Civil Registration Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I wish to share my time with Deputy Timmins.

The Minister's adversary, Deputy Ring, is not present and I feel somewhat intimidated trying to fill his shoes while he is defending the citizens' right to decide who they should elect to county councils. We wait in anticipation but the Minister must be disappointed. We had many concerns about this Bill when it was published, some of which remain, but we appreciate the Minister's briefing which allayed many of our concerns yesterday. That was a very positive approach by the Minister and her Department.

It is timely to introduce this Bill. The procedures for registration of births, marriages and deaths, and now other issues such as divorce, date back two centuries, long before anyone even dreamt of computers and information technology as it has developed to date. It is welcome that we will 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. The old registers required for the different applications will be no more.

It is also welcome that the Departments will share information on the PPS number. We have been talking about this for some time, particularly in the health and social welfare areas where means testing takes place for various benefits. If one has a medical card, a means test is carried out for all benefits, including disability pension and so on. Different means tests could take place within weeks. Perhaps the Minister is setting a precedent for other Departments in this regard.

What progress has been made on decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon? The Minister referred to the modernisation of the Civil Registration Service and facilities. What progress has been made in this regard and what has been the reaction of the staff of the Civil Registration Service to the proposal to move to Roscommon?

We must welcome the establishment of the new registers of divorce and civil nullity. When registration commenced, the issue of divorce and civil nullity was decades if not centuries into the future. Given the modern changes, it is necessary that this should take place.

I was impressed with the volume of work carried out in the General Register Office and compliment the staff. 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. This is a very impressive list.

The new provision will result in a visible improvement from the customer's perspective in that a single interaction with a public service agency, for example the registration of a birth, will not only achieve its original purpose but trigger a series of related services by another agency. In this instance, customers of the Minister's Department availing of the e-mail service no longer have to source and complete a multi-page paper application form and supply a paper birth certificate. This highlights one of the key improvements in customer service.

Sections 23 and 24 provide for a birth to be re-registered to allow the father's details to be entered where they were not entered in the register at the time of registration. I would like the provision to be strengthened. It is a child's right to know and be parented by both parents, regardless of the status of their relationship. Both parents have an obligation to take an active part in the upbringing of children, which the law should facilitate. I am aware that another area of justice inhibits this happening at the moment, which is a different debate. There should be a stronger statement on the registration of the father's name. This aspect should be explored further on Committee Stage to see if we could place more emphasis on the right of the child to know and be parented by both parents and to have access to their extended family on both sides. It is a child's right to have both parents' names included on their birth certificate and to have access to both parents, except in exceptional circumstances where violence is involved or where either the father or mother should not have access to the child.

A child has a right to know and have access to all the elements of his or her family tree, including genealogy and medical information. One of the questions people are often asked when presenting to a doctor is whether there a history of heart disease or cancer in the family. A child has a right to that medical information. The State should support all parents, mothers and fathers alike, for the benefit of the community and society as a whole, in seeking that they be equally involved in the shared parenting of their children, both within relationships and marriage and through the promotion of the concept of joint custody of children as a normal expectation in the case of separation and relationship breakdown.

The welfare of the children should be of paramount importance at all times. There should be continuing research into the effects on children of parents' shared parenting, marital breakdown, joint custody, absence of parents and so on. If the provision were strengthened, not only would there be an opportunity to register the father but it would be implied that there is an obligation to register the father's name. If there is a dispute, taking a DNA test might be considered because there is always a danger of such a procedure being exploited or abused. There would have to be checks and balances and protection against abuse, because where there are rights there are responsibilities.

Sections 28 and 29 provide for the registration of stillbirths. In future parents or a relative may register the stillbirth within 12 months. Currently only the parents can register the stillbirth within 42 days. The new provisions are being introduced to allow the family of the child more time to undertake the necessary registration procedures while coping with their loss. When I was in the Seanad the Stillbirths Registration Bill went through both Houses. At the time we explored in detail the trauma, deep upset and level of bereavement of the mother to a great extent, and to a very large extent of the father and siblings of a stillborn baby. The level of bereavement experienced by the parents and siblings of a baby who is stillborn cannot be overstated. There is also the loss of sympathy from society. Very often people do not receive assistance from friends and neighbours on the death of the child. Allowing more time, or another relevant person to register the birth, is helpful in the context of the experience of the parents. A parent can now ask a friend or a significant person in their lives to register the birth rather than having to go through the trauma of having their child registered and named.

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.

There is no mention of the best interest of the birth parents. I do not know what their best interest is but I know the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is probably exploring it in some way. The Minister has spoken specifically about the best interest of the adopted person but has not mentioned it in conjunction with the best interests of the adoptive parents and the birth parents. Emphasis should be placed on "parents" because an adopted child has a birth mother and a birth father. This area has been debated to some extent but we should ask whether the registrar should also examine the best interests of the adoptive parents.

