Gender Recognition Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

When we adjourned the debate, I was making the point that the issues arising for inter-sex people were not adequately addressed in the Bill as it stood. I hope we will be able to introduce amendments on Committee Stage to improve the legislation in this regard. Discussions about psychiatrists aside, it is clear that some inter-sex people believe the designation of "male" or "female" on their birth certificates does not accurately reflect the facts of their lives and they would, therefore, prefer to use a non-binary system in registering gender. No adequate reason has been presented for the absence of a non-binary identity system. The only explanation that comes to mind is that the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, was unable to come up with a suitable formula and, therefore, decided to set the issue to one side. I would prefer to deal with the issue now because we have had sufficient time to come up with mechanisms to address it based on international examples. When this issue was raised in the Seanad, the Minister argued that recognition of non-binary, inter-sex and transgender identities was not within the scope of the Bill and that it would require additional changes. When an issue is brought to Ministers' attention in one House, it is to allow them to use the space between the time a Bill is taken in the Seanad and the Dáil to come up with amended legislation. The issue comes within the scope of the Bill because the Department of Social Protection is also responsible for civil registration. Sometimes extending the scope of a Bill is merely a matter of changing the Long Title. Any issue relating to gender recognition falls within the intention and scope of the Bill and should be captured, if possible.

What consultation, if any, was entered into by the Minister; the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, or their officials with the inter-sex community? It is not a very big community, but in Britain there is a larger one which is represented by a range of groups. These groups would have been able to give advice on the challenges faced in Britain, North America and elsewhere. International groups include Intersex UK, the Intersex Society of North America and Intersex Awareness New Zealand. These groups should have been asked about the issues they faced because the small size of this State and island means that not every issue encountered in larger populations necessarily arises in Ireland. That is not to say, however, they will not arise in the future. Part of our job as legislators is to capture future issues and to legislate for them in advance. If we do not address these issues in the Bill, we will have missed an opportunity to be a leader in protecting human rights in this area.

A person who seeks a legal document to assert his or her identity should not be required to go to a medical practitioner to justify his or her life and health. Gender recognition models across the European Union are moving away from medical practitioners and a requirement for certification. The pathology model is being rejected by an increasing number of EU countries. Last September Denmark introduced new gender recognition laws which were welcomed by Amnesty International as progressive and courageous. They do not require medical evidence to be provided as part of the gender recognition process. It is simply a matter of completing an administrative process.

Deputy Willie O'Dea referred to the gender recognition legislation introduced in Malta, which provides that applicants are not required to offer proof of surgical procedures or medical issues as part of the gender recognition process. I introduced the Gender Recognition Bill 2013 based on the Argentine model, which incorporates the Yogyakarta principles adopted in 2006 by a group of human rights experts, including Mrs. Mary Robinson and the former chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission in the North, Professor Michael O'Flaherty. They are internationally recognised human rights standards and guidelines that should be applied to any law on gender identity.

They stipulate clearly that the State should fully respect and legally recognise each person's self-defined gender identity. Once one involves medical practitioners, it is defined by somebody else. The former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, had much to say on this issue. He said an individual's opinion must be prioritised. It is wrong that we are disregarding these human rights experts on this matter in the legislation. Last August the Equality Authority recommended that applicants should not be required to produce medical evidence to access legal recognition of their gender. Even the HSE, which is hardly a bastion of progressive views and which is, in many ways, one of the most conservative State institutions, has stated it endorses gender recognition proposals that would place the responsibility for self-declaration on the applicant rather than place the requirement on the medical profession. Many of its doctors will have to provide the gender certifications. There is a weight of expert opinion that suggests the Minister of State is wrong in his approach, even though he has moved somewhat on the issue.

There is a broader point to be made, although I acknowledge that perhaps it cannot be dealt with in the legislation. I refer to barriers to accessing medical care for trans people. It is something that will have to be dealt with. There is simply not the required level of services for trans people in the State or on the island as a whole. Many have been forced to make long journeys not only within the State but also sometimes outside it. It is not within the capacity of the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, to eradicate these problems. While we may never fully eradicate them as this is a small island, that is not to say we should not provide for an all-Ireland approach similar to the one we have adopted for children and their health. There was a recent announcement of an all-Ireland approach to children with heart trouble, which shows what can be done. If there is expertise to be found in the North or the South, it should be shared across the island. If we have to bring experts from abroad on occasion, it should be on the basis that they are available to all citizens on the island. A further point that needs to be made is that the Equality Authority has indicated that it has seen no other scenario where a person must provide evidence from a medical practitioner in order to access a legal right. It is bizarre and adds weight to what I have been arguing. Where a person is of the correct age and the relevant statutory officer is satisfied he or she has the capacity to make a decision, it is usually a relatively simple matter to access a right such as the right to get married or sign a contract. In these cases a person's standing is accepted, whereas gender recognition procedures seem to be different.

