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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Nov 1984

Vol. 353 No. 9

Age of Majority Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill is implementing what has been done in many European countries. In 1972 the Council of Europe passed a resolution that the age of majority be reduced from 21 years. They recommended the age of 18 years. Since then that age has been introduced in Northern Ireland, England and more recently in Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden. It is important that this is being done here because it is of particular relevance to young married couples. It is important that no legal impediment should stand in the way of young married couples, particularly as regards purchasing their own home.

Under the 1965 Act one was entitled to make a will at 18 years of age and the referendum to reduce the age at which one could vote was passed in 1972 by a vast majority. Young people can act as jurors since 1976. Major progress has been made in this area and this Bill is a further step.

The significance of the Bill is that it gives legal standing to young people. They can enter into contracts, for example, to purchase property and enter hire purchase agreements. Young people of 18 years of age can now be sued. Prior to this many of them felt they could get away with misbehaviour, to put it mildly, because they had not reached the age of majority and their trustees were responsible for them. Now an 18 year old can be sued and can sue.

Perhaps the Minister would explain the position about a person's 21st birthday. Will it be an 18th birthday? I have no doubt that the commercial world will be very anxious to find out. A person's 21st birthday was a major breakthrough in his life. Deputy Kelly might deal with the point relating to 18 and 19 year olds missing out on a 21st birthday. There is a peculiar rule in law that a person attains a particular age not on the day they become that age but on the first moment of the day preceding the relevant anniversary of their birth. For instance, if a person's birthday is on a Saturday their legal birthday is midnight the previous Thursday. I am sure not many people were aware of that. It is ludicrous. It is no harm that that rule is now abolished by section 4 of this Bill. I do not know if that will have any significance for the Department of Finance but I see that the Minister has a peculiar grin on his face.

There are a number of areas which are not covered in the Bill, for example in relation to raising the age from 16 to 18 years under the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Order) Act, 1930, and the maintenance laws which are governed by the 1976 Act. The Department of Justice should introduce legislation to increase the age from 16 years, as it stands at present, to 18 years. I was delighted to hear that the Bill does not affect social welfare or taxation legislation. It is important that the tax relief available to parents for the further education of their children continues to be available in future.

An area which requires urgent action is that of criminal responsibility. The age of criminal responsibility is much too young. It should be increased sooner rather than later.

The Bill is very welcome. The Law Reform Commission did an excellent job in examining the whole area and in proposing the heads of the Bill in their report. The Department and the Minister are to be congratulated for acting on the report so quickly. It is a major step forward for young people and I am happy to support the Bill.

I listened to the Deputy's concluding remarks with some interest. I do not agree that the Minister has implemented the report of the Law Reform Commission. It would be tempting to describe the Bill as one of the most cautious, conservative and uninteresting Bills to be brought before the House. On reflection, cautious and conservative it is, but uninteresting it is not. It is interesting for what it omits rather than for what it contains.

On page 1 of the explanatory memorandum there is a statement that:

The remaining recommendations in the Report (principally, those relating to the age for marriage and the requirement of parental or court consent for certain marriages and recommendations that certain ages should be changed for the purposes of adoption, income tax and social welfare laws) are being considered separately.

This means that the Bill is extremely narrow. How long will consideration of these proposals take? When will we see proposals to implement the changes recommended by the Law Reform Commission or whatever changes the Government consider desirable if they do not agree in toto with the Commission? In what form will these proposals appear? Will they appear as legislation in separate forms such as this Bill? Will the changes to be made in the income tax law appear in taxation legislation? Will changes in the adoption law appear in legislation dealing with adoption?

The Bill contains very little. From the point of view of simplicity and easy access to law it would have been better to pospone the Bill so that the matter could be dealt with all at once. The basic purpose of the Bill is to reduce the age of majority from 21 to 18 years. This rule applies from the commencement of the Bill. The Schedule to the Bill states that it will commence on 1 March 1985, but does this give sufficient time to adjust to the fundamental change being made in the Bill? I realise that there are various transitional provisions to facilitate the changeover in the age of majority from 21 to 18 but I will be questioning on Committee Stage whether the time lag of four or five months is sufficient to allow the change to take place.

Section 2 brings about the fundamental change in the law.

Sub-section (2) of that section states:

Subsection (1) applies for the purposes of any rule of law and, in the absence of a definition or of any indication of a contrary intention, for the construction of "age of majority", "full age", "infancy", "infant", "minor", "minority", and of other cognate words and expressions in—

(a) any statutory provision passed or made before, on or after the commencement of this Act, and

(b) any deed, will, court order or other instrument (not being a statutory provision) made on or after such commencement.

The effect of that subsection is that any deed, will or other instrument which is made by an individual as opposed to statutory provisions made by Parliament, before the commencement of the Act, i.e. before 1 March 1985 and which refers to full age, majority, etc., will continue to be interpreted as if full age means the age of 21. The intention is quite obvious, but could there be a situation where a person has already acted in some way other than executing a deed, will or instrument to which section 2 (2) (b) relates on the basis that full age means 21 as it does at present and whether such person could now find himself prejudiced by the fact that full age is now declared retrospectively to be 18?

Section 2 (4) takes certain statutory provisions out of the ambit of the Bill. It states that a change will not affect the construction of any reference to 21 years or the construction of references to full age, infancy, age of majority, etc. in certain legislation. The legislation concerned is set out in section 2 (4) (b).

Section 2 (4) (b) (v) refers to the Adoption Acts, 1952 to 1976. This provision in the legislation directly contradicts the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission which recommended that section 11 of the Adoption Act, 1952, should be amended now to change the adoption law in a certain way. Under our present adoption laws a married couple who propose to adopt a child must each have reached the age of 30. A widow or widower who proposes to adopt a child on his or her own must also have reached the age of 30. An adoption order can be made in favour of a married couple, each of whom has attained the age of 25 if they have been married for at least three years before the adoption order is made. Where, however, the applicants are a married couple and the wife is the mother of the child, only one of them needs to have reached a lower age of 21. If one of them is the natural father or a relative of the child, each spouse must have reached the age of 21.

In order for the mother, the natural father or a relative to adopt by themselves, they must have attained the age of 21 years. The Law Reform Commission recommended that section 11 (3) of the Adoption Act, 1952, should be changed so as to allow a married couple, one of whom is the mother, the natural father or a relative of the child to adopt a child whether or not each has attained the age of 21. This is a worthwhile and worthy recommendation and I see no reason why it should not be introduced now. It seems to be in line with the spirit of any Age of Majority Bill which would be introduced in the House. The Minister should look at the ages of 25 to 30 in the context of adoption laws and do something about reducing them, as proposed by the Law Reform Commission.

We are talking about giving younger people responsibility so it is very difficult to know why this approach is not carried into the area of adoption law. It is all the more peculiar when we see that the law of guardianship has been changed in this way along the lines recommended by the Law Reform Commission. The provisions in the legislation before us on guardianship are exactly similar to those proposed by the Law Reform Commission in the draft Bill which they recommended to the Minister in their proposals.

Section 4 of the Bill introduces a change in the rules about when a person reaches a particular age. The effect of the section is to abolish the old common law rule that a person attains a particular age on the first moment of the day preceding the relevant anniversary of his birth. This rule of common law has been extremely well established over many years. The Law Reform Commission recommended that it should be changed and the Minister has changed it along the lines recommended by them. However I note, having carefully read the working paper which preceded the report of the Law Reform Commission and the report itself, that they did not advance any reason for changing the law along those lines. We are changing this provision simply because the British changed it in 1969——

Hear, hear.

It is another example of Paddyism.

It is Paddyism with its dúidín upside down.

Has the common law position thrown up any particular problems in this area between 1969 and the present which would make the need for this change obvious? I submit that it has not and that the old position is well established. There is no reason given for the change and it is unnecessarily complicating the law. Perhaps the Minister would comment on this aspect later on.

Section 4 (3) introduces a new rule for defining when a person reaches the age of 18 for the purpose of voting in certain elections, referenda and so on. In effect, section 4(3) introduces a separate rule for calculating the date on which a person becomes 18 for the purposes of voting. There is a rule already introduced by section 4(1) for calculating the time at which a person reaches a certain age. Section 4(3) introduces a different rule to calculate the date on which a person reaches the age of 18 for the purpose of voting. The date on which a person reaches the age of 18 solely on the time when the person is defined as reaching the age of 18. Therefore, one wonders can there be a contradiction between section 4(1) and section 4(3). Can a person become 18 on two different dates under this Bill as drafted? Could the Minister also deal with this aspect? Section 7 states:

Notwithstanding any rule of law, a will or codicil executed before the commencement of this Act shall not be treated for the purposes of section 2 or the Schedule as having been made on or after such commencement by reason only of the fact that the will or codicil is confirmed by a codicil executed after such commencement.

One wonders about the necessity for that provision. The position in relation to wills is that in the case of any ambiguity in a will, external or extrinsic evidence is admissible to show the intention of the testator and if that can resolve the ambiguity, the will is interpreted accordingly. However, the ambiguity to which section 7(2) impliedly adverts is the ambiguity introduced by the use in a will of such a term as "age of majority" and so on. If a person has made a will before the commencement of this Act and refers to the term "age of majority" or "majority", surely it can be shown that at the time when the will was made that term was clearly understood to be 21. There is any amount of external or extrinsic evidence available in case law and various legislative provisions to show that.

The intention of the testator who refers to the age of majority before the commencement of this Act is quite clear. Of course, there is no harm in trying to further clear up the point — that is, if the legislation introduced to clear it up does not give rise to other unforeseen consequences. The provision which the Minister has introduced will give rise to some consequences which he has not envisaged. It seems somewhat ambiguously drafted. However, that is a matter more appropriate to Committee Stage and I hope to deal with it more fully then. It would seem that the approach adopted by the Minister in trying to copperfasten the situation by legislation when there is an apparent lack in the law, contradicts his approach in not adopting the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission to delete that portion of the Statute of Limitations of 1967 which was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of O'Brien versus Keogh, 1972 Irish Reports, page 114.

Paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the Bill refers to trust instruments made before the commencement date where the subject matter is land or property to which an infant is beneficially entitled. Subparagraph (1) of paragraph 3 ensures that the trustees under any such trust instrument may continue to apply the income of the land or property for the maintenance, education or benefit of the infant until he reaches the age of 21. That seems fair enough. However, subparagraph (2) of paragraph 3 changes the present law. It provides that where the trustees of one of those trusts are, under section 42(4) or section 43(1) of the Conveyancing Act, 1881, empowered to pay the income from the trust to the parents or guardians of an infant on reaching his full age, they will also have power to pay that money over directly to the infant himself. That is a substantive change in the law. I just wonder why it appears here, rather than in separate property legislation. It would seem — and I would be prepared to argue this — a most inappropriate place for such a substantive change in property law to appear. It tends to make the law more confusing and more difficult to find and to leave general legal practice more open to the possibility of error. It may also be mentioned, even though this again is more appropriate for Committee Stage, that subparagraph (2) is somewhat ambiguously drafted. Does the term "full age" in subparagraph (2) in relation to instruments made before 1 March next mean 21 and after 1 March does it mean 18? In relation to my difficulties on that paragraph, if a relevant trust is set up between now and 1 March next, allowing trustees to pay income to the parents of a child who has reached the age of 18, can the trustees pay it to the child himself? In case the Minister thinks that a merely academic point, I can tell him that I have a specific query on that. It can arise and has arisen in practice.

The Law Reform Commission referred to various matters which the Bill should include. For instance, initially in their working paper the commission were concerned that the Bill should contain some provision to ensure that maintenance paid by virtue of an order under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, could continue to be made in respect of a child up to the age of 21 when that child was in receipt of full education. They thought further about it and changed their initial recommendation. I prefer their initial recommendation, but feel that there was no necessity for the Bill to contain such a provision. The same applies to their recommendation in relation to affiliation orders. The Bill makes no change in the present position because the 1976 legislation and the legislation of 1930 covering affiliation orders both refer specifically to the age of 21. They do not use terminology like "age of majority" or anything of that sort, which can give rise to difficulties in interpretation now. That legislation specifically refers to the age of 21 and from that point of view the Law Reform Commission were mistaken in their discussion surrounding the working paper in thinking that this could have given rise to any difficulty. In effect, the Bill as I read it makes no change in that present position. However, the Law Reform Commission did recommend that the age of 16 should be increased to 18 in certain cases in the 1976 and the 1930 legislation. That recommendation was worth while considering and it is regrettable that the Minister did not see his way to do anything about that at this stage.

Finally, I have no personal objections to the Bill. It is very difficult to have any objection to something which does so little. This Bill will achieve as little as the Criminal Justice Bill which we had occasion to debate recently. However, unlike the Criminal Justice Bill, it will do no harm. From that point of view, I am not opposed to it. It would be too strong to say that I support it, because it contains so little. I can put on record the fact that I have no grave reservations or no deep philosophical opposition to the Bill.

Unlike Deputy O'Dea in his excellent and interesting but technical legal speech, I do not want to go into the details of the Bill and would not be as well equipped to do so as Deputy O'Dea, anyway. I do want, with a certain amount of diffidence, to strike what I am sure will impress the House as a rather square note in regard to the principle of the Bill itself and a quick look through the report of last Thursday's debate does not appear to disclose that anybody has struck such a note.

Before I strike that note, I must say that this subject belongs to an area like the whole of the closely related area of marriage law and the law bearing on the private and intimate departments of life. This is an area in which I find it very hard to make up my mind on almost anything. There are a few points of reference, a few firm conclusions that I think I have come to about this and that. However, I am very far from feeling sure that I am right about most propositions in the general area of marriage law or the law of the family or any areas which are contiguous with these.

I do not want to be taken as opposing this Bill. Even if I did, party discipline would constrain me to support it in the lobby if that should arise, but the Bill should not pass through the House without sounding some reservation about the necessity for it in principle. It has been welcomed in principle even though damned with faint praise by Deputy O'Dea as being something one could scarcely oppose because it is so small and slight. Even that slight effect which the Bill has is something about which a reservation is legitimate.

We are rather late in the queue of countries moving down the age of majority. That would not surprise me if only the British were concerned, because we do almost nothing without taking our lead from them. That is a fairly modern trend here. In the more rugged days of the early State when the Government were run by whichever party supplied them, to people who knew what independence was all about because they had fought for it or worked for it, that was not so conspicuously the case. From the very area we are talking about I will give an instance. I do not want to be taken as holding this instance up as particularly laudable and even now I would find it hard to have a judgment on it. In 1935 the Criminal Law Amendment Act, introduced by a Fiánna Fail Government at the time, introduced a difference in the so-called age of consent between our law and the law in Britain, in other words the age at which it ceases to be a criminal offence to have sexual intercourse with a girl. In Britain the age then was 16 and we made it 17. For reasons which I do not propose to pronounce on, I would find it very hard to lecture the House or anybody on such a theme. All I am saying is that some Government here made their own minds up about what an appropriate age for this country was. The Act contained other material with which I disagree bitterly and which there were reasons to object to even in 1935, but here was an instance in which a Government — I do not care what party supplied them — consciously addressed their minds to the Irish situation and said that it did not matter a damn what the English age was; this was a different country and we were going to come to our own conclusions.

I sympathise with what Deputy O'Dea said about the Bill being apparently trivial, but the more trivial it is the more humiliating, in the sense that for the sake of such a trivial degree of uniformity we would enact a provision to bring our law into line with that of a country from which apparently we were so keen to be free. It is a moral certainty that if the British had not reduced the age of majority there some years ago, this Bill would not be before the House today. I do not care if the Danes, the Dutch and the Greenlanders have done it, we would have found some reason for not doing it if the British had refrained from it.

Hear, hear.

I am not casting doubt on the bona fides of anybody. It is not a question of fides, it is a question of ingrained paddyism, the instinct to throw away and abandon what the people two generations ago fought for, to run our own affairs as we saw fit according to our own criteria. That instinct has become ingrained in us in the last generation and we are running back to the English, not further away from them. This is a small Bill to get into a heat about on a theme like this and I am not going to pursue that any futher. However, I am not convinced that even the well-intentioned reasons behind this general proposal are adequate to justify it.

We all know that the purpose of such a thing as an age of majority, 21 years or whatever it is, is to protect young people against themselves, against the consequences of improvident conduct whether in the doing of business or anything else, and to put others on notice that they are dealing with young people who could not be held to the letter of a contract they might purport to make. Since we seem to be heavily into historical references here — the Minister for Justice mentioned the age at which the capacity to don a heavy suit of armour could be imputed to a young man — as far as I am aware, the word "minor" has a Roman rather than common law origin and in the Roman setting meant minor than 25 years of age. The Romans, as businesslike a people as ever were on the earth, regarded somebody up to the age of 25 as being perhaps in some respects insufficiently mature to carry out transactions without the agreement of a tutor. I do not mean a tutor in the modern sense but usually a member of his own family who were there to protect him against the consequences of folly.

I do not know that a case has been made that there is any grievous necessity for reducing this age. Perhaps there is such a case. There is no question but that the Law Reform Commission have gone to a great deal of trouble. They have invited evidence and so on. I did not listen to the evidence and I am not sure how far I would have been convinced by it had I heard it. All I can say from my experience as a Deputy for almost 12 years and a Senator for three and a half years before that is that I do not remember having once had a single representation from a constituent of any age group citing as a grievance the fact that 21 was the age of majority. I do not recall ever having had a representation from a mortgage institution, a bank or a financial institution urging me to get the law changed so that they might now be able to lend money to people to whom they were not now safe in lending it or being able to recoup it from them if they lent it. I have had many odd representations in my time, as all Deputies have. I do not mean to hold this one up to ridicule; far from it. Perhaps I had better not give instances because one never knows whom one will hurt. In the entire gamut of eccentricity which burdens a Deputy's postbag I do not think I have ever had a single letter or telephone call from anyone urging that the existing law needed to be changed in this direction. That leads me to believe that the reason we are doing it is the old "Paddy" reason. That remark may be superficial or hurtful although that is not intended, and it may be grounded in ignorance. There may be a crying need to reduce the age of majority to 18 in the interests of the 18 year olds themselves, but I do not know where that need arises or how pressing it is. A large part of the Minister's speech and of other contributions centred on the problems of people who at the age of 18 are married. The Minister in his speech said and I quote from the Official Report of 8 November 1984, column 1564, Volume 353:

The principal areas of law that will be affected are contract, property and guardianship. Full contractual capacity will now be acquired at 18 or, if a person marries before that age, at the date of marriage. I am glad to say that one effect of this will be to remove an obstacle in the way of many young married couples seeking to buy a home.

No matter what I say here, someone will be malicious or dim enough to put an unintended slant on it. I do not want to be accused of lack of sympathy for young married people whether they have a home, have not got a home, want to buy a home or whatever, but it would be a pity if this Bill passed the House without at least one Deputy saying that perhaps the more obstacles there are in the way of people getting married at 18 the better. I am quite aware that that is a square opinion, but I have teenage children. Two of my children are over 18 and the other three are below it. Many Deputies here are in a similar situation, and we cannot be accused of not having some instinctive appreciation of maturity at least in the sense that we would expect to see it in our own children. I think that 18 years is too young for marriage and it was a scandal that for many years the law of this country permitted, in theory, girls to get married at 12 years of age and boys at 14 years of age. If I may lecture the House for a moment about the origins of that, that law goes back through canon law to the Emperor Justinian and beyond him to the Roman jurists of the second century AD, a school of jurists who believed that the appropriate age to permit people to get married at was the average age at which puberty might be imputed to either sex. That was the law of a school of Roman jurists which had come up through Justinian and canon law and was still the law in this country when I came into the Seanad in 1969. How could one stand over that type of thing? I can recall complaining about it at the time. Finally the law, not in consequence of my complaints but because of the inherent absurdity of it which began to get people by the throat, raised the age to 16; but is 16 an appropriate age for marriage?

I hope it will not be thought that this is simply a square prejudice of a notoriously square Deputy. I have only to turn to one of the less square Deputies, my own respected and admired colleague, Deputy Shatter, who is reported in the same volume of the Official Report — if any Deputy was likely to play down such a thing, and I do not mean to dishonestly play it down, if any Deputy were more likely than another to put this in what might be called some humanistic perspective it would be Deputy Shatter — as drawing attention to the fact that Dr. Helen Burke in a working paper printed as an appendix to the work of the Law Reform Commission makes well the point that research has established that marriages of very young people are more at risk than marriages between people in an older age group. Dr. Helen Burke is a nationally respected figure and it is important to have the authentication of a very distinguished sociologist for a point like this, but it scarcely was needed because we all know that marriages contracted at a very young age are marriages which are heavily at risk.

I find it hard to swallow — it very likely is ignorance — the fact that in one part of the House, methaphorically speaking, there is a committee which is scratching its head over problems of marital breakdown whereas in the Chamber we are using the fact that people are getting married at a younger age, notwithstanding the fact that that is at the root of perhaps the majority of breakdowns, as a ground for changing the law on the age of majority. I wish somebody would explain to me the logic of that proceeding. I do not wish to make a party political point about this. I know Deputies opposite are as anxious as any Member on this side to make the law right, but I am defeated by the logic of the Dáil's concern as a body. In one breath it sets up a committee to investigate marital breakdown, the major factor in which, as I understand it, is the marriage of people who are inherently immature because of their age. I accept that there are other factors such as alcoholism and so on. In the next breath the House, in its plenitude, is enacting something which is intended to facilitate extra young marriage.

