Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

10:40 am

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:"Amendment of section 46(1) of Act of 2004

9 Section 46(1) of the Act of 2004 is amended by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (a):
"(a) (i) notify any registrar in writing in a form for the time being standing approved by an tArd-Chláraitheoir of their intention to marry —
(I) not less than 3 months prior to the date on which the marriage is to be solemnised, or

(II) at any time prior to the date on which the marriage is to be solemnised where the parties to the intended marriage are parties to a subsisting civil partnership with each other and have previously either complied with section 59B(1)(a) in respect of that civil partnership or been exempted from such compliance by order of the Circuit Court or the High Court under section 59B(2),

or
(ii) are granted an exemption from the application of subparagraph (i)(I) under section 47 and give a copy of the court order granting the exemption to any registrar before the date aforesaid,".

I signalled this amendment on Committee Stage. Its purpose is to remove the requirement for civil partners who have registered a civil partnership in Ireland to give three months' notice when seeking to marry one another. The amendment is to reduce any unnecessary administrative burden on civil partners wishing to marry. When the Civil Registration Act 2004 was being debated the purpose of the notice period was explained as giving a couple sufficient time to consider the magnitude of the step they were taking in deciding to marry. In the case of civil partners who have registered a civil partnership here, they will already have complied with an equivalent requirement before registering their civil partnership or received a court exemption from it. In addition, from a purely practical perspective, they will have established their identities for the registrar and provided the evidence that is normally needed by the registrar when establishing whether a couple can marry.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the amendment tabled by the Minister. Couples who have entered into civil partnerships have already paid a civil partnership fee to the celebrant or State, which was the equivalent of the fee paid when celebrating a marriage in a marriage registry office.

I note the Government has made a decision that a reduced fee will be payable for those couples who are civil partners and who now want to celebrate a marriage. I suggest to the Minister that there should be no fee payable. No heterosexual couple which has celebrated a marriage in a registry office, for example, and paid the fee would have to pay the fee a second time. It is not the fault of couples party to civil partnership that they are placed in a position now where if they wish to be formally recognised as married, they must effectively be party to a second ceremony. I know people welcome the fact that they can get married and the relationship they have will be recognised as a marital relationship but in the unusual circumstances that arise, there is no justification for those who entered into civil partnerships having to pay a second fee to the State for the privilege of having to marry.

I welcome the decision for a reduced fee but I urge that there be no fee. I can see no reason for a fee and the reduced fee, as I understand it, is a relatively small amount. I believe it is €50 but I am sure the Minister can clarify that. In the context of the funds that the Exchequer may need, the fee is generally an irrelevance. It would be a good and appropriate gesture in recognising the enormous and beneficial change that we are bringing about if the fee in its entirety was waived.

10:50 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I agree with Deputy Shatter's suggestion. I welcome the amendment and the reduced fee. We can consider this in the context of from where we have come. Civil partnership, as the State allowed it, was the only legal recognition that men and women of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community could get but because of the vote of the people, we are no longer being locked out. We are being included. As Deputy Shatter has correctly said, a fee was paid by people entering civil partnership. We have also changed the way in which registrars can celebrate marriages, such as the venue. I am not quite sure how much it would cost the State to waive the fee and I understand fees must be paid. The number of people already in a civil partnership is not staggeringly high and it would be a great gesture from our State to say to those people who before 2015 could only go to a certain point and were locked out of marriage, but now, because of the will of the people, they are included. It would be a great gesture to people already in civil partnerships.

This is an idea that may not be possible because of administrative fees but it would send a powerful message. One might argue that we are being a bit pedantic. Deputy Shatter used the word "unusual" but there was a uniqueness in civil partnership and what we are doing now. This would be a great gesture, if it can be done, so we should look at doing it.

Photo of John LyonsJohn Lyons (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I had not planned on speaking to this but I will follow up my colleagues' comments. I am delighted that two of my colleagues brought it up. As we all know, the only option open to LGBT couples up until now has been civil partnership. That was through no fault of their own, as other speakers have pointed out. If civil marriage had been open to LGBT people in the past, most of them would have embraced that option. Given that the opportunity was not open, and in light of the spirit of the law, if it is possible to acknowledge this issue, it would be greatly appreciated. I support the investigation of the option. It would be in the spirit of the matter, recognising the huge outpouring of happiness and joy that we saw in this country when the referendum was overwhelmingly passed. The people we represent in the rest of society would echo our comments. If it is possible for the Minister to examine Deputy Shatter's proposal, I and many others outside the Chamber would most certainly support the opportunity to look at it.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I do not believe the happiness and joy would be impacted by the decision to have this fee of €50. I have certainly had no feedback from anybody in that regard. A number of people suggested a reduced fee in view of the costs already incurred by couples. Deputy Shatter also suggested a reduced fee. We have examined the issue and I got some legal advice to ensure there were no issues relating to it. We have decided to reduce the fee by 75%. The amount is very low, reflecting the Government's desire to support civil partners wishing to marry.

My main concern is to move this legislation through the Dáil and Seanad as quickly as possible. I do not want to delay it in any way. This is an issue that will be dealt with by the Department of Social Protection, as it comes under civil registration. I will take some further advice on it but right now the decision has been made and noted by the Government to reduce the fee to €50. That has been welcomed by everybody, as has the amendment I introduced today making the three-month period unnecessary.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate what the Minister is saying but I ask her to look at this again. I suggested that there be no fee rather than a reduced fee.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Okay.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that this is not a big deal and the sum involved is very small. However, it would be an appropriate and right gesture for the State to make in the circumstances of the enactment of the legislation. It would recognise the fact that everybody should be treated equally. If nothing else, it is symbolic, saying to a couple which has entered into civil partnership that they will not be charged something extra over and above what a heterosexual couple in a registry office may have had to pay in the past few years to have the formal status of marriage attached to the relationship.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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There may be some equality issues that arise because fees have changed. We will certainly examine those.

