I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring this very important and progressive legislation to the House. The Civil Registration Act 2004 represented a significant development in the provisions governing civil registration in Ireland. It was a major overhaul of legislation dating back to 1844. However, the decade since 2004 has seen extensive changes in Irish society. The civil registration service deals with life events, such as births, marriages, civil partnerships and deaths, which affect us all. It is crucial that the system be responsive and evolve to address the wide variety of situations that can arise.
The aim of the Bill is to drive further modernisation of the civil registration service so that it can best reflect the needs of society now and into the future. It was at an advanced stage of drafting when the current rules regarding pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation by the relevant Oireachtas committee were introduced. For that reason, it has not been through the process.
While there are many amendments contained in the Bill, I will focus in my introduction on only a few. First, the Bill provides for the compulsory registration of the father's name on a birth certificate. This is the first time that principle has been brought into legislation and is a very significant new policy provision. The Bill does provide for some exceptional circumstances where it may not be feasible to register the father's name.
According to the annual report of the General Register Office, 69,209 births were registered in Ireland in 2013. Of these, 2,675 were non-marital births where no father's name was registered. Where the parents of a child are not married to each other, the current legislation does not require the mother or the father to provide the father's details when registering the birth. The amendment addresses the current unsatisfactory position by making the provision of such information compulsory, other than in exceptional circumstances. This will underpin the rights of the child under EU legislation to have access to the details of his or her identity. Put simply, it will ensure children know who their parents are. This is a step towards ensuring full and accurate particulars are registered at the time of birth, which will be of significant benefit both to the child and future generations.
The issue of marriages of convenience is complex. The right to marry is a basic right, and marriage, as an institution, has particular protection under our Constitution. Our duty is to protect the institution of marriage in legislation. We are aiming to strengthen it by introducing provisions in this Bill which make it more difficult to broker a marriage of convenience in the State. EU citizens and their families have the right to move and reside freely within the territories of the member states. These rights also apply to non-EU national spouses of EU nationals. However, these rights are being abused by unscrupulous individuals who are using marriage laws in Ireland to gain an automatic right of residency in Europe.
The Bill provides that where a registrar forms a view that an intended marriage is a marriage of convenience based on a list of criteria set out in this Bill, he or she may refer the matter to a superintendent registrar. If the latter agrees with this opinion based on evidence, then no marriage registration form will be issued and the Department of Justice and Equality will be notified. The Bill contains similar provisions addressing civil partnerships of convenience.
The legislation will also introduce records of the deaths of Irish people normally resident in the State who die while on short-term absences abroad. Many public representatives have raised this issue in recent years. The death of a loved one while abroad is always a particularly tragic and difficult event. The new legislation will allow families to record the deaths of their loved ones in Ireland and thereby have some degree of comfort and closure. I take this opportunity to thank Deputy Seán Kyne for his work on a Private Members' Bill on the domestic registration of death records, which helped in the drafting of this provision. I also thank Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who has campaigned for this issue to be addressed in legislation.
Irish society has been enriched by the choices made by people from other countries and cultures to live, work and raise families here. In certain instances, couples got married or entered a civil partnership in their country's embassy in Ireland. Unfortunately, these marriages and civil partnerships are not valid, as they were not carried out in accordance with Irish marriage law or civil partnership law. This Bill will, on a once-off basis, validate those marriages and civil partnerships that have already taken place in Ireland and which are still in existence. There will also be an opt-out for instances where both parties agree they do not want the marriage or civil partnership to be validated.
The Bill includes provisions which define "a place that is open to the public" in respect of the conducting of marriages and civil partnerships in a public place. In order to protect both parties to the marriage or civil partnership, the provision requires that the outdoor venue must be readily accessible to the public. The reasons are to avoid the possibility of coercion, fraud or lack of capacity on the part of the persons involved, prevent marriages or civil partnerships taking place in secret, and provide an opportunity for objections.
