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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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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy] They are left in the same legal limbo for the moment, until the other legislation is brought forward.

The other key issues relate to clinics outside the State, which are not being covered in some circumstances, and to retrospective recognition of the myriad circumstances in which same-sex parents find themselves because of the difficult legal situation they have been in. Provision needs to be made for proper backdating of recognition so that birth certificates can be recorded correctly. This has implications for children. I see this primarily as an issue of children's rights. If a parent dies, for example, serious legal issues and complications can arise in respect of guardianship, inheritance and so on. This is a matter of discrimination. For that reason, we will press our amendment when the Bill is debated in detail on Committee and Report Stages. We are seeking to commit the Government to come back and report on this matter six months after the commencement of this Act. We want to make sure the Government cannot avoid dealing with these issues. We believe it should be forced to come back and set out what it intends to do with regard to issues like surrogacy, insemination outside the State, including home insemination, and the retrospective issuing of birth certificates. It is appropriate for the Dáil to make such a demand of the Government.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I concur with everything that has been said. I will seek to add to it. In a year in which the family is being celebrated by both Pride and the Pope, it is ironic that we are just catching up and putting proper structures on the families of same-sex couples. I know the Minister recognises that there is a problem. I spoke to him a short time ago. He is not accepting our amendment, which we will press. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, will explain why the Minister is not accepting it. Many same-sex couples are concerned that our amendment will have an impact on the Bill. I assure them that if the amendment is accepted, the only impact it will have will be a positive one. If it is rejected, it will have no impact whatsoever on the Bill. There should be no worries about that.

Like Deputy Paul Murphy, I want to mention the case of a couple that falls into this category. Stephanie and Bex have a daughter, Eva. They live in Roscommon. Stephanie, who is the birth mother, suffers from an arthritic condition which is worsened by treatment with hormones. Her doctor recommended that she should not go to the clinic. He said she should stay at home to have home insemination carried out. Stephanie and Bex know the donor. Under the legal contract they have drawn up with the donor, he waives all commitments and any obligation to the child. They do not hold him responsible for maintenance or anything of that nature. When Eva reaches the age of 18, she will be free to seek him out and he will be happy to meet her at that point. That is all set out in a legal agreement that has been drafted by both sides. Stephanie and Bex are left in a difficult situation. I can only feel for them. When the health of a woman who has a small child is compromised to the extent that she is receiving treatment, there has to be a worry that her demise might leave the other parent and the child in limbo. As previous speakers have said, in circumstances in which a birth mother is ill there is a possibility that her health will become more compromised. We hope that women in these circumstances do well and these issues do not come into play. The woman in this case needs to do well with her mental health and with her lifestyle. If that is to happen, she needs the same protections that this legislation attempts to give to all other same-sex couples.

Another cohort of couples will stay at home for insemination because of the cost of going to these clinics. They cannot afford the €1,500 that is needed to make each effort. Their economic circumstances prohibit them from being recognised by the State as a family. Gay couples who have opted for home insemination and gay couples who have gone through surrogacy are not recognised. For all of these reasons, we believe our amendment would strengthen the hand of the Minister and the committee, rather than weakening it. That is why we propose that a report be prepared within six months of the Bill being passed.

We do not want to leave anyone behind. In this Chamber, we talk a lot about equality. The Taoiseach talks a lot about being the leader of an Ireland of equal opportunities. This legislation denies such equality to a cohort of parents and their children. I plead with the Minister of State to accept our amendment. If he does not do so, I plead with Deputies on all sides of the House to vote for it. The amendment will not harm the overall Bill. All it will do is strengthen the future work of the committee as it seeks to deal with surrogacy, legacy issues and retrospective parenting. I have mentioned the sad and compelling case of Stephanie and Bex. There are others who cannot afford treatment in the clinics. I ask Deputies to support this amendment. It will not damage the overall Bill we have before us tonight.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I will share time with Deputy Pringle. There is a great deal of confusion about this issue because people think it involves moving the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 onto the next stage. Like every Deputy who has spoken so far in this debate, I have received many emails on this Bill. In light of the ongoing confusion I have mentioned, a concerted effort is needed to send people a message about what is involved in this amending Bill, which is necessary to facilitate the enactment of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act. My understanding is that this technical Bill involves the amendment of two sections of the 2015 Act. Section 4 gives certain rights to families that have children from anonymous gametes and intend to use existing stored anonymous gametes to have further children who will be siblings to the existing children. This acts as a transitional arrangement to enable those who have conceived via anonymous donors to use gametes stored from the same donation for the conception of another child. However, anonymous donation will be banned after the 2015 Act has been fully commenced. This amending Bill will specifically amend a reference to "section 26(6)" in section 4 of the 2015 Act. Without the correct reference, families will not be able to use their stored donor gametes at all, which would go against the transitional arrangement inherent in section 4 of the 2015 Act.

It is important for us to send a message to people about what is involved in this legislation. Sections 14 and 16 of the 2015 Act deal with consent forms and cover numerous circumstances in relation to donation, including consent to use donation and to have donor implantation. They also give the Minister the power to make regulations in this regard. This amending legislation will amend sections 14 and 16 to enable the enactment of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act. I want to clarify that this amending Bill addresses the position in respect of same-sex female couples only. My understanding is that the position in respect of same-sex male couples will be addressed in the upcoming assisted human reproduction Bill at the end of the year. That is one of the reasons I support the amendment that is being proposed by People Before Profit. It is important for us to have a timeline. After this amending Bill has amended the relevant sections of the 2015 Act in the manner I have outlined, it will be possible for Parts 2 and 3 of that Act to be enacted. The enactment of those Parts will allow same-sex female couples to apply to the courts to declare parentage. It will not allow for the deregistration and reregistration of a birth certificate that is required to have a partner's name on the birth certificate. For this to happen, Part 9 will have to be enacted and this falls under the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Other Deputies have mentioned particular queries they have received. I would like to refer to a query I have received from a couple. The person who sent me the query said that she and her wife have a two year old daughter and that she is pregnant with their second child. They went abroad - to Spain and to Portugal - for both babies to avail of reciprocal IVF, which is not legal in Ireland. This form of shared motherhood means that the woman who wrote to me carries the pregnancies and her wife's eggs are used. Even though her wife is the biological mother of both children, she is a legal stranger to them currently. This woman told me she understands that the Bill before the House will cover only those lesbian couples that have used Irish clinics with identifiable donors. She and her partner used a clinic abroad with an anonymous donor because this was the only option open to them in Spain and Portugal. They want to know where this legislation will leave them. The woman who contacted me thinks it is crazy to think this legislation will not extend to her wife, who is the biological mother of their children. She made the point that if anything, her wife and not her should be the person who has rights to the children. Regardless of how same-sex couples conceive their children - in clinics, through IVF, via home insemination or through surrogacy - their children are all equal.

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