Civil Registration Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I will continue where I left off. I congratulate the Minister on many aspects of the Bill. In the few minutes at my disposal I will talk about measures I hope will be taken under the Bill as a matter of public importance. I cannot understand why, for instance, the births, marriages and deaths offices in the various health board areas cannot be more flexible in their hours. This has been mentioned several times today. Given the implementation of flexitime, why can they not be open for a few hours on Saturday, when a great number of families do the weekend shopping? It is a time when they often want to get birth certificates for students and so on. There is no reason a simple matter like that could not be put right. Events are now happening at weekends, which were never foreseen, because of changes in society, and I hope something can be done in this regard.

Mention was made by a number of my colleagues of the content of the information that will be on the death certificate. I hope whatever relevant information that can be put on the certificate will be provided for. There is no real problem involved. In the area of agriculture it was possible to put the world of documentation on what is called the "passport" or identity card which applies to seven million cattle. There is no technological reason all the information that is deemed to be required should not be put on the death certificate. I have not the time to go through what should be put on it, but many of the contributions on both sides of the House today indicate that there is now an opportunity to do this because the technology is there.

I will comment on something that was touched on by Deputy Lenihan. It has to do with the question of personal identity cards. There is no valid reason a person should not have his or her own identity card. I cannot imagine why the liberal wing in this country could object to it, we have done much in so many other respects.

In the realm of social welfare in which the Minister operates, the PPS number is a common denominator for many people. I cannot understand why a step further cannot be taken so that people may have identity cards. Down through the years I had much contact with the General Registrar's Office in Lombard Street. I pay a compliment to the staff there for what was for my constituents important business. It might not have been for the public, but for the people concerned who could not prove their date of birth or who had a problem with a marriage certificate or death certificate, the staff went to great lengths. That was nothing compared to the problems we had with people who had emigrated to England, Scotland, Wales etc. in the early 1950s. That is somewhat like the debate we had earlier. In so far as they could do their job, I found those people to be excellent.

One of the reasons many Deputies spoke on this Bill today is not that it is controversial — I assume there will not be three lines about it in any newspaper tomorrow and it has not been covered by the media at any time today — but because it will affect every man, woman and child in the country at some stage in their lives.

For some strange reason this legislation is not considered news. Nonetheless, it is important. We now have an ideal opportunity to provide for the inclusion of all relevant information. There is no end to what technology can do.

Certain aspects of technology are worrying to the older generation but there is nothing the Minister or I can do except to ensure it is used in a humane manner. A case in point is the payment of social welfare benefits direct to the bank. Elderly people want to retain their pension books. While many people would prefer if that system was changed, it is vitally important it remains the same.

I thank Deputy Connaughton for sharing time with me on this important Bill. One could ask any man from where his family came and he would immediately tell you the answer. Ask that same person where his father was born or where his grandfather was married and he will not be able to come up with an answer. That is the reality.

We, as a people, do not have such information readily available to us. The antiquated system of records which has kept our past unknown to us is in desperate need of modernisation. The Bill provides that more information regarding our pasts will be made known to us, which is to be welcomed.

Many of our citizens have taken up genealogy as a hobby during the past decade. Poor records have, however, frustrated their searches. The wealth of information that will be gathered about our past will be invaluable. I welcome that records are to be more accessible and amenable to people.

The creation of the civil registration service will provide for better access to public records, which will provide people with information they are anxious to have. The new system will include personal public service numbers. This provision should be further expanded, perhaps by way of future legislation.

The dates of birth and birth surnames of mothers and fathers should be recorded on birth certificates. Records of stillbirths will now be recorded in the same manner as births, which is to be welcomed. No doubt the public will be enthused about it.

Many adopted persons have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain birth records. We, as politicians, are often approached by such people seeking information about their parents and their roots. The Bill will help to alleviate much of the strain and stress of many families. I know of a person who was deeply depressed by his failure to get information about his parents. The Bill addresses that issue, which is to be welcomed.

