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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 Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] Any group that is recognised as fulfilling these regulations must be robust because this is a legal obligation. When civil registration was introduced in 1864, even though it was a legal obligation, there was a 15% attrition rate and those events went unregistered. It is essential we do not see gaps in the future and whatever we do is done to provide legal certainty and proper historical records.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012. I thank Members of Seanad Éireann, particularly Senator Ivana Bacik, for passing the Bill with the support of all parties and Independents. The Seanad supported the Bill twice, in its first, slightly simpler form as introduced by Senator Bacik on Private Members' business, and a second version that had been fireproofed by the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Counsel. Due to other pressures in the Office of the Attorney General, this took longer than expected. I am aware there was disappointment at the delay with what seemed to be a simple and limited project but it was quite complex as it was breaking new ground and had no precedent.

I also thank the Minister for Social Protection who supported the Bill and has introduced it in the Dáil on behalf of the Government. Without taking anything from the Minister's support, however, when it is enacted, the Bill should be known as the "Bacik Bill". It is a simple measure, although lawyers will say there is no such thing. It will allow the Humanist Association of Ireland to legally perform civil wedding ceremonies in Ireland, which was the simple objective. I welcome to the House the members of the Humanist Association of Ireland and offer my apologies for the delays that occurred in finalising this reforming measure. The association can now look forward to legal humanist marriage ceremonies in spring 2013. I place on record my welcome for this reforming measure that reflects the change in wider society, as opposed to the slower rate of change in these Houses.

Those who declared themselves to be of no religion in the last census numbered 270,000, second only to the number of Catholics. I suggest to those who compile the questions for the census forms that if the questions on the religious or non-religious status of the respondent were couched in a less leading manner, the number would be much greater.

Previously, apart from the HSE registrars, only religious groups were authorised to perform legal marriage ceremonies. This measure will be the first time a secular body, or a non-confessional, ethical, philosophical group will be added to that list. It is absolutely right in a modern republic that all strands of society are recognised and accommodated. The Bill will accommodate difference in our laws and will show that we can be inclusive and respectful of difference.

I wish to acknowledge that I have received correspondence from Mr. Michael Nugent, chairman of Atheist Ireland, pointing out how the Bill could be improved to be more constitutionally sound. I appreciate the points made but would suggest the simple objective in this case, to add the Humanist Association of Ireland to the list of those who can perform legal marriage ceremonies in Ireland, is met by the Bill as it stands. I warn against looking for perfect, which is often the enemy of good. The other equality and constitutional issues raised by Mr. Nugent can and will be dealt with on a future occasion and, in particular, at the constitutional forum convention.

Again, I thank Senator Bacik and the Minister for Social Protection for bringing the Bill to this concluding stage and congratulate the Humanist Association of Ireland on a successful campaign. The decision today will be a suitable season's present for the association.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I thank all the Deputies who so warmly supported the Bill. Earlier I acknowledged the contribution of the Seanad on this Bill, specifically the work done by my colleague in the Seanad, Senator Ivana Bacik. I was glad to ask the Government to introduce the Bill in the Oireachtas to permit solemnisation of weddings by the Humanist Association of Ireland.

I agree with Deputy Stagg that sometimes the best can be the enemy of the good. In the Seanad, Senator Cullinane supported the Bill very strongly but in telling us about the organisations that are religious, I point out that on the list of religions catered for already in Ireland when it comes to solemnising weddings is the Pagan Society of Ireland. A joke went around the Dáil yesterday about objections from Atheist Ireland, which wanted a definition of philosophical and non-confessional. It was said that would appeal to Sinn Féin because the leader, Deputy Adams, was seriously opposed to confession and has never been in the business of confessing anything and will not change now.

This legislation reflects developments in wider Irish society. The only regret I have about this Bill is it does not allow the celebration, either by religious or humanists, of the marriage of two people of the same sex. We had a successful development of civil partnerships and in the years since that legislation passed, that has proven valuable, bringing much joy to many same-sex couples. We should note, however, the legislation, at this point, unfortunately does not include the solemnisation by humanists of same-sex marriages. Obviously, that is one of many issues that is being referred to the constitutional convention. In time, we may return to the Dáil on that point.

Overall, this is a reflection of how Ireland has changed. It is also a reflection of what happens in other countries, as a number of Deputies pointed out, particularly in a country like Scotland. Like other Deputies, I have attended many ceremonies conducted by humanists, both funerals and weddings, and they have been conducted with great dignity, solemnity and respect. Bearing in mind that marriage is about celebrating two people stepping out into life together, it is appropriate that it should be conducted with due ceremony, respect and solemnity. Another concern I had about some of the material in the submission from Atheist Ireland is that we must be specific about the criteria because there are places in the United States where the criteria for solemnising are very broad and, as a result, an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas can perform wedding ceremonies. None of us wants anything like that here. There is all-party agreement on that point.

The question was asked why secular bodies are required to fulfil more criteria than religious bodies. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004 and the Bill sets out criteria that secular bodies must meet so they can apply to have their members included on the Register of Solemnisers. The inclusion of secular bodies on the register has not been addressed previously and the legislation is designed to ensure the institution of marriage is protected by applying a rigorous set of rules regarding the type of body that can be deemed eligible. In this regard, it is important that the criteria should be robust so that the authority to solemnise marriage would be granted only to stable, long-standing and reputable organisations. I am pleased to bring this Bill before the Dáil today.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.


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