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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 Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins] People want equality and legal recognition.

   As I stated, it is an amending Bill. Most parties will be supporting it because it is three years too late. It should have been introduced much earlier. I will be supporting the amendment tabled by People Before Profit.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I raised these issues during Leaders' Questions last week because of a mass of confusion and anxiety among families in limbo due to the slow implementation of relevant legislation and a lack of communication from the Department of Health. While it is important to understand what this amending Bill and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 will look like when fully commenced, it is also important to understand what the legislation will not cover. I hope to clarify this is my time today.

Some Parts of the Act of 2015 have been commenced since its enactment in 2015 but it remains a mystery as to why it has taken so long to commence Parts 2 and 3. All the Government has said is that it is largely due to errors in drafting. This is fair enough but I agree with Deputy Paul Murphy that an amendment setting a timeframe, whereby one would have to report back, would have dealt with the issue. We could, therefore, have commenced the legislation a long time ago. Therefore, I will support the amendment also.

This Bill seeks to correct the errors. I hope the Bill will be passed by the end of this week in order that the various Parts can be commenced. This will mean Part 9, which establishes the donor-conceived persons register, can be commenced by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in or about October 2018.

As of July 2018, the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 will allow some LGBTQI parents to be legally recognised as co-parents of the children. The primary focus of Parts 2 and 3 is conceptions using donor sperm in a clinic in Ireland. This is most likely to affect lesbian couples or same-sex couples where both partners are legally recognisable as female where one partner carries a pregnancy. However, the amending legislation will not cover adoption, surrogacy, home inseminations or reciprocal IVF using donor sperm. A separation of guardianship and parentage rights will remain until these aspects are addressed in the assisted human reproduction Bill. This is where issues regarding the various other forms of conception or the forms affected by not commencing legislation must be addressed.

With regard to pathways to parenthood not currently included in this Bill, the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017 may afford a significant opportunity for inclusion. Commencement of Parts 2 and 3, along with Part 9, which is to be commenced at a later date, will allow for certain same-sex parents to register with the registrars for births, deaths and marriages as parents and obtain a birth certificate that reflects this, in the following circumstances. The first is retrospective recognition of children conceived before commencement using an anonymous sperm donor in a clinic in Ireland or abroad, and conception using a traceable sperm donor in a clinic in Ireland or abroad, implying the child has a right to trace the donor when he or she reaches 18 years of age.

It is important to clarify the date of conception is the relevant point in time so a pregnancy ongoing at the time of commencement will not be affected and any children born as a result of that pregnancy will be covered by the retrospective provisions.

It is also worth noting that section 26(5) allows clinics to use donor sperm acquired before the date of commencement in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure for a period of three years from the date of commencement regardless of the anonymous status of the donor. This is only where the intending parent is already the parent of a child born as a result of a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure using sperm from the same donor but clearly allows families that wish to have genetic siblings to achieve that objective. A similar position arises with respect to embryos created prior to commencement regardless of the anonymous status of the donor or donors. There is, however, a significant argument that the three-year time limit will not apply to embryos.

In the case of future recognition for children conceived after the commencement date, it can be achieved using a traceable sperm donor in a clinic in Ireland only, or using a known donor in a clinic in Ireland only. Although it is not known how this process would work in practice, in theory the legislation does appear to allow for this scenario. Any further clarification from the Minister on this point would be much appreciated.

One uncertainty remains in this Bill. The issue of children conceived after commencement in a clinic abroad or in a clinic using an anonymous donor will not be covered by the legislation. It is not clear why the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 does not recognise clinics abroad, particularly when many of them could be in a position to satisfy the document requirements of the Act. This should be addressed in all future legislative developments. I hope the Minister will take this issue into account given the reality that couples are using clinics abroad that address their medical needs and which should be reflected here.

I thank LGBT Ireland, which has done a considerable amount of work on seeking clarification and information on legislation that has a drastic impact on families in Ireland. I hope to see the assisted human reproduction Bill in the Dáil in the next term in order that outstanding issues will be addressed properly in consultation with civil society and parents who have been affected.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I wish to share my time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

  I have no difficulty with the Bill. It is a technical Bill to address problems with the 2015 Act. I will certainly be supporting it on that basis. As other Members have said, however, one must ask why, three full years after the passage of the 2015 legislation, it has not been enacted in full. When one considers what has happened in respect of adoption, and now in respect of registration, one must ask why so many mistakes were made. There were mistakes in addition to a delay. How were the mistakes made? Why has it taken three years and a lot of pressure by LGBT Ireland to force this issue?

  There are three Departments involved, namely, the Departments of Health, Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Justice and Equality. It seems there was no sense of urgency on the part of any of those Departments with a view to making progress on this issue and ensuring the implementation of the 2015 Act.

  I do not have any difficulty with the technical amendments. They deal with a transitional arrangement for those already conceived via an anonymous donor and for gametes from the same donor that are already stored in the event that there is a desire to conceive another child - a related child. We know anonymous donation will be banned once the principal Act is fully commenced. That is fine. The other aspect is to deal with consent forms in regard to the numerous circumstances associated with donation. I refer to consent to use donation, consent to have donor implementation and so on. The two amendments are technical amendments to make improvements in this regard to allow the commencement of Parts 2 and 3.

  Over recent weeks, when asking about this, as other Members have done, I concluded it is quite incredible that, as recently as 12 June, the response from the Department of Health was that there were discussions ongoing and that "we do not wish to pre-empt the outcome by citing specific details." It also stated, "Clarification on whether primary legislation is required to resolve these issues is being sought." It is incredible that, up to last month, clarification had not been sought and that the question of whether primary legislation was needed was still being considered. Of course, we do need it and that is why were here tonight. Why were three years allowed to elapse before that was actually established?

  An issue also arises regarding Part 9. When I raised this with the Minister for Justice and Equality recently, the reply was really passing the buck. It stated Part 9 could not be commenced until Parts 2 and 3 were dealt with. With regard to Part 9 and registration, it was stated it was a matter for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. There is extraordinary passing of the buck by various Departments. When I raised the matter with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the response was quite extraordinary. The Minister for Justice and Equality said it is a matter for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection while the latter stated:

A number of amendments to civil registration legislation, including [Parts 2 and 3], remain to be commenced pending the roll-out of training to staff of the Civil Registration Service who are employees of the HSE. The General Register Office is in a position to begin provision of training as soon as the HSE notifies it of the dates and venues.

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