Given the changes in society and our records regarding marriages, many people in generations to come will be anxious to know their parentage. It is important we put this system in place now. With the advent of technology, such information will be available at the press of a button. It is also important that it is available locally. One-stop-shops have been successful in other areas such as local authorities. A one-stop-shop, part of a sub-office of the local council, has been working extremely well in my constituency for the past number of years. We need to ensure records are available locally. I welcome the Bill, which will improve the quality of life for many people.

I take this opportunity to welcome this Second Stage debate on the Civil Registration Bill 2003. I understand the Minister wishes to take it through Committee Stage and the Seanad as a matter of priority, which means the legislation will be on the Statute Book in the near future. That is to be welcomed.

As previous speakers said, this is not high profile legislation but every person in Ireland will be affected by it. Many people have experienced difficulties in terms of registration certificates, be it birth, marriage or death. I am delighted some of these issues are addressed in the Bill.

I have had a particular interest in certain matters covered by the Bill. While we pass legislation in this House with good intentions we sometimes cause further problems. In October 1997 we enacted the Registration of Births Act 1996. The clear logic behind that legislation was that a surname be entered on the birth certificate for each child. On the face of it, that seemed a good idea but the legislation was flawed because it did not provide for re-registration.

A case which came to my attention in January 2001 is dealt with by this Bill. The situation was very clear-cut. It involved a child born in County Laois in early 1998. The mother was not married to the father of the child at the time and so, as was the practice, she entered her name as the child's surname. Soon afterwards the mother and father of the child married. The woman then took on the man's name by way of marriage and they had more children. The child born in 1998 started school in 2002 and when in the schoolyard, the child had no understandable explanation for the other children as to why she had a different surname to that of her family. As the 1996 Act did not provide for re-registration arising from the marriage, the child had to bear the surname of the mother.

Therefore, the mother and father had a new name, as did the children born after the marriage but the child in question could not be given the new name. This situation was further complicated because the husband of the child's mother could not adopt the child. If the man had been in a position to adopt that child, as a result of that process, the child could have taken the man's surname. However, because he was the child's father, he was not allowed to adopt her. The family was discriminated against because the child's mother and father got married.

I am pleased that sections 23 and 24 of the Bill deal comprehensively with re-registration procedures to remove that anomaly once and for all. I acknowledge that the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002 made improvements in this area but the Bill copperfastens them by referring to them specifically in section 24. The legislation was enacted with good intentions but created serious registration problems in terms of the birth certificates of individual children. I am pleased the problems will now be a thing of the past.

I understand both of these sections provide that all future requests for re-registration will be dealt with by the local superintendent registrar instead of the árd-chláraitheoir as at present. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether such future requests for registration will apply to births which occur prior to this legislation coming into effect. If that is not the case, there could be difficulties for children trapped by the Registration of Births Act 1996. The Legitimacy Act 1931 was one of the causes of this anomaly but I am satisfied it will be dealt with when this law is on the Statute Book.

I am pleased with the provisions for the adoption register. I understand there are separate registration systems for foreign and Irish adoptions and the Bill proposes a facility for one adoption register, which is a welcome provision.

Section 37 deals with death certificates and is an important provision. As a Deputy from a midlands county like me, Deputy Paul McGrath will be aware of numerous situations in which people from Laois, Offaly and other areas of the midlands had to travel to Dublin with severe health problems which could not be dealt with in local hospitals. When such people passed away in hospital, until now the death could only be registered in the area appropriate to the hospital in which the death took place. As time passed, many situations developed in which families required a death certificate for their loved ones and would seek it from the local registrar only to be told there was no such record. In many cases, families had to traipse to Dublin to obtain the document. This has been an unnecessary burden, especially on elderly widows who, in many cases, try to obtain a death certificate to access a pension left by their husbands. I am pleased this legislation will allow any registrar to register the death in any part of the country. This new procedure has facilitated by advances in information technology.

There are numerous references in the Bill to "health boards". While I cannot read the future, I understand the heath boards, as we know them, will not exist for much longer. I hope that the legislation will take account of that fact, otherwise we might add another level of complication to the registration procedure. I ask that this be taken into account at this stage to avoid a legislative problem if a new structure replaces the health boards because we would be remiss in our duty if we did not do so.