I want to touch briefly on the subject of marriage. The rule requiring a couple to notify the registrar of marriages at least three months before the intended date of marriage will continue to be in force, which is welcome. The Minister stated recently that the State should no longer accept marriage as the norm. There are good reasons the State should be firmly in favour of marriage rather than softening its stance in any way, while recognising what is happening in society. This is because marriage gives legal protection to the spouse and children and confers real benefits in rearing children. The State does not do enough to encourage marriage and does not provide real help for families. To say that the State should encourage marriage does not imply blindness to the reality that families break up or to the reluctance of those who have been hurt in a relationship to make a fresh commitment.

The Minister was correct when she stated that a priority of family policy should be to encourage the proper care of children and to encourage both parents to contribute to the rearing of children. However, the reality is that current public policy often militates against both objectives. For example, under present Government policy, greater tax benefits are available to parents who live apart and much tougher rules of social welfare assessment apply to parents who live together. Rent supplement will now be automatically refused once a working spouse moves in, irrespective of how little that spouse earns. It is not clear what policy instrument the State has in place to encourage joint guardianship or joint caring where the parents are not living together.

There is no coherent support structure for the development of child care services, and the system does not encourage marriage. Therefore, the State should be more overtly in favour of marriage and ensure that its policies do not discourage unions.

On marriage notification, where a couple intend to marry, they must both notify a registrar in writing of their intention to marry at least three months prior to the event or else obtain a court exemption from the notification requirement under section 46. This notification of marriage is not a new development as it was a feature of the Family Law Act 1995, but the Bill introduces a new provision whereby the couple will be required to attend at the registrar's office or such other specified place at least five days prior to the date of the intended marriage and sign a declaration that there is no impediment to their intended marriage. Could this five day notification proposal affect those living abroad and returning just before their weddings? In most cases, including mine, couples allocated their annual holidays for their marriage and honeymoon but the new provision will now oblige couples to return to Ireland five days before their marriage.

The signing of the declaration only takes two minutes.

Yes. However, if those living in the United States want to be married in their local church in Ireland, as they do, is the Minister suggesting that they should fly over to sign the declaration, fly home again and then fly back again for their marriage?

No. It is only five days. Most couples are home five days before their marriage anyway.

I know people who returned closer to the day of their marriage. Although I do not object to what the Minister says, a legal procedure could be established whereby people could sign the declaration from abroad and have that declaration certified by a notary or legal person to satisfy the requirements laid down in the Bill.

On section 46(2) and (3), newly married couples will be required to register their marriages within one month of the event. In the past, priests and clergy returned the marriage registration form to the registrar even though they were not legally required to do so. The priest or person solemnising the marriage could still return the form on behalf of the couple but the onus was on the couple to ensure that this happened. Safeguards were built into the legislation to deal with circumstances in which a marriage registration form was lost or damaged. The registrar could oversee the completion of a second form.

The Law Society of Ireland has warned that some unscrupulous people may not register their marriages in the hope of making it easier to seek an annulment later. However, there are safeguards such as the requirement on the registrar to contact the couple if the form is not received 56 days after the marriage. The Law Society of Ireland has warned that this element could muddy the waters and lead to inaccuracies in the marriage register. It claims that, if a marriage is not registered, a person may attempt to nullify it or sell a house without the spouse's knowledge. The non-registration of a marriage could be used to frighten a spouse into agreeing less favourable terms of separation. The society claims that, even with the safeguards, an unscrupulous person may try to circumvent them.

Let us consider the concerns of the Genealogical Society of Ireland about the Bill. First, it believes the date of birth should be entered on the death certificate and that the Bill should make this a requirement. This would create a more accurate record, given that Ireland, unlike other countries, has relatively few surnames and many thousands of our citizens have the exact same forename and surname. The society gives the examples of "John Murphy" and "Mary O'Connor". How many John Murphys and Mary O'Connors have been registered in the past 50 to 100 years?

The Genealogical Society of Ireland also believes the birth certificate process should permit the recording of an optional Irish language version of the baby's forename and surname, as supplied by the parents. This would provide legal recognition of both the English and Irish versions of the person's name, permitting him or her to use either or both during the course of his or her lifetime. The society believes it is strange that the Taoiseach and many Ministers, for example, will sign official documents using the Irish language versions of their names, yet there is no official recognition of the existence of the two-language naming system in the registration process. This is because it was introduced in the 1800s.

The registration system in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society should allow for the recording of the traditional naming patterns of minority groups within the State, including names applied at certain stages of life or religious names. The system should be optional and at the behest of the parents or guardians. Jewish people should be able to use Hebrew and English names.

This Bill does not specifically state that there will be a public search facility in Dublin. Successive Ministers have assured the genealogical community that such a facility will be maintained in Dublin and that should be reflected in the text of the Bill. As it stands, the public search facility will only be available in cyber-space and limited to a credit card pay-per-view service. The Bill is unclear on public accessibility to future civil registration records.

An opportunity to define historical records, thus permitting them to be transferred to the National Archives after 70 years, should be a feature of this legislation. This would ensure microfilm copies of the original GRO records of births, marriages and deaths would be transferred to the National Archives to facilitate research in non-fragmented, non-computerised format. A computerised format will not facilitate certain localised searches which are important to medical, demographic, labour, social and genealogical research. The members of genealogical societies would appreciate it if the Minister could examine this area before Committee Stage.