I will now summarise the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 establishes the Short Title and collective citation of the Act. It further stipulates that the Act may come into force on such day or days as the Minister for Social Protection, by commencement order, may determine. Section 2 provides for the definition of the term "Principal Act" used throughout the Bill as the Civil Registration Act 2004.
Section 3 provides for the amendment of section 2 of the principal Act by inserting new definitions that are required for this amending legislation. This section also amends section 2 of the principal Act to make a marriage of convenience and civil partnership of convenience an impediment to marriage and civil partnership, respectively.
Section 4 provides for the amendment of section 17 of the principal Act to include that a superintendent registrar may designate a registrar to perform his or her functions where an absence such as extended leave or long-term illness occurs.
Section 5 amends section 19 of the principal Act and provides that a person who is a qualified informant must produce to the registrar any evidence, including documentary evidence, relating to a birth as requested by the registrar. The section further provides that a superintendent registrar may complete the registration of a birth where in exceptional circumstances a qualified informant has not signed the register to allow completion of the registration. In addition, the section provides that a child who has attained the age of 18 years may be considered as a qualified informant in respect of the registration or re-registration of his or her birth entry.
Section 6 amends section 22 of the principal Act and contains a number of amendments relating to the registration of the father's name where the parents are not married.
Section 7 provides for the re-registration of a birth and contains a number of amendments to section 23 of the principal Act.
Section 8 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 23A which will provide for the re-registration of a birth of a child where the parents were not married on the date of the birth, on foot of a court order. The section provides that a mother, father or the adult child may apply to re-register a birth on foot of a court order granted under section 35 or section 45 of the Status of Children Act 1987.
Section 9 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by insertion of a new section 25A which provides that where the parents of the child cannot agree on a surname, the registrar may complete the registration by leaving the surname blank or, in cases where a surname is already registered, the existing surname shall remain.
Section 10 provides for the amendment of section 28 of the principal Act to allow for a stillbirth to be registered later than 12 months after its occurrence.
Section 11 provides that the definition of a qualified informant of a death is extended to include a cohabitant, next of kin, personal representative or religious superior of the deceased so that such person may register the death within three months.
Section 12 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 42A which provides that early neonatal deaths be notified to the superintendent registrar of the area where the death occurred.
Section 13 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by the insertion of a new Part 5A which provides for a record of deaths of Irish citizens who die abroad and who were ordinarily resident within the State within five years prior to their death.
Section 14 amends section 45 of the principal Act to define "a place that is open to the public" in respect of outdoor venues for marriage.
Section 15 amends section 46 of the principal Act and provides that couples who produce a court order exempting them from giving three months' notice of intention to marry will be required to pay the prescribed fee as set out in regulations. This section also provides that, where one or both of the people giving notice of intent to marry is a foreign national, they must provide to a registrar information and documentary evidence regarding their immigration status.
Section 16 amends section 51 of the principal Act to provide further clarity on the meaning of "place that is open to the public'" for outdoor marriage venues.
Section 17 amends section 52 of the principal Act to provide that "place" in the context of where a marriage is conducted means a "place that is open to the public".
Section 18 amends section 58 of the principal Act and provides for new procedures regarding potential marriages of convenience.
Section 19 amends the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 58A which provides for the validation of certain marriages carried out at a foreign embassy or diplomatic mission in the State.
Section 20 amends section 59A of the principal Act to define "a place that is open to the public" in respect of outdoor venues for civil partnerships.
Section 21 amends section 59B of the principal Act and provides that couples who produce a court order exempting them from giving three months' notice of their intention to enter into a civil partnership will be required to pay the prescribed fee as set out in regulations. Section 21 also provides that where one or both of the people making a notification of their intention to enter into a civil partnership is a foreign national, they must provide documentation and information regarding their immigration status.
Section 22 provides for the amendment of section 59C of the principal Act by amending the validation period of a civil partnership registration form to six months from the date of the intended ceremony specified in the form.
