Civil Registration Bill 2003: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

I draw the attention of Members to an error in the amendment list. The heading above amendment No. 3 should read "Section 62" andnot "Section 63". I call the Minister for Defence on amendment No. 1.

On a point of order, it is normally good practice in the House to inform the Opposition when the relevant Minister is not present. All of us who have had experience on the other side of the House are familiar with that practice and, out of courtesy to the House, it would be no harm to indicate when a Minister is standing in.

The Deputy has made his point.

I did not indicate that because I expect the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, to be here at any moment.

It might be as well to adjourn for five minutes.

We have already commenced discussion on the amendment.

It is not good practice. It is not good for the Minister who is of military bearing.

I am happy to agree with whatever the House requires. I will now hand over to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan. Some filibustering has been going on among the Opposition.

I understand that the amendments were circulated to the Deputies yesterday evening and that they were in their pigeonholes.

No. There may be a court martial yet.

I apologise. We were at the launch of a thematic report on family affairs and I am not as fit as I should be.

We could not get to the meeting.

I am sorry the Deputy could not be there, but I am sure that, as Chairman, he will examine the report in due course.

On a point of order, the amendments we received are the Seanad Report Stage amendments from the Senators. They are not the amendments the Minister is now tabling. We have not received those amendments yet.

They are arriving now.

More than a little confusion has reigned.

There are four amendments.

Are they all Seanad amendments?

Yes. We will have some more copies made.

There are four amendments from the Seanad before the House.

Yes. They are not from the Dáil.

We have just received them now. They were not in the first document we were given this morning. There are no Government amendments among these.

These are amendments to which I agreed in the Seanad.

Seanad amendment No. 1:

Section 51: In page 43, between lines 36 and 37, the following subsection inserted:

"(9) A declaration specified in paragraph (a) of subsection (4) may be made at any time before the declaration under paragraph (b) of that subsection is made, not being a time earlier than 2 days before the day on which the latter declaration is made.”.

The purpose of this amendment is to allow a couple to make a declaration of no impediment before the witnesses to the marriage prior to the day of the marriage ceremony. This will accommodate the liturgies of different religious bodies while ensuring that the substantive requirements for marriages are met. I am satisfied this amendment addresses the concerns raised in the Seanad on this matter. It relates to the issues raised by the Church of Ireland, in particular.

We are happy to accommodate this amendment. We understand difficulties arose in regard to the ceremonies of the Church of Ireland. This amendment ensures the objectives of the Bill are achieved without impacting on the religious ceremonies of the Church of Ireland and we are pleased to support it.

We gave careful consideration to this and to a significant number of matters. This matter arose in the Seanad. It is a lacuna and the Minister has brought forward an amendment to deal with it and to accommodate the concerns of the Church of Ireland in regard to its liturgies.

I mention a matter brought to my attention recently. There was a provision in the draft Civil Registration Bill to allow people from a voluntary body with an ethical basis, such as Humanists, and people from minor religions to preside over marriages. This provision appears to have been excised from the Bill and the Humanists were not aware of the change. Perhaps the Minister might give an explanation because we tried to ensure the Bill was as broad as possible. I thought that was the thrust of the Minister's contribution on Second Stage and on Committee Stage when she tried to accommodate a number of eloquent presentations from the spokespersons.

This matter is a little outside the context of this amendment and I appreciate the latitude allowed by the Ceann Comhairle. Perhaps the Minister will explain the removal of this provision, but we support the Seanad amendment.

I support the amendment. The Bill obviously had a more tortuous path in the Seanad than was anticipated. Maybe that is slightly to the detriment of this House because its Report Stage was truncated and there were sections on which we wanted to talk. I remind the Minister about a commitment she made on Committee Stage on which I have yet to receive any further information. It related to adoption certificates and the short birth certificate for adopted people. There was a commitment that a Government representative would come forward with future Government plans in this area.

We have no objection to the amendments which we see as merely tidying up the Bill. It is a positive step by the Government. If people are cynical about politics, today's debate highlights the fact that the pairing system seems to have broken down in the other House and the Opposition, which is supposed to oppose a Bill, agrees to pairings with a Government party. It is clear the pairing system broke down and we have had to have this half hour debate added. I do not see any problem with these amendments. We have outlined our difficulties with the Bill already.

This debate has nothing to do with what happened in the Seanad. This amendment arose following discussions and consultation. A number of members of the Church of Ireland contacted myself and Members of this and the Upper House indicating their concerns. On the basis of those contacts, we worked closely together to ensure we addressed those concerns in line with the ethos of the legislation.

We had a great deal of discussion with all the groups, including the Humanists. They were not covered by the initial draft but we spoke to them and indicated that because of their methodologies, they were not able to reflect the legislation. I regret very much that we could not come to an agreement. They accepted that they were not in a position to facilitate us. We have addressed many of the concerns of the groups with which we discussed the issues. We have a had a tremendous discussion on and evaluation of this legislation. We had an extensive Committee Stage during which we had protracted and line by line discussions on the Bill. The same was the case in the Upper House.

On the issue raised by Deputy Boyle, I spoke and wrote formally to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on this issue. I have also written to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the issue of guardianship. As soon as I get a response, I will forward it to the Deputy.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 2:
Section 56: In page 46, subsection (1)(b), line 17, “cancellation” deleted and “refusal” substituted.