Deputy Neville spoke about the registration of names but will this Bill prevent the multiplicity and derivatives of names we have seen mentioned at the tribunals, with some people having six different names?

There are issues raised by the Bill that fall outside the remit of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs but her officials might pass them on to the relevant Departments. The explanatory memorandum states that this Bill will assist in planning for the development of schools, housing and hospitals but the Minister did not refer to that in her speech. How will that be picked up by other Departments?

I forward development plans in my constituency to the relevant Minister and they seem to be ignored. In Wicklow there is a village with a population of 2,000 that is set to increase to 5,000 but Garda numbers have been reduced. It is important that the Department passes on relevant information to other Departments so they can plan ahead. We want to avoid the situation in Lucan arising in other areas in future.

Deputy Neville mentioned sections 28 and 29 which cover the registration of stillbirths. We are familiar with the expression "the good old days" but I often think they were the bad old days. In many communities, stillborn children and suicides were buried outside graveyards in unmarked areas that are recalled only in local folklore. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Departments of Arts, Sport and Tourism should record that information before it is lost. We should identify these places and erect memorials to those forgotten people who were buried in them. Stillbirths are always tragic and I compliment the Minister for extending the 42 day period for registration of a stillbirth to a year and allowing a relative to register the death.

This Bill should hinder those who would falsify documents. I can get anyone's birth certificate and create a new identity and that should be prevented. People do it to escape previous criminal convictions or to join organisations. There was a story about the siege of Jadotville in the Belgian Congo on the radio recently. One of the officers involved mentioned that he found out afterwards that there were troops serving under him who were 15 and 16. The youngest soldier killed in the First World War was aged 14 and we should prevent such things from happening.

Genealogy is close to my heart. One arm of the Genealogical Society of Ireland made a submission to the Minister. She did not refer to it in her speech or indicate that she would meet its concerns on Committee Stage but they are pertinent. The cost of accessing records was one of the issues raised. The register of births, deaths and marriages since 1864 is held in the offices on Lombard Street. It is several years since I was there, because I have not had time since I entered politics, but at the time a five year search cost £5, a search of every year cost much more and to get a photocopy of a birth certificate cost £1. Going back to the 1880s, however, to look for a person called John Murphy of Adamstown often resulted in the wrong John Murphy being located. It was tradition in the 19th century that if a child called Dan died, the next male child would also be called Dan. There can be confusion between a Dan born in 1886 and a Dan born in 1888.

In America there are 40 million people of Irish descent and they are crying out to know from where they came. The ancestry websites contain message boards with many people seeking information. One such site I visited over Christmas had a message from a man who sent a stamped addressed envelope to a group seeking information but he did not get a reply. He said looking for information in Ireland was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The messages in those websites were posted up to four years ago. John Murphy would be looking for information on Mary Murphy who left Bunbeg in 1847. Many people would be able to respond if they knew the messages were there. This could also be raised with the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism. We could be more proactive in the area because it would have a knock-on effect on tourism.

"Full many a flower was born to blush unseen" but I hope the Minister will take on board the points I made.

I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill, which the Labour Party broadly supports. 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 not pertinent in earlier years, annulments and divorces. Such statistics are important in recording events and information that can be used by Departments and organisations to project what will happen in future. The Bill is an attempt to modernise bureaucratic administration and that is something on which I will elaborate at a later stage because I would be concerned that something might be lost in that.

Part of the thrust of the Bill is to suit the bureaucracy of administration as opposed to recognising the rights of the people involved. If there is some element of help — Deputy Neville referred to this — it is important that registration of guardianship and so on should also be recognised. People, including young children, have rights and it is important that they are recognised. I will refer to that at a later stage. The Bill deals with the administration of the registration of births, stillbirths, adoptions, deaths, marriages, divorce and annulments and introduces some changes. There are other ancillary provisions to bring us out of the 1800s and into this new millennium, and they are important.

As a lawyer I am a strong advocate of codifying and modernising legislation. It is important to do that because it is a major problem. Some of the costs of a lawyer may be linked to the amount of research that must be done, some dating back to 1845. The Taoiseach referred to laws which dated back to 1400 and are applicable today. That is nonsensical. The Government should consider employing more parliamentary draftsmen — I suppose that is what they are still called in a throwback to the old age — to ensure that the legislation is brought up to date, modernised and codified so that the ordinary citizen can understand it. It would eliminate much of the bureaucratic and antiquated language. That cannot be done so handily in the context of titles but it can be done in other areas.

The longer period to effect registration of various events is important and welcome. The five day period is like the three month notice under the 1995 Act. One can apply to the judge and the hearing takes place in camera. I am sure there will be some system whereby one can apply to the appropriate registrar because of specific extenuating circumstances as outlined by Deputy Neville. The fact that it might not be possible to postpone a wedding might represent an extenuating circumstance. I would be disappointed if the legislation did not recognise or vest in the registrar or superintendent the power and discretion to take cognisance of such a situation. In this Bill we recognise the reality of what is happening in that regard.

