Civil Registration Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Prior to lunch the House discussed the Civil Registration Bill 2003 and how it relates to births and deaths. I pointed out that because most children are born in maternity hospitals the registrar is normally informed by a third party, which means the records are accurate. As regards deaths, most people die in the community rather than in hospital and a death certificate is often signed by the local general practitioner. The local GP may know his patients well, but that is changing and locum doctors often sign these certificates. A murder by a relative could be missed and the certificate signed.

However, it is far more important to have a number of checks and balances in the IT system being used to flag what I would describe as an Irish version of Harold Shipman. It should also be considered that an "angel of death" situation could arise in an Irish hospital as has happened in a number of countries, not just in the UK, but also in continental Europe, where someone working in an institution deliberately murdered a number of patients. The accuracy of records up to now has been maintained by a lack of movement within the population as well as good local knowledge, not only by GPs but also local officials. It is often the diligence of local officials that has rendered the records accurate rather than the strength of the legislation.

An individual such as Shipman could get away with murder because he was able to move around. Few controls were placed on him and he preyed on lonely, isolated people in the community. Clusters of murders carried out by so-called "angels of death" have also been recorded. These occurrences are picked up eventually, but they could be detected sooner if accurate records existed where an issue like this could be flagged and investigated. This is something that is not highlighted in any way in the proposed legislation. In regard to death certification, as the population gets older, the environment for this type of occurrence grows. All populations are now mobile, even the elderly. People often retire to different areas. With the breakdown of the social fabric there are not the same checks and balances in place which were common to settled communities. It was surprising that Shipman could kill people on the same street without anyone finding this unusual. This was simply because, unlike in an Irish community, people do not know each other's business in England because society has changed dramatically.

The Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, has been heavily criticised within the past two weeks for comments she allegedly made. At the conference on ageing at which she spoke, a large number of issues relating to financial and environmental concerns and the health of an ageing population were discussed. It would be far more appropriate for the House to debate these issues because they will come upon us much sooner than we think. For instance, many doctors and carers in the Irish health care system in years to come will not be family members or Irish citizens, but foreign nationals from other parts of the EU who have come here to an ageing society to look after our elderly patients. The year 2030 was given as the hypothetical date for when all the issues discussed at the conference would come about for Irish society. We might find ourselves extensively reviewing the legislation under discussion. It is not tight enough as regards the registration of births and deaths. Death registrations are important because of the implications of related criminal activity.

I would seek the strengthening of third party involvement in the record keeping to ensure that not only is it accurate but that there is less chance of misleading information being given to the registrar. This is something the Minister should keep in mind. As regards the PPS number, that is an important step forward, regardless of what people fear about the idea of an Orwellian society. Computers take numbers much better than letters and are far more accurate when registering data at official level. From now on people will enter and leave the world as a number. The implementation of the PPS number across a range of services might well be the Minister's contribution to an orderly society. It will be interesting to see how this turns out over the next few years.

This Bill is mainly about tidying up legislation, some of it dating back 160 years. If the legislation is being prepared for an era of electronic communication there is much scope for misleading information to be put in, from my reading of the Bill. If births and deaths may be registered practically anywhere, the need for stronger checks and balances should be considered to ensure that wrong information does not get into the system.

Since I became a Member of the Dáil I have sometimes considered how I might address the Chamber and contribute effectively to various debates. I learned today that responding to a fire alarm is an effective way to get Members of the House worked up and excited. Bearing in mind the type of legislation under discussion it was perhaps appropriate and, indeed, ironic. I am glad we all survived and I hope my colleagues opposite survived it as well.

I will preface my remarks on the Bill — I hope the Minister will not mind — by once again applauding the work she is doing. I have much contact with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan. She is always open to representations from colleagues throughout the House. I get many queries on social welfare in my constituency. Thank God, because of sound Fianna Fáil policy since we came back into Government in 1997 the unemployment figures have improved enormously so there is not as much strain on the resources of the Department as there was under other Governments.

Social welfare facilities in Tallaght have improved greatly over the years. As the Minister knows, we have a brand new social welfare office, a fully modernised building in the Square in Tallaght. It is part of the new Tallaght. Every day I pass it, including Saturday and Sunday, and it reminds me not only of the way Tallaght has progressed over the years for the benefit of the community, but also what has been achieved by various Departments. The Department of Social Welfare has not been found wanting so far as the provision of facilities and services for my constituents is concerned. The Minister is always open to suggestions from people whom I might describe as humble backbenchers. I hope to continue to play my role in that regard for a long time.

This type of legislation does not make headlines. However, it is very important because it relates to the cycle of life from birth through the tribulations of marriage and other processes and onwards to death. Like everybody else I have had occasion to search for certificates relating not only to myself but to my family. On one occasion I looked for a birth certificate for my grandmother who was born in Dublin in 1882, a different time as far as records are concerned. On another occasion when an elderly aunt died in London I spent several days trying to access certificates and it was quite a convoluted process. That brought it home to me that we are no worse than any other jurisdiction. Without meaning to be flippant, I often wonder why in the UK, as in other countries, it takes so long for funerals to take place. Certainly paperwork holds up the whole process and perhaps this is something we should appreciate. Whatever criticisms we may have about the system here, it has stood the test of time. It is timely to bring it forward into the modern era under the Minister's jurisdiction. The measures proposed in this legislation are part of that and will be accepted and appreciated by the general public.

I encourage constructive change and ongoing modernisation of the public service. In that context I welcome the Bill and its underlying objectives. There is a need for an accurate yet simple administrative system to record and maintain the key events in our lives, starting with birth, and continuing with what for some of us are major events and for others bumps on the way and, regrettably, our passing on. It would appear to most to be a simple procedure, but it has taken more than 59 pages to put it in a framework.

The Civil Registration Bill 2003 deals with the reorganisation and modernisation of the system of registration of births, stillbirths, adoptions, marriages and deaths, which is to be known as the Civil Registration Service. It also provides, as a sign of our times, for the extension of the system to decrees of divorce and decrees of nullity of marriage granted by the courts. This Bill will provide the framework for the development of a modern service that responds to the needs of a modern society and it will gain widespread support.

I was interested to learn that there are around 111,000 events registered, 500,000 certificates produced and 1.2 million searches and inquiries carried out each year on the existing system. Of the many Department and agency customer charters which we as Members of this House will be receiving this year alone as part of the ongoing modernisation of the Civil Service under the strategic management initiative, I will be watching out for this one and will read it again and again with great interest. I trust that the regular representations I receive about queuing and charges will become a thing of the past.

I come from a generation that understands the difference between the old ways and the new and it fascinates me that when I phone the Department of Social and Family Affairs I always get through and the staff are always very helpful. I am not suggesting other Departments are any different. It is fascinating that when one gives them simple information, for example, one's name, one hears a little click and all the information spews out. That is sometimes frightening for people of my generation and, I am sure, others. I do not want to draw anybody in the House, but it is good that this is the way we are operating. As long as Big Brother does not become too intrusive, and I do not know whether or not he has, it is good that we are able to access that kind of information. I suppose the day will come when we will be able to get every single detail we ever wanted to know about ourselves, and maybe details we did not want to know about, by pressing a button.

Other than the census, the civil registration record will form a basic continuous source of information about our population. Apart from providing a record of vital events regarding persons living in the State, the record also satisfies the need for evidence which has a bearing on our rights, entitlements, liabilities, status and nationality. With other data sources, it is very useful for many purposes, for example, the planning of schools, hospitals and housing.

I am never afraid to talk about my own constituency. I was elected at the last election, sent here by 7,155 people who voted for me. I am one of four Deputies in Dublin South-West. Lest Members have forgotten, that embraces the major population centre of Tallaght and also Firhouse, Templeogue and Greenhills. I hope the Minister is not suggesting she has forgotten where I came from.

I could not.

Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country. As even the Ceann Comhairle would know, there has been tremendous progress there over the years. He himself made a major contribution in the context of Tallaght Hospital. I make this point regarding the Bill before us because in places like Tallaght — other Deputies will speak about their own towns — information is always very important. Even though my town has progressed enormously since the Square opened 14 years ago, we still have needs for infrastructure and other facilities and the kind of information we are talking about here will be vital and help Departments to continue to provide the facilities we need.

While researching for the debate on this Bill, I was amazed to discover that the present system of civil registration was set down more than 150 years ago and that the registration procedures have remained largely unchanged since they were first introduced. Those of us who are privileged to have a role in public life are often fascinated by the sense of history it brings. When I was driving this morning from Tallaght, as I do every morning, I always drive down Clanbrassil Street towards Patrick Street. This morning I noticed that work is being done on St. Patrick's Cathedral and it occurred to me that when we are long gone — and hopefully none of us will be gone for a long time yet — those buildings which have been there for a long time will still be there. Thinking about that and the legislation before us brings a sense of our own history, where we have come from and where we are going. On my way to Leinster House this morning I was thinking about that.

I support the main objectives of the Bill which will rationalise the procedures for registering stillbirths and deaths and give responsibility for overall policy of the Civil Registration Service to the health boards. I understand this will include maintaining the standards of the service. Given the necessary changes that are imminent, I am totally convinced that it is correct to assign responsibility for the management, control and administration of the Civil Registration Service at local level to health boards. I will use my position on the Dáil committee to tease that out with the Minister and her officials. I speak as somebody who was privileged to serve on what was then the Eastern Health Board since 1994 and then as founder chairman of the South Western Area Health Board. The matters before us are something about which those of us who have the opportunity to serve on health boards are very well aware. In that context I am glad to welcome the Bill before us. The objectives to streamline existing procedures which govern the registration of adoptions, establish new registers of divorce and nullity of marriage and reform the procedures governing the registration of marriages are to be supported. I hope they will be supported across the floor.

With regard to the administration structures as set out in the Bill, I wonder aloud — if I am permitted to do so — at the need in these days of information technology for a multi-level breakdown of input to achieve a successful registration system. While accepting at face value a need for these levels, we are creating a new name or another bureaucracy to take over the existing one.