Amendment put and agreed to.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 3:

In page 10, to delete lines 1 to 6 and substitute the following:“Amendment of section 5 of Act of 2010

12. The Act of 2010 is amended by the substitution of the following section for section 5:
“5. (1) The Minister may, by order, declare that a class of legal relationship entered into by two parties is entitled to be recognised as a civil partnership if under the law of the jurisdiction in which the legal relationship was entered into—
(a) the relationship is exclusive in nature,

(b) the relationship is permanent unless the parties dissolve it through the courts,

(c) the relationship has been registered under the law of that jurisdiction, and

(d) the rights and obligations attendant on the relationship are, in the opinion of the Minister, sufficient to indicate that the relationship would be treated comparably to a civil partnership.
(2) An order under subsection (1) entitles and obliges the parties to the legal relationship to be treated as civil partners under the law of the State from the later of—
(a) the day which is 21 days after the date on which the order is made,

and

(b) the day on which the relationship was registered under the law of the jurisdiction in which it was entered into.
(3) Where an order is made under subsection (1), a dissolution of a legal relationship under the law of the jurisdiction in which it was entered into, or under the law of any other jurisdiction in respect of which a class of legal relationship has been declared by an order made under that subsection to be entitled to be recognised as a civil partnership, shall be recognised as a dissolution and deemed to be a dissolution under section 110, and any former parties to such a relationship shall not be treated as civil partners under the law of the State from the later of—
(a) the day which is 21 days after the date on which the order is made,

and

(b) the day on which the dissolution became effective under the law of the relevant jurisdiction.
(4) Every order made by the Minister under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the order is laid before it, the order shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done under it.".".

I suppose this has been discussed in some detail on Second Stage, when I raised it, and on Committee Stage, when I indicated that I would put down amendments. I did not get to press the first amendment.

The Minister argues that the advice from the Attorney General's office is that we must get rid of the institution of civil partnership. I find that hard to accept but that is the advice. What I find much harder to accept is the fact that advice that nobody in this House will ever see is effectively used to clobber debate. I am sure that if I called the Attorney General and asked her for advice as a Member of this House, she would ask me what I was doing as she does not offer advice to the House or Members. She advises the Government and I accept that. If it is supposed to be unconstitutional, so be it. The Constitution does not state that the Government shall control and dominate this House and that it shall make legislation for this State. That is why we have a State and what 1916 was about.

That is what 1921 was about: the power for a legislature elected by the people of Ireland to make law for Ireland, not a Government to make law by decree. I do not see many amendments other than those proposed by Ministers being accepted in here. Why not just rule by decree? Why bother with the facade of parliamentary democracy, where we have a Committee Stage on which committees do not debate very much? Some Ministers have taken amendments, but by and large the practice is no different to previous Governments. There is no great reform or empowerment of the Dáil. In fact, I have nothing to compare it to, because I was not here before, but I am told there was probably greater control exercised by the Government over this Dáil than has been the case in the past.

If the Minister says the Attorney General says it is unconstitutional, so be it, but that is civil partnership as it existed up to now. Why not open it up? Why not open it up to people who are not homosexual or to people who live together in a committed relationship that is not of a sexual or intimate nature in a family unit and who want the protection of the law? I doubt very much that the Attorney General has said that would be unconstitutional or that it would be competitive to marriage. I doubt she has even been asked, but I do not know. We will never know. However, I do know that debate in this Chamber is consistently being stifled by so-called advice from the Attorney General. Sometimes I notice that it changes. Deputy Michael McGrath had a Bill at one point that went from being potentially unconstitutional to unconstitutional in the space of about an hour, as the heat got turned up in Leaders' Questions, or something like that. I have a concern about this tendency to stifle debate.

On this amendment specifically, the Minister says the advice is that it would be an unconstitutional attack on the institution of marriage if people were to continue to be able to have a civil partnership. She also says it would be unconstitutional to recognise foreign civil partnerships, because that, too, would be an attack on the institution of marriage. There is a logic in that. However, the Minister's legislation, if I understand it correctly, proposes to continue to recognise civil partnerships for six months. If the Constitution is to be interpreted so literally that we are going to defend from attack the institution of marriage, and if allowing people to engage in a civil partnership or recognising a civil partnership is an attack on the institution of marriage, then recognising it for six months is still an attack. The Constitution does not say, "We will protect the institution of marriage from attacks lasting longer than six months". It is about attacks, full stop. I question the logic of the Bill in that regard. I really question why it is an attack on marriage to retain civil partnership on the books, but I question the logic of continuing to recognise it for six months. There are, of course, people who will continue to engage in civil partnerships abroad. We live in the European Union. France and the Netherlands are two countries in the EU where civil partnership exists and I expect people will continue to migrate between France, the Netherlands and Ireland, as long as the European Union exists, which I hope will be for the foreseeable future. On that basis, I ask the Minister to consider the amendment, which would continue to recognise civil partnerships, not just between homosexual couples, but civil partnerships more broadly.