So far from being callous about young people in their situation I should like to give the House some examples, and I am not saying that every Member could replicate one hundred times over. I had coming to my clinic, when I had a clinic, young people looking for houses on the Dublin Corporation list or the Dublin County Council list. It would break one's heart to see a young couple coming in looking for a house, the girl not out of her teens and the boy barely out of his teens; the girl with a crying infant by the hand and expecting another or, perhaps, two infants by the hand and expecting a third and the boy in despair. Both of them with their youth still ahead of them but shackled for life to a situation which, perhaps, they may have already regretted entering into. Naturally, I am not pretending that the presence of the children does not complicate the matter. I accept that it complicates it and it makes it horrifically difficult to answer, but I have found that very young people, having got married, decided they had made a mistake after realising that they were barely 20 and had their youth ahead of them. Youth is there to be enjoyed as much as a single person as as a married person. I cannot see anything disreputable, sinful or libertinist in saying that the twenties for a single person can be marvellous years. I say that without any double entendre or anything of that type. They can be marvellous years and one can have marvellous freedom as a single person then. Any person who throws them away without the most serious reasons of absolutely indelible attachment to another human being is taking a very heavy gamble in the stakes of life. That person is putting a great part of his or her life on a square which rarely comes up on the roulette table.

I am in favour of people remaining single for a long time. I am not trying to lay down a rule. I do not want to propose a rule about this but the idea that people ought to be encouraged to hustle into marriage, the idea that the House is trying to remove an obstacle from their doing so while in another part of the House some other Members are beating their brains out trying to solve the mess which this creates seems to be an illogical proceeding. I wish I could be persuaded otherwise. I have very few clear ideas on this subject. I would be in despair if I was asked to draft a law of this type. I do not know how to go about reforming family law; but this proposal has not, perhaps, been sufficiently considered — Deputy O'Dea pointed that out in a fine speech — perhaps in relation to some of the contiguous areas of law. My objection to it is that it does not seem to have been sufficiently considered in relation to the very fact that it purports to remove an obstacle from extremely young marriages.

I should like to say something about the Minister's point that an obstacle was being removed in regard to loans and so on. He said that this was removing an obstacle in the way of many young married people seeking to buy a home. I should like to ask the Minister if he has received a guarantee from the Irish banks that they, and their hard-headed business people whose money is on the line, are going to reduce the age of majority. There is no legal compulsion that I know of on a bank to lend money to anybody if the bank decides he or she is not a good risk. If banks and loan institutions are of the view that 21 years of age is the absolute minimum age at which they are going to take somebody on their books the mere fact that the Oireachtas decides to sink the age to 18 is not going to make them change their minds. Perhaps, the Minister has an undertaking from the joint standing committee of the Irish banks in his pocket that they will revise their guidelines downwards. I am not trying to make a sarcastic point at the Minister's expense because he may have such an assurance. However, I should like to know if we are removing this obstacle, which I have grave doubts we ought to be trying to remove, that at the very least it will confer the benefit the Minister thinks it will.

If I were a bank director — they do not come much squarer than that; the people who have to make money for themselves and their shareholders out of bank profits — and I was living in a period of recession, when notoriously a lot of people find it hard to meet their payments and a large provision has to be made for bad debts and so on, I would say to myself; "It is absolutely sweet that the Dáil should be giving these young people a present of majority three years earlier but they are still gormless 18 year olds as far as I am concerned. They are, as far as I am concerned, people that are not safe risks for lending money to".

The Minister cannot control what private lending institutions do. I do not know that they have decided to follow the Minister three years downdate with this Bill. We will all look proper fools if not only are we removing an obstacle from early marriage which, perhaps, we ought not to be removing at all but if the obstacle we are removing does not have the effect of conferring the benefits which we are promising.

Another point I should like to make is a niggling lawyer's point. The Minister mentioned what the Law Reform Commission stated in their working paper, which they cite again in their report. They had cited an argument based on Article 41 of the Constitution. That Article states:

1. 1ºThe State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

2º The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

I have great admiration for the Law Reform Commission and have on one or two occasions written to tell them that, that they do a great deal of extremely good work and do not receive much recognition from the Dáil for doing so.

The commission said that they noted from this that it could be argued that no legal impediments or obstructions should be placed in the way of young married persons solely on the ground of age and that such persons should have the legal capacity to acquire a home and to furnish it. If that Constitutional argument is true does it bind the banks, if they decide not to lend money to somebody under the age of 21? That is the practical question arising out of this proposition of the Law Reform Commission. But it is a very weak argument anyway. It could be argued — and this is the proposition the State is committed to — that if the family is the natural and primary fundamental unit group of society, if the State is committed to protecting the family in its Constitution and authority, surely an equally arguable corollary is that our laws — in so far as one can do such a thing with laws — ought to inhibit the contraction of marriage, which is the basis of the family, by people who are notoriously, not through their fault but because of their stage of maturity, likely to run that family on the rocks?

I know there are plenty of exceptions. I was speaking last week to my colleague, Deputy Joe Doyle. He makes his speech and I do not want to go over the ground for him. Deputy Doyle — because of his avocation in civil life, has had enormous experiences of marriages. He contradicted me in what I said about early marriage. He said he knew a very large number of extremely happy and successful marriages which had been contracted very early. Deputy Doyle knows this. That lends greater depth to his point of view than I could claim for mine. But, if there is an argument to be made in the opposite direction — and all the statistics seem to suggest that there is — that the younger the age group from which marriage partners come the greater the risk that the marriage will go on the rocks, then it could be argued that that very same constitutional article requires the State, in so far as it can, to inhibit the contraction of marriage among people who are very likely to make of that marriage, not something which will protect the family but something which will put it in peril. When I say "inhibit the marriage" I do not mean to forbid them to marry forever. Naturally, I just mean to apply a certain age limit which most certainly ought not to be 12, 14 or even 16.

A certain lack of logic in this area is displayed on the far side of the House as well. Naturally I do not mean this in a partisan way. I see that Deputy Woods in his speech — incidentally this is a very common feature of debate in an area like this — in the House on Thursday, 8 November, 1984, as reported at column 1571 of the Official Report, said:

... the Bill contains a specific element of exclusion. It does not include the commission's proposal that the free age for marriage should be the same as the age of majority. This will mean that it will continue to be necessary for people between the age of 18 and 21 to obtain the consent of parents, guardians or the court before being permitted to marry. It seems illogical that such an exception should be continued when it is accepted that a young adult has a right to acquire or to dispose of property or to enter into contractual arrangements with third parties and to be responsible for the legal obligations that arise therefrom. The same young adult, without reference to his parents, to his guardians or to the courts can enter into a contract with a building society in respect of a mortgage.

Where is the comparison, the logical parallel, or how am I forced into a logical dilemma by accepting one arm of the existing law but rejecting the other? Where is the comparison between the status of marriage, which is more than just a contract, and buying a second-hand motor vehicle? Where is the comparison? I am free to do one at age 21 but not at age 18. Where is the logic in suggesting that merely because one kind of function is permissible at a particular age every other kind of function should be permissible at that age also? I know that kind of argument is often heard but I simply cannot see the logic of it. What is so irrational about grading according to age, so far as imperfect reason can do so, the functions which a citizen is now free or still unfree to perform? At present we have such things in other departments of law, for example, specifying that somebody under 18 years of age cannot buy alcoholic drink or if a citizen is under the age of, I think, 16, he is not allowed to buy tobacco, although I do not think that law is ever enforced. Perhaps that age is 14 but, whether it is 14 or 16 does not matter, it is not enforced anyway; it might as well be two. The point I am trying to make is that here is a case in which the Legislature, some legislature, has said: all right, some children should be allowed to buy cigarettes at 16 but cannot be allowed to buy drink until 18. Where is the necessary connection between tobacco and drink that makes it essential to bring these ages into line with one another? Surely it is a defensible way of proceeding to say that one function is perhaps less injurious — and we know now that tobacco probably is more injurious — but in the days when that perception was not available there was nothing illogical in saying that one function was more injurious than the other and, accordingly, we will attach a slightly higher age to the exercise of that function by a young person than we do in the case of the other. What is illogical about that? Where is the logical necessity that compels me to equate, for the purposes of permitting someone to exercise a function, for example, buying a second-hand Anglia with taking on a partner for life? I had better not say anything offensive to Deputy Woods. This is not a partisan debate. Even if I did say something offensive here he would know that I would not mean it in a partisan way. But that is the kind of logic which has this whole area damned.

At the risk of boring the ears off the House let me repeat — so that I will not be misrepresented inside or outside it — that I am not taking up a line about this matter because I have not entirely made up my mind about it yet, nor have I seen the legislation promised. But the Government and the Minister might consider the implications of this proposal for whatever the Minister for Health proposes to bring forward in connection with changes in the law about the availability of contraceptives. One of the few things about which I am sure in all of this is that the 1935 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was wrong in applying criminal law methods to the control of contraceptive devices. Ever since this matter was first debated in the second year I was in this House, in 1974, I have repeatedly stated my belief that, in general, contraception is a matter so private, so intimate, so little susceptible to the State probing its nose over one's shoulder, and so revolting if the State does attempt to do that, that it should be taken quite outside the criminal law altogether. I have never made a secret of my belief about that and I am not going to make pretences about it now.

I accept that the State, at the same time, has a right and a duty to exercise reasonable measures of protection for young people. I accept also the evidence which I seem to be getting in postal lobbying coming in every day, that excessively free access to contraceptives may, with very young people, lead not to fewer illegitimacies but to more, may lead them into situations — I am not going to go into great detail on this — may lead them prematurely into situations they are not able to handle.

If that is so there is a case for having a lower age limit — I am not even sure that it will be possible to enforce it; I do not believe that it is enforced even now — above which the State, in my opinion, should decriminalise the thing altogether, subject to reasonable precautions for public decency and the absence of advertising and at which all sorts of people can be genuinely and reasonably offended. I accept there is a case for protecting young people up to a certain age, but I have not made up my mind what that age should be and I am not sure what I will say if the matter is debated here.

The effect of this legislation will be to put an extra implement into the hands of those who say that age should be 18 years. Perhaps it should be 18 years but I am inclined to think that age is too low. I am not sure any age limit can be effectively enforced, but assuming in favour of such legislation that it can be enforced, in my view 18 years is a bit too low, although I may change my mind about that. If I am right in thinking 18 years is too low, this Bill will deliver an implement into the hands of those who think otherwise.