I noted with interest and support that this Bill will permit the civil registration office to provide information for specific purposes registered under the Act to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Revenue Commissioners, the Ministers for Social and Family Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Health and Children, Defence, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Transport, and the health boards and various housing authorities.

I look forward to the day when a civil servant at any location throughout the country will not have to ask the same basic questions when I give him or her my PPS number or, as I call it, my RSI number. Old habits sometimes die hard. I welcome that the current level of 500,000 certificates produced annually will be done away with sooner rather than later as a result of the new system which removes the need for certificates for most official purposes. I also note that it is proposed to share civil registration data held on the new national database with relevant Departments and agencies with a proven requirement for such data. Such sharing will be facilitated through the use of the personal public service number which shall be collected at the point of registration. This sharing of data will significantly reduce the need for certificates for accessing key public services, bring about greater efficiency in the use of resources and reduce the need for a person to provide the same information to several public agencies.

I also note that the various Departments and agencies will contribute to the provision of shared services. Section 59 provides for the charging of fees for searches of indexes relating to entries in the registration of births, deaths, marriages, divorces and civil annulments of marriage and for the provision of copies, including certificates, of entries in those registers. I trust the impact and effect of these charges will be minimal, will not serve to support inefficiency and will be accepted by the public as fair and equitable.

I am always pleased with the work done by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and her Department. Government is not the master of the people, rather it is the servant of the people. It is important the public has confidence in the various processes and systems available. We must continue to make departmental services user-friendly and I am glad the Department is doing so.

I get upset when people accessing public services have to do so in a public way. Local authorities and social welfare offices are now located in modern offices — I have already referred to the one in Tallaght — and should be places where people can do their business in private. In supporting the Minister and this legislation, I hope that particular ethos will continue to receive special attention from her Department. Such services should be user-friendly. Departmental officials should understand that members of the public often seek such services when they are most vulnerable or upset. We should create sympathetic environments and try to ensure their visit does not worsen their situation.

It is good when Government responds to the needs of the people. I am often impressed by the manner in which legislative programmes take account of public needs. I was impressed by this before I was elected to this House. We should legislate to support people and not aggravate or annoy them. We should create environments and processes of which the public can take advantage. I do not wish to be flippant but, if my grandmother were alive today, although she would be shocked by what I am doing, she would be somewhat surprised by the improvements in the system. My experience as a young person trying to obtain birth and death certificates for different people was that the system was a nightmare. I hope those days are gone. I am confident that this legislation will modernise the system and ensure it remains user-friendly. The public will be supportive in that regard.

I congratulate the Minister and her officials for the great work done on this legislation. I look forward to debating some of the amendments on Committee Stage. As a Government backbencher, I look forward to supporting the Bill and commend it to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Ring, who is elsewhere today. I wish him well.

He is badly missed.

This is important legislation. I have been asked by a number of people to seek that, where possible, the names of children are registered in English and Irish. Problems can arise in situations where people wishing to use the Irish version of their name are unable to do so because it is not recorded on their birth certificate. Such people do not have control in that regard because they are registered long before they have knowledge of it. I put that to the House at a time when there is a great deal of debate about our need to recognise the Irish language at EU and other levels. This is an area where we could provide that people can register their name in both languages.

If this legislation can lead to a more organised structure and better information, then it is to be welcomed. When health cards were issued to those over 70 years of age, we were told the scheme would cost in the region of £19 million, but the dramatic increase in numbers once applications were made illustrated that the statistics and information available to those concerned were not correct. We should streamline registration so that we can obtain the information we need at a minute's notice. The data available in the Minister's Department concerning the pre-1953 pension scheme was so out of date that it caused a severe headache for those involved. This Bill is being introduced to reorganise and modernise the registration of births, still births, adoptions, marriages and deaths. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states clearly that it is to satisfy the needs for evidence that has a bearing on rights, entitlements, liabilities, status and nationality, all of which are important in the context of the new structures into which we are entering with the expansion of the EU and the mobility of people generally.

It is also to be used as a data source for many purposes, such as the planning of schools, hospitals, housing and medical research into the causes and prevention of disease, which is important in regard to rural depopulation, which issue I have often addressed. The decentralisation programme is good because it shows we have structures in rural Ireland and that if we do not maintain the population, those structures will no longer be utilised and the State will have to spend enormous funds elsewhere in built-up areas.

The system will also provide a rich source of information for people tracing their family history and compiling family trees. As one living in Monaghan with an interest in the exodus to the USA and Canada in the past century and in famine times, I have seen many people coming from those countries to trace their ancestry. It is important for such people in the future that we make sure the data is as correct as possible and that all the information is as easily accessible as possible because it will encourage people to come back here to discover their roots and relatives. At present, they can be faced with great difficulties in that regard. For example, in the Border area, some of the documents were burned, which will hopefully never happen to the new computerised system.

The issuing of death certificates can cause enormous problems, which the Minister mentioned in passing at a meeting the other day. Death, especially in tragic circumstances, is difficult for families but if they are left in a position where they cannot get their own money, it is of major consequence. The Minister's Department is sympathetic in this regard and will accept a death notice or a record of the death in the local newspaper. However, I recently experienced a case in which a person had a small account in a bank and had to go through an amount of red tape to get €1,500 released, which was provided by the deceased to help with her burial.

We should be able to find another means of registering a death. I understand that for all sorts of legal reasons, we must have the coroner's report in some cases and so on, but there must be some interim measure which could make the process less traumatic for the families concerned. This does not happen in many cases but sometimes spouses are joint account holders and so on. I have come across individual cases and if anything can be done in this regard under the Bill I would appreciate it.

Although it does not affect me personally, as a public representative I am delighted to hear about the provisions in regard to child benefit. It has been a major issue, although not as much recently. Several years ago, there were often waiting periods of several months to get child benefit. I am delighted the Minister has allowed for a minimum amount of paperwork in respect of a first child in the family and that for the second child and subsequent children, payment can be made automatically. This is a major step forward and I congratulate the Minister and her staff on it. Where necessary, I criticise the Minister, but this is a major step forward because it can be a traumatic experience for families and it is important they get every penny they can as quickly as possible.

I am interested that all the data for registration can be dealt with in respect of any place in any office, since I am one of those who was born outside my area. If I need a birth certificate, I have to get it somewhere else — I do not want it mentioned too broadly, but I was born in Drogheda.

A Cheann Comhairle, the Deputy is from Louth.

I am of Louth decent.

The Deputy could have played football for Louth.

It is far worse in many cases where people have to deal with long distances. In that context, I welcome the proposed provision.

I read some of the headlines of last night's speech by the Minister in which she referred to the streamlining of the system through extended opening times, which is important because currently both people in a couple often work and it can be difficult for them to get to an office during standard office hours. Flexibility, as is the case for example with the banks which now open at lunch time, could mean a great deal to such people. The Minister also referred to red tape, to which I have referred, as well as the nationwide standard for registering life events and the fact that they can be dealt with at any office or from any place.

My job in opposition is to question issues in a realistic, constructive manner rather than a negative one. However, the sharing of data with Departments and agencies worries me. We are all conscious that much can be put on computers, but where does it end up? I would like a guarantee, if that is possible, that solid restrictions will be put in place. One only has to look at the case last week in which an obscene picture of a young girl was flaunted around the country through our new modernised structures, which is completely unacceptable. Mobile phone companies tell us these are some of the things we must expect.

In the case of a death, a person had to apply for a bereavement grant and perhaps a widow's or widower's pension, and had to have all the papers for both applications. Thankfully, one set of papers will now fulfil the requirements and they can be transferred from one office to another. The sharing of data is vital in such circumstances.

People and organisations receive unsolicited literature because they may appear on a database which has been released for a few bob. People quickly get sick of the stuff coming in their doors just because they are members of the IFA or some other organisation. While that does not affect me or the Minister, lonely people in rural areas do not know what the literature is about or how the people sending it got their names. They become worried about how their name appeared on the list.

When will the General Register Office be decentralised to County Roscommon? That has been promised for a long time.

We are delivering.

People in Roscommon question when it will happen. If other offices can be decentralised, we will accept them in north Monaghan. People claim to be well represented but other areas have done better than north Monaghan and even Government colleagues are annoyed that only 25 jobs will be decentralised to the area.

The Minister referred to the reduction in demand for paper certificates. I welcome the thrust of the legislation, which is extremely constructive. A new administrative system will be established but it is amazing how quickly circumstances change. Sections 14 and 15 provide for the establishment of local registration offices, which will be health boards, and they, in turn, will appoint a register superintendent. However, by June, the health boards will be dead and gone and new structures supposedly will replace them by next January. Will a new structure be established under the legislation that will have to be changed within six or 12 months? Changes are sought in regard to dealings with the registration system currently and that may result in more difficulties. I appreciate the Minister will do everything to resolve that issue. There is no need to set up new structures within the health boards immediately.

The registration of adoptions is a delicate issue that must be dealt with in a flexible manner. I dealt with the case of lady living in a mobile home who had no money good, bad or indifferent. She was not from my area and I do not know how she got my name. However, she contacted me and told me that her adopted son was living somewhere in the US. She had tried to locate him through the authorities who had organised the adoption but she could not get assistance from them unless she paid for it. This woman was not in a fit condition to travel and she had not wanted anyone to know about the child until after her husband's death.

My secretary had a telephone conversation with the lady and decided that we should follow up the case. It took a few years but with the help of the Catholic Church in the area in which her son was residing in the US, he was traced. The lady and her son were absolutely delighted. The son wrote a personal letter to me as he thought I had pursued the case and not my secretary. However, this case opened a new area to me. The lady had been forced to give away her son in the early hours of his life and she could not trace him for many years. However, throughout her life she wanted to do so. His name had been changed after he arrived in the US and that created more difficulties. While this is a delicate issue, if a parent wishes to trace a child orvice versa, that must be made possible, provided the two parties agree. I had to deal with one case and I am sure there are others.

I welcome the change in the marriage registration structure, which is important, particularly the provision whereby groups who could not carry out their own marriage ceremonies heretofore will be permitted to do so. The Elim Pentecostal Church in my area can hold a religious service in its own building but marriages must be registered with an independent registrar. I welcome this change and the acceptance of the reality on the ground.