11:00 am

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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This is a useful amendment because it gives us an opportunity to discuss an issue of some importance. I was not able to participate in the Second Stage debate, because it coincided with the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur, so I had no opportunity to raise this issue previously, but I did raise it in an article some time ago. As everybody knows, I welcome the fact that the referendum was successful and that we have this legislation before the House and I sought for many years to bring about this possibility.

The difficulty I see arising from the legislation as it is now before the House relates specifically to gay couples who have entered into the equivalent of our civil partnership in other states, who will, for the time being, continue to reside in other states that do not allow same sex marriage, and who will, for the best of reasons, enter into civil partnerships in the future. There are states within the European Union that do not allow same sex marriage, some of which are very seriously opposed to it, and there are states of importance outside the European Union that do not allow same sex marriage. Citizens from those states visit this country, come here lawfully to work and bring their partners with them. I will mention two countries very briefly. One is Germany, which does not at present allow same sex marriage, but allows civil partnership. The second is Australia, which may in the foreseeable future change under the new Prime Minister. It does not allow same sex marriage either.

I see no reason and no constitutional difficulty of any description in this State continuing to recognise civil partnerships that are celebrated in other states subsequent to this legislation coming into force and attaching to those civil partnerships the same status that we currently attach to civil partnerships celebrated outside the State. I do not see that giving rise to constitutional difficulties of any description. It is a legislative matter. It is by way of this State recognising a status conferred lawfully by another state on a couple and, where that status is different to the status of marriage, accepting that it attracts to it all of the same rights and obligations as attach to civil partnerships currently in this State. I do not see that as a difficulty or as a constitutional issue.

I am taking what Deputy McNamara is saying on this, because I am not a member of the justice committee, so I did not participate in the committee discussions. I do not see how recognising civil partnership in that form could, in any legal shape, be regarded as "an attack on marriage". It may be that the Minister is not saying that. I do not know. To say that to recognise foreign civil partnerships and to attach a status to them similar to the current status of Irish civil partnerships is an attack on marriage is equivalent to saying that the legislation we enacted in this State in 2010, which allowed for civil partnerships, was unconstitutional and was an attack on marriage. There is no logic in this and there is no constitutional principle in it.

This is a common-sense issue. If a couple who have entered a civil partnership come to work and live in this State, under the European Union rules they have a right to freedom of movement and the right to establish here. For example, we have many German nationals who are living in Ireland, working for multinational companies at present, and we have others who do not work for multinational companies but who simply come to live and work here because they have chosen Ireland as a country of residence. If a German national in 2016 comes with his or her partner to live in Ireland, having in 2016 celebrated a civil partnership in Germany, why should we say we do not recognise that relationship, we do not recognise it as having any status and will not grant it any of the rights and obligations that we would grant that relationship under the law as it is at the moment? It makes no sense. It makes no legal sense, no constitutional sense and no human sense.

This issue should be addressed. It is not going to be addressed on Report Stage, quite clearly. An appropriate amendment could be tabled in the Seanad. I do not imagine there is any major political opposition on any side of this House to any such change. I do not imagine there is any objection from the general public. My plea is that we deal with this with a degree of additional insight into the human situations people find themselves in.

There are many Irish young people who in the past few years chose - some had no choice - to go to countries such as Australia to establish residence and work there. It may well be that there are some Irish citizens who are parties to the Australian version of civil partnership celebrated in Australia who may in the coming years return home here. They may not immediately marry. There could be all sorts of reasons one would not immediately marry. Let us take that human situation of two Irish citizens who have entered into a civil partnership in Australia, one of whom, for example, is seriously ill, and decide to come back to Ireland so that one of them can live his or her last few days on this earth in Ireland. Are we to say, for example, that the surviving civil partner will have no inheritance rights unless, in a situation of medical emergency, a marriage had been celebrated upon their return to Ireland? The one thing I know, as someone who worked in the area of family law over the years, is that there are such diversity of possible human predicaments that arise. None of us can predict them, but there will be a circumstance which will give rise to great injustice and public outcry in a year, two years, three years or four years if we do not deal with this on a common sense basis. This is not complex. Like the Minister, I am anxious that this legislation goes through rapidly which is why I did what I could to highlight this issue some weeks ago. I just do not understand why we are not addressing it and I hope we can.

11:10 am

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The proposed amendments have a number of aims. One is to preserve civil partnership. The second is to open civil partnership to opposite-sex couples and non-conjugal couples such as cohabiting family members or friends. The third is to widen the scope of the redress scheme provided in Part 15 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 so that it also encompasses non-conjugal couples. I want to address these matters which were subject to significant consideration in the preparation of the Bill.

As the House will be aware, the rights and obligations of civil partnership are broadly comparable with those of marriage, although civil partners do not have the additional constitutional recognition and protections that spouses have. This means that allowing civil partnerships to continue as an alternative to marriage is fraught, as I stated on Committee Stage and previously, with constitutional difficulties. When the constitutional interpretation was that same-sex couples could not marry, there was a clear justification for setting up the statutory scheme of civil partnership. It enabled same-sex couples to enter a formal and recognised relationship with each other, to take on extensive rights and obligations in relation to each other, and to have strong legal protections and benefits in that relationship. Those rights, obligations, benefits and protections correlated closely with those afforded to spouses in a marriage. The constitutional context has now changed following the vote. In the wake of the referendum and after the passage of this Bill, same-sex couples will be able to marry each other. This means that the rationale that was there for providing civil partnership for same-sex couples is falling away. Deputy McNamara talks about that six-month period. That is no more than discontinuing the situation in an orderly way and I think courts would recognise that.