The system for the registration of births, marriages and deaths in Ireland dates back to at least 1844. That is how it appears from the list of statutes repealed in the Second Schedule to the Bill. The system is one which has evolved naturally over the years. The Labour Party in Government has been vigilant and active in playing its part in that regard. I recall and am proud of the fact that, when we were last in Government, we introduced the Stillbirths Registration Act 1994, to which Deputy Neville referred. It provided, for the first time, a statutory system for the registration of births of stillborn children. This has been of tremendous benefit and comfort to the parents of stillborn children. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the tremendous work of the former Deputy and Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Mervyn Taylor, in bringing forward the Act. He is now a member of the Commission on Human Rights.

Another significant innovation introduced by the former Minister, Mr. Taylor, was the Registration of Births Act 1996 which, for the first time, provided a new form of birth certificate which treated mothers and fathers equally. Prior to that, the registration of births system requested information regarding a father's occupation but not a mother's. Furthermore, there was no provision for registration of a surname for a child. In the absence of such a provision, the regulation regarding short birth certificates provided that a child automatically took the father's surname if the parents were married and the mother's if they were not. These outdated provisions were replaced by a modern form of birth certificate by the legislation introduced by the Labour Party in Government. I stand over that principle.

It is a matter of some regret, therefore, that the principle of equal treatment of both parents is being swept away by the Bill and replaced once again by a discriminatory provision which, if I read it correctly and I am open to correction, requires different information in respect of mothers and fathers. The offensive provision in this regard is the new requirement that a mother's marital status be included on a birth or stillbirth registration certificate. This is a regressive measure and one which the Minister should reconsider. While one might have no problem about such information now, it may cause problems for somebody in that situation in future.

A number of aspects of the Bill have received considerable attention. I want to highlight the absence of registration of orders or agreements regarding guardianship. It seems that guardianship is a sufficiently major life event to warrant registration in a formal way. I support calls for the inclusion of guardianship registration in the Bill. On a more general level, however, it is important that we approach the question of the guardianship of children of parents who are not married to each other in a spirit of equality. This has not yet been achieved. While the law has moved in the direction of greater protection for natural parents in recent years, the days of complete equality are still some way off. The aim is to try to achieve this. It is something that falls outside the scope of this Bill. However, the ambit of the Minister's departmental responsibilities is wide in this regard. Given its complexity, it is something to which we should return on a future occasion to ensure that the legitimate entitlements of natural mothers are also recognised.

The failure to make provision for registration of orders or agreements regarding guardianship illustrates a fundamental shortcoming of the Bill, namely, that it is driven by organisational and bureaucratic considerations rather than by ideological motivation. The primary objectives of the Bill are not to facilitate the rights of individuals but the convenience of the system. Accordingly, in a significant number of areas, the Bill fails to come to grips with the fact that individuals have rights — a point Deputy Neville made — which cannot be readily accommodated within the framework of a bureaucratic control mechanism which has traditionally existed and is perpetuated by the Bill. It may seem to some that registration of births, marriages, deaths and other life events is inherently a bureaucratic process and the question of individual rights does not arise. I reject this proposition. It is clear from experience that the registration of life events is a matter of great sensitivity and importance to many individuals. It is important and essential that our administrative systems are geared to the needs of individuals rather than, as the Bill appears to provide, individuals being required to submit to the dictates of the system and the rigid rules it prescribes.

I will give one example of the rigidity of the system contained in the Bill. It provides for appeals against the decision of registrars. At first sight this appears to be a useful provision and, in so far as it goes, I welcome it. On closer inspection, however, the limitations of the appeals system become obvious. Only two categories of decisions can be appealed against, namely, failure to register details which have been supplied and refusal to correct an error. There are many types of dispute which might arise with the registrar which fall outside this provision and in relation to which the Minister makes no provision for appeal.

For example, by virtue of the Schedule 1 to the Bill, the surname of a child is to be that provided in the first instance by the person registering the birth. There may be cases, albeit isolated, but we must try to stretch our minds in that way, where parents wish to give the child a joint surname based on the surnames of both parents but the hospital registers it as, for example, Penrose rather than Penrose-Fitzsimons. In circumstances where the hospital registers the birth with the father's surname only, there is no right vested in the parents to have the surname corrected. The only right that would arise under the Bill would be for the correction of an error, and this is not an error within the meaning of the Bill. The Minister should take cognisance of that. It is a situation that does not arise often but it needs to be taken into account.

There are other areas. Another example I found is where a child is born in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and the registrar registers the birth as occurring on a particular road between two named places. That is not a satisfactory description of the place of birth. It would be far better if the name of a townland were used. In these circumstances a dispute does not appear to constitute an error for the purposes of the Bill. Accordingly appeal procedures will not be available to a parent in such a situation.