I am sorry to have struck a dissenting note. I know the Bill is very well intended and I would like to compliment the Law Reform Commission on their work and the Minister on having taken their work seriously, which is something too seldom done, but I do not think it would be right if the Bill passed through Second Stage before some general reservations were expressed about the principles behind it.

I listened with great interest to Deputy Kelly's speech particulaly his reservations because of what it would mean and has meant to early marriages. He spoke of meeting young people in his constituency and how burdened he feels they are. I would like to put forward the idea that perhaps our education system is not fulfilling its role with regard to civic, family and domestic responsibilities which young people will come up against when they leave the formal school system. Rather than say that people in their teens and early twenties should be enjoying their years in the single state, in my view that is a matter for individual passions. Many young people make a commitment to have a meaningful relationship early in life which will probably lead to an engagement and then to marriage. In many cases these marriages are very successful. It requires determination, character and a sense of stability for a young person to cope with an early marriage and children. I share Deputy Joe Doyle's belief that many young marriages are very successful because the people involved have youth and hope on their side. Many people in their late twenties or early thirties may be jaded with life and may have become blasé, but young people have the idealism and determination to make a relationship work.

I do not like to be as pessimistic about young people as Deputy Kelly, although I recognise that he sounded his warnings in a paternalistic way. He suggested that they are stepping into an area with which they cannot cope, but my view is that their natural ability, spirit and vigour will enable them overcome any financial or other difficulties they might meet in the early years of marriage. Young people have a resilience missing in many older people. I speak as one who started married life very early. When one is young one gets up in the morning very bright and ready to face whatever the day holds. Building a home, getting the finances necessary, facing the future and so on seem very trivial to young people. Looking back I wonder how we coped, but because we were young we were able to cope. In my view Deputy Kelly is underestimating the resilience and spirit of the young people. Like Deputy Kelly I too have a young family and I admire their resilience.

I have received a great deal of representation about this Bill from young people in my constituency, by post and by way of deputation in this House — this may be because I am Opposition spokesman for Education. The eminent person quoted by Deputy Kelly said that one of the reasons for broken marriages was the young age at which these people were wed. In my view the reason for many broken marriages lies not in the age at which they entered into this contract but in the lack of preparedness for marriage. I have known young women of 17 or 18 years leaving secondary school with two As, two Bs or two Cs, going to university or some other third level education. These young women would not have a clue about how one would get a mortgage, how one would interview a bank manager or how one would find out who was the local engineer or county manager and so on.

The Deputy's contribution is so interesting that I was carried away by it and overlooked the fact that she is not talking about the Age of Majority Bill.

In fairness to the Deputy, I was allowed to wander just as far afield.

Gallantry is not dead in Dáil Éireann. That young person would not know how central or local government works or how one goes about one's daily life. Many of the difficulties young people face are caused by the lack of relevance of second level education to life outside the school walls. The gap between these two areas is huge. The second level curriculum should cover many of the areas to which I have referred.

In his Second Stage speech the Minister said:

This Bill is an important piece of legislation which will affect our society in many ways and will I believe have significant effects for our young people by enabling them to take responsibility for the conduct of their daily affairs.

That sounds very good but if our education system does not help them to play their role in life outside the schoolroom, we will have failed. It is an anomaly that a young person can leave second level education with anything from 20 to 27 points without knowing how central or local government works, how to raise a mortgage and so on.

Education at second level in the areas of civics, politics and consumer rights is sadly lacking. For a long time these areas have been relegated to the end of the timetable when the school principal at the beginning of the year sets out the timetable. It is a reflection on our education system that what seems to be the most important subjects — the academic subjects — should get higher priority when we should be placing equal emphasis on the experiences which will enable a young man or woman to face the type of responsibilities the Minister is giving them in this Bill.

I am not being in any way partisan when I mention subjects such as political education. If one were to visit a leaving certificate class where girls were studying history or English at honours level, one might find that the girls would not know the system of government that applied in their town. I am talking about the structure of government that involves the town hall, locally elected councillors, the county manager and the town clerk. The same girls might not know who the Dáil Deputies for the area were or what legislation was going through the Houses at that time. They might not know the system of government in the EC or what were the origins of the major political parties in this country. They might not know how the main political movements throughout Europe began. It would be likely that the girls would know who were the contestants in the recent US presidential election and what the outcome of that election was. This is because they would have observed that event on TV.

The point I am making is that many young people are not aware of the daily minutiae which is bound up so much in the running of our institutions. I am making a plea on the occasion of this Bill for a type of early civics education that would be related in a simple way to the workings of authority and to which young people would be introduced at early second level. This could be included in the history course at intermediate or group certificate level. There could be visits arranged to such places as town halls and the education could be broadened at fifth and sixth years to study comparative political systems within the European structure and subsequently in terms of the world as a whole.

I submit that much of the boredom and cynicism with the political process as expressed by young people today may be of our own making. Perhaps the fact that we stand up here and make long boring speeches which do not seem very relevant to the subject before the House has something to do with this, but mainly it can be attributed to young people not being made aware of how the system operates. This leaves them unable to cope with the system when they leave school. The kind of civics education I have in mind would include information on how the banks and other lending institutions operate. I had made up my mind to speak on this aspect during this debate. Deputy Kelly broadened my ideas because of his, not gloomy, but knowledgeable comments.

The Deputy has not contracted her ideas in any sense.

Deputy Kelly provided me with food for thought but I would urge him not to be too pessimistic about young people and their ability to cope with life. They have an inherent ability to cope and we must do everything possible to prepare them to deal with the kinds of problems they are likely to encounter but, more than anything to enable them to cope with what we are providing by way of this Bill.

I agree that this Bill is a vote of confidence in our young people and I am as optimistic and as hopeful as is Deputy O'Rourke in that regard. I, too, am the parent of three young persons, the eldest of whom is 22.

I have not heard very much of the debate so far but I have heard two Deputies refer to this legislation as being merely something we are copying from across the water. I am amused at the number of times such a suggestion is made. It is a strange suggestion when we think of being in accord with the ideals and aspirations as expressed in the report of the New Ireland Forum. We should not have such hang-ups about the question of whether legislation being brought in here is very much in line with what has been enacted in Britain. Since there has been a suggestion that there is no demand for this legislation I should like to refer to the relevant working paper of the Law Reform Commission but first I should like to associate myself with the tribute paid to the commission by the Minister for Justice for the work they have done. The commission, by way of advertising in the media, invited anyone who had views on the law relating to the age of majority to make those views known to them. The views that were expressed to them by various persons and groups indicated a need for action. For example, Cork County Council were concerned particularly with the desirability of reducing the age of majority so that persons under 21 would become legally entitled to avail themselves of house purchase loans. I consider this to be the major area to uphold the case for a change. It is a very important consideration for those who marry before reaching 21.

The Department of Agriculture indicated to the commission that they too, favoured a reduction in the age of majority on the basis that lending agencies would be more readily prepared to make money available to young farmers at an earlier age. The Department expressed the view that progressive farmers who are under 21 are unable to undertake farm development programmes or qualify for aid under the farm modernisation scheme because of lending agencies not being prepared to make loans available to people under 21. In addition there is the observation that the inability of young farmers to obtain loans tends to frustrate the desire of older farmers to pass on land to their successors at a younger age than has been customary.

Another submission was from the Irish League of Credit Unions who at that time represented some 300,000 members. They indicated that they would favour a reduction in the age of majority to 18 mainly to allow young people to take an active part in credit union administration. The argument they put forward is that persons under 21 are interested in community affairs and display an ability to partake in decision making but that at present one must have reached 21 before being eligible to hold office as a director or a supervisor of a credit union.

The Dundalk Credit Union also supported a reduction in the age of majority to 18. There was a submission from FLAC who stated that a reduction in the age of majority to 18 would be beneficial to everyone. They suggested that it would be beneficial in preventing young people from hiding behind their special status as infants and they suggested also that the term "minor" should be used instead of the word "infant".

The National Youth Council, too, indicated that they favoured a reduction in the age of majority to 18, their view being based on answers to questionnaires that were circulated to members of the council, to voluntary youth leaders and to youth groups. In addition, the council recommended that the whole area of infants' contracts should be reviewed. In view of the fact that the views of interested groups in the community were so clearly expressed in that working paper, there is a need for the legislation.

The principal areas that will be affected will be the law of contract and the law of property. The relationship between rights and duties is well illustrated by the fact that once the Bill becomes law early next year such persons will be able to enter into mortgage agreements. Thus one obstacle in the way of building societies and lcoal authorities providing house purchase loans for young persons contemplating marriage will be removed. The other side of the coin is that contracts in relation to moneys borrowed or for goods bought will be enforceable against young people who reach the new age of majority. At present contracts for goods supplied to a minor are not enforceable except in certain limited circumstances.

I do not think anyone could deny the reasonableness of the proposals in the Bill. Young people today are maturing at a much earlier age and, generally speaking, they have responsibilities thrust upon them much sooner in life than was the case, say, even a few generations ago. There seems to be a trend world wide which recognises this development. Young people nowadays are better educated than their counterparts in former generations and many of them strongly resist an over-protective and paternalistic approach. The Minister covered this point in his opening speech and illustrated the recent developments which have taken place in our law, notably in relation to the making of wills, the minimum age for voting and membership of juries.

When discussing the behaviour of young people we are inclined too often to thnk only of those who come into conflict with the law because of their involvement in muggings, vandalism, drug offences or other crimes of violence. These are the ones who make the headlines, but they are a small minority. We tend to overlook the great numbers of young people who are conscientious and responsible members of the community and who contribute positively to society by their energy and enthusiasm. I believe they are more than willing to shoulder the burdens as well as the privileges of adulthood. Many of them, I am sure, feel that the present age of majority is a slight on their ability to act responsibly and an indication that their elders do not trust them sufficiently to look after their own affairs. This, in my view, only discourages and frustrates the development of our young citizens. I believe that nothing is more calculated to develop the strength of character of young people than to give them the right to be able to make decisions in matters that affect them closely in their daily lives.

It is also relevant, I think, that the Bill will bring our law into line with that obtaining in neighbouring jurisdictions. An exhaustive study of the question of lowering the age of full legal capacity was made in England by a committee of inquiry under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Latey. The committee's report was presented in 1967 and contained the basic recommendation that the age of full legal capacity should generally be lowered from 21 to 18 years. The law was changed in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to implement that recommendation with effect from 1 January 1970.

I am fully in agreement that the present legal rule as to when a particular age is reached — that is, on the first moment of the day preceding the relevant anniversary of birth — is illogical and artificial. I support its replacement by the statutory role which is proposed in section 4 of the Bill. Realistically a person can only be said to have reached a certain age when he has completed so many years i.e. on his birthday.