Section 23 amends section 59D of the principal Act to provide further clarity on the meaning of "place that is open to the public" for outdoor civil partnership venues. This section also provides that the registrar is no longer required to issue a copy of the civil partnership registration form.
Section 24 amends section 59E of the principal Act to provide that "place" in the context of where a marriage is conducted means a "place that is open to the public".
Section 25 amends section 59F of the principal Act and provides for new procedures regarding potential civil partnerships of convenience.
Section 26 amends the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 59I which provides for the validation of certain civil partnerships carried out at foreign embassies or diplomatic missions in the State.
Section 27 amends section 61 of the principal Act and provides that where a person is required to provide proof of identity to a Government body in the form of a life event certificate, the Minister may prescribe a reduced cost certificate for these purposes. This section also provides that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, on application to him or her and on payment to him or her of any prescribed fee, shall allow a person to search certain historical registers online.
Section 28 amends section 64 of the principal Act and provides that where an entry in the register of births, stillbirths or deaths is based on false and misleading information, the Registrar General may direct a registrar to cancel the entry and, if required, register the details under a new entry. The section further provides that where a court order of nullity is provided for reasons other than an impediment, the entry may be cancelled in the register of marriages or civil partnerships as required.
Section 29 amends section 66 of the principal Act and provides for sharing of information with Departments and agencies under the relevant Acts for specific purposes so that the information may be used for policy and planning initiatives. Section 29 also provides for technical amendments following amendment of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 and the transfer of responsibilities from the Minister for Health to the Minister for Social Protection.
Section 30 amends section 67 of the principal Act and provides that the Minister for Social Protection may set the fee for certificates at a lesser amount if the certificates are required for official purposes by another Department to prove age, civil status or death. This section also provides that a fee, if any, shall be payable to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in respect of the performance by that Minister of his or her functions under the principal Act.
Section 31 amends section 68 of the principal Act and provides that where the Registrar General has directed that an entry be registered or re-registered without the register being signed by a qualified informant, the details of that entry shall be deemed to be valid.
Section 32 amends section 69 of the principal Act by the insertion of a new subsection (5A) which provides that a person shall be guilty of an offence if they fail to furnish evidence, including documentary evidence, where it is in their power to do so, when requested by a registrar.
Section 33 provides that a person guilty of an offence under new subsection 69(5A), referred to in section 32, shall be liable as laid out in section 70(2) of the principal Act.
Section 34 amends the First Schedule to the principal Act and provides for the deletion of the "age next birthday" of a deceased person in the register of deaths so that more accurate statistical information can be gathered based on the deceased person's actual date of birth.
Section 35 amends the Immigration Act 2003 to include the Civil Registration Act 2004 in section 8 of that Act to allow the Minister for Social Protection to request information from certain information holders, as defined under that Act, for the purposes of the Civil Registration Act 2004.
Section 36 amends the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 to provide that legal relationships which took place in foreign embassies or diplomatic missions are deemed to have been entered into under the laws of that state. The section further provides that a legal relationship which took place in an embassy or diplomatic mission on or after 1 January 2011 is not included as these legal relationships are dealt with under section 26 of this Bill and recognised as civil partnerships under Irish law.
This Bill provides for a wide range of significant changes and improvements to the Civil Registration Act 2004. The registers of life events are very important public records; they have a serious impact on the lives of citizens and they must be robust and accurate. They record the most important events in our lives and they are the basis on which we validate our status in our interactions with the public and other agencies. They are also primary source documents for citizens and scholars.
In this Bill, I am introducing changes which enhance the civil registration process. Some of them involve major policy matters, as I have outlined, while others are technical but are designed to streamline the service or reduce complexity where feasible. My intention is that the civil registration service will continue to serve society and the public to a high standard and will be equipped to respond to our rapidly changing society. I look forward to an informed debate and to hearing Deputies' views on the measures contained in the Bill.