I move amendment No. 14:
In page 17, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:
"(c) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary herein contained the provisions of this section shall not apply to the will of a testator who dies before the commencement of this Act, but shall apply to the will of every testator who dies after such commencement, whether the will was executed before or after that time.".
This is an extremely important amendment. It is concerned with the timing of the Actvis-á-vis the date on which a will is made. As the Bill stands, the benefits will not accrue to children under a will made before the date on which the Bill is passed. That is entirely contrary to the whole thrust of the measure. The Bill is designed to bring about as far as possible a position of equality by putting non-marital and marital children in precisely the same position, on the basis that they are all children.
This is a declaratory Bill. We are not creating a new situation. We are at long last recognising a fact, namely that all children are and should be in precisely the same position. To say that those children mentioned in a will made before the Bill is passed are to be treated differently is directly contrary to the substance of what we are about and it maintains a divide which could have very serious implications for many children.
When a man says in his will, "I leave my property to my children", that must mean his children, whether they are marital or non-marital; I do not mind when the will was made. We are giving recognition here after all these years to the fact that children are equal. We are recognising in this Bill that a parent has a responsibility to a non-marital child in precisely the same way as he has a responsibility to a marital child. He has that responsibility to a non-marital child, irrespective of the date on which he made his will.
Let us consider the case of a man who dies, having made a will five years ago leaving his property to his children. If the Bill is left in its original form, extra-marital children will be excluded from the terms of the will. That is entirely wrong and unjust, entirely contrary to the spirit of this measure. The normal rule of law which always applies is that a will speaks from the date of death. That has various implications but I know of no exceptions to it. The position should be that if a man leaves his property to his children, all his children should come under that description, regardless of the date on which the will was made.
Maybe the man who made the will might be annoyed. Let us say he comes back from the grave to complain about what we have done to him and that he appears here in skeletal form to complain. He claims that when he made his will he was referring to his marital children and that we have averted his intent by including his non-marital children. I would say to that cadaver if he reappeared in that situation, "Excuse me, sir, if this is an injustice that has been done, whose fault is the injustice? Is it the fault of your extra-marital child or was it your own fault? After all, was it not you who brought this child into existence? Therefore do you not have the same responsibility to that child as to your marital children?"
We all know that ignorance of the law is no excuse. People are presumed to know the law and if this Bill becomes law in its present form no doubt there will be a fair amount of publicity concerning the date on which a will is made. It is up to any person to amend a will if he is of a mind to do so. People are imputed with knowledge of the law and the law is given publicity by the media when measures are passed. Laws and promises are constantly changed and people have to cope with that situation. Undertakings are often changed by matters arising outside a person's control. I might mention as an aside that many people voted for Fianna Fáil in the last general election because of the express commitment that they would reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in national schools, only to find that the situation is quite the reverse. People set up in business when income tax may be at the rate of 40p in the pound but then it rises to 50p in the pound. They simply have to cope with that change.
A man may have made his will on a particular basis but if he wants to change it he can seek advice. Otherwise we are getting away from the essential current of equality which runs through this Bill. Equality is the essential factor. If we try to draw a distinction between non-marital children and marital children and disentitle the former from participation in their parents' estate because the will was made before the passage of this Bill, we are undermining the true purpose of this legislation. I commend the Government and the Minister for advancing this Bill so strongly but let us do the job properly. Let us accept the proposition of equality of marital and non-marital children. That is an admirable proposal. Let us adopt it 100 per cent and not have any ifs, buts, or any other reservations. We should accept that they are equal. When we say "children" we should say all children irrespective of whether they are marital or non-marital. What is so terrible about that? Are we not saying in the Bill that a child is a child, marital or non-marital?
The Minister has done well in bringing forward the Bill and is enunciating an admirable principle but he should do it properly without reservation, without begrudgery or detracting in any way from that principle. If he does so we will have a sounder piece of legislation that will bring the matter to a logical conclusion in all respects.