Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Children and Family Services Provision
I welcome the Minister of State. This is the fifth occasion on which I have raised this issue. I have raised it three times on the Order of Business and this is the second Commencement matter I have tabled in respect of it. More than six months have passed since I raised it by way of a Commencement matter. At that point, it had already been two and a half years since enactment of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. It is now three years since the legislation was passed but families, particularly LGBTQI couples who conceive through assisted human reproduction methods, still do not have equal family status because the Government has not commenced Parts 2 and 3 of the Act. Why is this taking so long? The impact of this Government inaction includes preventing a family from applying for an Irish passport and citizenship for their child, preventing the child from accessing his or her parents' estate if they die and preventing a parent from making emergency health decisions on behalf of a child where the legal parent is unable to do so.
During the debate on the Commencement matter I tabled in December 2017, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, said, "If possible, it will be implemented by the end of January and if not, then the beginning of February." This followed repeated missed deadlines on the part of the Department. These deadlines were late 2016, early 2017, mid-2017 and late 2017. Following parliamentary questions or questions on promised legislation in the Dáil on the topic, the Department's responses have omitted a deadline and simply state that a small number of technical issues are holding matters up and that Parts 2 and 3 will be commenced as soon as possible. The most recent responses have the added element of requiring advice from the Attorney General. It has taken the Department over two years just to figure this out. Surely these technical issues would have been resolved by now had they have been given priority over the past three years. We need an open and honest explanation of the delay and a truthful deadline as to when families can expect certainty on this issue.
The Leader, Senator Buttimer, sought a meeting last month involving me, departmental officials and the families affected but the Department rejected his request. All I wish is for departmental officials to meet the families affected and explain why they have delayed the commencement of these people's rights and left them vulnerable. As matters stand, the families are being stonewalled.
I ask the Minister of State to give an in-depth explanation as to why the Department has taken three years to provide crucial rights to LGBTQI families and give a definite timeline as to when they can expect these rights to be conferred.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 reforms and updates family law to address the needs of children living in diverse family types. As he is aware, commencement of the Act is the responsibility of a number of Departments, including the Departments of Justice and Equality, Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Children and Youth Affairs. The responsibility of my Department relates solely to the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 and associated regulations. As well as making regulations in respect of donor-assisted human reproduction procedures, Parts 2 and 3 make provision for children conceived through the assistance of a donor. This includes mandating for non-anonymous donation and the establishment of a national donor-conceived person register to enable children to access information on their donor and genetically related siblings when they come of age, should they so wish.
These provisions were specifically included in the Act to underpin the rights of the child under Article 42A of the Constitution and Ireland’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to have information on genetic heritage. Detailed regulation of these provisions will ensure that the information on any child born of donor conception will be recorded securely, in compliance with existing and forthcoming data protection legislation, and in a manner which can be accessed by that child when he or she is of age. Parts 2 and 3 also provide legal clarity on parental rights and responsibilities.
Officials in my Department have prepared draft regulations to facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. However, in the course of that work, they have identified a small number of drafting issues with the Act. The implications of these issues are being explored by my officials and the Office of the Attorney General. As discussions in this regard are ongoing, I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome by citing specific details. If it transpires that amendment is required through primary legislation, I will seek to do so as a matter of priority in order to lay the regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas to commence Parts 2 and 3 as soon as possible thereafter.
My Department is preparing guidance documentation that will accompany the regulations, when commenced. This is to ensure that intending donors and parents are properly advised, that the relevant consents are clearly and uniformly recorded and that the obligations of clinics, donors and intending parents to provide information to the national donor-conceived person register are clear.
I am acutely aware of the urgency surrounding the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act. I am also aware of how eagerly the Act's provisions are awaited. I will be happy to arrange a briefing on the substantive issues for all of my Oireachtas colleagues with an active interest in the matter when the discussions to which I refer have concluded.
I thank the Minister of State. I welcome the fact that he has committed to prepare legislation - should that be needed - and bring it through the Houses as soon as possible. I also welcome the opportunity for a briefing for Oireachtas Members. However, it is not good enough for those parents whose families have been left vulnerable for the Department to repeat that discussions are ongoing with the Office of the Attorney General. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome. We have had three years to work out the technical issues and we have failed to provide legal certainty for families. At this point, at a minimum, an apology should be given.
I thank the Senator for his continued co-operation and endeavours to keep a focus on this matter and to make progress. I appreciate that it is very frustrating. For all of us, legislation is tough and challenging, particularly when there are drafting, technical and legal issues that involve a whole host of areas. I appreciate that this matter has been ongoing for a number of years. I welcome the focus and the time the Senator has put into ensuring its progress. Hopefully, we will continue that progress with the Senator's assistance.