Another instance of the narrow and bureaucratic approach taken to disputes is in further appeals to the High Court. The Minister has provided the narrowest form of appeal. The appeal lies in a question of law indicating an intention on the part of the Minister to make the register's determination and question of fact final and conclusive. It is often on a question of fact that the argument arises, not on a question of law. This is inappropriate in any appeal system and it is a matter on which I have strong views.

If one is a barrister by profession and makes an argument, people tend to question one's motives and accuse one of arguing one's own case. Far be it from me to do that and I say that sincerely. I hold no brief for the prolongation of litigation, but there is a worrying and inappropriate trend towards the restriction of the right of appeal to the Supreme Court. This has been removed by the Minister in this Bill.

It is interesting that the right of appeal to the Supreme Court, which was prohibited under the Freedom of Information Act 1997, was restored in the 2003 Act. It would be desirable if other Ministers would take note and follow the same practice.

For all the concern and attention to bureaucratic detail outlined in the Bill, a number of provisions do not seem to have been fully thought out. For example, it is ironic that the primary registration function under the Bill has been given to the health boards, notwithstanding the fact that it is being debated at a time when these bodies are on the endangered species list with a view to their abolition. It is also somewhat strange that the Bill retains many of the 19th century provisions as regards registration such as the requirement that persons registering a birth, for example, must physically attend registration. I accept the elongation of the time period for registration of birth and the widening of the definition of "qualified persons" who can register an event, such as undertakers and so on. However, it would seem to be unlawful to transmit notice of births, or indeed many other events to be registered under this Bill, by means of the post. Whatever excuse there may be for Victorian legislation enacted 1884 not accommodating the penny post, it seems strange that this Bill does not accommodate information transmitted other than in person.

I know there is a degree of urgency about this Bill as court decisions are pending. I welcome the fact that the particular life event can now be registered anywhere and that it is not prescribed by the geographical area in which it occurs. The issue of a certificate is vitally important. I acknowledge the Minister has done work as regards the immediacy of registration that will now take place following the birth of a child. This has a bearing on aspects of children's allowance. It may now be the case that if a child is registered the children's allowance will arrive within three or four days. It will be automatic in the case of a second child because of computerised records. I am always wary as to where the information will be available, however. Everyone says it is great to have the PPS number, but I hope that the provision of the Data Protection Act 1988 will apply to certain important information that is personal. There is a certain sensitivity about some information and it is important that this should be respected.

We received some information from the Genealogical Society of Ireland. I noted a recent article from that source on the importance of what the society does. It is an independent voluntary non-governmental organisation which promotes the study of genealogy, heraldry and social historical subjects. It has an Irish and international membership. Likewise the Irish Genealogical Research Society has been examining this area. It has campaigned for a civil registration Bill for many years and kept up the pressure for the introduction of a comprehensive structure of legislation for Irish civil registration that caters for the requirements of a modern technological environment and meets the needs of researchers of many disciplines, including genealogy.

I read an article recently by a member of the Irish Genealogical Research Society. We lost records from the Public Record Office in 1922 and that was obviously a blow to genealogical research. Nevertheless, the point was made that a substantial and voluminous body of civil records dating back to 1845 remains. It was only in 1864 that legislation first came into force to compel the registration in Ireland of all births, deaths and marriages. Death registration has remained virtually unchanged since 1964. Currently, nothing is being recorded about the date or place of birth or parents' names. This is a weakness in the current civil record. In the case of marriage registrations it is only since 1956 that the dates of birth of both parties have been recorded in full as well as their parents' names. It is important to insert the maximum amount of information in the records, particularly death registration.

The Bill, as drafted, contains a provision to record a deceased person's date of birth, but the Irish Genealogical Research Society and indeed the Genealogical Society of Ireland advocate the insertion of more details such as a person's place of birth. I support this because one's place of birth is of historical and familial important. My own name is virtually confined to the Midlands. The Americans will find one, nonetheless. They will find a gravestone and trace the connection and establish a relationship. The name might be Murphy, O'Connor or whatever. Locally, people might be known as Black Jack, Red Sean or Micky Joe, but for people trying to trace their ancestors the place of birth is paramount.

On reading the Bill last night, I thought the Minister was acceding to this request. I was prepared to challenge the argument that there was no need to record the place of birth as the computerised system could make links of all civil records through the use of the PPS number. This is absolutely critical because it is only future registrations that will include the PPS number. From that point onwards the linkage will be in place.

We are only complying with UN legislation. The model civil registration law includes precisely date and place of birth etc. Only one other EU country, Greece, does not have a model system. Northern Ireland has had all the relevant paraphernalia in place for the last 31 years as regards deceased persons' places of birth and it causes no difficulties. In this legislation it is important we reflect the norms that pertain in most other jurisdictions as regards the inclusion of the place as well as the date of birth in the death registration process. That point has been made by Michael Merrigan on behalf of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. The society has done excellent work which should be acknowledged. We used this Bill to advance a number of the points he made.

As Deputy Neville said, the birth certification process should permit the recording of an option to have an Irish language version of the baby's forename and surname as supplied by the parents. This would, obviously, provide a legal recognition of the English and Irish version of the person's name, enabling him or her to use either or both during the course of his or her lifetime. It is important that the Irish version of the name is duly recorded.