I take serious issue with the fact that there is no pathway to legal gender recognition for children under 16 years. Young people use their birth certificates regularly, including when enrolling in schools, and there are times when they should be able to receive proper legal recognition. Leaving them outside the process means that they are risk of having their trans status outed. We have seen what has occurred in terms of bullying in schools for various reasons. Many transgender people have suffered isolation and bullying and many have died of suicide as a result. Many have had traumatic childhoods and adulthoods owing to society's approach to the issue. According to the advice from the Ombudsman for Children on this issue, a failure to provide in law for young transgender people to have their preferred gender recognised renders it more difficult to advance awareness of the serious challenges facing them in schools and other settings.

Even where a 16 or 17 year old wishes to receive legal recognition of a preferred gender, the barriers are still very dangerous and will force many to wait until they are 18. Generally, parental consent is required, which leaves 16 and 17 year olds in the bizarre situation where they can consent to medical treatment but cannot have their gender recognised. There is a contradiction and I seek clarity from the Minister of State as to what happens when two legal parents or guardians of a 16 year old seeking gender recognition disagree on the issue of consent. What happens in that case? The Equality Authority also asked that question when the heads of the Bill were published, but it states no satisfactory answer has been given. Whether it is today when wrapping up the debate or on Committee Stage next week, it is a matter on which an answer is required.

As the Minister insists on not allowing 16 year olds to decide for themselves, the provisions dealing with consent and the narrow grounds on which the courts may dispense with parental consent must also be addressed. Once one starts to stray into this area, there are complications and exceptions. Part of our job is to ensure we look at potential exceptions and the difficulties they will pose and change the law to ensure they are addressed. In the Seanad my party colleagues tabled a motion seeking to allow the courts to dispense with parental consent where it is refused. We are open to correction on this matter, but it seems that the threshold for dispensing with parental consent is such that it would require a child to be at risk, for his or her welfare to be in danger or the parents to be uncontactable. As far as I can see, it does not account for the scenario where there is no risk to the child but that the parent or guardian simply will not consent to a child entering the gender recognition process.

I have other issues with the Bill, to which I have not managed to get. I will wrap up by saying that, in general, I welcome it. It is a huge step forward and it is good that it is happening. I hope that in the coming weeks we will use the time positively to ensure we will have the best possible outcome in terms of legislation for the future. In particular, I thank Lydia Foy for her courage and all those who have struggled with the approach of the State to date to transgender issues. I hope this is a new dawn for them.

I call Deputy Joan Collins who is sharing time with Deputies Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Richard Boyd Barrett and Thomas Pringle.

It is very welcome that we have reached this Stage of the Bill. I welcome the members of the trans community in the Visitors Gallery listening intently to what is being said. While the legislation is welcome, there are still many issues that have not been addressed. They have been raised by a number of other Deputies and it is important to deal with them. I would prefer to see the Minister of State, rather than Opposition Members, bringing forward the suggested amendments on Committee Stage as they would then be meaningful. I hope Members on the Government's backbenches will encourage this. After nearly 20 years of struggle and obstruction and delay on the part of the State, including the legal battle in the European Court of Human Rights, we have reached a very significant moment.

However, certain provisions in the Bill will drastically undermine the progress which would otherwise be achieved. I attended the committee meetings in 2013 attended by members of the transgender community. They made strong points that this legislation should be based on human rights principles rather than on medical evidence. This is a serious weakness in the legislation which needs to be addressed.

The committee meetings did not hear the voices and views of inter-sex people nor of those under 18 years and I regard it as a failure that the committee did not reach those people and hear their views. Chief among concerns are the requirement for an unnecessary and invasive medical statement; the requirement that a married transgender person be forced to divorce; the omission of young people under 16; the onerous requirements for 17 to 18 year-olds; and the total exclusion of non-binary people. The Bill has been drafted without proper consideration of the needs of inter-sex people. The original draft included such a provision but it was removed and it needs to be reinstated.