I can only speak for County Laois, but the quality of service in Portlaoise is excellent and the staff are friendly, efficient and courteous. Deputies have suggested the offices could stay open for longer, which is a valid point, but when the Portlaoise office is open, the service is top-class. There can be few people who do not know the Lombard Street office in Dublin and the staff there have consistently provided a tremendous service.

Many years ago, when I became a Deputy, some people born 66 years ago who came to collect their old age pension found that their births had never been registered. They had been home births and had just been baptised, their parents thinking that was all they had to do. Many births were never registered and registering such people was a complicated procedure. However, the number of cases has diminished over the years. The Minister's staff in her Department and in Lombard Street and elsewhere have been excellent in helping people overcome difficulties which were caused 66 or 67 years ago.

As Deputies, we understand the significance of this legislation because we have encountered a myriad of different issues of which I would never have been aware before I entered public life. This is a classic example of a good Bill which is being introduced for the people. It will not get headlines in the morning newspapers but it is a solid piece of work which people will appreciate. It will improve the service in terms of quality, efficiency and how comprehensive it is and some of the anomalies which have been referred to will be dealt with finally. I look forward to the speedy passage and enactment of this Bill.

I wish to share time with Deputy Pat Breen.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity of addressing the House on the Bill and compliment the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, on bringing it before the House. It is not often I compliment her on her measures and it is a sea change to have to do so. However, I pride myself on being fair-minded and, when merits are due, I give them.

That is real praise. It is of a higher currency.

The Minister will be delighted I am giving her due praise tonight and she can take a bow because we have needed change in this area for some time. I am glad she is introducing this legislation to bring about major changes to registrations. It will carry her name for many generations to come and she will be remembered for it.

There are many good measures in the Bill and I do not have many cribs. However, there are two or three aspects which the Minister could add to the Bill. Deputy Fleming referred to people who found their births had not been registered. In that context, when my mother was born, tradition dictated that, because her sibling died at one year old, not only did she take on the dead baby's name, her parents never registered her birth. The result was that she was registered as being a year and eight months older than she was and had a birthday on a different date. That illustrates the lax approach to registrations which pertained at the time. We have come a long way since then and the Bill is a further step in the right direction, which I welcome.

Although we were lax about it 70, 80 or 100 years ago, a new problem has arisen in the registration of births. There are approximately 50,000 births in Ireland per annum, of which in excess of 30% are to single parent families. This means approximately 17,000 births are registered to lone parents. However, no father is registered on the birth certificates of a high proportion of children. Provision was made under previous legislation for subsequent registration of the father but thousands of children have a right to know who is their father. How can the Minister ensure the father should be named on the birth certificate? Others have argued the parents should have a choice but the choice should be made in the context of the right of the child to know who are his parents.

Further problems are created if the child experiences medical problems such as a hereditary disease. Interbreeding could also be a problem with perhaps half brothers and half sisters marrying each other because of their ignorance about their family histories. Will the Minister examine this issue? It will be difficult to resolve, as it is a minefield, but perhaps on Committee Stage, she can address it and outline what can be done. It is important for future generations that she should do that.

The security issue is much more difficult to address. I have come across only one case in this area over the years. I was approached by a man whose birth certificate had been procured by another individual who had passed himself off in another jurisdiction as the man. The certificate was used illegally. Having made inquiries, I discovered that one could obtain a birth certificate for any individual if one had certain important information. How can the Minister tighten up the registration of birth certificates? As the restrictions on travel throughout Europe are relaxed, a birth certificate will be accepted as proof of an individual's identity and, if somebody is using a false certificate, he or she could be registered in another person's name elsewhere. Will the Minister examine this issue? Registration offices will have experience of this problem. Perhaps, we can learn from that experience and build a fail safe system in this regard. I regret I do not know the solution to this problem.

Is it time to review the legal age for marriage? One can get married at 16 years provided one seeks the permission of a court. However, anyone aged under 21 who wants to get married must obtain the written permission for their parents. That is strange given that the age of majority is 18. I may be wrong about that.

The Deputy and I debated this issue in 1995 in the context of the marriage of 16 year old Travellers.