The marriage pattern in Ireland has completely changed. More than one third of babies are born to single mothers. As a society, we must be careful in this area but the implications for the future are serious. The partner should be registered not only from a financial perspective but also from a historical perspective, particularly in terms of the information that will be available to a child about his or her parents or a potential liaison between a parent and a child in the future.

I welcome the changes in the legislation but we cannot ignore the difficult time into which we have moved with so many births out of wedlock and so few records kept, as has been the case in the recent past.

I welcome the Bill. A comprehensive registration system is an essential tool for the State, as the data it contains forms a vital and permanent source of information about the population. It is necessary because it provides evidence of events relating to people that are essential for the provision of rights, entitlements, liabilities, status and nationality. Certificates obtained from the civil registration process are needed for many elements of life in Ireland such as sending a child to school, obtaining a passport and claiming social welfare.

Due to technological and social changes in society, it is important to move with the times and modernise the civil registration process. There have been few changes since 1864 when the service was established and society has changed since. I welcome the modernisation process which is being jointly carried by the Departments of Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs. This major undertaking will result in the introduction of modern technology to the civil registration process and the reform of legislation. This modernisation is essential for the improvement of service to customers and it will lead to a reduction in red tape, which will be welcomed throughout society.

I am delighted the roll out of the new civil registration scheme is under way and it is operating in five health board areas. I look forward to the completion of the implementation process this year. Until now, the registration and certification processes were manual and time consuming. I am sure every citizen will welcome a new and more efficient process. It is essential that the Government provides services to the people in the most efficient manner possible. E-Government is an essential tool in delivering services swiftly to the people.

Another essential initiative in the modernisation process is the establishment of the REACH inter-agency messaging service initiated by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. This organisation has been instrumental in the delivery of e-Government. Its development of an inter-agency messaging service is an important step forward. This service is being used to transfer registration data between the civil registration system, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Central Statistics Office, and it will make death registration data available to other Government agencies from the end of this month. The service will, without doubt, play an important role in cutting red tape, saving time and delivering a more efficient and effective service to the public.

Parents of every child born since September 2003 will already have some experience of the positive effects of the modernisation process. The redesign of child registration ensures that all new birth registration data are transferred electronically to the Department of Social and Family Affairs from the civil registration computer system. This facilitates the allocation of a personal public service number to a child at registration and, as a result, enables a child's public service identity to be created. It also allows the creation of family links on the national central database of all citizens — the centre's record system — and facilitates the initiation of the child benefit claim for first-born children and the automatic payment for second and subsequent children in the family. This is an important step and will be of great assistance to parents. Customers availing of the e-enable service no longer have to source and complete a multi-paged paper application form and supply a paper birth certificate. They simply have to register the baby's birth to set the process in motion.

The Bill is an important part of this modernisation process. There are many technical aspects to it. However, there is also a human element. Sections 28 and 29 provide for the registration of stillbirths. In future, parents or a relative may register the stillbirth within 12 months. That should be compared with the present situation where only parents can register the stillbirth and they must do so within 42 days. These new provisions are being introduced to allow the family of the child more time to undertake the necessary registration procedures while, at the same time, coping with their loss.

This is an exceptionally important component of the Bill. The loss of a child is the most traumatic and tragic thing that could happen to a parent. In the natural course of life events babies are least of all expected to die. The loss of a baby through stillbirth can be overwhelming and devastating for parents as well as for family members and friends. Although such feelings are surprising to some, the stillbirth of a baby is a great loss, as great as the death of an older child or any loved one.

When stillbirth occurs parents who have been anxiously awaiting a baby suddenly are not. It is natural for them to grieve deeply for the baby who has died and for the hopes, dreams and wishes that will never be. They may feel a strong sense of sadness, anger or, occasionally, bitterness at the unfairness of this tragedy. There is usually nothing anyone did to cause a stillbirth or could have done to prevent it, yet parents may feel guilt, and blame themselves for the death of their baby. Parents may also experience feelings of loneliness, longing, helplessness or, because of the intensity of their emotions, confusion. These emotions are real and a normal part of grieving.

Grieving is a process of making meaning out of loss and of life without a baby. It is not easy. It is long, unpredictable and requires much energy. Parents and family members need time to grieve since grieving is necessary to work through pain towards healing.

The last thing many parents need at this traumatic time is the pressure of registering the death of their lost child. It is a welcome amendment that the parents themselves no longer have to register the death. I also welcome the fact that the time limit for registration has been extended so that parents and family members can take the time to come to terms with the death of their child and go through the grieving process. This is one of the many positive aspects of the Bill.

Part 6, which deals with notification and registration of marriages, and Part 7, which deals with the registration of decrees of divorce and nullity, are welcome. The present system of getting married is, from a bureaucratic point of view, complicated and difficult to follow. First, there is the notification of intention to marry and how a couple can be granted an exemption to this notification. It is interesting to note that, during the period 2000 to 2002, more than 3,200 exemptions to this process were granted by the courts. Second, there is the form of licence granted for marriage and how that licence may be obtained. The provisions in this area are not universally applicable to all denominations and so different requirements are imposed on people who wish to marry, depending on the rites of the various churches and religious denominations to which they may belong. There are also differences in the privileges accorded to religious bodies with regard to the issuing of licences for marriage.

As such, the procedure that must be followed by a couple intending to marry is determined by the denomination of the church in which the marriage is to be solemnised. As if this was not complicated enough, there are also different procedures for obtaining a marriage licence or, in some cases, a registrar's certificate without licence.

Society has changed enormously in the past 20 to 30 years, especially in terms of our mobility, and the current residency rules impose an artificial border on couples who intend to marry. The rules covering licences for marriage are complex. Couples wishing to marry may find them difficult to understand as may, to some extent, those involved in the issuing of licences. The system needs to be simplified so that it can be administered more easily and made much more transparent. This Bill achieves all these ideals.

These reforms will ensure that marriage, which is an important and solemn contract, is understood by society in general and especially by the couple getting married who are the main people in the contract. It will mean there is a standard universal civil procedure for all marriages in the State. Should people, because of their religious beliefs, wish to have their marriage carried out at a religious ceremony as well, that is their right and is not affected by the Bill.

The Bill represents an essential step forward in regulatory reform. It provides the first major reform of civil registration since it was introduced in 1845. Citizens will benefit from the Bill as it will cut down on red tape and stress and save time. The Bill is essential for the modernisation of the civil registration service. We must meet the needs of our fast moving and swiftly changing society and the Bill plays an important role in achieving this aim. It is an essential element in the Government's overall strategy of improving public services and can only be welcomed by all. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to address some of the points raised in the Bill. This legislation is long overdue. By looking at the Acts referred to at the start of the Bill, it is possible to see how long overdue this legislation is. It refers to the Marriages (Ireland) Act 1844 and the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851. A number of other Acts from the century before last are amended or repealed by this legislation. Society has changed dramatically in the intervening period and it is imperative that we modernise the legislation.

The Bill aims to establish a reorganised and modernised system for the registration of births, marriages and deaths. It proposes new rules for the registration of marriages and proposes to introduce arrangements for the registration of annulments and divorces. The Bill also provides for the decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon town. This has been a 13-year decentralisation process, a matter to which I will return later.

The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002 allowed for direct electronic registration of births and deaths and the electronic holding of birth, death and marriage records. The Civil Registration Bill 2003 proposes other changes. The new system should reduce the need to have a physical certificate. It should not be necessary to have a birth or death certificate, as the State agency through the use of the PPSN should be able to access electronic records of such a birth or death. The Department of Social and Family Affairs is in a position to allow mothers to automatically receive their child benefit once the child's birth is registered.

When the Bill is enacted, births can be registered at any office and must be registered within three months of the birth. This means the parents can register the birth of their child in the county of origin and not the location of the maternity hospital. This will be a welcome development in counties like Roscommon where we have no maternity hospital. It will also be possible to register deaths anywhere and the time limit will be extended from five days to three months. The existing five-day procedure is completely impractical and I am glad to see this changed.

What will happen when the Hanly report is implemented and many children are born on the sides of roads on the way to University College Hospital in Galway or Cavan General Hospital? How will the legislation deal with that? This matter needs to be recognised at this stage.

I note the Bill proposes no changes relating to registering the father's name where he is not married to the mother. There are many difficulties regarding this matter at present and I hope the Minister for Social and Family Affairs can address some of them in her response. It is possible to have two children of the same parents the first of whom was born prior to marriage and registered in the mother's surname as the father was not registered at the time. The second child might be born after marriage and registered in the father's surname. Two such children with the same parentage end up with different surnames. There should be a simplified mechanism to have the first child's surname changed to ensure that both children have the same surname.

There are cases where a woman might be informally separated from her husband, who is subsequently found to be uncontactable. If such a woman has had a child with her new partner, his name cannot be registered on the birth certificate as the mother is not legally separated from her husband for ten months and the husband cannot be traced to make the required declaration. In such cases simplified procedures are required. Society now has different family structures as mentioned by some of my colleagues earlier and we need to have the flexibility to address such problems as they arise. It is difficult for those who drafted this legislation to think of every possible permutation and address it in the legislation.

The Bill provides for changes to the rules for the registration of marriages. At present the rules are complex and there are different rules for marriages celebrated in accordance with certain religious rights. At present health boards have the responsibility for the registration of births, stillbirths, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages. The registration of all other marriages is the responsibility of the civil registrars. In its current format the process can be extremely unwieldy and complex. I welcome the more streamlined approach that is proposed on which I commend the Minister and her officials.

I would like the Minister to reconsider section 49(2), which requires that the marriage be registered within one month of the marriage ceremony having taken place. While the individuals do not have to be present at the registration, I ask the Minister to consider extending this timeframe even to six weeks or two months. In my experience many couples take a long honeymoon, perhaps going to places like Australia for a month. When they return, the time may have elapsed when they get around to checking with the priest or other party who was given responsibility for making the registration. There should be flexibility to ensure that couples, with whom responsibility lies, can be registered. Deputy Neville voiced concern over marriages that are not registered. The window should be widened to allow a couple go away for a long honeymoon and be able to register their marriage when they come home.