The Government has been urged repeatedly by transgender people to follow the self-determination models of best practice already in place in Denmark, Argentina and soon to be in force in Malta. That our legislation is based on UK legislation of ten years ago instead of on more progressive and human rights based legislation in Malta, is discouraging. There remains an opportunity for the Government to change the legislation.

It appears that no consideration was given to the examples of Australia, India, Nepal, Thailand, the UK and Germany, to provide some degree or recognition of non-binary transgender people. No satisfactory explanation has been provided by the Government as to the reason this was not done. The Government does not appear to have undertaken any consultation with inter-sex people who have been grouped with transgender people. The terminology in the Bill which has been drafted to deal with transgender people does not include inter-sex people. It is unlikely that the Bill will address the needs of inter-sex people.

I ask the Government to amend the provisions on medical criteria to allow for self-declaration as articulated by Dr. Philip Crowley, the HSE national director who stated that the HSE considers this process to be simpler, fairer, pragmatic and may be easier to legislate for as it takes account of both transgender and inter-sex people with differing background contexts. The omission of young people under 16 years is a disappointment. It is difficult enough for young women and young men to deal with puberty and associated issues but these young people must also deal with being a transgender person and with the impact on their school lives and their future lives. This has led to some disastrous situation. Those young people who are 17 and 18 must attend a endocrinologist and a psychologist but there are only four or five endocrinologists in the country and these are based in Loughlinstown. The waiting times for an appointment can be at least two years by which time the young person would be 18. These provisions are unnecessary restrictions.

I refer to the importance of self-declaration which should be included in the legislation. General practitioners should be considered as the medical practitioner if the Minister of State is not prepared to table an amendment on self-declaration. Both the IMO and the representatives of general practitioners wrote to the Minister yesterday to lobby for the use of GPs rather than medical specialists.

Basic human rights should be dealt with and I ask the Minister of State to clarify if this will be included in the legislation. I ask the Government to table amendments to the Bill. I thank the Seanad for being robust in its efforts to force the issue. The review will be very important and I ask the Minister of State to say how he intends to make it a meaningful review which reflects the views of the transgender community.

I warmly welcome the fact that the legislation is giving legal recognition to transgender and inter-sex people for the very first time. The House is discussing the issue and putting the spotlight on an important part of Irish life that never gets the recognition it deserves, that generally remains hidden and not spoken about. However, while recognising this fact it would be great if we could wholeheartedly and enthusiastically welcome this Bill, without having to put a "but" in that sentence, if, just for once, the Government could introduce legislation that the Opposition did not have to say that it was not best practice and that the proposition was lagging behind what is best practice. We are adopting a measure that has passed its sell-by date in other jurisdictions. The Government can say it is not the case that the glass is half-empty, that now we have a glass that is half-full. However, we want the whole glass. Why should Irish citizens always have to settle for less? It is not good enough. I appeal to the Government to look at the changes being proposed and recommended by Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI. We can have a review in a year's time or in two years' time but I ask why we do not listen to the voices now. We are doing it the wrong way around.

Other Members have highlighted a number of issues. The first issue is the confusion of the health issue with the legal issue. It is like what happened in the surrogacy debate and the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Medical procedures exist, they are regulated separately and they are utterly irrelevant for the purposes of this Bill. This question before us is one of legal identity and there is no place whatsoever for the issue of a medical evaluation.

I refer to the requirement that a person would submit a statutory declaration with a certificate from a medical practitioner, defined as a psychiatrist or an endocrinologist, to say that the medical practitioner is satisfied that the person fully understands what he is she is saying. I refer to the point made by Deputy Joan Collins that there are only four people in the country who meet that criterion. We have met people who have said that their children are waiting for four years in some instances. Apart from the question of impracticality, it is insulting and patronising to suggest that people themselves do not know what they want. This approach has been bypassed in other jurisdictions and replaced by the human rights approach. Other speakers referred to Argentina and Malta, which is the only country, other than Ireland, with a restrictive position on abortion. However, even Malta is ahead of us on this issue. The Yogyakarta principles state that countries should respect and legally recognise each person's self-defined gender identity. None of us need someone else to tell us who we are because we know our own identity. It is a question of a person having the right to exercise his or her self-determination. I hope this point is taken on board but if not, at least I ask the Minister of State, for God's sake, to extend the definition of a medical practitioner to include general practitioner. This would mean that a person would not have to attend a specialist in Dublin and be on a waiting list for years.