As Minister of State with responsibility for family law matters I am glad to see that payments of social welfare allowances in respect of children who are in full time education are not affected by the proposals in the Bill. Furthermore, any tax allowances in respect of children up to 21 years that people may be entitled to at present will not be affected by the change in the age of majority. This is to be welcomed, especially in relation to incapacitated children or those who are in full time education.

I note that some of the proposals made by the Law Reform Commission are not being implemented in this Bill. These relate to a proposed increase in the age from 16 to 18 years up to which parents are under an obligation to maintain a child under the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act, 1930 and the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976. Neither is the age being increased for a child to qualify for a supplementary welfare allowance under social welfare legislation as proposed by the commission. The reason is that these matters are not directly related to the age of majority. It is reasonable that any proposals to increase the age up to which maintenance should be paid would be more appropriately treated as a separate matter.

As regards the commission's proposals in relation to the free age for marriage and the age below which consent of a third person to a marriage should be necessary, I think it is understandable that these matters should be dealt with separately from the question of the age of majority and I agree that it would not have been appropriate to implement the commission's recommendations in these areas in this Bill.

I have very strong personal views in regard to the changes in the legal age for marriage. I have strong views on the need to look at this because here we do not have divorce so people regard marriage as a life long commitment. Therefore, greater stress should be laid on the need for young people to approach this contract in a mature way. Even the recommendation that the age should be increased to 18 from 16 years I do not think would change things drastically because many people believe that those who marry below the age of 21 years can have difficulties. There is evidence to show that many marriages flounder which were entered into before the age of 21 years.

Deputy O'Rourke painted an idealistic picture about young people who marry at the ages of 16 or 17 years. In my view it is extremely difficult for young couples to marry at that age, to take on the responsibilities of homes and children and make some headway in life at a time when the ideal would be that they would be in educational institutions. I appreciate that we should not follow the example in China, which I visited last year, where this year they imposed a minimum legal age for marriage for women of 20 years and for men of 22 years. I support the idea of an increased age but there is much more to it than that.

There is some evidence of a correlation between the age of marriage and the incidence of marriage breakdowns. We must give this careful consideration and later when we get the report of the Marriage Breakdown Committee I hope we will have a further debate about it.

I think that while the Bill may be described as a fairly technical one, Deputies will recognise it as an important measure with considerable social implications and as an expression of confidence in our young people to which they can readily lend their full support.

I welcome this Bill. As the Minister of State has said, it is a vote of confidence in young people. To me it is a kick in the face to young people by politicians that we are in the last stages of 1984 before we introduce such legislation. When we compare our performance with that in other countries it is interesting to note that the age of majority was reduced to 18 years in Britain in 1970, in many of the EC countries in 1972, in Canada in 1974, the US in 1971 and in New Zealand in 1970. It is only in 1984 that we are providing such fundamental legislation in regard to the rights of young people.

This neglect on our part is one of the reasons why young people are so finicky about politicians. They have every right to be because this recommendation was first made in 1975 and it has taken nine years to reach the House. If we politicians treat the fundamental right of young people in this way we can hardly expect them to be anything but finicky about politicians in general.

I am saddened by what the Minister said in relation to the Bill. I thought this Bill would have been the start of a series of reforming legislation for young people but from the Minister of State's speech it would appear that there is no anxiety to deal with the other areas. In addition to this legislation we should have a Bill brought in to abolish the status of illegitimacy, to raise the age of criminal responsibility and the minimum age for marriage. I find it difficult to understand, when she says she supports the idea of raising the age for marriage, why she did not introduce legislation to do so. The minimum age for marriage should be increased to 18 years and this should be done as part of this legislation. Why did the Minister of State not do that?

The most important aspect of this Bill is that it allows young people to act responsibly. Up to now they could not borrow money legally, incur debts or undertake contractual obligations. Young people were not allowed to prepare for life. One of the most important preparations for life is to be able to enter into contractual obligations. Deputy Kelly made the point that he never had a person make a recommendation to him for the age of majority to be reduced to 18 years. He must not live in the real world if he has not had such representation.

Since I became involved in politics ten years ago one of my main priorities was to have young people make preparation for the ownership of their own home. There were many serious difficulties encountered in this area. One was that when young people applied to Galway County Council for a loan they were told that their applications would not be accepted until they were 21 years of age. In this day and age how could we put that kind of restriction on young people who want to help themselves? It is impossible to understand. During my time as a councillor I was trying to put it across to young people of 18 and 19 years of age that now was the time to plan for the future and for the ownership of their own home. I could not understand why those young people were told their applications would not be considered because they were under 21 years of age. That was the main problem I encountered from young people in my constituency and it is for that reason that I say Deputy Kelly must not live in the real world if he never received representations from young people about lowering the age of majority.

Young people have every reason to be cynical about politicians when it is in the latter days of 1984 that we are introducing this necessary legislation. My wish is that this legislation would pass as quickly as possible and not alone would we stop at this point but provide the essential back up for young people to take advantage of the legislative changes we are making. One of the greatest advantages young people will have under this legislation is that they can plan for the future. They will be able to enter into contractual obligations and borrow money. However, the legislation is about 15 years too late. It was rather sad that when the referendum was held to reduce the age at which a person could vote, politicians at that time did not have the foresight to take that further and reduce the age of majority. The Government of today lack foresight in not making this Bill the forerunner of a series of reforming measures for young people. How long will we have to wait to see the age of criminal responsibility raised and the minimum age for marriage raised? How long will it be before the status of illegitimacy is abolished?

I had great admiration for the Minister of State when she wrote in the newspapers. I used to read with great interest her reforming ideas and the new approach she had but for the last two years I have been deeply disappointed with the progress she has made. There is no indication in her speech——

There is a lot more to drafting legislation, for instance, in the technical area of illegitimacy than there is to writing a newspaper article. I assure the Deputy I will approach it with the same degree of dedication as I approached my journalism.

I understand the difficulties there are and the intricacies of drafting legislation.

Then the Deputy will understand the delay.

We have legislation with which nobody disagrees but it is 15 years behind every other country in the developed world. How long will it take to bring in the other legislation which I agree is more intricate than this one?

A lot quicker than when Fianna Fáil were in Government.

The speech made by the Minister of State was disappointing. She simply agreed with the good things in the Bill. There is no indication that young people can look forward to any great reforming legislation from this Minister or the Government.

Deputy Kelly spoke about taking the heavy gamble in life, which was how he described getting married. His view was that this legislation would make it easier for people to get married — I do not want to be critical of him — and therefore could be viewed as not being in their best interests. Rather than looking at this legislation in that way I see it as giving young people who wish to get married responsibility by providing a climate in which they can properly prepare for marriage. Deputy Kelly is causing confusion between creating a greater risk in marriage and creating a proper climate for responsibility for young people in their preparation for marriage. This legislation provides the necessary ingredients for a stable marriage, the main one being the provision of a family home. It will enhance people's ability to have a good marriage rather than create difficulties for them in marriage. I say that because parental consent for marriage has not been the cause of stopping people from getting married and the fact that the age is reduced from 21 to 18 will not make any difference.

This legislation is welcome and will help yeoung people to help themselves. It will provide an opportunity for a young person with foresight to save money and to spend a couple of years preparing for marriage. I hope it will put an end to the situation that applies here among young people that while you are young you spend, spend, spend and have a good time. Most young people do not think about home ownership until they begin to think about marriage and by then it is too late. I am concerned that so many people from 18 to 25 spend their money and do not give any thought to the future or to the responsibilities of providing their own home. The introduction of this legislation will now give young people from the age of 18, when many are working, the opportunity to think seriously about saving and getting involved in financial institutions which will in years ahead advance money to them to buy a home. They will be able to plan for a home which takes about three or four years. So many young people cannot provide homes for themselves because they did not save from an early age.

Young people of 18 years of age should be eligible to stand for election to the Dáil and Seanad. This legislation provides for everything else and it is strange that we allow young people to get married at 16 years of age but not to enter politics, which is not as serious a contract, until they are 21. It is typical of the attitude of politicians towards young people that we have decided to bring in this legislation reducing the age of majority to 18 years but specifically including that it will not provide for young people to enter the Dáil or Seanad until they are 21. Many young people are quite capable of taking their place here and playing their role and they should be encouraged to get involved in framing legislation at that age because the whole emphasis throughout the world is on young people having an important say in all matters affecting them. We are implying that they are not mature enough to get involved in politics but many of them are more mature than many senior politicians. I feel very strongly on this issue and I urge the Minister to consider this recommendation.

I welcome some of the provisions in the Bill which reflect the earlier maturity of young people and recognise their capacity to deal with many social and economic problems at an earlier age. The provisions reflect our advancement in terms of education and equality. The technical aspects of the Bill have been dealt with by many legal Members who made excellent contributions to the debate.

There are, however, many young people who consider that the proposed legislation has a very low priority rating in terms of business conducted in this House and see it as legislative filling-in because of the Government's failure to bring forward more positive legislation to deal with the many problems facing us at present. For that reason, I regret that we are not dealing with more urgent, important and——

The Deputy will be dealing with these tomorrow and the next day as there are six Bills on the Order Paper.

Many young people look to this House with a sense of disappointment and those who have not been able to find employment look on the legislators with a degree of cynicism because of our failure to create jobs. It is fine to recognise the maturity of young people. We are telling them that they have grown up and can take the responsibilities of adults, but what have we done to provide them with the background and opportunities to take on that responsibility? Deputy Frank Fahey rightly commended the provisions in the Bill whereby young people can sign mortgage contracts. I also welcome that provision, which is one of the more positive proposals. Those of us who are members of local authorities know from our experience that many young people are unable to provide themselves with their own homes because they cannot enter into a legal agreement with a local authority or a building society.

It was a pity that when the Minister decided to bring this Bill before the House he did not wait until he was able to incorporate all the proposals contained in the report of the Law Reform Commission. If that had been the case the legislation would have tried to deal with a wide area of legislative problems which affect our young people. That is why the Bill seems to be a stop gap measure and does not deal with a wider area of social reform which could be covered in this legislation.

Very little has been done up to now and very little will be done on foot of this Bill to resolve many more pressing social problems facing our young people. It makes no difference whether you are 18 or 21 years of age, if you are unemployed. It makes no difference whether you can sign a mortgage contract if you have not a wage or salary to meet your financial commitments in relation to providing yourself, your wife or family with a house. Some people, particularly the young, will view this debate with cynicism.

My colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, dealt in a very broad way with her hopes for the young people of this country. I share with her and with Deputy Frank Fahey my hope and confidence in our young people. However, they are not in a position to decide their future and they are dependent on those they elect to this House to legislate and ensure an economic base on which they can provide themselves with suitable employment, housing and other essential material requirements.