I welcome the proposed appeals procedure. At present there is no formal appeals system. While it is possible to go before the courts for a judicial review of a registrar's decision, this is an extremely expensive process and many of those who require changes to be made do not have the resources to do so. They are forced to leave the registration as it stands. I understand this legislation will allow a registrar's decision to be appealed in writing before a number of different boards before having to go through the court system. This is a positive development in the streamlining of the system. As a result of the fact that the existing legislation is so archaic it has been virtually impossible to get the kinds of changes that may be required to have births and marriages properly registered. It is positive that both annulments and divorces can now be registered to avoid having a duplication of marriage certificates, etc.

The Bill provides for the decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon town, which was announced nearly 12 years ago. However, it will take until at least 2005 for the remaining 25 staff of a total complement of 50 to come to Roscommon. This is a very welcome development especially for the 197 civil servants already on the transfer list for the 25 positions. The list comprises two principal officers, two higher executive officers, 42 executive officers, 22 staff officers, 118 clerical officers and one service officer. There should be no delay in transferring the GRO to Roscommon town, as there are many civil servants who are prepared to transfer. There was a debate earlier today on decentralisation and the point was raised that many civil servants are not willing to transfer. However, the latter has not been the cause of the delay in completing the decentralisation of the GRO to Roscommon town. Will the Minister explain why it has taken 13 years for this decentralisation to be completed?

I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Finance that 230 additional civil servants from the Land Registry will be decentralised to Roscommon town. How long will it be before this decentralisation is completed? Based on the current record of decentralisation to County Roscommon, it will take up to 60 years for those 230 civil servants to be transferred there.

The Minister for Finance's allocation of €20 million to implement the new round of decentralisation is disingenuous because that amount would not even cover the cost of removing furniture from many of the Departments in Dublin. There is no timetable in place and no provision has been made in the Government's five-year capital programme. This raises questions about the commitment of the Government to deliver on the second round of decentralisation. It seems the Minister provided himself with an opt-out clause. He stated clearly in his budget speech that staff would be transferred on a voluntary basis. In other words, if the staff do not move, there will be no decentralisation.

The people of Roscommon do not want decentralisation to become a cynical promise to help many Fianna Fáil candidates face the wrath of the electorate on the doorsteps during the coming months. It is, therefore, imperative that the Government provides the detail of and the timetable for decentralisation prior to the local elections.

Hear, hear.

I am, however, amazed that the Government ignored both north and west Roscommon in considering the decentralisation programme. Both areas could easily cater for the demand by civil servants to move to County Roscommon. At present there are 553 applications from civil servants to transfer to the county and only half of these people will be catered for under the current announcement in respect of Roscommon town. The Government can facilitate decentralisation to the towns of Boyle, Ballaghaderreen and Castlerea. If it is having difficulty in attracting civil servants to take up positions in other parts of the country, but there are many who are prepared to transfer to Roscommon and they should be facilitated.

The towns to which I refer already have the key infrastructure required for the new round of decentralisation. Serviced land and public private partnerships are available for the construction of office facilities. Problems would not be posed in this regard. Broadband technology is in place, as is the relevant sports, recreational and social infrastructure. A substantial amount of land has been zoned for residential use so the Government does not have an excuse not to decentralise to these towns. My colleague, Deputy Finneran, will be able to vouch for that when he makes his contribution.

Why were the towns of north and west Roscommon not included? The Taoiseach gave the impression that Boyle would be included in any decentralisation programme. In addition to the facilities I have outlined, Boyle is also unique in that it has available a free site which it offered to the Department of Finance for decentralisation to the town. The chamber of commerce in Boyle was informed by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, that Boyle and Claremorris were on a par when it came to decentralisation. Claremorris received 150 civil servants, while Boyle received none. What is the big difference between these towns? What swung it for Claremorris? What criteria were used to select the towns and how did Boyle fall short? The Government cannot ignore some of the most deprived areas in the country and must allocate some of the remaining staff available to the towns of Boyle, Ballaghaderreen and Castlerea. I ask the Minister to address the points I have made regarding the delay in decentralising the final 25 civil servants from the GRO to Roscommon town and the criteria laid down in respect of the new round of decentralisation.

Deputy Neville spoke at length about sections 23 and 24 of the Bill. These provide for the registration of the father's details on the birth certificate at the time of registration. I agree with Deputies Neville and Crawford that it is a child's right to know the identity of both parents, regardless of whether they are married. As Deputy Crawford stated, one third of all births in the State at present are to single mothers. Children have the right to know both their parents. The names of both parents should be placed on birth certificates and children should have access to these and to both of their parents, save in exceptional circumstances where there may be violence involved or where, for some explicit reason, a child should not have access to one or other of his or her parents.

It would be important for a child to be aware of hereditary medical conditions. When one attends one's GP or a specialist, the first thing one is asked is whether there is a history of heart disease or cancer in one's family. Children who do not know the identity of one or other parent cannot answer such questions. It is important, not purely form the point of view of the child but also from that of the community as a whole, that such information is freely available and accessible because it may prove of benefit.

It is sad that the current structures relating to rent allowances, single parent allowances and tax do not encourage couples to live together. The system is stacked up in favour of couples and parents of children living apart. This is something we, as a society, must address and ensure that we encourage as many people as possible to live together where it is beneficial for children. In 99% of cases, it is beneficial for children to have access to both parents. The Minister's Department announced prior to Christmas that in cases where couples are claiming rent allowance, if one goes out to work, they will be automatically disqualified. Their income, regardless of the amount involved, is not taken into consideration, nor is the fact that there could be a number of children involved. Disallowance is based purely on the fact that an individual is working. We are going in the opposite direction to that in which we should be going. We should be trying to encourage people to live together as couples and rear their children, rather than forcing them apart. The system, whether it be structures relating to rent allowance or tax, forces people apart.

Members on all sides need to consider this matter and address it because it is tearing the fabric of society apart. There are many couples who would love to cohabit or reside together but the system is stacked against them. It is critical that we look at that situation and see if we can put structures in place that will keep people and communities together rather than breaking them up.

I intend to ask the Minister, on Committee Stage, to consider the issue of DNA testing which could, in some cases, resolve issues relating to parentage. Let us consider, for example, the case I outlined earlier of a person whose husband left her a number of years ago and who was not contactable. If there was a procedure in place where a DNA test could be carried out to prove the parentage rather than obliging people to undergo the entire court procedure, it would help to simplify matters. DNA tests are commonplace.

They are a recognised system of tests. We must ensure that legislation such as this is as flexible as possible to encourage people to register the details that are relevant to a child's birth or a couple's marriage. It should facilitate couples living together in a relationship and rearing a child on that basis.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Finneran. The Civil Registration Bill 2003 is an essential step forward for registration services in Ireland. It is an attempt to modernise the recording of events as one goes through life, from birth to death. It recognises the events that were irrelevant in earlier years, such as annulments and divorces. An extremely important element of the Bill is the removal of the bureaucracy of administration currently involved in the registration process.

Civil registration touches on all of us at vital points in our lives, beginning with the registration of our births and ending when our deaths are registered. Between those events, civil registration affects us both directly, as in the case of marriage, or indirectly, when certificates are required for many of the services that are available in our society, such as enrolling a child in school, obtaining a passport, taking up employment and claiming a social welfare payment, to mention a few. It is a fantastic development that we will now be able to use, and have information on, these subjects at the touch of a button instead of the old way of visiting and writing to various offices, seeking the register and receiving short and long certificates.

In 2003, more than 110,000 life events were registered, half a million certificates were produced and approximately 1.2 million searches of registration records were carried out. The new provision will see a single interaction with a public service agency replace the slow and tedious processes that used to be associated with registration. The redesign of child benefit, for example, sees all new birth registration data transferred electronically to the Department of Social and Family Affairs from the civil registration computer system. Parents will now simply have to register the baby's birth to set the process in motion. This highlights one of the key improvements in customer service.

Part 3 of the Bill provides for the registration of births and stillbirths. The principal responsibility for registering a birth will remain with the parents, who will be required to register the event within three months of the birth. To facilitate parents in fulfilling this obligation, the present time limit of 42 days will be extended to three months. In future, births may be registered with any registrar as opposed to the present system where a birth can only be registered by the registrar of the district in which the birth occurred.

This is a welcome move as many new parents have little time available in the first few weeks of the child's life as they are extremely busy getting to know the new member of their family. It is helpful that the pressure has been taken off these parents to register their children so quickly after birth. It may save some parents money as, in the past, parents who did not get the chance to register the birth of their children within 42 days faced a fine. As a result of this change, parents will have more time to register the birth, causing them less stress at a significant time in their lives.

The time limit to register stillbirths has been extended from three to 12 months and parents no longer have to register the stillbirth. Relatives of the parents can register if the parents feel that they cannot do so. This is an extremely important element of the Bill. The last thing many parents need when they lose a child is the pressure of registering the death of their lost child. It is a welcome amendment that now the parents do not have to register the death. I also welcome the fact that the time limit for registration has been expanded so that parents and family members can take the time to come to terms with the death of their child and go through the grieving process.

Sections 23 and 24 of the Bill allow a birth to be re-registered to include the father's details where they were not entered in the register at the time of registration. This is a helpful aspect of the Bill. In the past, once the ink was dry on the birth certificate one could not change any aspect of what was written. This did not take account of the changing situations that can occur.

This Bill represents the Government's commitment to modernisation. It will cut down on bureaucracy and time wasting and will be of great assistance to every Irish citizen in the future. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Minister's comments on Second Stage outline the objectives of the Bill. She said:

This Bill represents the first major reform of civil registration legislation since it was introduced in Ireland in 1845. It is also a clear demonstration of Government's commitment to regulatory reform. This means that all stakeholders — citizens, service providers and Government — will share in the benefits.

The modernisation of the Civil Registration Service is essential, both in its own right as it seeks to meet the needs of a modern society, but also as part of the Government's overall strategy of improving public services. It heralds a new era for civil registration through the introduction of electronic registration and electronic registers.