Members have made the points about civil partnership. It is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights to force a person to divorce. The main issue I wish to deal with is the question of young people. Where is our responsibility to protect and defend the rights of all children equally? It is not there. This Bill means that transgender people will exist in Ireland - which I commend - but only if they are over the age of 16. Under the age of 16 those children will be invisible. I am the parent of a teenager and I know how shockingly hard it is for young people in today's society, but how much more difficult it must be for a transgender young person. It does not bear thinking about. The briefing meeting yesterday heard moving testimony from a parent. He made a very good comparison which was that years ago, people in wheelchairs were held in institutions and nobody saw them but society moved on and statutory requirements and wheelchair accessibility became a normal part of society.

The transgender community is, in some ways, kept silent and out of the public domain. We have an opportunity to address that issue by adopting best practice. The Government is stating the Bill deals with inter-sex persons but nothing in it addresses that issue. This is another shortfall that needs to be addressed.

The parent to whom I referred spoke yesterday about how difficult things were for his family but how wonderful his son was. In fact, his son has had to be a parent to his parents such is the lack of support. This father said:

What is in front of us now is for Irish transgender people, in particular Irish transgender children, to inform this legislation. Their voices and their best interests must speak to this legislation. It must free them to live meaningful lives to their full potential and not restrict them or ignore them, as this version well.

I hope the Government hears his voice.

This Bill is both long overdue and welcome, but it requires to have several vital amendments taken on board before it is fit for purpose. The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, claims the Bill compares very favourably with equivalent legislation in many other countries in Europe. The problem, however, is that the majority of these countries have very poor legislation in this area, with two exceptions. In June last year the Danish Parliament passed a Bill allowing transgender people to obtain official documents reflecting their gender identity without needing to be diagnosed with a mental disorder or undergo surgeries resulting in irreversible sterilisation. Malta and Argentina have similar legislation in place.

Procedures to obtain legal gender recognition violate fundamental rights in Finland, France, Norway, Belgium and Germany, while we in Ireland, until this long overdue legislation comes into effect, had no procedure. Just as the Government failed to introduce international best practice in the legislation it recently enacted concerning the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which was a huge disappointment, it is refusing to take the opportunity to do what is best in this instance. Instead, we are willingly joining the ranks of those states which are content to violate international human rights law by interfering with the privacy and self-determination of their citizens.

The provision in section 9 that introduces an age restriction of 18 years for those who can make an application for a certificate infringes the rights of transgender people. The Ombudsman for Children has criticised this condition, highlighting that it will fail to improve the position of transgender children and adolescents, many of whom are already experiencing isolation and discrimination. The ombudsman recommends that parents be allowed to apply for a gender recognition certificate on behalf of children aged under 16 years, while those aged over 16 should be allowed to apply in their own right. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which Ireland has ratified provides that: "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child". If section 9 is not amended to allow a more progressive approach, Ireland will continue to be in violation of human rights law.

For some bizarre reason, the legislation insists applicants cannot be married or in a civil partnership. The logic behind this condition is difficult to fathom. Presumably, someone in a mixed-sex marriage would, post-registration, technically be in violation of our draconian and possibly soon to be extinct ban on same-sex marriage. This condition cannot stand.

The Bill also insists applicants must have a settled and solemn intention of living in the preferred gender for the rest of their lives. In a striking reversal of the proposed spirit of the legislation, this provision will legally tie people to their newly chosen identity. Ironically, this creates a situation for the newly registered where their right to self-determination, as outlined in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which we ratified in December 1989, is just as violated as it was before the Bill was proposed. This beggars belief.

Another flawed provision from a human rights perspective is the requirement that the applicant acquire a statement from a medical practitioner confirming that he or she has transitioned or is transitioning to his or her preferred gender and that the medical practitioner is satisfied the applicant fully understands the consequences of the decision to live permanently in his or her preferred gender. This is in the same vein as the one change per life provision. Furthermore, it implies that the State considers the people concerned to be suffering from some type of psychological abnormality and that gender is a matter solely determined by the biological.

