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 Header Item Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe] This is about families and individuals. We all know the difficulties people are experiencing trying to access birth certificates, passports and so on and the difficulties on the family unit when one parent gets sick. I appeal to the Minister to reflect on the vote of people across the country in favour of same-sex marriage and the expectation on us to reflect that in legislation. It is a reasonable request. I appeal to him to re-examine the legislation.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy There are three minutes allocated to Deputy Coppinger's group. Would she like to contribute?

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger I had intended to wait and speak to the amendment but I will make some points now. It was shocking to people to discover that three years on from the historic referendum this matter is not addressed in legislation. We have received calls from people we know who cannot be properly recognised as the parents of their children. It was news to a lot of people that this had not been properly legislated for. We have proposed an amendment to ensure this is done within a certain timeframe.

There is frustration among the LGBT+ community at the delay and the drafting error. Human error is understandable but we need to take steps to right that error as soon as possible. This is about children's rights. It is about these children being treated in the same way as any other child. Real and practical problems arise for people, including the emotional issue of not being properly recognised on a birth certificate. There are also serious legal issues for children whose parents are not properly recognised. For example, upon the death of a non-recognised parent a child may have to pay inheritance tax because he or she will not be legally recognised as the child of that person. Pension benefits that might accrue to the child when somebody dies is also an issue and citizenship can also be an issue if the parent who is recognised as the parent is not Irish. There are problems with passports, which parents need to sign-off on. Couples are trying to live their lives and they cannot wait around for the Government to update this law. I will elaborate further on that point when I move our amendment on Committee Stage. We believe it is important to cater for those who are children born arising from non-donor assisted human reproduction facilities.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I thank all speakers for their contributions.

Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I assure all Deputies that a huge amount of work has been undertaken by a number of extraordinarily dedicated officials to try to ensure that we get this right. Deputy Crowe put it best when he said that people voted wanting to live in an inclusive Ireland. However, this is a fast evolving area and we need to ensure that legislation responds to recognise that there are many different compositions of families - which is a good thing - and we need to protect and support all of those families and children.

What we are seeking to do tonight is not to reopen the debate on a Bill passed in this House in 2015 and signed into law by the President but rather to fix an error in that legislation. We then need to do what we should do as legislators, which is get on with passing the assisted human reproduction bill 2017. I do not want to be, and I have no intention of being, in any way partisan on this issue because, as Deputy Coppinger said, the people cannot wait for Government to get on with it. It is up to all of us in this House to get on with it. I brought the general scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017 before the Joint Committee on Health. It is still with that committee and I am sure members of the committee are working hard on it. I published the Bill following approval by Government. No doubt we can make it a better Bill. I had a good meeting with LGBT Ireland this week in the Department. Taking Deputy Shortall's point on board, I have committed to convening a round table of all the relevant Ministers and Departments in early September where we will thrash out not only the issues related to health, social protection or education but all of the issues across the State that we need to resolve so we can make sure we have the best possible assisted human reproduction Bill.

Deputy Coppinger referenced the amendment. I do not want to divide the House on this issue because Members in all parties and groupings have worked hard and facilitated this time in the Oireachtas and that is genuinely appreciated by the people in the Gallery and those watching at home. I do not want to pass an amendment that I am sure is well intentioned but will not make a difference to anybody. The amendment asks the Minister to do a report but we do not need another report; rather, we need to pass the assisted human reproduction Bill, which is with the joint committee. We need the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill completed, the Bill brought onto the floor of this House and the Government to get working with the Attorney General's office to be ready for it.

We have all the reports we need. The Deputies are proposing that what is provided for in the amendment be written into primary legislation to be sent to the President of Ireland to be signed and put on our Statute Book. The amendment provides under subsection (a) that a report be made on the parental rights of same-sex couples in cases of surrogacy. Until the Oireachtas gets around to legislating, those rights do not exist. If the Deputies want to do something about surrogacy there is no point in them asking me to do a report to tell them what they and all of us know. If they want rights for parents related to surrogacy we need to pass the assisted human reproduction Bill which has nothing to do with the legislation before us. We do need to do it, and I am happy to work with Deputies to do it. There is no point in them asking me to produce a report that will only tell them what they know, which is that these rights do not exist until such time as the Oireachtas gets around to doing its job in respect of the assisted human reproduction Bill.

Subsection (b) asks the Minister to produce a report on the position of spouses, cohabitants and civil partners of those availing of a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure outside of the State. I do not have jurisdiction outside of this State and even when people come back into this State, I do not have the legal powers to assert the quality of what took place in another country, the structures, laws, ethics of another country and so on. Again, I would be producing a report telling the Deputies that the Minister is powerless in regard to what happens outside of the State. Subsection (c) asks that the Minister do a report on the retrospective issuing of birth certificates and other documents to record both same-sex parents. This already happens, except in the case of surrogacy which brings me make to my original point about how we need to deal with it.

I appreciate what Deputies Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Barry are trying to do in keeping the pressure on. I want to keep the pressure on too and so my response in that regard is, "Right back at ye". This is a minority Government wanting to work with the Opposition to pass the assisted human reproduction Bill, which I have published and can be viewed on my Department's website. I do not want to pretend to do something that will not help anybody and would result in my officials having to draft a report that would tell the Deputies what they know. I say this not to be mean-spirited, difficult or partisan but because I genuinely do not believe the amendment would achieve anything. I would rather agree with the Deputies' practical measures such as timelines for the assisted human reproduction Bill and how we can work on a cross-party basis to agree the next steps. The Deputies are more than welcome to attend the round-table discussions that I propose to hold with relevant stakeholders and LGBT Ireland in terms of these issues. I would be happy to agree practical measures. I just do not believe the amendment is a practical measure. I recognise that it is well intentioned and I do not mean to be partisan in relation to it. We can discuss it further on Committee Stage.

This legislation is long overdue and badly needed to rectify an error in order that we can provide declarations of parentage and recognise families that exist in a real and practical sense in our country today but need to be recognised in our law. I commend the Bill to the House.

  Question put and agreed to.

Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages

  Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

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