Those few sentences explain the content of the Bill. It is time that the legislation and the process of civil registration were updated. I welcome the provisions of the Bill in so far as they address and combine the different strands that operated in this process until now.

The legislation does not interfere with the current officeholders, which is welcome. Such an assurance is always necessary when dealing with and making changes in the public service. It is important that the status and position of existing officeholders are not affected and that is clear in the Bill.

The divisions of responsibility are also clear. I welcome the involvement of the health boards, which are now to be known as local registration authorities. They have clear responsibilities and that will be welcomed by people in general. I am not sure what the situation will be in the reformed health board structure that is envisaged but the Minister can address that in her reply.

The proposals by the Minister for Health and Children relating to health boards must dovetail with this proposal. Certain functions will be delegated to superintendent registrars. The maintenance of registers of births, stillbirths, adoptions, deaths, marriages, decrees of divorce and decrees of nullity of marriage is part of the new Bill, which draws together the different aspects of civil registration. It provides for the continuation of the office of serving registrars, which is important. We must be conscious of that in any reforming legislation.

The Bill takes into account the Family Law Act 1995 which deals with the fact that notification of marriage must be made three months prior to the intended date, except in certain circumstances. Certain exemptions are also included. I was interested in Deputy Naughten's suggestion that the one month time limit for the completion of marriage notification should be extended. That suggests his honeymoon will be a round the world trip.

I will be around to keep an eye on the Deputy.

I wish him well whenever it happens. I am sure that will be well received by many people.

I will be back in plenty of time.

Regarding the registration of births, I welcome the co-ordinated structure being put in place. It is important that births may be registered with any registrar as opposed to the present system where a birth can only be registered by the registrar of the district in which the birth occurred. I welcome the provision to extend the time limit for registration from 42 days to three months. The procedures for the registration of the birth of an abandoned newly born child are of vital importance. I welcome the procedures for the registration of a child's father's details where the parents of the child are not married to each other. Re-registration or late registration functions will be delegated to a superintendent registrar at local level. These are tactical measures in the legislation, which must be welcomed. The Bill also deals with the registration of certain births which occur on board an aircraft or at sea. We do not often think about such occurrences. I must commend those who drafted the Bill on their thorough work.

Regarding the registration of stillbirths, little was said about stillbirths in the past. However, I am glad that maternity hospitals and other organisations now provide an opportunity and a forum for people who have suffered such a loss to express their grief. I am glad that the time limit to register a stillbirth has been extended from three months to 12 months because it is a traumatic time for parents. Three months was too short because people were not in the frame of mind to deal with such an important matter. The fact that a qualified informant may include a relative of the parents in some circumstances is a practical way to deal with the matter.

On the registration of adoptions, I welcome the fact that there will be a single register for adoptions. The Adoption Board will act as the registrar. The Bill also provides that information contained in the register of adoptions, or an index, which links this register and the register of births will not be available to the public except by order of the Adoption Board or a court order. These are important practical issues which had to be dealt with in legislation. I am sure other issues may arise in the future. Members have raised issues on Second Stage which will be addressed on Committee and Report Stages. The legislation is thorough and seems to cover all the necessary areas.

Regarding the registration of deaths, a death may be registered at any registrar's office. That is important. The time limit for registration has been extended from five days to three months, which is a practical provision in the legislation. Another practical provision is that the list of qualified informants has been extended to include undertakers. The registration of a death which occurs on board an aircraft or at sea will be dealt with in the same way as the registration of a birth. I welcome the provision which allows a coroner to authorise the disposal of a body in certain circumstances prior to the registration of a death. That may happen in exceptional cases, but it is important that it is covered in the legislation.

On the registration of divorces and nullity of marriage, a new register for decrees of divorce and civil nullity has been introduced. The Courts Service will act as the registrar in this regard because that is where the records will be kept.

Other provisions are included relating to an appeals system and to the correction of entries in the register. The Bill also deals with offences, penalties and fees, which are part of any legislation. The Bill removes the need for paper certificates for Government services, such as child benefit which was mentioned by other speakers. That accounts for approximately 40% of the total certificates issued. The Bill also deals with birth records for the purpose of allocating a personal public service number for a child and the processing of child benefit claims and it facilitates the use of marriage and death records for controlled purposes. I welcome all the provisions in the legislation which incorporate all aspects of civil registration.

As a Government Deputy for Roscommon, I am interested in civil registration because the General Register Office is located in Roscommon town. While the policy decision to implement that was taken in 1992, nothing happened until 1997 or 1998 when the Government facilitated the transfer of 30 civil servants to temporary accommodation. Part of an industrial unit was renovated by the Office of Public Works to accommodate them.

It is a wonderful service because all the records are computerised. The facility was praised at a recent Government press conference. I am told it is one of the finest facilities in Europe. It has protection instruments which allow it to operate in a way which would not be possible in other parts of the country.

Construction began recently on a new Government office block in Roscommon town. It is expected to be finished before the end of 2004.

All the civil servants already in the town, including those in the General Register Office, will move into this fine new facility, which cost €10.5 million to build. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, who cleared the office block for Roscommon and provided the finance, laid the foundation stone at the end of last year. It will be a state-of-the-art, 50,000 sq. ft. Government office block which will accommodate civil servants already there from the Departments of Agriculture and Food and Social and Family Affairs, and from the Revenue Commissioners. It will also take in the General Registry Office which will bring approximately 25 more civil servants to Roscommon. The Land Registry with 230 civil servants will also move to Roscommon. I was pleased to see an advertisement in the newspaper at Christmas for submissions to be in by 16 January for office accommodation. That is on target and is a great boost to the town and county of Roscommon.

I am glad as a Government Deputy to have been part of that initiative, with the Government supporting my proposal and that of many others. I hope in any further decentralisation the towns of Boyle and Ballaghaderreen and other areas in the north-west of the county will be considered. We support their claim and demand in that area. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity this evening to make a contribution on the Civil Registration Bill 2003. I welcome its thrust in that it provides for a new legislative framework for civil registration and supports and enables the modernisation of the system. As a member of the Labour Party, I am aware of the need to reorganise the system which was introduced in 1844. The Labour Party in its limited period in government endeavoured to deal with this, perhaps in a less comprehensive way but by dealing with certain elements of the system. The Labour Party introduced a Stillbirths Registration Act 1994 which provided for the first time a statutory system for the registration of births of stillborn children. This has proven to be a great benefit and comfort to the parents of stillborn children. We were also involved in the Registration of Births Act 1996 which for the first time provided a birth certificate which treated mothers and fathers equally. Prior to that under the registration of births system information was requested regarding a father's occupation but not a mother's. We are conscious of the need to deal with this system and support the proposals in the Bill.

Ireland has changed considerably to become a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country. This was clearly demonstrated during my recent visit to John Paul II school in Malahide, and to Educate Together and Scoil Brian Boroimhe, both in Swords. There were over 20 non-nationals enrolled in John Paul II school where they added a new dimension, and it was good to see them all working and being educated together. Similarly, in Swords Educate Together there were 19 non-nationals. While they come to terms with and adapt to our customs and practice it would be wrong not to accommodate their culture and practices, and it is important that we regularise the registration of all marriages and so on.

The system has changed dramatically, life expectancy has extended and the average ages of parents and of brides and grooms have shifted. In 1926 the average age of a groom was 35 and a bride was 29. In 1978 the average age for a groom was down to 26 and for a bride to 24. These averages have changed again. In 1996 the average groom was 31 years of age and the bride was 29. That must be considered. The attitude to marriage has changed too. In 1949 when the population was less than 3 million there were 16,000 marriages whereas in 1996 in a population of 3.6 million there were 16,174 marriages. In 1971 there were 22,000 marriages in a population of 3 million. Fewer people are marrying today and this must be recognised.

Another factor to consider is the need to have at our fingertips information on deaths, marriages, divorces, judicial separations and nullity. On the basis of the information available, the total number of people who applied for divorce in the year ending 1997 was 431 and in the year ending 2002, the number was 4,000. In that period, more than 20,000 people availed of divorce. One might ask what good is this information. The information needs to be readily available so that we can plan for the future.

As I said earlier, I believe the Bill is worth supporting. It is worth supporting in the context that the time limit for the registration of births has been extended from 42 days to three months. In regard to registering births, it is important that people have speedy access to birth certificates because they may need to apply to get on a local authority housing list or apply for a loan from a local authority. Some people may have been born somewhere in rural Ireland. These are simple issues with which public representatives deal on a weekly basis. It is important that we have the information available, utilise the technology and get it to the general public as quickly as possible.

I want to raise the question of who is responsible for providing a death certificate. Some people die at home while others die in hospitals and nursing homes. The mother of a friend of mine was in a private nursing home for a considerable time. This woman died when my friend was away and three or four weeks later it was discovered that the death had not been registered. It is all very well to say that it is up to the relatives to register a death, but I believe there is a responsibility on proprietors of nursing homes to register deaths. This issue should be dealt with in the Bill.

The Bill provides for the registration of the birth of an abandoned newborn child. This issue is being dealt with positively. I have dealt with the issue previously. Many of my colleagues referred to the registration of stillbirths. This is a very difficult time for parents. It is a sensitive issue which needs to be dealt with sensitively. The proposal in the Bill that the time limit for registration be extended from three months to 12 months is a very positive development.

I am aware that the Minister intends to develop the Bill to include regulations to deal with marriage and reform of the marriage law. I understand the issue may be dealt with on Committee and Report Stages. It is important to acknowledge that in 1998, Senator O'Meara sought to introduce a Bill to liberalise the law by allowing for civil marriages in venues other than in a registry office. While the proposal was not successful at the time, I am pleased the proposals of the interdepartmental committee on reform of marriage law can be incorporated into the Bill. We are all aware of the inadequacy of some registry office accommodation. More and more people are now opting for civil marriages. They look forward to their special day and to bringing their relatives and friends with them. If one travelled the length and breadth of this country, one would be lucky to find a registry office that would cater for more than two or three people. I strongly commend the proposal to allow for civil marriages in venues other than registry offices. Couples should be free to select a location but obviously the venue for a marriage ceremony should be a dignified one. These issues can be provided for by way of regulations or in the development of the legislation itself.

