Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Commencement of Legislation
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I know this does not relate to his own brief. I do not intend to pre-empt his response, but far too often we are left a bit unsatisfied with the responses. We have just had a discussion on that issue. I suggest we really need to look at the slot for Commencement matters because many are not satisfied with the responses received.
It has been three and a half years since the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was signed into law. This legislation should have meant that same-sex parents could register as legal parents on the birth certificate of their child and that their families would be recognised and protected as such. That is what people understood the national conversation around civil marriage equality to be about. That is what we understood the knock-on effects would be. I have been dealing with affected families for some time. Many of us in these Houses would have received striking correspondence that painted a grim picture. Over the last week and over the weekend Heather was in touch with me. She says:
[A]s the non-biological mother, one of the biggest emotions I feel right now is anxiety. It is taking over what should be some of the happiest days of our lives. This anxiety comes from knowing that despite being a mom to my baby, my name won’t go on the birth certificate, and that I will have no legal rights to my own child, solely due to the fact that it is my wife who is the birth mother and not me. Anxiety from being made a second class citizen, fighting to have our rights as parents recognised. Anxiety (and a bit of humiliation) from having to email my employer’s HR department and ask them to please ensure my parental benefits will be intact, even though legally I won’t be a parent at all, despite being a mom. Anxiety that comes lying awake at night from wondering what will happen to our child if something were to happen to my wife.
Since the Bill's passage in April 2015, the Government has stated deadlines for commencement six times. Each and every time, those deadlines have been missed. Every time, these parents have been let down. The Minister, Deputy Harris, stated in the Dáil and the Seanad that an amendment Bill would fix the errors. He committed to a deadline of the end of October to commence all parts. That has not happened and now further typographical errors have been identified by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. That is why I tabled this Commencement debate today. We now have to go through another round of legislative process.
Notwithstanding that it has taken the Department three and a half years to realise that these errors were present, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection recently indicated that the errors will be fixed by an amendment to the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017, a Bill that has languished on Committee Stage for more than a year. I cannot see how its speedy passage through the Oireachtas can be guaranteed.
Given that the Government's track record on this is not great and given the upset it has caused, has the Minister of State received a statement about bringing forward any standalone amendment Bill, similar to the Bill the Minister, Deputy Harris, brought before this House in July, that would address those typographical errors and which would not be contingent on the passage of legislation completely unrelated to the issue which is stuck on Committee Stage?
I thank Senator Warfield for raising this matter. As he has already outlined, certain sections in Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 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”, as well as “mother’ and “father”, where required. The current position is that these sections need to be amended to correct technical errors and have yet to be commenced. Our intention is to correct these technical errors by means of Committee Stage amendments to the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017, which the Minister hopes to see taken early in the new year.
Commencement of these provisions is also dependent on commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Health. In this regard, the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018 was enacted on 24 July 2018. It was introduced to correct typographical and technical errors in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act. There are important administrative and operational arrangements to be put in place to facilitate the implementation of Parts 2 and 3, including the establishment of the national donor-conceived person register and the appointment of authorised persons under the Act. I know that it is Minister for Health’s intention that Parts 2 and 3 of the Act will be commenced as soon as possible.
In order to progress this, officials from the General Register Office, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Health are working together to ensure that the appropriate legislative, regulatory and operational mechanisms are in place to allow for the earliest possible commencement of all of the relevant legislation that will allow for birth registration of donor-conceived children.On the specific question posed by Senator Warfield about introducing a stand-alone Bill, the intention is to include the legislation in the list of Committee Stage amendments to the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017, which is expected to progress early in the new year to allow for a prompt commencement following enactment. In the circumstances of the anticipated early conclusion of that legislation, it is not considered necessary to introduce a stand-alone Bill. Given the 2017 Bill has passed some Stages of the legislative programme, continuing to progress the measures as part of that Bill is seen as the most efficient way to proceed.
I have some concerns. There is also a Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018, which I understand will appear on Committee Stage in the Seanad next week. There are significant problems with the 2017 Bill and it is unclear to us whether it can be enacted any time soon or whether there will be support in the Oireachtas to do so, but we will examine the 2018 Bill in the Seanad next week.
Crucial lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, family and children's rights have been endorsed by these Houses and people have suffered for too long. I appreciate the Minister of State's response, given that he does not have responsibility for that Department, but will he be an advocate and add urgency to this issue? I would appreciate it, as would the families involved.
The Minister of State was quite clear that it may be dealt with next week or, if not, certainly early in the new year. If it does not progress, I am sure the Senator will have another opportunity to speak on the issue.