The policy the Government has adopted in the Marriage Bill based on extensive and careful analysis and legal advice is that civil partnership will be discontinued in an orderly way. The advice I have is that to consider maintaining access to civil partnership creates an unacceptable risk that the statutory scheme would become constitutionally non-compliant. There is, therefore, a risk that a constitutional challenge to its continuation would be successful and civil partnership could be struck down. This could have serious consequences for current civil partners. That is a consideration as well, regarding a threat to the rights, obligations and protections of civil partnership. That is the constitutional context that, I have been advised, has to be taken into account. Neither would it be appropriate to downgrade civil partnership in order to make its continuation less constitutionally risky. This is because the consequences for civil partners would be significant. They have a reasonable expectation that their rights, protections and obligations will continue in force unless and until they dissolve the relationship, should that happen.

To take up another element of Deputy McNamara's proposals, the intention of his amendments is that civil partnership would also be available to non-conjugal couples such as siblings or friends living together in the long term. It is worth noting that being in a civil partnership is an impediment to marriage. This would probably be seen as an unacceptable infringement on the right to marry set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Also, there is little evidence of a demand for civil partnership in this particular circumstance for these couples. I remind the House, as Deputy McNamara will be well aware, that siblings are already in a preferred category in terms of succession rights, and, similarly, where two persons live together and one of them leaves a shared home to the other, the survivor may benefit from favourable treatment. Obviously, there is that situation which is set out in the Capital Acquisitions Tax Consolidation Act 2003.

Finally, Deputy McNamara suggests an extension of the redress scheme set out in Part 15 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. The Deputy's proposal is intended to enable couples, such as family members or friends living together, to have access to the remedy set out in Part 15. A person would in certain circumstances be able to apply for maintenance or for a property or pension adjustment order from his or her friend or family members with whom he or she had been living, but there is not that much evidence that people want this. There has not been substantial consultation in this area since 2006 when both the Law Reform Commission and my Department separately held consultation on what rights and obligations should be extended to cohabitants. The Law Reform Commission observed importantly in the wider sense in relation to cohabitation that "It would be difficult, however, to devise a scheme that would apply to all these relationships. It would assume that a single rationale could be uniformly applied to such diverse situations." The Working Group on Domestic Partnership also stated: "In view of the dearth of submissions made, the Working Group found it difficult to consider in any depth the nature of the diverse relationships in this category and the options for and consequences of according legal recognition."

In the absence of any major developments or evidence of demand for greater access to that redress scheme, I take the view that it is not appropriate to accept these amendments. The scope of the Bill is specifically limited to the measures that are necessary to enable same-sex couples to marry, not to wider law reform in the sphere of personal relations that Deputy McNamara describes. I think the Deputy would accept that this is outside. These are broader issues that arise in relation to these issues which have been considered by both the constitutional law group and the working group. The Deputy can see the complexity of the issues from the short piece that I quoted.

I repeat the point in terms of my legal advice that continuing civil partnership for couples in Ireland creates constitutional difficulties. Deputy McNamara describes that as conservative advice. It is the advice that the Government has taken. It is the advice that we have been given which I respect. There are particular constitutional issues, as the House well knows, that arise in Ireland given the Constitution that must be taken into account. We have got this important change through by going out to the people by way of referendum and that is the way one brings about such change.

Recognising foreign registered partnerships is an equality issue as it would make an option available to couples who have registered partnerships abroad that will not be available to Irish resident couples.

Other changes would have to take place for it to happen. We do not recognise opposite-sex registered partnerships, and arrangements are being proposed for same-sex couples. There are varying complexities to the issue and it is not simple in that constitutional issues come into play. I would not want to risk anything here. It is very important. The people have very clearly expressed their will regarding the contents of the Bill and everybody in the House wants us to move the legislation forward quickly. This is the advice I have received and I am putting it to the House.

11:20 am

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I congratulate the Minister and her Department on the speed with which they are moving the Bill forward and the fact the voice of the people in so far as it related to facilitating same-sex marriage is being heeded and enacted. The Minister said it is only what is required to introduce same-sex marriage. Is it necessary to remove the institution of civil partnership? The Minister said there has not been a public consultation on the matter since 2006. Why are we removing this institution without a public consultation? The people voted in favour of equality, not to confine family relations that enjoy legal protection to marriage alone.

The Minister mentioned the downgrading of the protections of civil partnership to make it constitutional. Nowhere in my amendments have I suggested downgrading the protections. I would not propose it and would find such a suggestion hard to accept. There would be rights that would be enjoyed by non-conjugal couples, not accidentally by two mates who happen to live together but by two people who voluntarily and knowingly entered into a civil partnership. One would not accidentally find oneself subject to a maintenance order in respect of a friend with whom one had lived during college and for a few months afterwards. This is not what is proposed. It would be for people who voluntarily enter into a civil partnership.

The Minister justified the six-month issue as an orderly discontinuance or an orderly wind-down. While I do not accept that recognising civil partnerships from abroad is an attack, if it is, an orderly wind-down of an attack is still an attack for six months. There is a lack of logic in the Bill in this regard. Either we can recognise civil partnerships, which we can and should, or we cannot. If we cannot, to do so for six months is unconstitutional. I thank the Minister for responding to the points I raised.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 4:

In page 12, line 12, before “the” where it firstly occurs, to insert “by”.