The purpose of this amendment is to correct a drafting error in the subsection to allow for persons or bodies to appeal against the refusal of An tArd-Chláraitheoir to register a person nominated by a body in the register of solemnisers.

It is a technical amendment we are happy to accept.

We also accept the amendment. It is a technical drafting amendment which allows for further avenues of appeals. I held up Committee Stage for a considerable period on the right of appeal. I am not somebody who wants to engage in the promulgation of litigation but there should be a right of appeal to the High Court other than on a point of law — in other words, relating to facts — where the tArd-Chláraitheoir might make a finding of fact that a person did not fall within what is defined as a "solemniser". I thought we accommodated that right and that it would not be precluded. I did not think it could be too handily within the constitutional context, but I will say no more at this stage.

The Green Party is not opposed this amendment. The word "refusal" is much softer than the word "cancellation". If it adds to the Bill, so much the better. We might need to revisit the word "solemniser" which could be subject to spoonerisms. In future legislation, we might look at a more suitable title.

Section 60 will deal with the issues Deputy Penrose raised. I thank Members for their support for the amendment.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 3:
Section 62: In page 52, line 40, before "the applicant", "if" inserted.

The purpose of this amendment is to provide clarity in understanding the provisions of the section.

We have no problem with this amendment.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 4:
FIRST SCHEDULE: In page 66, Part 5, between lines 4 and 5, the following inserted:
"Forename(s) and birth surname of father of deceased.
Forename(s) and birth surname of mother of deceased.".

The purpose of this amendment is to include the forenames and birth surnames of the father and mother of the deceased in the register of deaths. It recognises the importance of information in the register to genealogists and to family researchers both at home and abroad. I am also conscious that the State should not place any additional burden on the family or next of kin at a time of bereavement and this information will only be collected where available.

We looked at this on Committee and Report Stages. The Irish Genealogical Research Society was anxious that this information should be available to future generations of researchers, including those looking for their roots, as they say in the United States of America. This will be important information for future root digging. We sought this provision and we support it.

This important amendment facilitates the accumulation and aggregation of information at the earliest point. It also facilitates those involved in the Irish Genealogical Research Society and others. We sought this amendment to permit the insertion of the information to allow such research to continue.

The Minister may also wish to address briefly the register of guardianship issue. Prior to 1987, unmarried fathers could not be appointed as guardians of their children unless they married the child's mother and adopted the child. Section 12 of the Children Act gave the courts power to appoint unmarried fathers as guardians of their children. The position was further improved in 1997 by section 2 of the Children Act, which provided for an unmarried father to be appointed as guardian of his child or children with the mother's agreement, if both signed a statutory declaration to that effect in the presence of a commissioner for oaths. That was a welcome improvement which obviated the need for the father and mother to go to court, where both were in agreement.

My point, however, is that these declarations of appointment are not recorded by the registrar general or any other official body. The only record of the appointment is a signed statutory declaration or a court order. The Minister has provided for re-registration whereby a birth originally registered without paternity details is re-registered arising from post-registration events, for example, marriages. Due to the fact that we now register nullities, divorce and all other life events, a guardianship register should be established, particularly regarding joint guardianship by agreement.

The Bill missed an opportunity by not allowing for the establishment of a system for registering joint guardianship agreements, as per SI 5/1998. The Minister has indicated that some work is being undertaken on that matter, particularly by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Perhaps the Minister could take this opportunity to update the House concerning any further progress or developments that have taken place in the interim. Members on both sides of the House have made impassioned pleas to the Minister in this regard, which I think have not fallen on deaf ears. We anticipated that she would convey the desire of the House to have such a register put in place, particularly as it relates to an important life event.

It is an important event for unmarried couples to sign a statutory declaration, in the presence of a commissioner for oaths, agreeing to joint guardianship of their child, so it would be important to register it. This measure should be progressed with great haste, if possible. I know the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, will have passed on our comments to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because she did not feel that this Bill was the appropriate place in which to insert the measure. I read with interest in a weekend newspaper that the proposal was being brought forward, although it was not mentioned that the Opposition had originated and strongly advocated the idea on Second, Committee and Report Stages. Perhaps the Minister can now update the House as to the progress that is being made in this regard.

I share Deputy Penrose's concern that the Minister should take this opportunity, before the Bill passes all Stages, to update the House on the guardianship issue. The final amendment is the most significant of the four, in that it adds to what we have already agreed. I am not sure if we agreed to put the place and date of birth, or if that information is already included.

Yes, we did.

This additional information, including the first names and surnames of the father and mother of the deceased, will help genealogical research by having a source document, without constantly having to make cross-references to other documents. It should be of great assistance, not only to those involved in genealogical research but also to members of the general public wishing to find out more about their own family backgrounds. In that regard, the amendment should have the strongest support of the House.

I thank Members for their support. The discussions we have had in both Houses of the Oireachtas have enabled me to provide the best legislation possible. I gave the House an undertaking with regard to the issue raised by Deputy Penrose, and wrote formally to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I also gave that undertaking in the Upper House. I believe that consideration will be taken of that matter in the family law Bill, which the Minister, Deputy McDowell, is proposing to bring before the House. I will also speak to him personally about the issue on the basis of the concerns that have been raised by all Members who contributed to the debate, including some Government backbenchers.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendments reported.