The third point was that the registration system in Ireland which is now multi-ethnic and multi-cultural should provide for the recording of the traditional naming patterns of minority groups within the State, including names applied at certain stages of life or religious names. That should be optional and at the behest of the parents or guardians. It is important we take cognisance of that point.

The fourth point — Deputy Neville referred to this — is that the Bill does not specifically state that public search facilities will be situated in the city of Dublin. Successive Ministers have assured the genealogical community that such a facility will be maintained in Dublin and they are anxious that this be reflected in the text of the Bill. As it stands, the public search facility might only be available in cyber-space and might be limited to a credit card based pay-per-view service. That is the worst of all options. We want to ensure that will not be the end result.

My fifth point relates to the fact that the Bill is unclear on the nature of any public accessibility of future civil registration records. It creates an opportunity to provide for a definition of historical records and permits same to be transferred to the National Archives following 70 years. This should be a feature of the legislation. I appreciate the Minister may feel such a provision extends beyond the scope of this legislation. Nevertheless, we should respect that those involved in this area know the situation. This would indicate that microfilm copies of GRO records of births, marriages and deaths would be transferred each year from the General Register Office to the National Archives to facilitate research on these records in a non-fragmented format. A computerised format will not facilitate certain localised searches which are important in medical, demographic, labour, social and genealogical research.

The above points are reasonably made and we should take cognisance of them. I make my points in the spirit of partnership and of trying to improve the Bill and I hope the Minister will take some of them on board. As legislators, we are obliged to examine the legislation to see if we can improve upon it.

The Bill also reflects and brings into being matters already provided for in the Status of Children Act. It is important that a reflection of current reality is outlined in this Bill. The matter of devolution of authority to superintendents is also important. It is critical that death certificates are issued as quickly as possible. I have raised this matter with the Minister before. I know death certificates cannot be released until the medical staff have written in the cause of death but it is important the process is expedited. A significant number of people require death certificates within a short time, particularly if they wish to gain access to funding from banks and so on to pay for outgoings. One of the marks of elderly people — people like myself in the middle age group are a little slower to pay up immediately and instead obtain the maximum amount of credit — is that they like to deal with matters as soon as possible. Such a provision is important to them. A positive and notable advantage of the new registration system will be an acceleration in the process of issuing certificates.

One is now required to attend a particular register office five days before the date of intention to marry. Obviously, that is to ensure one is not aware of any impediment to one's marriage. I am sure the legislation makes provision in that regard. One is also required to have two witnesses of at least 18 years of age. That brings into line the substantive requirements of the solemnisation of a valid marriage. The flexibility in terms of venues where a marriage can take place will necessitate the issue of guidelines. Obviously, the church will prescribe its own guidelines in this area. I would like the Minister's views on what type of venues will be permitted under the flexibility clause which I broadly welcome.

On the devolution of powers, will the Minister say what decisions will now be appealable to an tArd-Chláraitheoir who might refuse to register people who make an application to him or her to be included in the register of solemnised marriages? On what basis could the right of appeal be affected?

Despite my misgivings on some of the shortcomings of the Bill, I broadly welcome and support it. I give notice that I intend to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage with a view to addressing some of the inadequacies I have identified today. The Bill is timely and it will modernise an extremely important area. I ask the Minister to ensure the availability of information and to take cognisance of the various sensitivities in terms of events which are important to people.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ferris and Twomey.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

There can be no argument about this being necessary legislation. It is an area that has, for a number of years, required a legislative clean-up. There is now an urgency, on foot of judicial proceedings, to some aspects contained in the Bill. The hope should be that changes that have long been apparent in terms of anomalies will be tackled not only during this Second Stage debate but on Committee Stage. I note the Minister has already indicated her intention to put down a number of Committee Stage amendments. I hope she will recognise there are other anomalies in the Bill which she may accept or on which she will be prepared to table further amendments.

The fact that the Bill deals first with administrative changes gives an air that this Bill is, in the main, about the administrative convenience of processing the system. Other speakers have commented on that. It would be unfortunate if we put administrative convenience ahead of public service in what is an important part of recording who and what we are in society and the manner of our leaving it. We must record all the necessary aspects in a manner which is sensitive to the needs of each citizen. As I will state later, there are serious questions as to how this will be done in respect of a number of categories of people.

The proposals on the registration of births is generally acceptable as necessary change and I note the comments of the Irish Genealogical Society, which points out that further changes can be made in this regard, especially on recognising the cultural diversity which now exists. In that context, people from other cultural backgrounds have systems of naming which do not consist of the forename-surname approach, which has been prevalent in our society since we started recording these matters.

We must also recognise that birth certificates still ask questions the relevance of which I do not understand. For example, both the father's mother's and mother's mother's names will remain on the birth certificate, as required by this Bill. Perhaps someone would explain why they were ever recorded on the birth certificate, why it is still necessary to do so and why there are no consistent details on the father's father or the mother's father if we are trying to provide back-up material on the person being registered for birth.