The Bill does not take into consideration a very wide range of social problems which were referred to in the report of the Law Reform Commission. That commission did an excellent job in preparing the groundwork for the introduction of effective social reform legislation. It is regrettable that we have only touched on one or two basic points in this regard in the Bill. It is not my intention to delay the House in discussing this proposal, which is very limited in scope and will have very little effect on the future of our young people. Until such time as we introduce more effective legislation to cater for future needs, the results will be very minimal in terms of the problems facing our young people.

Like the majority of other speakers, I welcome the Bill before the House. Opposition speakers may indicate that it does not incorporate enough, but it is only meant to incorporate a certain amount. Its results, however, will be quite far reaching and will have quite an effect. At times we would all wish for a quicker passage of legislation through the House and that we could make better use of our time here. Some Members of the Opposition should look at their own performance in recent times when we had the debacle of discussion on this Government's plan for two weeks running, after a thorough debate for one week, just to keep the spotlight on it, when we could have been debating something else.

The Bill is before the House as a result of commitments. This Government cannot take all the credit, but they have brought it before the House. I hope that other legislation mentioned by some speakers opposite will be before the House shortly. With regard to legislation coming on stream, we have been keeping our commitments. However, the production of legislation does not merely entail the typing and delivery of it. Much work must go into its preparation. The legislation which has been passed and which will be passed in future will be the result of work done, particularly over the last two years of the present Government. That may go to show what was being done previously. Was anything being prepared in the cupboard?

As we are aware, this Bill reduces the age of majority from 21 to 18 years, bringing us into line with many other countries, some of which have had such legislation for many years. This Bill is a result of the extensive deliberations of the Law Reform Commission, whose report covered a number of areas. It was not unexpected that they arrived at this age, because 18 is the governing age in much legislation. This relates to the Succession Act and the enabling of young people to make a will, also rights and duties under the Guardianship of Infants Act, the question of eligibility to vote, which legislation was passed by means of a referendum in 1972 and the Electoral Amendment Act of the following year. It also relates to jury service under the Juries Act. We could discuss at great length what is the approprivate age. Some people far older than 18 are not mature enough to conduct their own affairs and probably there are some under 18 years who are quite capable of doing that. However, in the light of modern thinking, 18 would appear to be the right age. The proposal in this Bill will be quite significant. It brings rights and duties on individuals who are now reaching 18 or who are now between the ages of 18 and 21. While some of us are inclined to think only of rights, people will be made more accountable because they can be sued at the age of 18, like any adult person. They will no longer be considered as minors. I shall mention a few out of the range of activities dealt with in the Law Reform Commission report:

Persons at the date of operation of the legislation between the ages of 18 and 21, and every married person who has not reached the age of 18, will become adults with all the rights and liabilities of adults. During the succeeding years a number of persons will attain the age of 18 years or marry under that age. For brevity in the following paragraphs all these persons are called "new adults".

I shall read out a few of the obligations to which these new adults will be subject:

(a) A new adult will be liable for the repayment of any money that he may borrow and for any goods that he buys after he attains majority;

(b) He may enter into any mortgage, charge or hire-purchase agreement;

(c) He will be free to make settlements of his property;

(d) He may buy and sell land and give valid receipts for the purchase money without the intervention of a trustee or other third person;

(g) He may marry without the consent of his parents or guardians or of the President of the High Court;

(h) He may sue or be sued in his own name without the intervention of a next friend or of a guardian ad litem; and he may enter into a binding compromise of an action without the leave of the court;

(i) If he is a ward of court he will be discharged from wardship.

These areas are fundamental to modern living and many people at present 18, 19 and 20 years of age will welcome the changes. It is to be expected that people will have to accept the responsibility that these changes will bring and respect the rights that will ensue therefrom.

The Law Reform Commission have done a great deal of research work into the system in operation in other countries and, having regard to the fact that 18 is now taken generally as the time when a person comes of age rather than 21, this change is overdue and necessary and most of us here at least welcome it.

Mention has been made of the commission's reference to an anomaly which will exist having regard to the permitted age of marriage at the moment. The committee may come forward with a recommendation to raise the age at which a person may be married from 16 as at present to 18. In many of the areas we are discussing it is desirable to have a uniform age and not to have different ages for different rights and liabilities. Probably 18 is the appropriate age to adopt. This measure is of significance to many young people who are at present between 18 and 21 or who will be 18 shortly and thus will acquire rights under this legislation.

Regarding wards of court, at present a person under the age of 21 must go through a lengthy procedure under the Wards of Court Act if he wishes to withdraw money awarded to him. He faces expense and must go to the trouble of swearing various affidavits and appearing before the Master of the High Court in order to get his money which he needs for a legitimate purpose. People aged 19 and 20 will be relieved that this money can now be paid out to those who are 18 or over.

One Deputy here suggested that the age of majority might even be raised, but in this day and age we must ensure that people can go about and do their business and acquire their own money if necessary. The Bill before the House will bring rights, responsibilities, benefits and obligations to the people who will benefit under it, and people who are at the age of majority now and who will be at the new age of majority when the Bill is passed must recognise that.

In conclusion, I support the Bill before the House. It is worthy legislation. It may be a weak enough Bill but it is significant and its effects will be far reaching. While it is only a small Bill, we have brought it before the House and I hope it will be one of a series of reforming measures which will be brought forward by the Government shortly. The Minister of State here present is working on quite a number of measures which most of us hope will come before the House as soon as possible. We appreciate the difficulties and delays that can take place, but it is important that matters be expedited as much as possible. We hear about the slowness of bureaucracy, but the Minister for Justice and the Minister of State at that Department have indicated their commitment in this regard in the measures they have brought forward already. The implications of this brief but significant Bill will be far-reaching.

Deputy Hyland said that the Bill had little scope. While that may be so, it is revolutionary in concept, particularly in an Irish context. As has been mentioned, many other countries have already incorporated provisions such as are in this Bill into their legislation. In the few words I am going to say I want to highlight a note of caution to those affected by this change in the law. In summary, this Bill affects the laws of contract, property, guardianship and full contractual capacity which, as other speakers have stressed, will now be acquired at 18 years of age or in the case of a person married before that age, on the date of marriage. The Bill is a product of one of the many good reports of the Law Reform Commission.

I hope that the people affected by this change in the law will be strong and mature enough to resist the contractual onslaught they are about to face. Contractors and other people will realise that they have a much larger market than heretofore in which to sell and to contract. The caveat emptor that has applied up to now should be stressed again in the light of the changes that will take place as a result of this legislation. We have found it necessary to be very cautious about recent legislation and to put it on trial for a number of years. It is only fair to highlight to young people coming out of school, most of whom will not yet have sat for their leaving certificate, the effect of this law. We should point out the pitfalls that will be there as a result of the passing of this legislation.

Deputy Fahey stressed the enormous advantage that will accrue to people who wish to purchase a house and to get married. As many as 200,000 people might be affected in this regard. Between 1975 and 1980, 38,000 marriages with at least one of the parties under 21 years of age were registered. I do not know whether the Deputy is advocating that we should have an increase in the number of young marriages, of people being married between 18 and 21 years of age as a result of the passing of the legislation. While that might solve some problems, sometimes it is more prudent not to enter into that contract until one has attained at least the age of 21, if not a good number of years more than that.

The Minister, and other Members, mentioned that this will open up new horizons for a lot of young people. It appears that we are assuming that those who are now irresponsible will tomorrow or the next day be responsible people who will be able to undertake all types of very onerous contracts. The fact is, contrary to what Deputy Fahey said, that young people when they start earning tend to be a little irresponsible with their money and spend it on clothes, cars or sowing wild oats. I would not be encouraging them to get married but if they wish to enter into a contractual obligation to purchase I would consider that a good thing. It would help towards maturity, to them settling down and accumulating some wealth. Of course, in another aspect of our legislation we do not encourage the latter. On the one hand we are making it a little better for people who wish to invest while on the other hand we clobber them when they do. I do not consider that to be consistent.

One of the areas that needs to be highlighted is the huge market that would result when the Bill is passed. The majority of our population are young and they will now become eligible to enter into contracts to buy and sell land or commit themselves, irrevocably in many cases, to a heavy payments schedule as a result of contracts. Up to now it was not possible to insist on the repayments and as a result of this change many young people may find themselves in trouble. There is an obligation on us to point these things out to young people. That could be done through our educational system, or by a PR exercise or advertising on radio, television and in the newspapers. We could arrange for officials to address students at schools. I do not think young people are mature enough at that age to enter some of the contracts I envisage them being eligible to enter into. It is not possible to put an old head on young shoulders. Young people need to be gently exposed to the markets over a period of time.

It was suggested by the Minister or some other Member that one of the reasons why we had been relying on the age of 21 was that it related to the age when a young man was regarded as being strong enough to wear heavy armour and wield the heavy weapons that went with knightly service in the feudal system. That may be true but there is a necessity now to be able to resist with a thick skin rather than heavy armour the type of sharks that exist in our society and prey on unsuspecting and honest people. The type of confidence tricksters that are going around now were not around in feudal times. They are the type of people our young people will have to watch out for.

Young people will now be able to enter into contracts to purchase property, a responsible undertaking. It has been stated that in recent years there has been evidence that 18-year-olds are responsible enough to take on these obligations. It was stated that the Succession Act granted permission to a person of 18, or married, to make a will. In 1972 the voting age was reduced from 21 years to 18 years. Young people have been eligible to serve on juries since 1976 but few people of that age are aware of those provisions. Those of us who attend clinics regularly realise the appalling amount of ignorance that exists outside in relation to such matters. Very often people twice that age do not realise that those provisions exist. It is wrong of people to assume that most of the population are aware of their rights, their obligations or their contractual rights and would not lightly enter into a contract they could honour. I spend half my time at my clinics advising people as to what they should do. Most of the time those young people are in predicaments they cannot get out of easily. On occasions they are hopeless cases. In most cases they get into those predicaments due to lack of experience or lack of responsibility and understanding. Lack of education is another reason.

We must remember that after we have passed the Bill a wave of a wand will not suddenly make our young people more mature and responsible. I venture to suggest that without the guidance and advice of parents, professional people or seniors most people of that age would make the wrong decision when entering into an obligation or contract. They are likely to make many mistakes initially before learning through the experience of life how not to get tied up and what not to get involved in or committed to. Many people have had to spend years trying to extricate themselves from some onerous contract or obligation they entered into when they were immature. A lot of young marriages fell on the rocks because they were entered into lightly.

I cannot see the logic behind the thinking that a great door will now open and we will have people between the ages of 18 and 21 rushing to buy houses or to get married. Most people of that age would not be earning enough to be able to meet repayments. Perhaps Deputy Fahey was thinking of local authority houses. Our religious leaders have tended to caution people, to endeavour to get them to put off marrying and enrol for pre-marriage courses so that they do not rush into early marriages. I should not like it to go out from this House that these provisions enabled people to rush out and buy houses. I agree with Deputy Hyland when he asked: what good is it telling people who have not got jobs that they will be able to buy a house when they would be unable to afford the appropriate payments?