On solemnisation of marriages, from my analysis of the proposed recommendations, it is intended that a list would be drawn up by the various churches for those who would be able to solemnise a marriage. Many couples who may wish to marry in a church may have relatives or friends overseas who are priests but who would not normally be registered or have the authority to perform a marriage. Obviously there will be provision in the Bill to deal with this issue. I hope the Minister and her officials will take a flexible approach to facilitate this need. Given the new technology, perhaps people could register and put their name forward to the church authorities in order to facilitate the solemnisation of the marriage of relatives or friends.

Much can be said about the Bill which seeks to regularise the registration of births, marriages and so on. In supporting it, I hope the Bill will be public-friendly. It will make it easier for the registrar to interact with his or her officials throughout the country, which was a major task in some cases over the years. We will have a contribution to make on Committee and Report Stages. The Bill represents a positive move, it is long overdue and I commend it.

I commend the Bill to the House and am glad to see that Deputy Seán Ryan is supporting it. I commend him for his public acknowledgement in the House of the changing nature of Irish society and of its multiethnic character, which we both see in our constituencies. Furthermore, I commend him for recognising the need to respect ethnic and religious diversity. It is important that Members acknowledge this, especially because there is in Ireland a worrying trend of racism against ethnic minorities who come to our shores to work and make a living. It is important that we acknowledge that no party in the House has chosen to abuse this particular issue in a niggardly and awful way through racism or sought to build votes around a racist platform.

This Bill represents a milestone. The last time we had legislation of this kind was in 1845, a time in our history that presaged the famine and mass emigration. The famine was a tragic event in our history, and the population went into decline thereafter. It was also a period of failure in economic and social terms. In recent decades we have gladly seen a complete resurgence in our fortunes to the extent that we are now introducing a Bill that consolidates previous legislation, brings new technologies to bear on the essential and eternal issues of birth, marriage and death and mirrors the social complexity about which Deputy Seán Ryan spoke.

The Bill also contains an idea that perhaps would never have been envisaged in 1844 or 1845, namely, that of formalising the approach to adoption, nullity and divorce. These are the modern eternals that accompany the other eternal human milestones that define our lives and society. It is important that we acknowledge that our population is again climbing and that it may not be long until we achieve the population we had attained prior to the famine. This is a great indicator of success and a great tribute to the many political parties in the House that have led this new State since independence. This Bill is, in a way, an expression of our sovereignty as a country, state and nation. We are again asserting our sovereignty in the all-essential areas of birth, marriage and death. It may not be a controversial Bill — there is all-party agreement on it — but it marks a very significant milestone in our social development.

It is instructive to note that the United State enjoys pre-eminence in the increasingly global economy that now obtains, to the extent that it is responsible for 35% of the world's economic activity. One of the main reasons America, particularly the United States, has achieved this pre-eminence is because of its assiduous routine collection of data on its own society, ranging from the very ordinary to the extraordinary. It is important that our society, which is successful and has full employment, rediscovers its interest in this particular area because, for years, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, which were characterised by economic failure, there was also a systemic failure in the collection of basic raw information about our society, economy, people and their way of living.

I am glad the Central Statistics Office has achieved a huge increase in its budget in recent years and that we are now seeing proper, reliable statistics that can inform the work of policymakers and lawmakers in their daily work in the House and the work of civil servants outside the House in support of what we do. This Bill will only add to our capability in this regard and afford to us reliable information about our population at the touch of a button. I hope it can be made available to all Departments when there is a relevant issue to be inquired into. This is an extremely important part of the Bill. For the first time, we are using the new technology in the area of data capture and I hope it will be put to the service of policy development in the future.

I commend the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, for her initiatives in this regard. Her Department has been a fantastic, innovative Department in the area of developing new technology and transparent, accountable and properly functioning systems of data collection, thus allowing the ordinary citizens who rely so often on us as public representatives to vindicate their rights regarding many social services. If we can master and develop this data collection system better, public representatives will not have to be in the position they are in week in, week out, whereby they have to intervene and gain access to the system to vindicate very basic rights and entitlements where a citizen feels he or she has been denied them because of poor paperwork or mistakes that have been made, however inadvertently. It is important that this Bill goes a great distance towards doing this.

The Bill also helps us clarify the changing nature of our society. Deputy Seán Ryan rightly pointed this out in terms of marriage statistics and the changing nature of fatherhood and parenthood. The decline evident in our marriage statistics is remarkable, as is the growth in single parenthood. Instead of being conservative and looking at this as some sort of terrible thing, it is important to consider the more optimistic side. For instance, the statistics clearly show that many single parents enter a married or settled relationship within five years of their becoming single parents. According to one particular survey, two thirds of them do so. It is not all bad news, yet there is a tendency among the more conservative elements in this House and society in general to look with great trepidation at these changing social norms in terms of marriage, including second marriages, etc. We have to be open to the idea that it is not just a negative development and that it may, in the longer term, prove to be somewhat more positive than we now believe it to be.

The Minister, who is a new Minister in the Cabinet, should be commended for the speed at which she is implementing this change in a Department that has generally innovated in terms of technology and made basic entitlements much more accessible. However, there is still a long way to go in this regard. The central register, as it develops under the framework set out in this Bill, will allow for the steady rolling out of those entitlements in a proper and transparent manner. The fact that 40% of the work associated with the old register involved the generation of paper certificates is very instructive and underlines for us the huge importance we should attach to e-government and making our State one of the best in the world at providing electronic payments and information in a timely and proper way. This will give us a distinct advantage as we go forward, not just in respect of social services and their provision but also in respect of the private sector.

I hope that within the lifetime of this Government, or its successor, we will be able to transact at least 90% of our business electronically, both in the private and public sectors. This would afford a significant competitive advantage to the country. We have a strong, literate, well-educated population relative to other countries, particularly the countries acceding to the European Union in May under our Presidency. We have a significant, embedded advantage in terms of literacy, general intelligence and educational qualifications and we should adopt electronic systems as fast as possible because it will be to our advantage economically, socially and in terms of vindicating the rights of the citizen. Given that we are a republic, this should be the central focus of all our efforts in this House and the efforts of all policymakers and civil servants. We are here to serve the public and ensure they get the basic information to which they are entitled as quickly as possible. I commend the Minister for Social and Family Affairs for establishing a committee in the Department to examine the effects of the public service identity number on other Departments. It is a positive development. The committee should examine the idea of a smart card for public services.

Last weekend the former leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, stated he supported the possible introduction of an identity card. It is crazy that we do not have one. We are an open country but, in this era of transparency and greater accountability, it is important that there should be an identity card system in order that people are not detained for too long by law enforcement agencies when their identity must be established. If people have nothing to hide, they should present their identity card and move on. It was refreshing to hear a former leader of the Labour Party advocating such a system. When I lived in England in the 1980s, there was a debate on an identity card system and those on the libertarian right and the far left came together in an unholy alliance to suggest that it was wrong and an intrusion on the part of the state into a person's individual freedoms. I fundamentally disagree. It is good to hear that Deputy Quinn advocates such a system.

When we are collecting statistics and information about the population, it is important that there is system in place to vindicate rights quickly on production of an identity card. The smart card is designed to improve service delivery but once there is proper data protection, we should consider the introduction of an identity card. It would assist all State agencies in their dealings with citizens, from law enforcement to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and from the Revenue Commissioners to immigration officers at airports who are seeking to establish if people have the right to be in the country.

I also welcome the answer of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to a parliamentary question I asked yesterday on this topic. In the past two years 11,000 people who sought to remain here illegally were turned away or removed from the country. That is a good sign because it is wrong that nationals or non-nationals who have a legitimate right to be here are subject to a question mark about their presence as a result of illegal immigration. We must get tough on illegal immigration, an issue that affects all of Europe.

Many speakers have referred to the sensitivity of the new provisions on stillbirths. They are positive and proper and allow hospital doctors and midwives, where births occur outside the institutions, to register them. They also allow for an extended period for people to register such tragic losses. Those who go through this experience a great deal of trauma and it is important that the State is not too rigorous and extends the period of notification.

I welcome the fact that the identity of a person who gives up a child for adoption will not be made known except through a court order or an instruction of the Adoption Board, a positive development that has been confirmed in the Bill. It would be invidious if the situation were otherwise.

Our population is rising once more and, as we try to consolidate the economic and social success of recent years, we must harness this system and use it properly for the efficient delivery of services. We must answer constituents' questions about entitlements but all Deputies accept that we would prefer not to be involved in such work. We must establish a State system that reflects our modernity and wealth. Transparent and efficient delivery of public services for citizens, proper systems of appeal and proper data collection are at the heart of that idea. If we do not collect the information properly, we will not be able to develop systems that benefit the citizen and society to the maximum extent. I served with the late Deputy Jim Mitchell on the Committee of Public Accounts and we were astounded week after week when we questioned Departments at the absence of recorded information. We often found policy was arrived without the requisite information or its close examination that should inform every decision made by the State or one of its agencies. It is vital that we get our act together.

The Bill is a major milestone. For the first time since 1845 we are taking responsibility as a State and rigorously collecting our own information. I support an identity card system. It would be a positive move and overcome the recent decision of the courts that an Irish-born person can be asked for evidence of identity but someone who is potentially an illegal immigrant with no right to be here cannot be challenged. We must correct that decision to ensure everyone enjoys the same rights and that those who are entitled to be here are granted their rights quickly. There is a whole industry in the House of our vindicating the rights of citizens that have been improperly denied. It would be better for the State as a whole if we were not involved in such work and spent more time on policy and decision-making.

I commend the Bill and compliment the Minister for Social and Family Affairs on the work she is doing. She is a Minister of great promise and will go far because she has conducted herself with efficiency and aplomb in this difficult role. In the 1980s no one wanted to be the Minister in charge of social welfare and it is indicative of the changes that have occurred in our fortunes that no aspirant to ministerial office would object to being appointed to the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

The Department has also transformed itself from the bad old days when it grudgingly granted people their entitlements. There is a transparent system for the explaining and granting of rights, a major change for which the civil servants in the Department deserve credit. Members must deal with all Departments and dealings with the Department of Social and Family Affairs are always positive. The same cannot be said of certain other Departments in terms of their response times to our many and detailed queries. I commend the Department on its work. I congratulate the Minister and I commend the Bill to the House. It is not greatly controversial. It rightly enjoys cross-party support.