This is a minor technical amendment to rectify the omission of the word "by" from an amending provision.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 5:

In page 12, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:“Amendment of section 54 of Act of 2004

21.Section 54 of the Act of 2004 is amended by substituting the following subsection for subsection (1):
“(1) A body, Commissioner for Oaths or Peace Commissioner may apply to an tArd-Chláraitheoir—
(a) in case the body is the Executive, for the registration of a registrar named in the application who is employed by the Executive and is aged 18 years or more,

(b) in case the body is a religious body, for the registration of a member named in the application who is aged 18 years or more, and

(c) in case the body is a secular body, for the registration of a member named in the application who is aged 18 years or more.”.”.

The amendment relates to the practicalities of getting married, not what is and is not constitutional. There is a long waiting list to get married for heterosexual couples, who are the only ones who can get married. It is difficult to get a place, and no matter how long one waits, one cannot get a registrar to perform a marriage on a Saturday, Sunday or even 5 p.m. on a Friday. It is limited. If one wants to get married at a time of one's choosing, one had better have a religious marriage. Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of our Constitution. As a Roman Catholic, I have the right to be married in a Roman Catholic church if the church allows me to do so. One of the key aspects of freedom of religion is freedom from religion. If I am not a member of a religious group, I should still have a right to be married. However, it is severely curtailed, not by law but by the practicalities of getting married. It must be Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a registry office.

We recently introduced an amendment to allow humanist marriages. Although it is not a religion, humanism is a belief structure or concept, not a secular structure. I greatly welcome the fact the House will soon pass a Bill that will enable gay couples to get married. Already, straight couples cannot get married when they want to and there is a very long waiting list. Added to this will be the number of gay couples who will, it is hoped, want to get married. We believe a large number wish to get married, and even if there is only one, it is still very important because it is equality. The practical question is whether they will be able to get married. Resources are probably insufficient. I wrote to the Minister previously and was told it was a resources issue, which I accept. If it is, maybe we should consider alternatives.

Given that we respect religions equally, we allow members of religious organisations equally to solemnise marriages. Is there a particular reason people such as commissioners for oaths, notaries public or peace commissioners could not apply to solemnise marriages? I am not suggesting all the formalities of giving notice, attending the registry office to produce documentation and identification, and satisfying the registrar that it is not a sham marriage should not continue. Those civil protections exist no matter who solemnises a marriage and no matter where, be it a mosque, Roman Catholic church or synagogue, and I do not propose to alter them. Given there are not enough registrars in Ireland to marry the people who want to get married now, much less those who will want to get married after the Bill has passed, maybe we should consider allowing commissioners for oaths, peace commissioners, notaries public or some secular figures in society to solemnise marriages. I am not saying they should all be allowed to solemnise marriages at the stroke of a pen but that they should be allowed to apply to the registrar to be registered to solemnise marriages. Statutory instruments could be introduced to ensure they had the requisite training and abilities to do so. I urge the Minister to consider this practical problem.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy raises an interesting point in that there is an issue in terms of people being able to get married on a Saturday, for example. I do not necessarily agree with him on who can perform the ceremony. The appropriate person is the registrar. I met the registrar in Cork and her ceremonies, whether marriages or civil partnerships, are among the most moving ceremonies one could attend. She takes time and care and personalises each ceremony to an extent that would bowl one over. The Deputy is right that there is an issue with waiting times. It is a resources issue. Marriages can be solemnised Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One of our best initiatives was to change the venue restrictions.

Deputy McNamara is from County Clare, where there are some fine outdoor venues. In my case, there are venues like Charles Fort, Elizabeth Fort and Christchurch in Cork county and city.

11:30 am

Photo of John LyonsJohn Lyons (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Deputy is advertising.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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He is going through his options.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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They are examples of-----

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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Are we going to get invited to a wedding?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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-----venues where one can-----

Photo of John LyonsJohn Lyons (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Why was Deputy Buttimer up with the registrar?

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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He is drawing up a list.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I attended a civil partnership in Christchurch in Cork city. It is absolutely beautiful. It is an old church. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Keating, sings in a choir and is a musician. The atmosphere at this wonderful venue was befitting of the occasion. We changed the ceremony venue from being in the registry office.

I would like to speak about the context of what we have done as a country and as a State. We have extended the right to marry to all of us. As I said earlier, we are no longer locked out. The Saturday issue that has been mentioned means that in some cases, people have to go to the registry office during the week to get married, or in the past civil partnered, on their own with their witnesses before having their public celebrations on the Saturday. This brings me back to the point that has been made about hotels. I am not flying the flag for the hotel industry. I am talking about the actual ceremony. For the couple involved, it is probably the most important day of their lives. We need to be creative in the context of this amendment. I am not quite sure I would be happy to provide for peace commissioners to take on this role. I mean no disrespect to any of the peace commissioners I know, one of whom is my father, when I say that. I think the registrar is the person in question.

Deputy McNamara has raised a very valid point that needs to be responded to. He has spoken about freedom from religion. I know the Catholic Church has its own rules and regulations. We still have the view, which we expressed during the campaign, that it is not about being able to get married in a church. The Church of Ireland has a different view in some cases. One of the most extraordinary exponents of the referendum was Bishop Colton in Cork. Would it not be great if he or others could do this? That is a different argument. I think we need to see whether we can expand on the argument that Deputy McNamara has presented.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I am loth to engage in competitive tendering for appropriate locations for marriage celebrations, but without promoting any commercial outlet I would like to mention that Marlay Park, Airfield and Rathfarnham Castle in my constituency make fantastic venues for celebrating marriages. I hope to see them used in that way.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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There must be an election coming up.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Deputy McNamara is raising a very important issue, as he often does. We rarely get an opportunity to discuss the issue he has raised in this House. Just as weddings are happy occasions, the enactment of this legislation will be a very happy occasion. I wish to use Deputy McNamara's amendment to tease out a particular issue, which I have found to be a source of personal irritation for many years. I know many people who have sought to marry have found it to be a cause of irritation too. It has been mentioned by Deputies McNamara and Buttimer. Many years ago, when the civil registry office was effectively located in a solicitors' firm in Kildare Street, civil marriages in Dublin were celebrated there by a Mr. Downey with great solemnity and aplomb. All of this was subsequently taken over, in effect, by the former Eastern Health Board.

