Tuesday, 6 July 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
44. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the legislative actions he plans to take in cases in which there is a question or doubt concerning a child’s guardianship status that their rights are ensured from the perspective of the best interests of the child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36448/21]
I thank the Minister for taking this question. I understand and appreciate that it does not fall solely within his Department's remit. It concerns the guardianship status of children and ensuring their rights in the best interests of the child. Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?
The issue of guardianship is a matter for the courts in the first instance, under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. However, I have a continuing interest in ensuring that the legal and practical arrangements for the welfare of children are well-founded and appropriately applied at all times. As Minister in this Department, I have no formal or defined role in the determination of cases where there is a legal issue about the guardianship of a child. That is, and must be, a matter for the courts. However, there are guardianship matters to consider relating to children in the care of Tusla. Children are received into Tusla's care either through a voluntary agreement or by way of a care order issued by the courts, each of which are provided for under the Child Care Act 1991. My responsibilities in this area relate to care orders under the Child Care Act 1991 rather than the Guardianship of Infants Act, which relates to the courts and the Minister for Justice.
Regarding the actions under the remit of the Department of Justice, under section 6(c) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, a person can apply to court to be appointed as a child's guardian if he or she is married to or in a civil partnership with the child's parent, or has cohabited with the child's parent for over three years, and if the person has shared responsibility for the child's day-to-day care for more than two years. As issues relating to surrogacy concern areas of law that intersect across the remits of several Departments, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General and I are working together on these matters. The provisions of section 6 of the Guardianship of Infants Act are being examined in that context. I have met with the Ministers on three occasions to address the issue and we have also met with the Attorney General on one occasion. Work is ongoing among our officials about how to address the relevant and very complex legal issues in a manner that vindicates the rights of the child.
Surrogacy was the reason behind me raising this. I understand that other Ministers are involved. The Department of Health is limited with regard to questions due to the cyberattack and it is important that I can raise this in the Chamber to keep children's rights on the agenda. Dr. Conor O'Mahony produced an excellent report on this.
It is important that the recommendations in his report are looked at. It makes some excellent recommendations and Dr. O'Mahony is very well placed to look at this issue. There are difficulties around the issue of international surrogacy and these are not accounted for in the proposed Bill. International surrogacy is a big part of it and we all have to be very honest about that. It is important that is considered. Families are also very concerned about the issue of retrospection and whether a Bill passed in 2021 will apply from this year onwards or will apply to other families. I will ask a supplementary question shortly.
Some of these matters fall within the remit of the Department of Health. The drafting of a Bill on assisted human reproduction and associated research was based on the published general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill, which was published in the previous Dáil. Work on the Bill, including drafting, is ongoing by officials in the Department of Health. There is a commitment in the programme for Government that this legislation will be passed. The legislation is comprehensive. It encompasses the regulation, for the first time in Ireland, of a range of practices, including domestic altruistic surrogacy. The provisions related to surrogacy are dealt with in Part 6 of the Bill. The Bill sets out a court-based mechanism through which the parentage of a child born through surrogacy may be transferred from the surrogate and her husband, if applicable, to the intended parent.
As the Deputy stated, the Bill does not deal with commercial surrogacy on an international basis. Dr. O'Mahony has produced a report with recommendations in that regard. The report is being examined by the three Ministers and the Attorney General.
I am very glad to hear that. It will be welcome news for families who have gone through surrogacy or are facing surrogacy in the near future. It is welcome that surrogacy is an option and I am sure we will see much more of it in the near future.
On the report, the Minister has met with some of the families and advocacy groups. They are open to meeting with him, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and any other Minister they need to meet. They get their stories across very well and I commend them on all their work.
Parental leave, maternity leave, maternity benefit and many other areas that some of us probably take for granted are also very important. I am glad to hear the Minister's comments so far and I appreciate, as I said, that it is not his area only. However, the crux of the matter is Dr. O'Mahony's report.
This issue extends across a number of Departments. The three Ministers are working together and meeting regularly, which is important. We hope to meet again in the near future to continue our discussions. We are getting support from the Attorney General on the issue. I have met some of the groups and there is an alliance formed in this particular area. It is important that provision is made for children in Ireland who were conceived through surrogacy and are deeply loved by their parents.
In all of this, when a child is conceived through surrogacy a number of individuals and adults are involved. As we know from our experience in the area of adoption, it is important that a child has full access to knowledge about all parties involved. One of the points I will be bringing from my Department to the discussion on this legislation is that a child has to know all parties involved in his or her conception.