One can get married at 16 years in special circumstances provided a dispensation is sought from a court. One can get married without a court dispensation if one is over 18 but one must obtain the permission of one's parents. Marriage is a different institution and there should be widespread debate before changes are made. The Minister should also examine this issue during the passage of the legislation. If I am incorrect, I am sorry for misleading her.

This final issue to which I refer is cosmetic. An increasing number of civil marriages are taking place nowadays. A Catholic church, in which the priest is the recognised minister, is not used nor are non-Catholic churches, in which the minister of religion is deemed to be the registrar. Couples get married in a civil ceremony at their local registry office. The registry office in my home town, Mullingar, is located in the county clinic and that is not a place one would be delighted to show off in future years as the location of one's wedding. How can this issue be addressed? In Britain, the registrar will travel to the location of the ceremony, for example, a hotel.

This is provided for in the legislation. The registrar will be called a "solemniser of marriages" and the health board will designate the areas. A couple can make an application if they are getting married in a hotel.

Can one make an application for the registrar to appear at such a location?

The locations will be designated.

It should not be too formal. In Britain, if I am getting married, I contact my local registrar and ask him or her whether he or she is free on a specified date and whether he or she can travel to a specified location. There is flexibility in terms of where the ceremony can be held. Registrars should be able to turn up at a hotel to perform the ceremony for a fee to cover the cost involved. The provision should not be restrictive. The Minister should consider this issue in terms of herself getting married and where she would want the ceremony to take place.

Once is enough.

Perhaps the Minister and I can go around the course again. One might like a place with a nice, quiet ambience where the registrar could appear.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. The Bill builds on and fills the gap left by previous legislation on civil registration. Its ultimate goal is to reduce bureaucracy and update the 150 year old system of registration. Civil registration plays a important role in our society, as a means whereby basic information regarding births, adoptions, marriages, deaths and civil nullities is collected. It allows the Government to better plan schools, hospitals and social welfare schemes. Although it seems that civil registration is a simple thing, it is important that we get matters right on this occasion. I have concerns about some aspects of the Bill but, overall, it is welcome and long overdue.

The objects of the Bill are to rationalise the procedures for registering births, stillbirths and deaths; to reform the procedures governing the registration of marriages; to streamline the existing procedures governing the registration of adoptions; to establish new registers of divorce and civil nullity of marriage; to facilitate registration of an event at a registry office as opposed to the district where the event occurred; and to streamline roles, responsibilities and accountability for delivering a modern registration system.

The Bill aims to remove the need for paper certificates for most official purposes. With our ever-increasing population this greatly benefits people by eliminating the need to visit the registry office every time they need a copy of a birth certificate to apply for a job or for a State benefit. It will also give the registry offices a break. They produce approximately 500,000 certificates annually. Visiting a registry office can be a time-consuming experience. The two officials in the registry office of the Mid-Western Health Board do an excellent job but seeking a birth or death certificate can be time consuming, given the out-dated facilities and the large quantity of paper involved.

Deputy McGrath referred to his mother. My own father died seven years ago. Some years later, when I went to the registry office to get his death certificate I found that because he had died at home and the doctor who attended him had become ill some time later, his death had not been registered. I had to produce a memorial card and documents from the hospital before I could register his death. Even today, there are instances of deaths not being registered.

There is a danger that a person's PPS number could be stolen and used to commit fraud. Credit card fraud is now common. It is good to hear that the PPS number will not appear on a birth certificate. The benefits of digitising records outweigh the dangers but it is, nevertheless, important that we take the necessary precautions to ensure the privacy of individuals. Technology is changing rapidly. I recently heard Mr. Bill Gates say he hopes to be soon able to prevent spam being sent via e-mail.

The time limit for registering a birth is to be increased from 42 days to three months. This is welcome. A stillbirth is a traumatic time for any couple and it takes many months to recover from the grief and shock of such an event. The Bill makes it easier for a parent to register a stillbirth and allows a relative to assist in the process. If a stillbirth is not registered within 12 months the duty lies on the hospital, midwife or doctor to do so.

