Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Commencement of Legislation
45. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has considered in the absence of commencing Part 9 of the Children and Families Relationship Act 2015, publishing a stand-alone Bill to correct the technical errors in Part 9. [53414/18]
69. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the amendments needed will be progressed to commence Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53207/18]
73. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of the commencement of Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015; if the amendments required in Part 9 in a stand-alone Bill will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53332/18]
79. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason for the delay in the commencement of Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015; the steps she has taken to date to address the issue; when this Part of the Act will be commenced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53440/18]
The Children and Family Relationships Act was enacted in 2015. It is now 2018 but Parts 2, 3 and 9, which is the one involving the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, have not been commenced. This has very serious implications for couples who are having children through donor-assisted human reproduction, in particular same-sex couples, as there is no proper facility for the registration of parents and children. People are at their wits' end wondering why the Government has not commenced these sections.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 69, 73 and 79 together.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue which it is particularly important to address now that so many people have been waiting for so long for ratification. I am aware of the pressing need to make technical amendments to the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, including those sections of Part 9 which provide for the registration and re-registration of the birth of a donor-conceived child and, in particular, make possible the registration of details of "parent", "mother" and-or "father", where required. I want to make these necessary amendments at the earliest possible opportunity, which is why it is my intention to bring forward a stand-alone Bill very early in 2019. Commencement of the amendments is dependent, however, on the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Health.
Sequencing is perhaps the most important matter here. If I commence my Part before Parts 2 and 3 are commenced, there will be unintended outcomes of the sort neither Deputy Boyd Barrett nor I wish to see. It is therefore important for the Department of Health to put in place the administrative and operational arrangements necessary to facilitate the implementation of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act. That includes the establishment of a national donor-conceived person register and the appointment of authorised persons under the Act. It is the Minister for Health's intention to implement these provisions at the very beginning of 2019. As such, officials from my Department are working with the Civil Registration Service and the Department of Health to ensure that the appropriate legislative, regulatory, and operational mechanisms will be in place to permit the earliest possible commencement of all of the relevant legislation, including the relevant provisions of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018, to provide for the birth registration of donor-conceived children and the right legal status.
I am glad to see the Minister is focused on this and that there is a plan. However, there is a great deal of frustration out there. One woman wrote to me in the following terms:
I am facing a particularly difficult situation where I am seven months pregnant and as it stands my wife will not be recognised as the parent of our child as certain Parts of the Child and Family Relationships Act have not been commenced. Whilst I acknowledge that some matters take time to be sorted out and implemented, it should not take years. I am extremely dismayed, horrified and disheartened by the repeated neglect and push-back on the implementation and enactment of this Bill.
That is the human reality of this situation. In June of this year, it was promised that Parts 2, 3 and 9 would be commenced by October, but it has still not happened. There were amendments to the children and family relationships legislation. I understand that it is a complex, interdepartmental issue, but the Minister can see the frustration that exists. People want a definitive timeline to ensure commencement takes place very soon.
The Deputy does not need to read me his letters because I get them myself, although it is valuable to read them into the record of the House to demonstrate to people the frustration being experienced. I might not get them every day but certainly I receive them every second day from families who just want to have their legal status recognised. I appreciate their frustration. I am not sure who gave the commitment to have this done by October, but I hope to God it was not me. The only commitment I can give to the House today is that I am bringing forward a stand-alone Bill to make the amendments required from my Department to facilitate the commencement of Part 9 of the 2015 Act at the beginning of next year. I will be seeking the support of the House to pass the Bill in a speedy manner, given that we all want the same thing, and I will take it through the Dáil and Seanad as quickly as possible. That is contingent, however, on the administrative actions of the Department of Health. Those actions are a priority of that Department in the period immediately after Christmas. To be fair to the Department, the team of people who will be looking after this are the same people who have been here every night for the past couple of months until 11 p.m. or midnight working on another matter. We cannot split ourselves to make nine people, but that does not discount the frustrations of those who are waiting on this commencement. My commitment to them is that my Part will be addressed at the beginning of next year. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, shares that commitment equally.
While I welcome the fact that a stand-alone Bill will be brought forward to deal with the typographical errors in Part 9 of the 2015 Act, that Part and others were supposed to have been implemented within 12 months of enactment. It has taken three years to identify those errors and a further six months to rectify them. It has left hundreds of people feeling very vulnerable and at a loss as to what exactly is going on. I understand the Minister intends to bring a memorandum to Cabinet on 3 January and that the Bill will be brought forward then.
We need a commitment that it will be brought forward as quickly as possible, as the Minister has indicated. We need a commitment that it will be passed as quickly as possible. The Minister needs to give that commitment here and now to the many hundreds of people who have been left feeling very vulnerable because of these mistakes.
At the risk of repeating everything I have just said to Deputy Boyd Barrett, and in case Deputy Brady was not listening, I will reiterate exactly what I have just said. I plan to bring a memo to Cabinet at the beginning of next year. Deputy Brady obviously knows more about my schedule than I do given that he has a date and I do not. It will be the beginning of next year. With the co-operation of every Member of this House, we will get it passed very quickly.
Yes. Can we hold the Minister to that? I do not know who made the promise but I believe it was made in the context of the amendments in June, so it probably was not the Minister. It was said nonetheless and that is a frustration for people. I hope we can be sure on this.
It was through our team. We put in many parliamentary questions on the issue and it was indicated that it was due to come to Cabinet on that date. I may stand corrected and I do not claim to have any inside knowledge into the Cabinet. The Minister can rest assured that she has Sinn Féin's total support to ensure the Bill passes as quickly as possible. I take it that a genuine mistake was made but it needs to be rectified as quickly as possible.