That Dáil Éireann shall consider the report of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection entitled, Report on the General Scheme of a Gender Recognition Bill 2013, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 16 January 2014.
I thank the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and her officials for attending. I also thank everyone involved in drawing up the report of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. This includes not only the members but all those who participated in the process, including the stakeholders who made submissions and attended the oral hearings.
Forwarding the heads of a Bill to a joint committee to allow it to make reports and recommendations on proposed legislation is a relatively recent phenomenon. At this stage my committee has considered the general schemes of three Bills. It is a work-intensive process which, unfortunately, does not get the publicity it should. I was out canvassing yesterday when someone told me that the only committee that did any work was the Committee of Public Accounts. I had to put the alternative point of view. We do not necessarily go for headlines, but we undertake constructive work on policy. The report is part of that work.
The joint committee issued a call for submissions at the outset of the process. As a result, we received written submissions from eight groups and three individuals writing in a personal capacity. Two days of hearings followed. Of the groups which had made submissions, all but one attended the oral hearings. We received submissions from Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI; TransParenCI; BeLonG To Youth Services; LGBT Noise; FLAC; Amnesty Intentional, and the Equality Authority. The Ombudsman for Children also made a submission. Departmental officials attended to update the committee on the Department's point of view, the advice it had received and its work in preparing the heads of the Bill. All of the submissions received are online, as are the transcripts of the debate. The report includes appendices and some details of the submissions.
The main aspect of the report about which I want to inform the Dáil is the set of recommendations made by the joint committee. A number of stakeholders raised issues about the terminology used in the legislation. Having regard to practices in other jurisdictions and legislative constraints, we recommended that consideration be given to whether the term "preferred gender" should replace the term "acquired gender" in the Bill. We also made a recommendation on the age criterion included in the Bill. The heads of the Bill currently provide that a person must be at least 18 years on the date of application. A separate requirement is that an applicant must not be in an existing marriage or civil partnership.
On the age criterion, we recommended that the age at which a person might apply for a gender recognition certificate be reduced from 18 years to 16.
Measures should also be put in place to address the day-to-day concerns of transgender people under the age of 16 years. There was not absolute consensus in the committee on this issue, but the recommendation represents the view of the majority of the committee. However, there was consensus that there be some provision and that at the very least the welfare of persons under 18 should be taken into account when drafting the legislation.
Regarding the requirement that the person should not be in an existing marriage or civil partnership, the committee acknowledges that there is a difference of opinion between the Attorney General and others on the legal issues regarding gender recognition for persons who are married or in a civil partnership. However, the committee believes that a person being in an existing marriage or a civil partnership should not prevent him or her from qualifying for a gender recognition certificate, and urges the Minister to revisit this issue. We are asking the Minister to consider the matter further, taking into account the two different legal opinions put forward at committee hearings and in submissions. The committee also believes in principle that an existing marriage or a civil partnership should not prevent a person from qualifying for a gender recognition certificate. However, we recognise there is legal opinion that this might not be possible. Our recommendation recognises that there are two sets of opposing legal points of view on the issue.
The committee recommends that the current wording in the Bill with respect to evidence of transition should be reconsidered to address the concerns raised at the hearings that people not be stigmatised as a result of the requirements in this regard. This matter was raised in written submissions by the stakeholders.
We made a recommendation that guidelines for schools on supporting the inclusion of transgender young people in schools should be developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Regarding participation in sport, we recommended that the provisions in head 26 should be reconsidered in consultation with stakeholders. Irish sporting regulatory bodies receiving public funding should develop comprehensive policies on the participation of transgender people.
Under the Equality Acts, we suggested that consideration should be given to amending the legislation to add "gender identity" to the existing nine grounds under which discrimination is illegal.
The two most discussed and most controversial areas the committee debated related to the age criterion and the requirement that a person not be in an existing marriage or civil partnership. The general scheme does not meet all of the wishes of the groups and individuals advocating change in this area. During the hearings, I asked if the witnesses felt the proposals on the table at the moment were progressive. There was general consensus that the proposals were progressive even though some people felt they did not go far enough. On the other hand, some of the issues raised by the general scheme were of particular concern to certain members of the committee and there was a divergence of views, especially over making provision for transgender persons under the age of 18 years, and for persons who are married or in a civil partnership. We believe that on balance the legislation will represent very significant progress in this difficult area.
I believe the committee had a very good debate on the matter. There was great engagement from the stakeholders and there was considerable interest in the process. This is not a straightforward issue, but it is important that the Minister acts so that we make progress. I hope the process has been helpful for the Minister and her Department. I look forward to the legislation in the area.