The fact that the Irish Genealogical Society has raised the question of having the Irish version of the name as an optional extra on the birth certificate should be given strong consideration. If we have two national languages, we should formally record it as such and it would give a greater legal basis to the name being used in the first official language. The Irish Genealogical Society points out that members of the Government regularly sign documents using the official Irish language version of their name but it is doubtful whether any of those names have ever been recorded on an official birth certificate. That issue should be examined.

I welcome the changes to the registration of stillbirths and the recognition that the lives brought into being in this manner should be recorded and certain sensitivities should be accorded by the State registrar to ensure this is done sensitively and properly. The extension of time to record such stillbirths is to be welcomed.

I draw attention to the register of adoptions, legislation on which has yet to come before the House. I have raised the issue with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and her officials. It is a glaring anomaly that not only the adoption certificate for adopted people but the short birth certificate that adopted people receive does not mention a place of birth. It records the registration of where the adoption occurs, which invariably is in Dublin north central 4 or 5, where the adoption agency has operated in the past. It is unacceptable in current adoption law for the State not to assist people who choose to seek information on their biological history and to compromise adopted people in regard to their geographical history.

I note that, in the Schedule to the Bill, the register of adoption only records the country of birth. An important amendment which should be accepted by the Minister and which would not affect future legislation would recognise that adopted people come from a certain place and not only have a biological family background, but a cultural history of where they were born, all of which should be recorded in State documents. I am prepared to supply whatever information to the Minister's officials in that regard as is required.

The Irish Genealogical Society also points out that the date of birth should be recorded in the registration of deaths. There is an option for the date of the last recorded time of birth — it is an either-or option — and the place of birth has always been asked for. However, in terms of genealogy and recording where we are as a society, the more information which can be put on one document, the better. It is a small request which should be acceded to.

The area of marriage has witnessed a number of changes. The Minister has proposed to examine the list of solemnisers on Committee Stage, which is a recognition of the cultural diversity which exists in terms of forms of religious expression. I know the Minister has examined the issue, but I am disappointed that people who have other religious belief systems, who choose to enter into partnerships and wish to have them solemnised in other ways cannot be recognised by the Bill. The issue should be examined and overcome in some way.

The other aspect in regard to marriages relates to the venues in which marriages can take place and be recognised. In this regard, the Bill gives the appearance that the law is being liberalised but there is too much vagueness and we should define categories of buildings, for instance civic buildings, on Committee Stage. For example, Dublin City Hall has been mentioned as a venue. Likewise, other venues could be licensed on a regular basis for the conduct of marriages of this nature. As a result of this vagueness and the fact that this issue will be dealt with through a future agreement with the health boards, their successors or some type of ministerial order, it is unhelpful to the Opposition that we refer to where marriages might happen without knowing precisely where. We are unlikely to have an opportunity of passing legislation of this nature possibly for another 60 years, as Deputy Penrose has already indicated. On that basis, it is important we get things right now and introduce as many changes as possible.

On the issue of registering births, I am the only Member of this House born in the United States and I know the Bill recognises births outside the State——

The Deputy is not the first Member to be born there.

I am not the first. I suspect that is why the planes, boats and trains amendment has been proposed because I cannot see how the founder of the party opposite could have been properly registered if this did not exist in the first instance.

There are provisions for people who have lost information, having been born to Irish citizens outside the State or born on planes, boats or trains. However, since we are a nation of emigrants, it would be a great help to people who, for administrative convenience on their own part seek to re-register a birth to avoid having to seek such information, which in my case was 4,000 miles away, if there were a provision to allow Irish citizens born outside the State re-register their official documents received in another state and receive such subsequent documentation whenever it is needed. I will argue on Committee Stage that the Minister might give consideration to such a provision.

I wish to make some points on Part 5 dealing with the registration of deaths. I welcome the Minister's decision to include provision to record the date of birth of a deceased person and I congratulate the various legal and genealogical groups which have campaigned for this change for so long.

Looking through the list of legislation amended by the Bill, I was struck by how much of it dates from the middle part of the 19th century. The opportunity to amend and change the registration process does not occur that often. Therefore, it is all the more important to ensure that ,when we have the opportunity to make changes, and a number of positive ones will be made by this legislation, we do so properly because we do not want to have to wait for another 150 years to come back to it.

Despite the fact that 85% of countries studied by the United Nations recorded the place of birth of the deceased on the register, that every EU state except Greece records the place of birth and that, since 1973, accurate registration of the place of birth of the deceased has been recorded in the Six Counties, it is not included in the legislation. The explanation advanced is that people would not know where their parents were from, but I dispute that. People can trace each other all over this country and this point has been well made by other Members. This suggests the Minister believes the powers of recall of Irish citizens living in the Six Counties are superior to those of citizens living in this State. As someone who spends time north of the Border, like the Minister, I assure her this is not the case, nor do I believe that the people of France or Italy have better memories than the people of this State. If this is the explanation being offered by the Minister, it is unacceptable. The decision not to include the place of birth might have more to do with cost and convenience than alleged memory problems, especially in a culture still rooted in parish and county, as in Donegal and Kerry.

