues sensitively and as well as we can. That is what the Bill tries to do. We cannot be bullied or intimidated. We must have open and free discourse and debate and be able to act according to our consciences and beliefs.

I wish the Bill well. I compliment the Minister on getting it here and wish her a happy Christmas.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I welcome and support the legislation which provides for much greater choice for people who want different types of civil marriage ceremonies.

 The Bills digest tells us there has been a significant increase in interest in civil marriage ceremonies, although we did not need the Bills digest to tell us that. The Bill will permit a wider range of ceremonies than are currently provided. Civil wedding ceremonies are only provided by the HSE, which only works between Monday and Friday. This is amazing, given that people who attend weddings may have to take a day off work and incur expense in doing so. This needs to be tackled.

  Seeing marriage as a legal contract recaptures our Celtic traditions because that is how it was seen in ancient times. Types of marriage have evolved over centuries. Irish marriage customs changed radically over time. Up to the 12th century, marriage was provided for by the Brehon laws and was purely a legal matter. A comprehensive legal contract was drawn up, usually between equals, and all long-term relationships were recognised. It was customary for children to be fostered and the term "illegitimate" was unknown. Divorce was permitted. Dowries were, initially, paid to the bride and to her father and thereafter to the bride on an annual basis for the duration of the contract, which was normally 21 years. Contract failures were enforced by the kin of the aggrieved party. I do not know how it was done but, clearly, it was. The customs surrounding these laws generally died out and were fully extinct by the 17th century. This occurred as British control tightened and extended into the most remote parts of the country. I took this information from Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland, by Patrick C. Power, published by Mercier Press. It is interesting that we have a notion that marriage has been a religious contract for centuries. It is a changing environment.

  The practice of the bride's family providing a dowry initiated in the upper echelons of society, with royalty and gentry devising the system to ensure the marriage had the approval of both families. Many families had enough money to provide a dowry for only one person. People lived very sad lives without choices because of the way society was organised.

  In post-Famine Ireland, non-inheriting offspring had little or no means of independent income, with no prospect of marriage. Many of them took the emigrant boat. Some came back, having gone away and earned a dowry, and subsequently married. Emigration was often seen as a means of escape for those who were matched with people of an inappropriate age and elopement frequently occurred when love was not matched with a dowry or when the selected party was unacceptable to the prospective bride, who had other ideas about who she wanted to marry. This information is taken from Irish Marriage Customs by Maria Buckley, also published by Mercier Press.

  In the National Library, Roman Catholic records are held on microfilm. They are regarded as private records because they are a contract between parties rather than a public contract. Church services reflect that. Since the introduction of civil registration in 1864 there is also a civil side to church weddings. One has to write to the bishop and ask permission to see the microfilm records of some dioceses, including records in counties Tipperary and Kerry. They are generally available to view but are seen as church property rather than public property. When I went to Belfast to view the marriage records of my great grandparents I was not allowed to see the entries on either side of their entry. It is important we have public records and not see them as something that is just for now. Marriage is a very important legal contract but the records are also very important historically.

  People marry principally because of the legal rights it brings, particularly with regard to children, inheritance, pensions and so on. We should encourage people to enter into those legal contracts because to do so leaves less uncertainty, particularly for children. The married parents of a child are joint guardians and have equal rights.

  Things also need to be done regarding unmarried arrangements. Unmarried fathers often have few legal rights. Rights come with responsibilities. If we are doing something on that we must build in the responsibilities that must be accepted. In Australia, for example, a parent may not leave the country if they owe maintenance payments. A number of issues regarding marriage need to be dealt with differently.

  Earlier this year, The Irish Times reported census figures that showed a decline in the number of cohabiting couples in Ireland and that Ireland still has one of the highest birth rates in Europe. Figures released today show that we have the highest birth rate in the European Union. The census figures indicated that the traditional family unit remains remarkably stable, with the numbers getting married on the rise and a slow-down in the rate of cohabiting couples. The availability of civil marriage plays an important part in this, I believe. People wanted the choice. The humanist and other options are important. Deputy Ó Snodaigh made the point that there can be difficulties regarding who qualifies to perform wedding ceremonies.

  Cohabiting couples with children tend to be younger, indicating that many go on to marry in later life. Recently, I read a report that people tend to marry within five years of having children, which shows that the legal connection is important.

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