For the first time since 1880 the Bill provides for the recording of a woman's maiden name on her death certificate. That is welcome. Previously, only a woman's married name was listed, even if the marriage had ended years before her death. This is important as society has changed, particularly in recent times. We have a very different culture and there are many marriages between people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Updating the current registration system is an important part of improving the ability of families to research their history. In the past, many deaths were not recorded and entire families lost their histories. It is important that families are aware of their histories. A neighbour of mine lives very close to a graveyard. He is inundated with Americans calling to the graveyard seeking their lost ancestors. We hear a similar story from parish priests who are visited by Americans looking for records of their ancestors. County Clare is ahead of its time in this regard. In Corofin, the Clare heritage centre has provided a valuable resource for visitors, particularly Americans and Australians, who come to Clare to investigate their family background. There is an excellent research centre situated in an old church in Corofin. The researchers there use church records, civil records, death certificates, Griffith valuations and the very important census figures of 1901 and 1911. The centre has done an excellent job. I hope the Minister will visit it when she is next in County Clare. The centre is on the Internet and can communicate with researchers worldwide.

It is unfortunate that the Bill does not require that the date and place of birth be included on a death certificate. Genealogists have criticised this omission, noting that Ireland has few surnames and that such information is required for an accurate record of family history.

In order to know one's family history one must be able to access family records. The Bill is somewhat unclear as to how someone can access his or her family history. Will there be a fee for such a search, will there be a search facility and where would it be located? I will follow my colleague, Deputy Paul McGrath, in praising the Minister if she decides to locate such a centre in County Clare. It would be in keeping with the Government's decentralisation programme. The Minister is being praised by the opposition.

I am getting worried.

This is a good Bill but these questions must be addressed. I am applying for that centre. The Bill is welcome and many more Deputies wished to speak in this debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am sure the Minister will be overcome with emotion at the mere thought of praise coming from the other side of the House, particularly when no one is sitting behind her on the Government side.

There are many positive aspects to this legislation. As someone whose family, when we were children, experienced stillbirths and cot deaths I welcome the positive changes incorporated in the Bill. Until now, a stillbirth has not been recognised as a birth and this causes serious trauma for mothers. Other situations can be similarly traumatic. There will now be a visible record which can be checked and verified and will be available to all.

The place of one's birth occupies the minds of some people. When a person asks me for help in filling out a form, as all Members of the Oireachtas are asked, the place of birth is invariably given as the hospital in which the person was born. Almost the entire country's population was born in one of the hospitals in Dublin. The natural place of birth should be the place at which the parents had their registered address at the time the child was born. I am still not certain as to which is the correct place of birth. The birth certificate presumably states the place of birth as the hospital in which the child was born. As far as the rest of the population is concerned, the place of birth would have to be the address at which the parents were living at the time the baby was born.

It is with certain suspicion that I see moves towards the establishment of a database. I have great distrust of databases, the amount of information contained therein, the number of people with access thereto and the purposes for which they might attempt to gain authorised access thereto. I have reservations about this and the Minister should ensure that only people who have authority or reason to seek information on legitimate grounds have such access.

Deputy Paul McGrath rightly spoke about making it more convenient for people to register. Britney Spears had experience of marriage recently. I do not know if there would have been sufficient time to register that.

I notice in some cases the time lag could be used in a subsequent divorce if the registration had not taken place.

It is not in order to make comments about people who are not Members of the House.

The Deputy is a big fan of hers.

While Britney Spears is definitely not a Member of the House, I was using an example of what might happen in the event that she became a Member of the House.

She has Kildare connections.

The Adopted People's Association expressed concerns which I understand have been addressed. I would like confirmation that is the case. That body felt it could become more difficult to trace a parent under the new system and might create more problems for its members. This needs to be reviewed because many people who were adopted might not know the names of both their natural parents.

The legal profession has concerns that unscrupulous people might not register their marriages. I referred earlier to a well known person outside the State who might not register a marriage to make it easier to seek an annulment later. This needs to be borne in mind because the marriage could be almost over before the registration took place unless adequate safeguards were introduced. It is up to the Minister to ensure there is no time lag in reference to the 56 days. In other words, it should not be possible for people to get out of a marriage on the basis that they had not been married because it had not yet been registered.

