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 Header Item Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 6

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Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015; and to provide for related matters.

Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage

Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Legislatively, this is a straightforward but very important Bill. Its purpose is to correct a typographical and technical error in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the latter. The Children and Family Relationships Act represents one of the most significant changes in family law in a generation and attempts to better reflect the reality of contemporary family life in this country. It was enacted to reform family law in a way that is inclusive of, and sensitive to, the reality of contemporary family life in Ireland and to meet the needs of children living in diverse family types.

Children are no longer raised solely in the traditional mother-father nuclear family but in a myriad of forms. For example, these relationships may be as a biological or social parent, as a guardian or as an adoptive parent. Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, for which I am responsible, recognise the new biological reality of donor-assisted human reproduction, DAHR, where children may be born to people using donor gametes and embryos. The provisions encompassing DAHR procedures relate to cases where the intending mother carries the pregnancy and gives birth to the child. As a result, these provisions apply to heterosexual couples, female same-sex couples and a single woman undergoing a DAHR procedure. As such, Parts 2 and 3 represent key elements of the Children and Family Relationships Act and their commencement is required to clarify the legal position of all parties involved in a DAHR procedure, but particularly the children born from such procedures. Being able to proceed with the commencement, once this short piece of legislation passes, will have a very positive impact on the rights of families which have sought donor assistance to conceive. It is my intention, once this Bill has been enacted, to commence Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act in the autumn. I have met stakeholders in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, LGBT, groups to convey this to them.

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was originally brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, who described it at the time as "a watershed in the development of family law”. The advent of DAHR arrangements has led to the birth of children who need legal certainty in their parentage and guardians. We have a responsibility to put in place a legislative framework that can provide that certainty. In addition to clarifying the legal parentage for donor-conceived children, the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 will also help to vindicate the rights of such donor-conceived children to information on their genetic heritage through the establishment of the national donor-conceived person register and the prohibition of anonymous gamete and embryo donation.

The national donor-conceived person register will house the details of the relevant donor, the intending parents and the child or children born as a result of a given DAHR procedure in Ireland. The introduction of this register acknowledges that many donor-conceived children will be curious as to their genetic origins and provides an important and safe mechanism through which they can access the information relating to the relevant donor, such as his or her name, date of birth and contact details, should they so wish. Similarly, donor-conceived children will also be able to seek and obtain information relating to other children born as a result of other DAHR procedures involving the same donor.

Another important aspect of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, and one that has been the subject of some confusion in recent weeks, is the provisions regarding retrospective declarations of parentage. These provisions enable parents of donor-conceived children, who have been born prior to the commencement of Part 2 of the original Act, to seek a declaration of parentage through the courts. The commencement of these retrospective provisions has been the subject of extensive interest and discussion, both in media discourse and at a political and parliamentary level. I am very aware that the implementation of these provisions is particularly eagerly anticipated by the LGBT community. However, the Children and Family Relationships Act is not a panacea and does not regulate all aspects of assisted human reproduction. Much of the focus has related to matters that the Children and Family Relationships Act does not actually encompass. This Act specifically relates to DAHR procedures where the intending mother is also the birth mother. It is a really important point and I have had conversations with many Deputies and Senators, as well as members of the LGBT community, about this. There is much more we need to do in this area but it is not my intention to reopen the debate on the Act. We are fixing the error and seeking to commence the Act in full, providing the legal certainty that was intended by the Oireachtas. A very important discussion must take place at the health committee in the first instance on the assisted human reproduction Bill, and we can make very significant inroads into a number of these important matters.

It is very important to emphasise that the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 does not encompass surrogacy. Provisions relating to the regulation of surrogacy in Ireland are included in the general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017, to which I have referred. The latter Bill, which officials in my Department are currently drafting in conjunction with the Attorney General, will provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for assisted human reproduction, of which DAHR procedures is just a small part.


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