Therefore a cautionary note must be struck. There will be certain sections of the community well able to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill, probably the small, favoured sections. Probably the vast majority will be unaware of its provisions, will not understand them and it will probably be they who will suffer as a result. That is not to say that it should not be done but I have not seen an awful lot of research devoted to deciding whether the age of majority should be reduced to 18. I can judge from my experience only. If the question were posed directly to me: do you think a young person of 18 years of age is sufficiently mature to enter into the obligations that will be open to him or her as a result of the provisions of this Bill — meaning that he or she could buy land, issue receipts, enter into contracts — I would have to reply straight away: no, I do not think so. I spoke to some hundreds of pupils today in leaving certificate classes. I do not think such students would be at all prepared to enter into such obligations or commitments because they go from primary into secondary school, are subjected to the protection of their parents, families, the companionship of their fellow students, or those who participate in various sporting activities. They will have had no experience of being out in the real world; they will not even have had the experience of a job as yet. One really must go out into the world and learn the hard way. One may enjoy the benefits of having had good parents, education or of having had good teachers' advice. But it is only when one goes out into the world and is knocked about a bit that one learns how to proceed.

There should be a small amount of money, energy and expertise expended endeavouring to get across to those people who will be affected what the proposed change will mean to them. Perhaps there should be established for a limited time throughout the country advice bureaus to which young persons wishing to enter into serious or long term contracts would have redress, where they could talk to somebody in a Government or Department service and have explained to him or her exactly what is entailed in the obligation they propose taking on or the contract into which they propose entering. There will always be the hotheads but we are aware that probably there will be unscrupulous, sharp people who will entice young people into entering into all kinds of obligations.

Very soon after the passage of this Bill I can foresee the onslaught on young people, throughout schools all over the country, on people who have just left school, the 18-year-olds, even those now attending university, most of whom are insufficiently mature to enter into such kinds of obligations. Therefore we may have to engage in an education exercise in this respect and we have an obligation to do so. If one looks at successful members of society one will see that they are not to be found among the 18, 21, 25, 30 or even 35-year-olds; indeed rarely are they to be found among the 40-year-olds. They may be found among people in their fifties who will by then have begun to accumulate some modest degree of wealth or success. One is inclined, through inexperience, to throw away opportunities and so on in one's early years. It is a shame to see young people getting themselves into positions in which they will be committed over a long number of years and from which they may not easily be able to extricate themselves. I shall confine my remarks to emphasis of that last point. Most other Members' contributions have ranged over different aspects of the Bill. Certainly everybody is aware of its provisions.

In regard to 18 being advanced as the appropriate age of eligibility for election to the Dáil, I do not foresee any great problem. If young persons put themselves forward for election the electorate will form a judgment. Generally speaking people seem to make a more serious judgment of people entering this House than those offering themselves for election to local authorities. I would hope that the electorate would take a greater interest in the type of persons who put themselves forward for election, to the extent that they would question their capabilities, attitudes, background from every angle and question also what they stand for. If the candidates pass that test, then of course they should receive votes. That is something to which very often not sufficient attention is paid in this country. Some lecture on politics taught me that democracy, of its nature, breeds mediocre parliamentarians. It is up to the electorate to be selective, to go into great depth in regard to the background of people offering themselves for election. Therefore I do not think that the dropping of the age of majority to 18 would make any difference in this respect.

Perhaps the sting has been taken out of the Opposition's criticism of the Bill, constructive or otherwise, by the fact that its provisions will not affect the social welfare or taxation legislation. I am sure we would have heard from the far side of the House had such measures been overlooked and the Bill would have received even more criticism. The exemption of social welfare legislation will ensure that persons who are entitled to social welfare payments for children between the ages of 18 and 21, who are in full time education, will not become ineligible. Additionally, the exclusion of taxation legislation will likewise ensure that a taxpayer will not lose his entitlement to any tax allowance in respect of any child up to age 21. That constitutes an enlightened provision in the Bill and one to be welcomed. I hope Members of this House will be given credit for ensuring that no hardship will be imposed as a result of the introduction of this Bill. Rather its provisions represent an honest attempt to put something right by reducing the age of majority.

Even though the age of majority will have been reduced it should be remembered that it will place much pressure on a section of our society which does not exist at present. For example, many young students who do not suffer deprivation, who live in secure homes, will not realise what is ahead of them. They will not realise what it is like to live in the world outside because they will not, as yet, have had an opportunity of having had that real experience. When this measure becomes law it will put pressure on them which they did not realise was there. One of the arguments in favour of bringing in this legislation is that it exists in other countries. Because we are west of Europe it may be that we are a little less mature than the people on the mainland but nevertheless this legislation needs to be brought in gradually. As it has to go to the Seanad, and may be back here again, there is time for an education programme to be undertaken using the facilities we have to enlighten the people who will be affected by this legislation. Apart from those reservations and words of caution I welcome the Bill.

I would like to take this opportunity to make a few brief observations about this measure. This is a welcome Bill which underlines the readiness of this country to embrace modern thinking with regard to the rights, entitlements and obligations that can appropriately fall on the heads of people of 18 years and upwards. A resolution of the Council of Europe, 1972, recommended this course of action. The age of majority was reduced in Britain and Northern Ireland in 1969 and a number of other European countries have since endorsed that action. It is now the turn of this country to embody that principle and I welcome it.

The Law Reform Commission Report referred to the Brehon laws. The more one knows of these laws the more one sees how wise they were in their own way. There was no basis in the Brehon laws for a mandatory age of maturation. One was subordinate legally as long as one lived in one's father's house and one was not entitled to enter into contracts but when one left one's father's house, whatever age one was, one took full legal responsibility for oneself. Any legislation that points to a specific age as being the age at which it is implied that one has political, legal or other responsibility embodies the idea that that is the age we collectively accept to be the age of emotional, psychological or other type of maturity. That is an arbitrary principle but one has to settle on some age and the age of 18 years is very much in line with modern thinking. The Bill and its implications allow access to people of 18 years to a whole range of rights but there are also obligations which are spelled out in the Law Reform Commission Report. The people affected by this legislation should acquaint themselves with the new responsibilities which rest on their shoulders. This legislation gives them a new and equal status with their adult peers but there are specific obligations which, if individual circumstances obtain in relation to certain cases, would fall quite heavily on their shoulders if the full rigour of this legislation is applied to them, for example, pursuing legal responsibility in relation to moneys borrowed and so on. I believe there is a need for some form of educational campaign. This is one of the areas that could be considered in the context of a review of the school curriculum.

I welcome the legislation but I want to refer to what I consider to be a possible omission. The general objectives of the legislation, apart from the specific rights and obligations involved, are to bring about specific changes in similar legislation affecting young people — all that has been spelled out by the Minister and the Law Reform Commission Report. There should be some way to communicate this body of information to the young people affected. The basis for the move towards incorporating this new legislation on our Statute Book goes back to Working Paper No. 2, 1977, Report on the Law Reform Commission. Relating to the Age of Majority, the Age for Marriage and Some Connected Subjects. That document forms the basic reference work for this legislation. From that there has been a logical progression to the present situation. As I mentioned, that document was entitled Report on The Law Relating to the Age of Majority, the Age for Marriage and Some Connected Subjects.

I would like to question whether the omission of the reference to the age of marriage in this Bill is important. I take the view that if it was possible or practicable it would have been better to have included specific reference to the age of marriage in this Bill. The Minister said he deemed it to be a separate matter, which it is to a large extent, but it is not a separate issue totally. The measure relating to the age of majority has an implication for the age of marriage because people will reach the age of majority at 18 years or at the age of marriage if it be under. The age of marriage is bound up with this. Point (g) of the Law Reform Commission summary of the implications of this measure says: "He may marry without the consent of his parents or guardians or of the President of the High Court" on the enactment of this legislation. We should not let an opportunity like this pass without this House spelling out its thinking on this very important issue.

Reducing the age of majority to 18 years with the implication that 18 year olds are increasingly responsible for their actions and should be deemed to be so in law is fine. However, the age at which young people enter into contractual obligations, which is the nub of this legislation, is a matter of concern in certain other respects. This legislation presents us with an opportunity to deal with that. I take the view that there is a major omission by the State in dealing with the age of marriage, that there is a serious crisis affecting teenage marriages in particular, about which no Member of this House would say he was ignorant and that ideally this could and should have been dealt with in this Bill. The Minister said that because this was not in the Bill did not mean that his mind was closed to the possibility of bringing about a change. That is welcome because it indicates he is showing an openness to be persuaded about the need for new measures if they are required.

On page 16 of the Law Reform Commission's Report they deal at some length with the need for a modern legislative approach to the marriage age. It said that as far back as 1960 there was a strong body of opinion in favour of raising the minimum age for marriage. It went on to say:

The United Nations Organisation was particularly concerned about the minimum age for marriage. Under the United Nations Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage (1962) it is provided that States who are parties to the Convention should take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage.

But they observed that Ireland had not yet acceded to that convention. The report continues:

In 1965 by General Assembly Resolution 2018 (xx) the General Assembly of the United Nations recommended that, where not already provided by existing legislative or other measures, each Member State should take the necessary steps to adopt such legislative or other measures as might be appropriate to give effect to the following principle: "Member states shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage, which in any case shall be not less than fifteen years of age; no marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where the competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouse."

In December 1967, it was suggested in the report of the Dáil committee on the Constitution that the existing marriage legislation might be thought to be discriminatory against certain religions and that committee made certain observations. This, too, shows that there was concern about this matter that far back.

It is interesting to note that subparagraph (c) of paragraph 41 of the report of the commission reads:

Section 18 gives power to the Minister for Health, by regulations made in the manner prescribed by the section, to substitute "18" for "21" in the Marriages (1) Act, 1844....

It goes on to refer to certain other legislation. It seems to me, therefore, that this change would not require new legislation but merely a regulation. No such regulation has been made. I would be interested to hear what the Minister's thinking is in this regard and on the likelihood of a measure which, together with giving increased statutory responsibility to people of 18 and upwards, would end the farcical situation that is blessed by the State, and very often by the Church, of young people of emotional and psychological immaturity engaging in marriages which inevitably break up quickly. I take the view that there is no ideal age at which it can be decided that one is suitable or otherwise for any major contractual undertaking but for the purposes of legislation such as this one must make reasonable and rational judgments. It is somewhat illogical that valid marriages can be entered into by people of 16 or 17. Though, theoretically, they are supposed to obtain consent, lack of such consent does not render the marriage invalid. Even with this modern legislation that we are introducing such young persons would not be entitled to enter into contractual obligations relating to hire purchase, for instance.