The time allowed for the registration of births has been increased from 42 days to three months. That is an obvious benefit to many people, especially in the case of a cot death or stillbirth where the family might be traumatised and unable to make the registration within the required time. This proposal takes account of the sensitivities involved in cases where a baby dies and the obvious problems for the mother and the wider family at the time.

I welcome the legislation. I would like clarification on the points I made. I am concerned about the growing trend towards electronic recording of everything we know. Somebody has a bee in his bonnet that databases represent the answer to all our prayers. However, this is not the case and they represent a considerable invasion of privacy. It is now almost impossible to prevent breaches of the security system. Even in the much-vaunted security systems in this House and in Departments there have been breaches and attempted breaches. There needs to be a duplicate system in separate form so that, if one record is lost or destroyed or a computer explodes or records incorrectly, there is another fall back system. Once all the information is in a database, it must have a fallback system in the event of a difficulty.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí uilig a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo. Bhí mé go díreach ag éisteacht le muintir Fhine Gael. Níl a fhios agam cad a dhéanfaimid leo. Fuair mé ómós agus tacaíocht. I am sure that will be short-lived.

We will make up for it tomorrow.

I thank the Members of the House for their interest in this legislation. One of the most prominent aspects of the debate was the recognition of the effect this legislation has on every member of society. As practising politicians we can often find ourselves involved in complex issues regarding registrations. We appreciate the modernisation of the scheme. I would like to address a number of specific issues raised.

I received confirmation for Deputy Paul McGrath that parental signature is not required for those getting married at 18 or over. That provision applies to those aged under 16. That related to a discussion we had in 1995 about particular ethnic communities.

A number of Deputies were concerned that the Bill seemed to be more of an administrative convenience than providing a public service. A key objective of the Bill is to provide and improve the service to the public. A number of practical issues have been raised. For example the restriction as to where a life event can be registered has now been removed. This has been a terrible inconvenience as people now move around more frequently. This provision will be of tremendous benefit and will facilitate service to the public.

Many Deputies voiced concerns about the use of the information. I see this from a different perspective. People will be protected by the provisions of the Data Protection Act except for those who are dead and have no such protection. When we link this into the General Register Office system, it will certainly enhance service delivery to parents who will automatically receive child benefit when a child is born. This represents an important positive perspective.

Once the system was established, we were able to examine control procedures and came across a number of areas where controls were lacking as a consequence of not being able to cross-reference life events. I am sure the Deputies understand what I am talking about.

I do not necessarily share the concerns of Members opposite regarding the sharing of information because there are very strict guidelines on the use of the PPS which, under the legislation, must be brought before the House. However, I appreciate the point that security structures must be in place to ensure that information is not used wrongly.

A number of Members referred to adoption, which is a sensitive issue. The key features of the Bill initially were: to include a single register for all adoptions or, in other words, that the foreign and national adoption registers would be amalgamated; that certificates relating to all adoptions would be available from the registration offices throughout the country; and that restrictions of access to the index which links the adoption entry to the birth will be retained. I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has undertaken a public consultation process in respect of access to records by adopted persons and that submissions have been received on this matter. The Minister of State is actively considering those submissions at present.

Concerns were expressed about marriages and marriage notification. We are not being unreasonable in expecting that in civil marriages people should appear before the registrar five days before the wedding. People can be facilitated within the three month period. They must first complete the form three months before the date of the wedding and they must then appear before the registrar five days prior to the ceremony. A number of Deputies stated that people might be home from Australia or America, or that something might happen to prevent people appearing within that timeframe. Such eventualities will always arise and these will be dealt with in the courts system or whatever. Five days is a reasonable period. There are documents that must be submitted. It is an important requirement and it can be fulfilled at any registrar's office. One need not, therefore, necessarily go to the office at which one is to be married to complete the documentation. Provision is also made for attendance within the five-day period, but only with the agreement of the registrar. There are, therefore, opportunities to deal with matters that might arise.

Members referred to the risk of the non-registration of a marriage, a matter that was dealt with recently. A marriage is a significant event which brings with it duties and responsibilities. The non-registration of a marriage is comprehensively addressed in the legislation. The provisions in the Bill are designed to ensure that all marriages are registered. In addition, the non-registration of a marriage is an offence and liable to a penalty. As always, Deputy Durkan was awkward and threw up another conundrum for us. However, I have been assured that once there is a public declaration when people say "I do", they are married.

