Thursday, 23 February 2017
General Register Office
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, for coming to the House to deal with this matter. I raised a similar matter a couple of weeks ago with regard to the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act, which was signed into law in December 2014. Section 13 of that Act provides for a record of death of Irish citizens who die abroad. On the last occasions I raised this matter, I referenced the case of Ms Bernadette Goodwin who tragically lost her five-year old son, Keith, while in the north of Spain in 1972, the death of whom is registered in Spain. Ms Goodwin has spent over four decades trying to have his death registered in Ireland. It is my understanding that for insurance and legal reasons a death cannot be registered twice. However, Ms Goodwin and others who are in this situation would be provided with some comfort and solace if this were to come into being. We owe it to people like her to expedite the provision in section 13 of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act which provides for a record of deaths abroad to be maintained by the General Register Office. The Department of Social Protection cannot commence this section or any further section of the Act until industrial relations issues relating to new practices arising from the implementation of the Act have been resolved. A Commencement Order was signed in August 2015. I understand that staffing and industrial relations issues in the Civil Registration Service are a matter for the HSE. I further understand that a report on a review of the Civil Registration Service was commissioned when the dispute began and that this allowed the sham marriage provisions to be implemented but left everything else on hold. The findings of that review were due to be published in June 2016. However, no report has yet been published.
There are many other important provisions that remain uncommenced due to the dispute, including the compulsory registration of fathers' names on birth certificates and validation of embassy marriages. It is my understanding that the Department of Social Protection is under increasing pressure from EU bodies and embassies to commence the latter provisions. Apart from these high profile amendments to the Act, there are a host of other useful amendments intended to improve and modernise the registration of births, deaths and marriages which, while technical, are nonetheless important, including better procedures to record neo-natal deaths, which provision was introduced at the request of the Department of Health on the basis of recommendations made by the Chief Medical Officer.
This ongoing dispute, which is difficult to fathom from my angle, has led to an unacceptable delay in commencing the remaining provisions of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014, which was enacted two years ago and 18 months since the Department of Social Protection first sought to commence its provision. It is not clear what progress has been made by the HSE in bringing this matter to a close thus clearing the way for the legislation to be implemented. This is a very unsatisfactory situation that must be addressed as a matter of priority.
I thank Senator Noone for the opportunity to address this matter.
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality, came into operation in January 2016 and put in place a legal architecture to address the needs of children across a range of family structures in the areas of parentage, custody, guardianship and access. The Act provides for comprehensive reform of family law to bring it up to date with the realities of family life in Ireland.
Section 97 of the Children and Family Relationships Act inserts a New Section 27A into the Civil Registration Act 2004, which permits the taking and receiving of statutory declarations under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 by registrars. The aim of this new provision is to provide better information to non-marital parents and to make it easier for non-marital fathers to avail of the statutory declaration mechanism to acquire guardianship. Where the parents, one or both, register the birth of a child, the registrar will give them a copy of the statutory declaration so that they can consider whether to make a statutory declaration appointing the father as a guardian of the child, witnessed by the registrar. It is clear that the commencing of this section will impose additional duties on the registrar.
Another piece of legislation that provides for additional duties on the registrars is the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014, which was enacted by the Oireachtas on 4 December 2014. The enactment of this legislation prompted industrial action by the registrars. The additional duties in this legislation involve provision to make it more difficult to broker a marriage of convenience in the State, make it more difficult to broker a marriage of convenience in the State, the compulsory registration of fathers' name on birth certificates and for a record to be registered in Ireland of deaths of Irish citizens who die abroad.
As a result of the industrial relations action, the HSE engaged with IMPACT on the issues which arose. Hearings under the auspices of the conciliation services of the Workplace Relations Commission took place in October and November 2015. Arising from these hearings, it was agreed to commence an independently facilitated review of the Civil Registration Service. The review was extensive and involved a visit to all of the Civil Registration Offices, as well as a survey which received a 90% response rate. The review also included a staffing analysis based on activity and work complexity, as well as an examination of how infrastructure requirements can be future-proofed against additional demands on the service. A draft report of the review of the Civil Registration Service was received by the HSE on 14 February 2017. While a meeting will take place with IMPACT on the contents of the report before it is finalised, I understand that it is not anticipated that the implementation of the remaining elements of the legislation will be adversely affected by industrial action.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. I am pleased to hear that a draft report was received by the HSE on 14 February last. I am sure a review of that report is currently under way in the HSE. I also welcome that a meeting has taken place with IMPACT on the contents of the report. The Minister of State stated at the end of her reply that it is not anticipated that the implementation of the remaining elements of the legislation will be adversely affected by industrial action. I am not sure what that means in terms of a timeframe for people who would be keen to have matters such as those I outlined earlier registered.If the Minister of State has any further information on timelines, I would be grateful to receive it; otherwise I can contact the Department to get same.