I consider it extraordinary that such a situation remains in respect of what is the most fundamental of human commitments with all its ensuing social and economic repercussions. Our approach to the seriousness of the marriage commitment is rather blinkered but this Bill affords us the opportunity of indicating clearly that there is a need for review in this respect, that we consider people of 16 and 17 too young to marry and that they should be discouraged from marrying. If possible, marriages at such an age should be outlawed.

We are now into an era in our social development where the very institution of marriage, its permutations and the norms we apply may have to change also. When we talk about marriage we talk first about a ceremony which is usually a religious ceremony combined with a State ceremony but increasingly young people take the view that one can make this sort of long term commitment to another without going through what they would regard as the formalities. Therefore, I do not believe that legislation is the answer but at least if the State is to be consistent it must bring its thinking into line in terms of the marriage age.

I am saddened at the large numbers of young people with whom I come in contact and who have either married or are contemplating marriage but who have no understanding of how serious a step marriage is. All of our systems of education appear to have failed these young people who mistake emotional infatuation or transient feelings with a desire to live for the rest of one's life with a person of the opposite sex. Shortly after such young people marry, reality dawns and in many cases the couple return to their respective homes. I had the experience of being invited to the marriage of teenagers, a marriage which lasted from Saturday afternoon until the following Monday afternoon. That is not typical. Not many of our young people would be so irresponsible. In that case everyone had a good time at the wedding. I did not attend but I felt that to facilitate the charade that that marriage was, was in effect to be deceitful and to rob those young people of their futures. The couple have been very muddled and unhappy since. They are trying to forget that unfortunate black spot in their lives. In November 1972 when the then Minister for Health, the late Mr. Childers, was dealing with the Second Stage of the Marriages Bill in the Seanad, he tabled two amendments, one of which was to reduce from 21 to 18 the age at which consent to marriage would be required and the other was to delete section 18 of the Bill. After hearing arguments, the Minister withdrew the amendments.

I am putting forward the suggestion that marriages between persons of between 16 and 18 years old ostensibly require consent but that that requirement is not observed. This is borne out by statistics. The number of applications to the courts for exemption orders or for consent to marriage is minimal in the context of the numbers of such marriages taking place. I am convinced that we should think about trying to bring about an improvement in the present legislation situation. Though this could be a matter for this Bill, I shall be happy if the Minister says this is not so but that in due course there will be a Bill on those lines. That would only mean our bringing our legislation into line with modern thinking and with thinking in Northern Ireland and in Europe on this matter. Wherever possible, provided we do not rob ourselves of some basic principle, we should try to be as facilitating as possible in relation to making our legislation run parallel with legislation in Northern Ireland.

The age at which a marriage can be contracted validly without the consent of a third person should be the same as the age of majority. There is no overriding evidence for that but it is logical and reasonable. In view of the fact that there is overwhelming statistical evidence in all those countries which publish such evidence that teenage marriages in general do not work, that more of them fail than succeed, we should bring the age of marriage without consent in line with the age of maturity.

I am pleased that this Bill is before us. The legislation will be a help to young people. It underlines the confidence that this House and the country generally have in them. I would consider it remiss of me to talk about a Bill relating to the age at which young people can enter into contractual arrangements without referring to the age at which they can enter into the contract of marriage. I regret that the report of the Law Reform Commission is not being implemented in total. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to the commission for the often turgid, always difficult and sometimes unrewarding work they have done.

I should like to pay a tribute to the Law Reform Commission for the often burgeoning and always difficult and unrewarding work which they do. They have been a rather isolated body but whether it is clear to all of us or not, the world is unfolding as it should be and the work of the commission is percolating into legislation. We owe them and the Minister a substantial debt of gratitude for preparing for the publication of the Bill which we hope will pass through the House.

There is a very urgent need to get some legal rationality into the marriage age so that we will end the present farce of young couples who could not in any way be seen to be emotionally or psychologically mature getting involved in marriage. They should be discouraged by all of us and by law from so doing, thereby avoiding lifetimes of trauma and hardship and sometimes worse. Anybody who has been with a counselling agency or who represents the urban areas will know the kind of hardship that can, but does not always, arise from such unhappy arrangements.

Limerick East): I thank all the Deputies who contributed for the various suggestions and comments. I am glad there has been general support for the Bill from across the floor. First of all, I will deal with some of the general issues raised to which many Deputies referred, and then pick some of the specific questions put by individual Deputies.

Deputies Woods and Shatter in particular, and other Deputies, including Deputy Keating today, queried the exclusion from the Bill of the Law Reform Commission's proposals relating to marriage. Generally speaking, the commission proposed that the free age for marriage should be 18 years — that is the age at which a person could marry without the consent of a third party such as a parent or guardian. They also considered whether the absolute minimum age for marriage should be fixed at 16 or 18 years. In their proposed legislation they opted for 16 years as the absolute minimum and recommended that a marriage contracted by a person under that age should be null and void. The consent of a parent or guardian or of a court would be required for marriage of persons between 16 and 18 years and absence of consent would invalidate the marriage.

Taking the Law Reform Commission's report and their section on the age of marriage, we are not talking about one age but two ages. At present the free age for marriage beyond which one does not need consent is 21 years, which is the present age of majority. One requires permission to marry from a parent or guardian between the ages of 16 and 18 years, but under the age of 16 years there is a provision whereby somebody intending to marry under that age must have a parent or guardian to apply to the President of the High Court.

Therefore, in effect we are dealing with three ages of marriage, the Law Reform Commission recommending two ages for marriage, the free age of marriage at 18 years and we have an age of marriage with consent between the ages of 16 and 18 years. We are debating an Age of Majority Bill and it is not as simple as saying that everything will happen at 18 years and nothing will happen under that age, whether marriage, legal contracts or sitting on a trade union committee or going into hire purchase agreements or taking out mortgages on houses.

Fundamentally there are two different questions and I intend to treat them as separate. By moving on the report recommendations on the age of majority I am not to be taken as inferring that I do not agree with the recommendation in regard to marriage but I am treating them as separate issues. They need to be examined seriously, especially because the report of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown is imminent. Newspaper reports have indicated that the committee have very strong views on the age of marriage. I presume that what they have decided already will not be changed but will be included in their final report. So it is appropriate to wait for the final report to see how it matches the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission and then have a debate on the appropriate legal age for marriage on a separate piece of legislation to deal with that matter.

I agree with Deputy Keating and others that it is a serious question to which parliamentarians should direct their attention quickly. I am separating the two issues for the reasons I have outlined. We will examine the matter and if change is appropriate we will be back with separate legislation. In regard to the free age for marriage, as Deputy Keating explained section 18 of the Marriage Act of 1972 already gives power to the Minister for Health to make regulations substituting an age lower than 21 years in regard to parental permission for marriage. Therefore, making 18 years the free legal age for marriage can be accomplished without legislation. If we decide that the age of majority should be the free age for marriage a regulation by the Minister for Health can regularise it and we do not need amendments here.

In regard to the minimum age for marriage, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a divergence of views about what the law should be in regard to marriages below the age of 16 years and marriages between the ages of 16 and 18 years. These proposals are not in any way related to what the age of majority should be and it is reasonable to suggest that we should deal with them separately. It would be undesirable to have provisions relating to such an important aspect of life contained in any legislation other than a Marriage Act. In the past marriage law has always been the subject of separate legislation and there does not appear to be any good reason why that principle should not apply in relation to the matters we are now discussing. The Oireachtas Committee report is imminent and we will have to look at that matter again.

Deputies Woods and O'Kennedy asked about continuing protection for young persons between the ages of 18 and 21 years and they referred to such protection in New Zealand in regard to certain transactions so that a court could intervene in certain circumstances. I appreciate their concern but it would defeat a major objective of the Bill, which is to give young people the right freely to enter into contracts at 18 years or on earlier marriage. It is easy to see that if there would be any possibility of a court intervening to upset a contract in certain cases it could result in lending agencies or traders being reluctant to deal with persons between the ages of 18 and 21 years. Therefore, if there is any possibility of intervention by the courts and if a person is anything less than totally free to enter into obligations, I do not think the lending agencies or traders would provide the facilities which young people might need between the ages of 18 and 21 years.

Deputy Woods asked why should a person be able to take out funds lodged in court at 18 years but not trust funds until the age of 21 years. There may be misunderstanding about what is involved. The provision in paragraph 3 of the Schedule relates to trust instruments made before the commencement of the Act. It is right that we should not interfere with the intentions of a person who set up a trust before the Act comes into force. That person would have taken account of the relevant provisions of the 1881 Act in deciding on the terms of the trust. The object of the paragraph is to preserve the trust instrument as it stood before the commencement of the Act. However, the paragraph includes an enabling provision to allow the trustees to pay income from the trust to the beneficiary at the age of majority. In addition to the powers already contained in the 1881 Act, the income can be paid to his parents or guardians for his maintenance or education.

Several Deputies asked about changing the age for membership of the Dáil and Seanad. This would require an amendment of the Constitution. Such a proposal could not have been included in this Bill because Article 46 of the Constitution provides that a Bill to amend the Constitution may not include any other proposal. A proposal to reduce the age for membership of both Houses to 18 years was not proceeded with in 1972 when the Constitution was amended to reduce the voting age to 18 years. It was decided that the age of membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas should remain at 21 years. In most EC states the age of election to parliament is higher than the voting age. In Belgium it is 25 as against 21 years; in Italy and the Netherlands it is 25 as against 18 years; in France it is 23 as against 18 years; in Luxembourg and the UK it is 21 as against 18 years.

Deputy Woods suggested I was being inconsistent in not considering adjustments of other age limits specified by law in line with the change in the age of majority. For example, he asked if I was considering a change in the age of criminal responsibility. First of all, it would not be appropriate to deal with the age of criminal responsibility in a Bill principally concerned with reform of the civil law. Furthermore, I would not wish to pre-empt any decision which the Minister for Health may take in relation to the age of criminal responsibility under the Children Bill. During the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill I made my position quite clear on this. The same Deputy spoke of the possibility of the Bill leading to a reduction in the maximum age of 21 years, not 19 years, up to which a young offender could be sent to St. Patrick's Institution, with the result that more juveniles would be mixing with older and more hardened criminals in Mountjoy Prison. It is not intended that the Bill should affect any age limit prescribed in legislation relating to imprisonment or detention. I will be putting down an amendment on Committee Stage to ensure this.

Deputy Myra Barry asked about persons over 18 years living at home who apply for dole payments and being assessed on the basis of parents' income. This Bill is not the appropriate one on which to deal with this point. It is relevant to social welfare legislation and the question of assessment of income under that legislation.

Debate adjourned.