I do not understand why this bureaucratic administrative requirement is not being questioned. It seems it will always be done in this way because it has always been done in this way. I think it is right that we should question why a civil marriage should have to be celebrated between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday., simply because they are the work hours of the officials who are employed by the State or a State agency. I understand that no one wants to pay them overtime for working outside their working hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Has anyone ever suggested that they might work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday? Maybe some of them would welcome that and there would be no extra charge to the State. There are many people who would like to celebrate their wedding on a Saturday or a Sunday. Getting married is a very special occasion.

Most people who are getting married, or whose friends are getting married, do not object to taking a day off work, but it presents as a difficulty for some people. It can present as a difficulty for people who are flying in from abroad for weddings. Many people, particularly those who are having civil marriage ceremonies, would like to marry on a Saturday or a Sunday. The only group through which that can be done at the moment is the Humanist Association of Ireland. It is fantastic that the humanists can celebrate ceremonies. I understand they are now celebrating wedding ceremonies for large numbers of people who are not members of the Humanist Association of Ireland.

This does not fall within the Minister's remit, but it is relevant to the discussion and the amendment. I cannot for the life of me see why we are so structured and inflexible. It is just assumed that one can never celebrate a marriage ceremony earlier than 9 a.m. on a Monday or later than 5 p.m. on a Friday, and not at all on a Saturday or Sunday unless it is a religiously celebrated ceremony or the Humanist Association of Ireland has a vacancy and is able to celebrate one's ceremony. That may be months away because of the demand being experienced by the humanists.

This is an administrative issue. It is not about legislation. It is simply about whether we can rearrange the bureaucracy. It may well be that those who are currently celebrating marriages would be delighted to do this. Maybe they would have no difficulty at all with it. For all sorts of domestic reasons, it might suit them to work on a Saturday and not on a Monday. I have no idea. I simply do not know. It should not be beyond the realms of human ingenuity at Government or HSE level to ensure we have a more flexible arrangement. It may well be that a few more officials could be trained to celebrate marriage ceremonies. Maybe some people would be very happy to do this at the weekend, or early in the morning. It may not be an enormous financial imposition on the State.

We all visit myriad of countries outside this State. I have not done a survey of how many European countries, or countries beyond the EU, allow one to celebrate one's civil ceremony on a Saturday or a Sunday, but I would be aware that the number is quite considerable. We are in some sort of marital celebratory ceremony straitjacket that has been bestowed on us by an administrative bureaucracy that nobody questions. I sometimes get into trouble for asking questions, but this is not a question of great complexity. Why should we continue to do this in the way we have been doing it?

I believe the public would welcome the availability of civil registrars who would celebrate marriages on Saturdays and Sundays and after 5 p.m. during the summer months. Why does it stop at 5 p.m. during the summer months? I do not know the answer to that question. Why should a marriage not be celebrated at 7 p.m. on a Friday evening during the summer at some venue where people would like to celebrate it? This would enable guests attending the ceremony to work the day if they so wished. Why are we in this sort of odd bureaucratic straitjacket? It makes no sense.

This is of relevance to heterosexual couples, gay couples and all people who are going to marry in the future. Perhaps the Minister could have this conversation with her colleague in government who is responsible for this matter. Maybe there could be some dramatic and simple change that would affect this area and bring us out of the sort of strange straitjacket that we have been in since the 19th or 20th centuries and into a more flexible 21st century model.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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My party indicated on Second Stage that it would not be submitting any amendments, in the spirit of the Bill and the decision made by the people in the referendum, to allow this legislation to make speedy progress through the Houses. However, I want to acknowledge Deputy McNamara's amendment and the previous amendment. I think the issues that have been raised are valid. In the case of this amendment, it strikes me that same-sex couples will not be able to get married outside a registry office. Therefore, as Deputy Shatter has said, they will be hampered by the current office hours, which will restrict them to getting married between Monday and Friday. Obviously, wider options will be available to couples who are able to get married in religious ceremonies.

Clearly there is an issue of equality at play here when one set of couples will not have the same options in terms of the day for getting married and having their receptions on the same day. It is a valid issue and perhaps the Minister would consider it ahead of the Seanad debate.

Regarding the issue raised earlier, perhaps further consideration could be given to the points made by Deputy Alan Shatter. We would be concerned about the impact on citizens residing here having the status of their relationships recognised by the State. Is there a possibility of the State having an agreement with other states to recognise the status of those relationships? We would like some feedback on the options available.

11:40 am

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Clearly the Report Stage debate on this Bill gives an opportunity for Deputies to raise these issues. They were also raised on Committee Stage and at that point I said that I would raise them with the Minister for Social Protection and I have done so. I will relay today's discussion to her again because I believe these are issues for consideration. I do not need to elaborate further on them because they speak for themselves. Deputies have outlined the particular points and the limitations of current arrangements. Clearly various discussions must be had with the relevant people to make these changes, but the points made are valid and there is no question of me arguing against them. That said, the issues raised are not for this Bill. They are issues for the Minister for Social Protection. I have already relayed the Deputies' concerns to her and I am sure she will determine what steps are needed in terms of the practical points made by Deputies.

