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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 Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] For goodness sake, people's lives are depending on this. Families are crying out for proper registration systems but there seems to be messing going on within the HSE and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection about the dates and venues for the training of staff. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, recently stated to me that "Discussions to commence the training are well advanced and it should hopefully commence shortly."

Will the Minister take hold of this issue and ensure that as soon as this Bill is passed, it can be completed so we can get to a point where staff in the HSE are provided with proper training for the new registration system? What has been going on over recent times is just nonsense. What were the three Departments doing? Finally, the amendment from Deputy Paul Murphy and his colleagues is absolutely sensible. I do not see why all of us would not agree to it. I hope the Minister will support it. Certainly, the Social Democrats are happy to do so.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I am glad to take part in the debate tonight. My party was not in the Dáil when the Children and Family Relationships Act was passed so it has been interesting to hear about the different cases involving different families, circumstances, realities, legal gaps and the different failings that exist at present. I echo the regret of those who may have been involved in the passing of the original legislation that the commencement of these sections has been delayed for three years because of a technical failing. We support the Government's Bill to address that and to ensure the full commencement of the Act.

It is welcome that we are living in an Ireland which, as the Taoiseach said yesterday, recognises every type of family and recognises the importance of protecting their rights. I also welcome the Minister's clarification that the legislation is framed with a core understanding or commitment in it that the rights of the child as recognised by the United Nations are also included and guaranteed in the Bill's provisions, particularly with regard to the right at the age of 18 years to be able to find the identity of the original genetic parents. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has been engaged on the issue of birth certificates and birth certificate issues have been centre stage in the Dáil in recent months. I believe there is a right to that information and we should ensure it is provided for in the legislation. There is a range of reasons that access to such information makes sense. There will be difficulties with that for certain families and certain circumstances where it may restrict certain choices, but the approach that centres on the rights of the child, as well as the parents is the proper and correct way to go.

I welcome the clarification the Minister has outlined. I presume the commencement will lead to the establishment of the register he mentioned and that the disclosure capability or the ability to find out the relevant information will be provided. We support the Bill and look forward to its full enactment.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan At the heart of the legislation is an acknowledgement of the changing nature of families in Ireland today. The norm was a female mother, male father and X number of children but that is no longer the case and it is positive that this Bill acknowledges it. However, I agree with Deputy Joan Collins about the confusion that existed.

  It is when we come into contact with people in different, non-traditional family groups that we become aware of the serious difficulties they face when registering their children and their status as parents. Passports is another area. For example, I know two women who married a couple of years ago and had a child this year. Their dilemma was that the Children and Family Relationships Act had not been fully commenced so one of the couple would be a legal stranger to that child. They had been overjoyed about marriage equality and that their relationship was legally recognised as equal and valid. Then they had the joy of their child but that is somewhat on hold now. They want to register their child and both parents of the child but without the legislation being commenced, the child would be registered as the child of a single parent, which is not the case.

  I acknowledge the work that is being done to address the issues, including the briefing given by the Department of Health and the Minister's engagement with the LGBTQ community. At least with the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 same-sex female couples can apply to the courts to declare parentage but it will not allow for the de-registering and re-registering of a birth certificate to have the parents' names on the birth certificate. Part 9 has to be commenced for that to happen, and that is under the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Same-sex male couples will have to wait for the assisted human reproduction Bill. There are LGBT couples who have or will have children and those parents and children should have the same rights as the biological children of heterosexual couples. A heterosexual couple can use a sperm donor and nobody need know. There are good examples from Canada, as I know personally from friends, of supports for same-sex couples to have children, such as assisted reproduction, surrogacy and sperm donors, and the process of registering the children is straightforward.

  Last Saturday's edition of The Irish Times included personal accounts of parents in these situations. A same-sex male married couple had a son through surrogacy in Canada, where they had been living. On the child's Canadian birth certificate both men are listed as his parents but under current Irish family law neither has legal rights over their son. The surrogate mother and her husband would be considered the child's legal parents even though she has no biological connection to the child as a donor egg was used. Of course, it would be a costly process here to go through the courts. There are also some good examples from UK law where the names of the same-sex parents are on the birth certificates. In addition, there was an account of the difficulty of recognising adoptions arising from surrogacy.

  It is positive that prior to the same-sex marriage referendum, the Children and Family Relationships Bill was passed to amend Irish family law and extend parental rights to non-traditional families. Marriage equality was a positive start so there is now a need to address the other issues around parentage in the best interests of the children involved. As the Minister said earlier, this is about accepting the reality. However, there is an urgent need to cover the omissions in the legislation.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe There is an appeal to the Minister from a broad range of speakers tonight. We accept this is a positive step forward but the piecemeal approach undermines the positive elements of this legislation. I remember being in the House 15 years ago for the apology to people who had been in institutions and so forth. At the time there was a list of certain institutions and over the years, other institutions have been added to it. However, we left out many people and in doing that we compounded the hurt and hurt many more. Last weekend I was in Mount Jerome. Four new Bethany homes have been found and there is a new memorial there. What we are doing in this situation is leaving people behind and that is not the idea behind this process.

People passed a referendum in the expectation that we, as legislators, would come up with legislation for those family units. Ireland is far different now from ten or 16 years ago. There are different family formations and as an inclusive Ireland, we must represent that. That is our job. We are appealing to the Minister to consider the proposal being brought forward. It is quite reasonable. We are asking that after passing the Bill, the Minister will review this. I do not understand what the problem is with that. It commits the Government to conducting a review that will examine the status of parental rights of same-sex couples in terms of surrogacy and of those who sought fertility treatment outside the State. It is something we should be able to examine. It is a reasonable request and it should be part of this process in which we are engaged.

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