We are dealing with the great eternals, birth, marriage and death. I welcome the continuance of the three-month notification requirement in terms of marriage. I wonder, though, whether it takes from the romance of the situation because there is now no possibility of a "quickie" marriage in Ireland. It must be a long bureaucratic delayed process, albeit involving new technology. Britney Spears would have difficulty getting married in Ireland.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Ryan of the Green Party.

This Bill is the first major reform of the civil registration system since its original inception in 1845 during the time of the Famine. Civil registration throughout the world is vitally important in securing and protecting basic human rights. It provides the individual with a name and identity in society, evidence of parentage, evidence of entitlement to inheritance and a facility for marriage. Reform is necessary if the system is to respond to the changing needs of society, provide a customer-focused service and take advantage of opportunities provided by technology.

Since its introduction in the middle of the 19th century, the system has changed little. In my constituency the system has deteriorated significantly since Monaghan General Hospital was taken off call on 1 July 2002. Since then a situation arose where a child's place of birth was recorded as "Cootehill Road, between Cootehill and Ballybay". This detail would also be recorded on the child's birth certificate. That is simply unacceptable, even under the previous system which required people in the area where the event happened to give information in person. No reflection is intended on the ambulance driver, the emergency medical technician or the administrative staff who have to cope with such emergency situations regularly on roadsides. It is a more frequent event now.

Such events regularly occur en route from Monaghan General Hospital to Cavan Hospital or Drogheda Hospital. In these circumstances neither the ambulance driver, the mother of the new-born baby, nor the medical or administrative staff have any way of knowing the name of the townland in which the birth took place. A system must be put in place where birth can take place and details can be recorded affording mother and baby a modicum of dignity and respect at what should be a joyful event.

When an expectant mother in labour presents at Monaghan General Hospital, there should be no suggestion of the risk being taken that the birth could occur on the roadside. A baby should have the right to be born in hospital when its mother presents in such circumstances. It merely serves to underline the folly of closing the maternity unit at Monaghan General Hospital. A mother in labour, diverted from Monaghan General Hospital, does not know whether her baby will be born in County Monaghan, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland — it could be a dual passport holder if that happened — or in County Cavan, although this is possibly the last thing on a mother's mind at such a time.

I have frequently stressed the necessity of providing a birthing area in Monaghan General Hospital as a stop-gap measure. This would preclude the possibility of such birth registration anomalies occurring with increasing regularity. Such risks should not apply to a modern health service even in a banana republic. It is understandable that a hospital should have a ball-park figure as to when a child will be born. The question of where is a different matter and carries a major element of risk. It is not a matter of rocket science. Surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of the Department to devise a system to ensure that births of babies born in Monaghan should at least be recorded appropriately and with propriety.

I am happy to note that the record of births, marriages and deaths will be computerised, thus making it more accessible when driving licences, passports and other Government services are applied for. Prior to now, the cláraitheoir had to use pen and ink to enter the information on a paper register. Then a birth certificate was issued which would help to prove entitlement to a variety of aforementioned services.

Under this system the registrar would register births collectively rather than individually and occasionally would register a batch of births as having occurred on the same date. Accordingly there were cases of people who had been baptised barely three days after their birth only to discover that their date of birth had been registered up to a month later so that officially they had the documentation to show that they were baptised before they were born.

I can envisage the need for birth, death and marriage certificates eventually disappearing for most official purposes as a central database will contain the records. However, one of the principal omissions from the Bill is any provision for a register of guardianship for non-marital children. An unmarried father currently does not have an automatic right to guardianship of his child, while the mother is recognised as the sole guardian. The status of guardianship, as distinct from custody or access, involves a number of legal rights, including the right of consultation regarding the child's physical, religious, educational or moral welfare. For a child's father to become a guardian, he must have the mother's consent, and there is a requirement that the couple swear a joint statutory declaration before a solicitor. The statutory declaration document will be the only evidence of the father's guardianship since no official record is kept of his new status. If the mother refuses, the father is forced to take the legal route and the court maintains a formal record of any decisions.

If the statutory declaration document were lost or otherwise mislaid, whether accidentally or deliberately, it would be impossible to prove that the father was the joint guardian of his own child. Such a situation would be farcical and it could lead to protracted legal battles, which would be in nobody's interests, least of all the child's. It amounts to a perversion of natural justice that a father should be expected to provide maintenance and support for his child but may have no legal rights as a guardian. The situation in the UK is considerably more rational and acceptable. There an unmarried father may acquire rights of parental responsibility by signing a consent form which then becomes a court record. I call on the Minister to consider including the registration of guardianship in this Bill, which is otherwise to be welcomed.

The provisions for the registration of deaths fall far behind EU standards. We should include the place of birth in the death certificate, making it easier for genealogists and removing ID fraud and the possibility of helping criminals in other matters.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on two issues in which I have an interest, marriages and deaths. The registration of my children's births was at such a shocking and traumatic time that I cannot remember what I would have done differently, but I was reasonably happy with my own experience of it at a very joyful time. I have had experience in the State, and I hope we will use this Bill as an opportunity to improve conditions regarding the registration of marriages and also death.

I, and certain friends of mine have experienced significant difficulties regarding the registration of marriages outside the church where they take place in a State register office. The difficulties are manifold. The first and main one is that we do not select the best locations for such civil public marriage ceremonies. In certain counties the facilities where the marriage is carried out are in very isolated places, often a car park close to an industrial estate, somewhere that is very unattractive for such a celebratory event. It behoves the State, at a time when many people are moving towards the civil registration of marriage, to provide the very best civic space that is available. I went to the wedding of a friend in France in a local village. It was a remarkably different experience where the mayor of the local village went through an elaborate and honourable ceremony in the town hall. It was more onerous in a way than the church ceremonies one goes through here. A strong civic obligation was put on the couple in question to raise their children well and to look after each other. There was a sense that the State was taking the occasion seriously and using its best facilities. It was the best building in the town. That is something we should strive to change in this country so that the town hall is made available on a Saturday or Sunday to try to fit into people's schedules rather than the present situation where couples have huge difficulty in terms of times and location when arranging civil marriage ceremonies. That is a general point with regard to the provisions and intent of this Bill.

The second issue is more specific, but it is important. That is the need to provide far more detailed information in death certificates than at present about the deceased person. It is not sufficient to simply give the date of the death and the person's name. Far greater detail should be given whether it is the birthplace, maiden name, date of birth and so on. A whole range of different reasons may give rise to queries in this regard. There was a case in the newspapers recently where someone had died and the death was recorded, but the body had to be dug up so that the person's identity could be checked. For the purposes of family history and genealogy and so that proper records are kept, a death certificate is needed which provides far greater detail. I hope the Minister will ensure when the House gets down to discussing the details of the Bill that as much detail as possible is given in such certificates.

I would like to share my time with Deputy Cooper-Flynn. I welcome the Civil Registration Bill 2003 to the House. The Bill provides a new framework for civil registration and will enable the service to be modernised. No great overhaul of the service has taken place since its inception in 1864. From that date births, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages had to be registered. That was 140 years ago and while it has served us well it is now necessary to update and modernise the system.

I am interested in genealogy and am not surprised to hear that 1.2 million searches of registration records were carried out in 2003. While I appreciate that not all of these were for genealogical purposes, it is important that we had them. Had we not had these records available a huge amount of revenue would have been lost to this country. People doing family research find the time it takes to get certificates of births, marriages and deaths frustrating. I hope that new modern developments in technology will speed up this process. I also hope that it will not be more expensive than at present.

I welcome the fact that since September 2003 all new birth registrations are transferred electronically to the Minister's Department for the civil registration computer system. This allows a personal public service number to be allocated to a child a few days after birth, linking him or her to other members of the family and expediting the payments due. I hope this system will be replicated for applicants for pensions and other payments. Elderly people find the amount of duplication particularly frustrating when they apply for the free schemes, ESB, telephone, TV licence and free travel. From now on there should be none of this. The applicant should be able to tick a box for the scheme he or she is applying for and it should be processed automatically.

The death of a member of a family can be traumatic, especially if it is sudden. I note with satisfaction that section 37 of the Bill allows a death to be registered by any registrar. More importantly, it allows the death to be registered by specified staff of a hospital or institution at which the death occurred or by an undertaker. The time allowed is extended from five days to three months. This allows the family time to grieve and does not put undue pressure on it to carry out this duty. That is a positive element of the Bill and I commend the Minister for the way she has introduced it.

I would ask the Minister if it would be possible to have the birth registered in Irish as well as English. This would be especially important when applying for a passport. Some people's first names are in Gaelic and these are sometimes long. For example, the old spelling of Iarla, patron saint of the Archdiocese of Tuam was Iarfhlaith in Gaelic. This can often cause confusion. I can see some merit in having it in both versions, plus the fact that there is now a movement to have Irish recognised in the EU as a usable language.

I would also bring to the Minister's attention the fact that children born outside the State, in Arabic countries, have their birth certificates in Arabic. These are children born to Irish parents who were working in the Middle East and have now returned. Would it be possible for the Minister to allow those children to be re-registered in Ireland and issued with an Irish birth certificate as is current practice in the UK and other EU countries? I commend the Bill and congratulate the Minister and her officials for bringing it forward.

Like my colleagues I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Civil Registration Bill 2003. Before I address the sections that are of particular interest to me I must comment on my experience of the service as it currently exists, both in Dublin and in my own constituency. I have always found staff particularly helpful and friendly, but it is an extremely bureaucratic system. Any manual system of this type could not continue into the future.

It is great to see the Bill being welcomed on all sides of the House. This is hardly surprising, given that the civil registration system has been with us for almost 150 years. In all that time there has been almost no change to the system, despite the enormous changes in society, developments in technology and the expectations of people in dealing with services both locally and nationally. This Bill was a necessity. I would like to compliment the Minister for bringing it before us. Hopefully, it will have the support of all sides of the House.