If the Bill is to properly respect the rights of Irish citizens to self-determination, it must follow best practice and embrace the Danish position, which ensures transgender people can obtain legal recognition of their gender through a quick, accessible and transparent procedure in accordance with their own sense of their gender identity. The Bill is a welcome step forward, but it is not up to the task of allowing transgender people to lead lives free from interference. It fails utterly to address the rights of young people, shows a certain level of disrespect in its medicalisation of transgender people and, through the lock-in conditions, undermines the central professed spirit of the legislation. We can surely do better than this.

Faced with this legislation, I feel like saying, "Welcome to the 21st century, but not quite; welcome to culture and civilisation, but not quite." In so far as discussing the Bill and the possibility it will be passed moves things forward, it is a tribute to the very long struggle of transgender people. Alongside the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015, the upcoming referendum on marriage equality and recent changes in the law relating to the rights of gay and lesbian people generally, we are seeing in this country the results of a long international struggle that dates back at least to Oscar Wilde, through the very dark times of pink triangles and the persecution of gay, lesbian and transgender people by the Nazis and on to the Stonewall riots and the birth of the gay liberation movement. Following this struggle against oppression, ignorance and discrimination, we finally have reached a point where equality, liberation and self-determination are at least within striking distance. All of this is to be welcomed and a tribute to the people who fought and struggled through all of these decades. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, for its excellent work on these issues and the fantastic briefing it gave to Members.

We have come a long way, but it is a pity we cannot go the whole way. While the State has been forced, finally, towards civilisation, it retains the conservative impulses of which it seems unable to let go. These impulses are evident in the shortcomings of the Bill. To me and other speakers and the transgender community, the issues are to do with self-determination, liberation, freedom and the right of people to their own identity, whatever identity they choose. It has absolutely nothing to do with medical issues. In fact, the irony of requiring certification by a psychiatrist is that one should not need a psychiatrist's validation in order to decide one's gender identity, but one might well need a psychiatrist if that identity is denied.

That is not a glib statement but is the truth because the failure to acknowledge the rights of transgender people, gay and lesbian people, intersex people and non-binary people is precisely the thing that can make them sick and which can lead them to suffer and to be the victims of discrimination and unfairness. What they need to avoid all that or to begin the journey out of all that unfairness and injustice simply is the right to determine their own lives and their own identities. Any society that claims to support freedom, self-determination and equality should offer nothing less. As Deputy Wallace asked, why should one only be allowed to make a decision about one's gender identity once in one's life? I do not see why one should not be allowed to make the decision at any point and as many times as one wishes. It simply is not a medical issue but is about self-determination. It is unfortunate that the Government has chosen the model of dealing with this issue as it has in this legislation.

The requirement to be single and therefore to be forced into a divorce if one seeks a gender recognition certificate is really scandalous. While the Minister of State has indicated he sort of wants to do something about that, he should simply grasp the nettle and do it now by accepting the amendments proposed by Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, to take away that requirement. I was talking to someone in the canteen beforehand and that person is married but if this Bill is passed, would be required to divorce to get a gender recognition certificate with all the disruption that would involve for the family, children and so on. This is simply unacceptable and should be removed from the legislation on Committee Stage.

Finally, on the issue of age, young people and so on, while this legislation is important for all transgender people, intersex people and non-binary people, those who most need Members' protection and support and who most need the vindication of their rights are of course the young people. They are the ones who suffer most because of the lack of those rights and are most vulnerable because of their youth when these rights are not fully vindicated by the law. Consequently, in failing to extend rights to them, the Government is doing a great disservice to children and is perpetuating a situation which often is dangerous and discriminatory for those children. I welcome this legislation and am glad to be debating it. While I am glad to be here, it must go further and there is no need to wait to get the optimum in this regard because it can be achieved on Committee Stage. I hope the Government will be open to those amendments to make this legislation what it should be.