I will address this on Committee Stage.

The other explanation provided by the General Register Office is that the extra detail is not required because the computerised system referred to in the legislation will include the use of personal public service numbers against which records can be checked. The flaws in this argument have been pointed out to the Minister. It will be decades before those who die have a birth record on the system that includes a PPS number and thus can link one record to another.

Will the Minister outline why the UN's model civil registration law, which provides for the recording of the place of birth of the deceased, is not appropriate to this jurisdiction? Does she accept it would merely require minor amendment to Part 5 of Schedule 1? I urge the Minister to accept an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage,

I also have a concern regarding section 22(1), which provides that the father of a child who was not married to the mother of the child at the date of his or her birth or during the ten months prior to the birth is not obliged to give information. I am astonished that this provision is in the legislation because it makes fatherhood optional, something that can be indulged in or avoided as the father sees fit, and it places an extraordinary burden on a woman who wants her child fully registered. The mother's name is entered on the register and there is no reason to leave the mother's name off the register. Why then is it different for the fathers of Irish children? Why should they be able to father children, dump them on their mothers and walk away? Why should that continue to be the mother's burden? Children of single mothers who wish to trace their fathers will be unable to find them. This section is loaded against women, children and the right to information. Children have a right to know who are their fathers.

The Minister will no doubt point to section 23, which deals with the re-registration of the child but I refer her to a reply she gave to a parliamentary question on 19 June 2003. She stated, "A single mother is required to furnish details of her own PPS number and that of the father, where his details are being included on the register." Quite apart from the fact that according to this statement the mother is again responsible for providing the father's PPS number and he is not, if the father exerts his right under section 22 to refuse to give information he will not helpfully provide the mother of the child with his PPS number. If the mother than re-registers the birth, using perhaps a court order as evidence that a named individual is the father of the child, then the information entered on to the register will merely be that which appears in the court order and it will not include the PPS number.

I would like the Minister to answer a number of questions on this matter when she replies. Why is the father allowed under section 22 (1) to refuse to provide information about the birth? Why is the onus and the pressure on the mother? Why is the mother obliged to provide her PPS number but not the father? Does the Minister accept that under section 23, which covers the re-registering of the birth, the father will not be obliged to provide his number? What effect will the lack of provision of the father's PPS number on the record have on the ability of researchers to carry out searches of records? The Department claims that records of births, marriages and deaths will be linked through the use of PPS numbers but, if unmarried fathers can refuse to supply their PPS numbers, does this not completely undermine the process?

I refer to another related aspect of the registration of births. Since 1997 it has been necessary for a surname to be chosen for the child and, if there is no co-operation between the parents, the child receives the mother's name by default. Is it correct that the father's name will not be on the register and will not be available to be used as a search criterion? If so, will the Minister outline the reason?

I am also concerned about section 53, which deals with public access to the records. The statutory right of members of the public to search the indexes and also the register books provided for in the legislation of 1863 and 1880 will be abolished. A search can only be undertaken of the index, not the register. A person carrying out a search can only request a copy of an entry that he or she specifies on the register. People carrying out research need to be able to examine the register. I am aware of one case where a researcher requested the details of a birth that took place on a specific date in Jervis Street Hospital and was told no such record existed when a check was carried out on the computerised index. However, through her own perseverance, she was allowed to examine the register and she discovered that the search had mistakenly been carried out on the index for St. James's Hospital. She was, therefore, able to identify the material she wanted. This may occur again.

It is 150 years since these issues were addressed. It is necessary to get the legislation right. I compliment much of the legislation but I would like the Minister to respond to the issues I raised. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure we get the legislation right, not only for the parents but also for the children.

The Bill should be commended because it has been introduced following a good housekeeping exercise. A number of Acts will be repealed under this legislation, many of which were introduced between 1844 and 1880. The Victorian legislators who enacted those Bills would be proud that their laws remained on our Statute Book for so long. Amendments will also be made to 12 Bills that have been enacted since the foundation of the Republic. If we get it right this time, few changes will be needed in future.

The legislation is important in terms of the functioning of the State. Information on the civil register will be used by eight Departments to carry out their duties and most Departments will use it to provide rights and entitlements to our citizens. It is important, therefore, that the information should be accurate. Such information is often placed on the register by relatives of those who have passed away.

Based on my experience as a doctor, birth registration are better regulated than deaths because birth information is compiled by maternity hospitals. The majority of people are born in hospitals and the information is, therefore, supplied by them to the registrar whereas a different scenario pertains to death. The vast majority of people die at home, not in hospital, and the registration of deaths is carried out by family members or neighbours using a death certificate signed by the local GP. This can be haphazard because the certificates are sometimes signed by locums who might not know the deceased.

Information technology will be used to implement the Bill's provisions. Will checks and balances be provided in the system so that individuals such as Harold Shipman will show up? Society is changing. Doctors know all their patients and their communities well.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.