One could deny that.

One could do so but if there are two witnesses over 18 years of age, there is not much one can do.

And a video recording.

Yes, and everything else. Those issues will not arise.

I admire the Minister's confidence.

I have plenty of confidence in marriage, contrary to what Members opposite think.

I was not talking about marriage, I was referring to the recording system.

A number of Members referred to the registration of deaths and raised the question of the inclusion of the date and place of birth in the death register. I have made provision for the inclusion of the date of birth in the register and it is my intention to also include the place of birth by means of amendment on Committee Stage. I hope that will address the concerns made by a number of Deputies.

Will the place of birth be the hospital or the home address?

The place of birth is where the person was born. In the main in this country people are born in hospitals. I accept that this is not always the case but in general most people are born in hospitals, and that will be provided for on the new death registration form.

We do not have a maternity hospital in County Clare.

There will be no Clare natives born from now on if that is the case.

They can play for Limerick or Galway if they wish.

Other points were raised about public access to records. As a number of Deputies stated, many people are interested in genealogy. It is our intention to provide a search facility for people in Lombard Street in Dublin. There were some concerns that we would not be able to access such information. One speaker stated that an astronomical amount of money would be charged for this service. I asked for the relevant information to be provided and I discovered that the current fee for searches——

The Minister should not say it too loudly.

——is €1.90. There was an inference that it would cost hundreds of euro to carry out a search, but that will not be the case. I accept that people will have to pay slightly more for searches covering long periods of time. However, for the service provided and the work required of the staff involved, the fee charged is not astronomical.

Concerns were raised by Deputies from the midlands and, in particular, County Roscommon regarding the relocation of the General Register Office. It has been the Government's intention since 1992 to relocate the GRO to Roscommon. A commitment was given to retain the genealogy and family research facility in Dublin. The GRO was established in Roscommon in 1996 to collate and validate the approximately 5 million registered pages and 26 associated index entries in the civil registration historic records. There are almost 36 whole-time equivalent staff in the Roscommon office at present. The work is approaching its final stages. All the registered pages have been imaged and all index entries have been compiled electronically, although a considerable level of quality assurance work remains to be undertaken this year. An agreement has been reached with the Department of Finance for a future GRO staffing complement of 60, 52 in Roscommon and eight in the Dublin genealogy and family research centre. The number of additional staff due to transfer to Roscommon is 14 or 15. We have done a great deal of work in Roscommon via the mechanism of decentralisation.

I am advised that the new Government building in Roscommon is expected to be available for occupation by December of this year. It is intended that the GRO in Roscommon will be fully operational commencing in January 2005. However, functions will be transferred to Roscommon on a gradual basis during the second half of this year. Electronic research facilities will be introduced to the research room in Joyce House from April or May of 2004. Access to paper and microfilm copies of the index books and registers will continue to be required until such time as all the historical data are available electronically. Concerns were raised about our losing these records. I have been assured that constant back-up will be provided in respect of the records and the information provided for registration.

A number of Members referred to the registration of fathers' particulars. I share their concerns on that issue. As they are aware, the provisions of the Bill provide for the registration of the birth by the parents within an extended time period of three months. Facilities for the registration of birth in the major hospitals and maternity hospitals have been progressively introduced to facilitate parents with the timely registration of the event, which is very important. The emphasis in sections 22 and 23 is to facilitate the registration of a father's details on the birth register through the co-operation of the parents. The Bill provides for an application to be made by either parent acting alone, and supported by a court order, to name the father in the register of birth. There is no presumption in law that a man other than the husband of a married woman is the father of a child. There would be practical and legal difficulties for a registrar in requiring a man to register the birth of a child without paternity being conclusively established. However, in view of the issues raised by a number of Members, we will evaluate the situation.

I hope I have dealt with most of the issues raised during the debate. There will be further debate on Committee Stage. I thank Members for bringing their concerns about the legislation before the House. Most particularly, I thank them for their co-operation in ensuring this important legislation is given a swift passage through the House.

Question put and agreed to.