In common with other speakers, I welcome this Bill, which finally will deal to an extent with what has been an ongoing problem for many years for many transgender people to have the State recognise their existence and their rights within this society. It is hard to get past the feeling that the State has been dragged kicking and screaming to this point of bringing forward this legislation. It has taken a long battle through the courts, lasting 17 years or thereabouts, to get to this point and it was only to stave off a Supreme Court judgment that the State published this legislation and promised to bring it forward. While that in itself is bad enough, two things always have annoyed me about the work done and the legislation brought forward in this House. The first is the State always seems to do the bare minimum. It does just enough enable the Government to state it has dealt with an issue. While there may be one or two exceptions in respect of the smoking ban or something like that, the State never appears to seek or set out to be progressive or to be a setter of standards. It seems to do just the bare minimum to get the State over a hurdle, stave off a court case, satisfy the European Council or something like that. The other thing that annoys me is how we always mimic British law as well. We do not look beyond England for any guidance or pointers as to where we should be heading or what we should be doing. Moreover, we appear to mimic British law ten or 15 years after its implementation, at a time when they probably are at the stage of seeking to review it and change it again. We go back and pick up where they were 15 or 20 years before us. While this is extremely frustrating for Members in the House, it must be extremely frustrating for the people who must live under this regime and who face constant battles and fights to have their rights recognised and to be given the ability within the State to live as the people they choose to be and the people that they are. We do untold damage to so many citizens by restricting them so much and making them fight so hard to achieve what should be there as of right in a State that should be there to provide for them.

In respect of the Bill itself, the point that shocked me about it was the idea that if one is a transgender person, it is some sort of a medical complaint or that a person would be obliged to get a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or an endocrinologist stating there is something wrong with that person that makes him or her a transgender person. Again, this comes back to doing the bare minimum and doing what are the bare essentials to get the Government over the mark in dealing with an issue. I received an e-mail during the week from someone I did not know. It was some header anyway from America or somewhere like that. The person in question cited American examples about how we must protect against young people having a fad and deciding they are transgender but then, on coming of age, suddenly realising they are not transgender at all and so on, as well as about how it can be cured and everything. It is just bizarre and this requirement to get a diagnosis and to get evidence from a psychiatrist and an endocrinologist is very similar to that attitude. It suggests young people are impressionable and so on but young people are not stupid either. No young people would set themselves up, by declaring they were transgender, for the life they would leave themselves trying to live unless they felt it was something they were obliged to do to be complete as people themselves. The idea that this is a medical problem and that a medical diagnosis is required is simply completely wrong. It comes back to the issue that has been outlined by other speakers on self-determination. People should be able to self-declare their gender. Moreover, if Members are to look abroad to find other examples, why not look to a former colony of England that is somewhat similar to Ireland, namely, Malta, where gender is deemed irrelevant when it comes to the rights of the child and children can declare themselves? That is what we should be doing and is where we should be looking for direction.

During the campaign on the children's referendum, the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, pointed out that this referendum would put the rights of children centre stage within the legislative programme and the best interests of the child always would be recognised and so on. At the time, all Members went along with this in passing that legislation and in progressing that referendum, because they felt there was potential for a change to take place. However, one can discern from this legislation that such a change has not taken place and it is not feeding through into the legislative basis of the State. I note that in the Bill, the only instance in which the best interests of the child are used is in the case where a judge can deem an application for a gender change not to be in the best interests of the child. In itself, that is telling as to the outworkings of children's rights and how the children's referendum should be viewed within the State in the future.

My final point is the Government has committed to a review of this legislation within two years of its enactment and passage. This has been welcomed by people to whom I have been talking from the transgender community, as well as by parents of trans people. However, the problem with it is there is no commitment to carry out or complete research on the impact of the Bill and what it is doing. If there is to be meaningful consultation and a meaningful review within the two-year period, this must be included. Deputy Joan Collins will table amendments on Committee Stage and the Minister of State should take the opportunity to make this legislation into the Bill it potentially could be, that is, a Bill that asserts, looks after and protects the rights of the people, as the State is supposed to do, rather than doing the bare minimum.

I call Deputy Brian Walsh who is sharing time with Deputies Helen McEntee and Patrick O'Donovan. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Gender Recognition Bill 2014. While it only affects a small minority of the population, it is significant legislation and a step in the right direction for those who will avail of its provisions. The pace of society to embrace attitudinal and social change has traditionally been slow. In that context, this Bill can be commended as being quite progressive and inclusive in the way it addresses the issue of gender recognition, an issue that has always been there but has only become a campaigning issue in the past decade. Unfortunately, this issue will challenge some people of a particularly conservative disposition who will see it as unnatural. There is nothing more unnatural than denying another human being the right to be happy being who they are. The Bill will directly affect a relatively small number of people but it is significant for the attitudinal change that it reflects, as well as the legislative change that it heralds. As Members opposite have pointed out, this legislation is far from perfect and ideal. However, I believe it is a step in the right direction.

