Wednesday, 3 July 2019
Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Bill 2016: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
I thank the Minister for agreeing to take on this legislation and I thank all of the officials in the Department who were involved in it from an initial stage when the Bill was published. A large amount of work was done subsequently in bringing forward changes, and in fairness those changes were correct, as were the amendments that were brought through.
I also thank all of the Members of the Dáil who made contributions to the debate and who made contributions to amendments. I thank the members of the Select Committee on Justice and Equality for their work on this Bill. It is also important to acknowledge the Law Reform Commission for its work. It initially began discussions on this matter in 2011 and published a report on it in 2013. It is important to acknowledge that the work and the research it carried out on the matter was extremely important.
We had a relevant incident over the last two years and the current law is that where a body is not recovered, a death certificate cannot be obtained. One has to wait a period of seven years and that kind of situation happened in the last two years where four people died and bodies were recovered in two cases but not in the other two cases. It causes its own problems for families. We have moved on completely to the point of the importance of being able to bring closure. In these cases, everyone knows the person has died but there was no procedure there to deal with it. I know there was a provision under the Coroners Act 1962, whereby the Minister for Justice and Equality could write to a coroner and ask him or her to hold an inquest where a body had not been recovered. In fairness to the former Minister, Frances Fitzgerald MEP, when she was Minister she did that for me in one case. As a result of a debate here in the Seanad in 2016, a family contacted me and asked me to assist them in bringing closure to them in their family tragedy. In fairness to the former Minister, she took action.As this was a drowning, the Garda also took action by taking DNA samples from the family in case the body might have washed up in other jurisdictions. There was no result from that process. The coroner then held an inquest and a death certificate was issued. That was a long-drawn out procedure that had to be gone through. This approach will be the correct way of dealing with this matter. It has been up and running in Scotland for more than 40 years. I thank the Minister again for all the work he did, for making staff available and, indeed, for all of the work they did in making the changes required and working through this Bill with other Government Departments as well. I thank everyone involved for their contributions on the matter.