In terms of the other aspect of the Bill, that is, the frameworks for the solemnisation of marriage and who can be a solemniser, the current arrangements are long-standing and were not put in place lightly. The role of solemniser is a serious and responsible one. Deputy Buttimer said that he is not sure he would agree with the changes proposed by Deputy McNamara. The person authorised to act as solemniser is nominated either by the approved religion of which he or she is a member, as the Deputy has said, or the approved secular body as provided for in the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2012. Following that Act, bodies must comply with the requirements set down in legislation and solemnisers must have the necessary training. All these issues and any unforeseen consequences which could arise would have to be considered in detail before changes could be countenanced. I do not believe these amendments are for this Bill but this discussion certainly has been worthwhile. The issues raised should be followed up and I will ensure they are.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I thank the Minister for taking my amendment in the spirit in which it is intended. The Minister is right that we do not technically need a legal change to have marriages carried out on Saturdays and Sundays. In fact, there is not even necessarily a cost to the State involved because the existing Civil Registration Act allows that the cost of a registrar having to go to a venue such as Marlay Park, Blackrock Castle or-----

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Rathfarnham Castle.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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Sorry, I forgot which venue the Deputy suggested would be ideal. That cost can be borne and can be expected to be borne by the couple but so too could the cost of having a marriage on a Saturday or Sunday if there is an additional overtime cost. We need flexibility. State services, whether one is talking about the solemnisation of marriage or a bus from A to B, exist for the benefit of the public and not for the benefit of those who provide them. Obviously those who provide the services must be looked after and paid. They are essential to the provision of a good service but fundamentally a State service exists for the benefit of the public and we need to bear that in mind. I am glad that discussions are taking place on the fact that civil marriages cannot currently take place on Saturdays or Sundays. I acknowledge that there is no requirement to change legislation to achieve that and that it can be done under the existing framework if registrars will agree to marry people at weekends. However, if they continue to refuse to do so, then the point made by Deputy Shatter that civil marriages were once carried out in solicitors' offices is valid. There is no particular reason notary publics could not carry them out in the future again if the registrars are determined not to work on Saturdays and Sundays. Ultimately, registrars carry out a State function and it is a very important function provided by the State, that of marrying people.

I thank the Minister. I will not press the amendment in light of the constructive discussion we have had but it is an issue that needs to be looked at and not just parked until the next time there is a Bill before the House that happens to be about marriage. A lot needs to be done to ensure the right of gay and straight people to get married in this country becomes real and that they can marry when they want to in this State.

Photo of Derek KeatingDerek Keating (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Is the Deputy withdrawing the amendment?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I am not pressing the amendment.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The last point made by Deputy McNamara regarding the solemniser is a serious one and I would not like to see that being diluted. Now that we have almost passed this marriage equality legislation, there may be other changes to marriage that Deputies have in mind. The point made by the Deputy is one we must look at in the context of all the contributions to this debate. How marriage is celebrated and solemnised requires further debate. I know from speaking to registrars about this issue that it may boil down to resources. The Minister said she has already spoken to the Minister for Social Protection. The HSE, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality are the three organs of State which must move on this. Deputy Shatter is right that it should be possible to have marriages at 3 p.m., 7 p.m., on a Saturday or Sunday or whatever. We have moved on from the old approach to marriage, where it depended on when the priest was available in the case of church marriages or whatever slot was available in the registry office. We must have a wider discussion about how we can perform marriage celebrations for couples. I hope we can be creative and come up with a solution to what is a first world problem on one level, given that the success of the referendum now presents people with the option of getting married which they did not have before. I hope the Departments will have a conversation about how we can change the times available. We have already made changes with regard to venues and can make further changes once the will exists. I know the Minister has the will and I hope the Departments will work together on this issue.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Bill reported with amendments.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I would like an opportunity to say a few words on the Bill, if I may, although I appreciate that the Minister may want to say something first.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy can go ahead.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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This is a particularly historic day in this Chamber. I will look back, very briefly, if I may. I was very privileged, as Minister for Justice and Equality, to bring to Cabinet the proposal that we hold a referendum to provide for marriage equality. It was an outstanding outcome to that referendum that such a large majority in this State supported change. This is the next historical event, following on from that referendum, with this legislation being passed by this Dáil. The Bill has yet to go through the Seanad but I hope that the desire we all have for this to pass speedily through the Seanad will not prevent the Minister from looking at and addressing in the Seanad the issues discussed today because bringing the Bill back to the Dáil would delay its enactment by no more than a few days. It is very important we get it right and I urge the Minister to look again at the issue of those who enter into civil partnerships abroad after this legislation becomes effective and attach to those civil partnerships the same status that we will continue to attach to civil partnerships that have been celebrated by couples in this State before the legislation has become operative.

A myriad of difficulties could arise if we were not to do that, but I will not go into them today.