In my time as a public representative, I have had the opportunity only once to provide assistance to a transgender person who attended my constituency clinic. This interaction provided me with an insight into the struggles and challenges they face. I was genuinely touched by the story she told me. With tears in her eyes, she recounted how her former wife and, sadly, her children had shunned her since she had embraced her transgender identity. I hope that lady is watching what is happening this week in the Oireachtas and takes some comfort and hope that the Government is legislating on this issue. Her case showed the cost of becoming the person one is can be isolation, not just from one’s community but from one’s family as well.

Yesterday, along with other parliamentarians, I met a very fine man, a father, who was advocating on behalf of his transgender son. It was very refreshing to see a father embrace his son’s identity and support him. He is a role model for all fathers and his son can be immensely proud of him in ensuring the passage of this legislation.

The legislation is welcome but it is not ideal and there is room for improvement. Several provisions are less than ideal such as the requirement, arising from the Constitution, for the applicant for gender recognition to be single. I accept this must remain the case pending the outcome of the forthcoming referendum on marriage equality. Will the Minister provide a commitment that change in this regard will be among the first actions of the Government following what we hope will be the successful endorsement of the constitutional amendment?

There is also some dissatisfaction with restrictions placed on applicants who are between 16 and 18 years old. The nature or extent of those restrictions, however, appears to be excessively burdensome to the point the legislation may border on unworkable for persons under 18 years of age. In these cases, for example, an application to the Circuit Family Court for an exemption must be supported by two medical reports, one from the child’s primary treating physician and the other from an independent endocrinologist or psychiatrist. The need for such rigorous medical evidence is questionable in principle. What is being sought here is an administrative change, after all, not a surgical one.

On a practical level, this provision may also be unworkable as a result of our well-documented difficulties with waiting times to see medical specialists. In many cases, if a person applies for an appointment to see a consultant endocrinologist when they are 16, particularly given that waiting lists are prioritised according to the clinical urgency of the case, they may well be over 18 before they get to see the doctor. The Irish College of General Practitioners has written to the Minister seeking the inclusion of general practitioners in the definition of “primary treating medical practitioner”, an inclusion the Minister should consider.

There is merit in the proposals to extend this to children younger than 16 in the case of intersex individuals where there is adequate medical evidence to support it. So many of the prejudices and challenges faced by transgender people take root and manifest themselves in a particularly cruel form at school-going age. It is only right children in such a position should be afforded the same right and protection at this stage as they would in later life. It is at that early stage that prejudice and attitudinal hang-ups need to be tackled. For that reason alone, this section should be revisited.

In broad terms, I welcome this Bill as an extremely progressive step in the cause of gender recognition. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, on progressing this legislation, as well as acknowledging the fine work of Senators Katherine Zappone and Jillian van Turnhout and Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on it. Some work remains to be done on some of the specifics. On its enactment, however, this legislation will give hope to a number of people who have been left marginalised and isolated for too long in our society.

This legislation is a very positive step that will allow a person to be recognised by the State in what they feel is their true gender. I spoke to a member of TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, during the week. He described it as the State providing practical and symbolic support for the people involved, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. Ireland is the only country in the European Union that does not provide the possibility of legal gender recognition of transgender and intersex people.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward this legislation. This is the second Bill brought before the Dáil in a week that shows as a nation, as a society and as a people that we are growing. While it is taking longer than it should, we are beginning to be more understanding of other people's needs and respect others for who they are and how they live their lives.

TENI has stated, “Legislation must reflect the lived realities of our community and enshrine the privacy, dignity and human rights of all”. Last week, the Children and Family Relationships Bill clearly showed us life is not so black and white. While a child should be brought up by the birth parents, where possible and when practical, that is not always the case and families come in many different forms. One can look at people in the same manner. No two people are the same. Everybody brings their own personal touch to the world. Life would be very boring if we were all the same. As legislators, we must ensure that while people are different, every person is treated with the same respect and every person is allowed to live their own life.

This is about allowing a person to be recognised by the State in what they feel is their true gender. I hope that in the State recognising this, then society will follow. I am sorry it has taken so long for this legislation to come before the Dáil. I am also sorry it has taken a High Court ruling to move this issue to the forefront. Unfortunately, sometimes when a small minority of people in society are affected by an issue, their voices may not be heard. I acknowledge the battle that has been faced by Dr. Lydia Foy and by other members of the transgender community to get to this point today.

