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

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris] The general scheme is published on my Department website. The Joint Committee on Health review of the general scheme as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process is still ongoing.

In my discussions with LGBT+ groups in recent days and weeks there has been an eagerness to contribute to the process of pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme. I hope that the joint committee can facilitate as much work as quickly as possible in that regard. We would certainly welcome the input of those groups in the report of the committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny as we continue the development of the Bill.

It is important to emphasise that this amending Bill does not change any of the substantive provisions or policy intention of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act. We are fixing typographical errors to give effect to the provisions and policy intention debated and passed by these Houses. As I stated from the outset, the sole purpose of this Bill is to remedy a number of technical drafting issues with the original Act. This will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act.

I will go through the Bill to outline the content of each section. Section 1 provides that the definition of the principal Act to be amended is the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

Section 2 amends section 4(a)(ii) of the principal Act relating to the definition of "donor" by the substitution of "section 26(5)" for "section 26(6)". Section 26(5) of the Act of 2015 refers to gametes that are subject to a transition period of three years, during which those acquired on an anonymous basis prior to the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act may be used in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure in the State subject to certain conditions. In the Act of 2015 as enacted, section 4(a)(ii) relating to the definition of "donor" refers to section 26(6) rather than section 26(5). This amendment simply resolves the matter.

Section 3 amends section 14 of the principal Act to provide for the Minister for Health to make regulations under that section.

Section 4 amends section 16 of the principal Act to provide for the Minister for Health to make regulations under that section.

Section 5 sets out the citation and commencement provisions for the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018.

The technology of assisted human reproduction has created a new reality. Irish law must adapt to reflect these changes. The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 brought much needed clarity in this area. Further delays to commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act will impact the rights of the most vulnerable individuals in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure - the children. That is why we are all so eager to rectify this area. It will enable us to commence these provisions in the autumn and have declarations of parentage established. That will allow the families affected to be recognised as we all intended when we voted for issues like marriage equality and passed legislation to give effect to the new reality of a more inclusive and tolerant Ireland.

There is far more work to be done on other important issues, including issues relating to surrogacy. I hope the Oireachtas seriously gets on with that business. Certainly, I will be committed in that regard in the autumn session and beyond with this assisted human reproduction legislation. Again, I refer people to the general scheme on my Department's website and the pre-legislative scrutiny currently under way in the Joint Committee on Health.

I commend the Bill to the House. I hope we can speedily resolve the technical issues that the Bill seeks to address and facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3. I have no doubt we all agree these provisions are eagerly awaited and long overdue. I thank Members of all parties and groupings for their co-operation in the speedy introduction of this stand-alone Bill.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly The 2015 Act was one of the most important reforms in child and family law since the Adoption Act in 2010. Critically, it made the best interests of the child the central consideration in Irish family law where decisions regarding the child were being made. It addressed issues of guardianship, custody, access, maintenance, adoption, parentage and some elements of assisted human reproduction. It was an important step forward in recognising the evolving nature of families in Ireland. It received cross-party support and I hope that support will continue this evening. The Minister should note that Fianna Fáil will support this technical amending Bill.

The briefing we have received is that everything before the House is purely technical. That is set out in the explanatory memorandum. We are told the Bill does not change any of the substance of the Act. Therefore, I do not intend opening up the Act again this evening. It was debated at length and went through with cross-party support. However, that position is clearly on an understanding that this legislation is as we have been told, that is to say, purely technical and purely to correct a typographical error. I call on the Minister to confirm that for me at the end of Second Stage.

Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, which this Bill will commence, deal with the procedures for parentage in the case of donor-assisted human reproduction. Fianna Fáil supports the commencement of these provisions. The changes proposed will provide for much needed clarity for parents of donor-conceived children. It will ensure clear understanding about the rights, responsibilities and consent in donor-assisted reproduction. It will ensure a child's right to know his or her genetic identity, as enshrined by the United Nations.

Commencement of these provisions will be particularly welcome for same-sex couples. It will provide clarity on important issues of guardianship, custody, access, maintenance, adoption and parentage. It will allow them to legally declare parentage of a child and allow couples to seek a retrospective declaration of parentage. We have heard from the Minister on this. It will allow parents to have their names on the birth certificates of their children, which is highly significant on a legal level as well as on an emotional and human level.

The Bill does not deal with many of the outstanding errors relating to assisted human reproduction. We look forward to discussing these on Committee Stage. We have done the pre-legislative scrutiny and we look forward to engaging with the Minister and his team in the coming months in this work.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I wish to share time with Deputy Denise Mitchell. I welcome the families, some of whom are in the Gallery and more of whom will be watching the proceedings this evening. It is a great evening for them and there is much to be celebrated.

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was signed into law three years ago. That was definitely a monumental year for the LGBTQ community in this State. The passing of the marriage equality referendum and the Act represented great change for this State. The significance of that year pointed definitively to a brighter and more inclusive future for those in the LGBTI community. Most important, it produced some tangible results for them.

There were definitive results and there was a sense of achievement. However, in the case of the Children and Family Relationships Act the achievement only appeared to be real. Unfortunately, the reality of that Act has yet to be fulfilled and much of what was promised has not been delivered for those in the LGBTI community and same-sex couples. It is incredibly unfortunate that this is the case and that we have to ask why it has taken three years to bring forward even the most limited legislation to implement the relevant parts of that Act on behalf of those affected. Since I was elected to the House I have called for legislation to fully implement the Act time and again. Many other Deputies have done likewise.

There are same-sex families and couples who will definitely benefit from this legislation. Today is no doubt a significant day for them. With this in mind I commend the Minister and the Department on bringing forward this legislation. I hope this legislation delivers for them and gives them and their children the provisions and protections they need.

While the families affected are families in our eyes and in their eyes, this legislation ensures that the State recognises them as families and gives them the opportunity to register the births of the children with both parents registered on all relevant documentation. The real-life legal protections that this offers and the associated implications cannot be understated for these families. Moreover, we cannot downplay the positive personal effect of the State recognising both parents on a child's documents.

I have some experience of this, dating from when I tried to get a passport for my daughter, who was born before my husband and I were married.

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