Over 110,000 events are registered every year, half a million certificates are produced and 1.2 million searches and inquiries are carried out. I have had to use the service on many occasions in my role as a public representative. There have been difficulties over the years because of the bureaucracy involved. I recall one person from the US trying to trace her family here in Ireland, with fairly scant detail. Trying to carry out a search on a manual system made it almost impossible for her to trace her family in this country. I have had a number of other experiences that I will detail later when dealing with different sections of the Bill.

Civil registration forms the basis for a continuous source of information about the population, which is important. Apart from providing a record of vital events on persons living in the State, these records satisfy the need for evidence, which has a bearing on rights, entitlements, liabilities, status and nationality. They are used along with other data sources for many purposes such as the planning of schools, hospitals and housing and for medical research into the causes of and prevention of disease. These details also provide a rich source for people tracing their family history and for compiling family trees. The main objective of the Bill is to rationalise procedures for registering births, stillbirths and deaths. It outlines the responsibilities of the general registrar andvis-à-vis the health boards which oversee matters locally. It streamlines much of the existing procedures governing the registration of adoptions, which is something I welcome. With the changes in society a new register of divorce and nullity of marriages needs to be established as well as the reform of procedures governing the registration of marriages. There are eight parts to the Bill.

The Minister drew attention to the modernisation of the civil registration system. The benefits of technology have enabled this to happen. As a result of the introduction of technology, we will provide an improved service for our customers; there will be longer opening times to facilitate registration and greater efficiency for those carrying out detailed searches on foot of little information. The new system which will be electronically controlled will facilitate more accurate searches. There will also be a nationwide standard which is important.

While I commend the local services in my constituency, it is important that we operate to the same standard throughout the country. The new electronic system will make this possible. Obviously, it will have to register divorces and civil annulments on a central register, a matter on which I will speak further later. The electronic capture and transmission of vital statistics on life events to a central statistics office and the sharing of data with designated Departments are to be welcomed.

I also note that the new system will streamline the process in respect of child benefit. The necessary documentation and form filling within a number of months following the birth of a child are cumbersome, particularly when the information is contained on a State register. There is no reason such information could not be sent directly to the relevant Department. That is one of the benefits that will result from the Bill. I welcome this provision.

We have all heard particular stories within our constituencies. A story which came to my attention a number of years ago related to an error made when an authorised person within a hospital registered a particular birth as female rather than male. I made many representations over a number of years to try to have the error amended. That genuine mistake by an authorised person in the hospital caused great distress to the family and child concerned. While it was possible to obtain an amended short certificate, it was not possible to have the original long birth certificate amended. Members will be aware that one is required to supply a long birth certificate with many applications. One can only imagine the explanations and embarrassment caused to the person concerned. The mere fact that one had to explain was unacceptable.

Section 56 outlines the arrangements for the correction of entries in the registers of births and deaths discovered by local registrars and introduces a specific statutory provision for the cancellation of entries in registers by the general registrar. I would like some guidance on whether the scenario I mentioned will be covered by that section. From my reading of the Bill, it is. I welcome the modernisation of the system and, in particular, the benefits in claiming social welfare entitlements.

I would like to deal with Part V of the Bill which deals with the registration of births. I outlined the scenario where an error regarding a birth was made by an authorised person. I would like clarification on that point. It is welcome that section 19 provides that registration can be made with any registrar rather than the registrar in the district in which the birth occurred. That is an important practical step that will now be available as a result of improvements in technology. The extension of time within which one must register a birth is welcomed by many who have found themselves in that position. At that particular time there are many more important things than trying to get the documentation together within 42 days. I welcome the extension of this period to three months.

A number of Deputies on the other side have raised queries about procedures for the registration of the father's details where the parents of the child are not married to each other. We have all, in our capacity as public representatives, come up against situations where one of two or three children in a family might have been born prior to a marriage taking place. The Bill makes provision for a situation involving a married couple where there is no formal separation, divorce or nullity and where the husband departs and a child is born into a new relationship. Previously, a woman in that situation was required to obtain a statutory declaration that the husband was not the father of the child. That was an impractical requirement in many instances. My understanding from the Bill is that this can now be overcome by a different statutory declaration. I welcome this provision. The previous requirement was impractical and caused a great deal of stress for many who could not contact the individual concerned.

The Bill also addresses the anomaly of registering a birth which occurs on board an aircraft or at sea. This matter needed to be rectified.

It is welcome that the Bill deals sensitively with the registration of stillbirths. One can only imagine the emotional distress caused, not just for the mother and her partner but also for the entire family. The last thing on their minds would be the registration of the stillbirth. I welcome the fact that the time limit for has been extended from three to 12 months and that a qualified informant can now be a relative or friend. A stillbirth is no different from losing a child of one or two years of age; it involves a grieving process. I compliment the Minister on dealing sensitively with this aspect of the Bill.

Part IV deals with the registration of adoptions and provides for the introduction of a single register. Currently, adoptions are either registered in the adopted children's register for adoptions effected in the State or in the foreign adoptions register for children adopted abroad. An authorised officer of the Adoption Board will act as registrar for the purpose of such registrations.

Section 35 provides that access to the register of adoptions or an index which makes traceable the connection between this register and the register of births will not be available except by order of the Adoption Board or a court order and only when it is in the best interests of the adopted person concerned to do so. This is an important safeguard. I am sure it is only in unique circumstances that the Adoption Board will have a need to make the data accessible to the public.

I agree with Deputy Ryan on the need for death certificates to contain more detail. There is reference in the media today to a person whom it was thought was dead and buried a number of years ago and who has turned up in a pub in Spain. It is vitally important we provide accurate and precise information on death certificates.

Part VIII deals with prosecutions for offences and penalties where information is wrongfully provided. The penalties in certain circumstances are €2,000 and €5,000 and/or not more than a six month prison sentence. We can all think of inaccuracies which would make a big difference but the consequences of registering deliberate inaccuracies can be catastrophic. I do not know that any person who would have a mind to give inaccurate information on a State register would be put off by the increase of the penalty to €10,000 or €20,000. Nevertheless, I wonder if the penalty is severe enough for what can be a very serious offence. This may not happen often, but when it does it is serious and it is important it be dealt with swiftly and not tolerated.

I welcome the provision for a single universal procedure for the notification and registration of marriages. A number of people have made comparisons between the type of system we have and that which exists in other countries where, for example, it is possible to get a licence to get married a number of hours before the event. However, we have always regarded marriage seriously and we are trying to encourage people to do so rather than become a sad statistic in years to come, whether that is as a result of divorce, separation or annulment. They should think carefully before entering into a serious contract.

I welcome the three month provision and also the requirement that a couple must attend in person at a registry office at least five days before the date of the intended marriage to declare that there is no known impediment to it. All we can do is alert people that this is a serious commitment they are making and that they should be fully informed about it. If we do that, we will go some way to reducing the sad statistics of marriage breakdown here and in other countries. I thank the Minister for the Bill, which I commend to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy Hayes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Like the many other Deputies who spoke today, I support the major principles of this Bill. The proposals are a sign of changing times and many of them should have been implemented long before now. However, it is a genuine effort to overcome problems which beset every individual in society at some stage, which explains the number of Deputies who want to speak on this matter. Every Deputy will have come across many of the problems which this Bill addresses.

The public should know about the Bill and understand its proposals because it will be to each citizen's benefit. Certain aspects of the Bill could go further and I am sure that during Committee and Report Stages, changes I have heard suggested from both sides of the House will be implemented. Given that I live along the Roscommon border, I am glad to see the decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon and assure the House that it could hardly come to a better place.

The objective of this Bill is to rationalise procedures for registering births, stillbirths and deaths, the registration of adoptions, the establishment of new registers of divorce and civil annulment and the reform of procedures governing the registration of marriage. It will also address the important matter of facilitating the future linking of life events from birth to death, from womb to tomb. There is something in this Bill for every person in society.

I have often heard that there is no sound in the English language that means so much or is so pleasing to a person than the sound of his or her own name. There is no document I know of which is as important a base document to a person as his or her birth certificate. It is not possible to go through life without having access to a proper and correct birth certificate. In the years I have been in this House, I have come across a number of individuals who, for a variety of reasons, were unable to get what they regarded as a proper birth certificate. That might be hard to understand and it was not the fault of the system but for various reasons it was not possible.

We could spend all night debating the importance of birth certificates and marriage certificates. However, proper death certificates, as many Deputies have stated, are extremely important and impinge on the worlds of commerce, inheritance, family settlements, court cases and so on. Many procedures cannot progress until there are proper death certificates to prove a person died at a certain time and from a certain cause.

There is no magical science about the registration of births, marriages and deaths, given that we have been doing it for over a century and a half. However, given our starting point 150 years ago, with low standards of education and living and a poor, almost non-existent Civil Service, we have done extremely well. There is a good basic fountain of information in place. I hope this Bill will mean we will be in a position to know where every individual could be contacted at a given time, although this is a huge order.

I was a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children a few years ago when we had before us a number of eminent medical people on the question of the three-in-one MMR vaccine for children. It appeared to most of us who had children that it should have been administered but were told the surveys found that although 95% or 96% of parents wanted their children to have the vaccine, the health boards were able to contact only 70% of them. It would be far better if the register of births could be administered in such a way as to get into the hands of the health boards in order that when there might be a call up of three years olds, two year olds or seven year olds the result might be better than 70% or 75%. That is what I would call sophistication in data processing and I hope this Bill will be able to arrive at that situation. It is not too much to expect.

We have reason to be thankful to church authorities for their record keeping over the years. They have been clear and thorough in their records of births and marriages. Many of the records of our national schools are also important to those researching their history.

I note the huge throughput of business in the registration of births and marriages. As the Minister said earlier, there were 110,000 life events registered, 500,000 certificates produced and 1.2 million searches of registration records in 2003. Although I do not know what constitutes a search, that represents a great deal of searches in any case.

Debate adjourned.