We should celebrate the fact that this legislation has been enacted through the House. It is a major step towards putting flesh on the bones of the decision made in the referendum in that it enables same-sex couples to have the same recognition extended to their loving relationships that those of us who are heterosexual have had the benefit of for so long. Constitutionally we are all equal, and we are all now seen to be equal. There was never any reason for individuals to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

There remains one issue that must be addressed and that has yet to come before this Chamber. Crucial change is needed to section 37 of the Employment Equality Act in order that individuals are not discriminated against and do not fear discrimination against them in their employment due to their sexual orientation or the simple fact that they may now avail of the right they have, as a same sex couple, to enter into a same-sex marriage. In April 2014, when I was Minister for Justice and Equality, a report on this issue was provided to my Department. I had asked the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to look at how we could better balance the provisions in the Employment Equality Act. As I understand it, the Government is proceeding to address the issue. It is important that it be addressed during the lifetime of this Dáil. I am concerned that it not be postponed until a later occasion. I am also concerned, in the context of the employment of certain people such as teachers working in denominationally based schools, that they may fear availing of the freedom extended to them by being entitled to enter into a same-sex marriage and may be concerned as to the consequences with regard to their employment or promotional opportunities if we do not amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. I hope the necessary measure will come before the House and will be enacted in the form recommended for change before the House sees an end to its life because of the calling of a general election. I do not have any insight into whether we will see an election on this side or the far side of Christmas. However, there is no particular reason the amendment could not be enacted before we reach the Christmas vacation.

11:50 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I commend the Minister and her staff, some of whom are present, on making such a major input into the Bill before us, the legislation providing for the referendum and the Children and Family Relationships Act. The work of departmental staff in preparing the legislation should be acknowledged.

This is an historic and important day in the history of the State. The people have spoken. There are men and women of the Yes Equality campaign in the Gallery. They are civic-minded volunteers who had the courage and bravery to campaign door to door. I commend them on their heroic campaign. I also pay tribute to the former Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who played an instrumental role following the establishment of the Government in ensuring that the Constitutional Convention would debate the issue of marriage equality. The convention's debate on the issue was a seminal moment in the campaign. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Derek Keating, and Deputy Mary Lou McDonald were members of the Constitutional Convention. The weekend of debate in Malahide was one of the memorable and moving moments in the 12-month life of the convention. Those who question the validity of Constitutional Convention should recall the day in Malahide on which citizens, the convention's non-elected members, reached a decision following a debate characterised by passion and fervour.

Marriage equality is without doubt an issue that has exercised Irish people and people all over the world. As I stated on Second Stage, we are a small nation with a big heart, and that message is beaming across a watching world. For as long as men and women are being persecuted, those of us who enjoy the privilege of having been elected have a duty to provide a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and to represent them on the world stage.

I commend the Minister on the leadership she has shown on this issue. Some people had the temerity to question the Taoiseach's commitment on this issue. The Taoiseach was not found wanting, and led from the front by embarking on a journey in which he demonstrated that leadership is about people. I commend the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, who was the director of the Government's referendum campaign.

Today is an historic day which makes me proud to be a Member of the Dáil. I commend the work the Government has done with Irish people to show the world that Ireland is a country of freedom in which all citizens are equal. In May of this year, on the eve of the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Irish people rose up and said "Yes" to all.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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This is undoubtedly a significant milestone in a journey that is still not complete towards achieving equal citizenship for all of our people and building a Republic. I acknowledge in particular the members of the Yes Equality campaign present in the Visitors' Gallery and congratulate them on their efforts and the joy they brought to a matter that has had a joyful ending. I also acknowledge the role of the Constitutional Convention in so accurately reflecting the views and feelings of Irish people on a matter of such fundamental equality. We do not regularly get opportunities to congratulate Ministers, but I congratulate the Minister because it is on her watch that the Bill has been successfully navigated through the legislative process, following on from the work of the previous Minister. I thank her for that. This is a moment of joy in the Chamber, one that we should enjoy and relish while we can. Good for us and good for all those in the Gallery.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I join previous speakers in congratulating the Minister and her officials on quickly progressing this legislation. I celebrate the fact that the House will soon pass legislation that will enable all citizens to marry equally. I also join previous speakers in urging the Minister to pay careful attention to the debate. I campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the referendum on the basis that there is a difference between civil partnership and marriage. The Law Society, for example, released a statement pointing out some 1,000 legal differences between marriage and civil partnership. However, we are abolishing civil partnership for everybody on the basis that marriage and civil partnership are the same, in which case I must ask whether we were all wrong. I do not believe we were wrong.

The Bill will move to the Seanad. I ask the Minister to outline to the Upper House the progress made in ensuring people can get married on Saturdays and Sundays, because progress needs to be made on this issue.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I add my voice on this momentous day on our journey to ensure we move towards a true Republic that values all of its citizens equally. We are about to give legal effect to the decision that was taken in the recent referendum. I was delighted to be part of an extremely positive referendum campaign. We must acknowledge and give credit to the Yes Equality team, the men and women and their families and friends who realised what the impact of this decision on their personal lives would be. The warmth, generosity and positivity of the campaign was a sight to behold and it was great to be part of it. I salute the men and women of the Yes Equality campaign for the Trojan efforts they made in knocking on doors to ensure the referendum was passed.

I also acknowledge the role played by the Minister and the collective role of Members in the referendum campaign. It was one occasion when members of all parties and none came together and decided what was needed to achieve a true Republic.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the previous speakers for their thoughtful contributions.

It is a day to thank the people for their vote on 22 May. Passing the Marriage Bill 2015 is a real marker of equality in this country. As other Deputies said, it is a privilege to be here today. We are taking a very important step today towards the enactment of the Bill. I look forward to moving the legislation through the Seanad very soon. We all hope the legislation will be enacted in the next few weeks. I thank all Deputies and everyone who was involved in the campaign. I acknowledge the cross-party support for the marriage equality referendum and the work of Deputies across the House and NGOs, many of whose representatives are here today. Well done to all. It is a real privilege to be here today to see the passing in the Dáil of the Marriage Bill 2015.

Question put and agreed to.