I have gone through the legislation. While for the most part I agree with it, some questions need to be asked and other areas need to be further debated and consideration given to them. Section 9 deals with the requirements of an application for a gender recognition certificate. It states the application must be accompanied by a statement from the applicant’s primary treating medical practitioner. To me that would mean his or her GP. However, it is defined earlier in section 2 as "a person's primary treating endocrinologist or psychiatrist”.

The word "psychiatrist" insinuates or implies that a person is not mentally well and places an unnecessary stigma around the whole process. I would think that if a person wishes to do so, their GP should be able to carry out the same duty. The GP is the person who knows them. Most people have grown up with the same GP from when they were a child and so the GP is more likely to be able to decide on something like that. Also there are very few medical practitioners with expertise in this field so unless we are going to bring in some form of mandatory training or education for current practitioners, we should allow those who know the person best to make that decision.

Another area I want to discuss is the age criteria. As has been discussed already, in order for a person to apply for a certificate they must be 18 years of age. If they are between the ages of 16 and 18 the young adult's parents or guardians must agree and must secure a court order. I would disagree with having to secure a court order. If a young adult has parents that do not agree with this, the parents may sometimes put barriers in the way, leaving the person in a very difficult position. While I understand it is a difficult area to deal with because we are talking about children, there is a fear that all transgender people choose to medically transition, and that if a child were allowed to medically transition and then changed their mind or decided they had made a decision too young, there would be very little going back. We are not talking about medical transition, or about children having surgery. We are talking about legal recognition on paper, something which the Bill provides under section 14, whereby a person can apply to have the certificate revoked. We are also talking about fear of the unknown. If a young boy of 12 or 13 transitions and wants to go to a girls' school, will the principal and teachers allow it? Will the children and their parents accept it? This is all about education and educating people.

I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for a young person, and there are very few people listening to this debate who can imagine how confusing, frightening and upsetting it might be, especially when there is very little acknowledgement out there that this happens. We need to take the children's views into account on this issue and we need to learn from children and young people who have gone through this. We are not talking about opening floodgates here. Two years ago we had a debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and a number of people said that if the legislation was passed the floodgates would open and there would be women all over the country claiming they were suicidal in order to have a termination. That did not happen. We are talking about a small group of people. We are not talking about people who are going through a fad, as Deputy Pringle put it, but people who need our help. There are young children who are suicidal, who are self-harming and who have mental health problems because they cannot deal with what they are going through and because the proper supports are not there. There is only so much that organisations like TENI and Transparency can do to help. Like most Deputies here today, I would ask that when this debate moves on to the next Stage, the issue of age be looked at again.

Finally the stipulation that a person must be single in order to apply for the certificate is something that we should leave open. This May, a referendum on same-sex marriage will be put to the people of Ireland and if it is successful, which I hope it is, then same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. It has been suggested that Committee Stage be held off until after the referendum and that is something we should look at.

I welcome this Bill and welcome the fact that there will be a review of the Act in two years. However, just because a review has been promised, it does not mean we cannot still go a little further now with this legislation, and I think we should.

I do not want to repeat what the previous two speakers have said. The three of us are probably going to make the same points. Yesterday I met a law lecturer from a law school in Dublin who has carved out a niche in this area by undertaking a PhD. I also met the same parent that Deputy Walsh and I presume Deputy McEntee met. I did not have an appreciation of this issue until I spoke to that man yesterday.

As a new parent myself, I know it is a life-changing experience to have a baby and for a new life to come into a family. That father relayed to me his experience of the transition his child has made and the impact it had on the family. The relief the family experienced when the element of negativity was all of a sudden replaced by positivity was something of which I had no appreciation until yesterday. As Deputy McEntee has said, I do not think most people have an appreciation of it. That is why this legislation is important although it covers a very small number of people. We are coming up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising, where the aspiration was to cherish all children of the nation equally. The definition and protection of the child has been put very much to the fore in the lifetime of this Government, with the creation of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and with stricter controls on how the State responds to and protects children from abuses of all kinds. The State has matured in its relationship to dealing with children.

I would agree with Deputy McEntee that Committee Stage of this legislation should be stalled until after the referendum. If successful, the outcome of the referendum may require further amendment to this legislation. When I met the group yesterday, its members brought that suggestion to me themselves. As regards the role of the GP, I know from my own family's experience that nobody will know a child medically better than the GP. The GPs should have a role in this alongside the existing ones. They are the people who have interacted with the children and looked after their medical needs from the time they came into the world. I do not see why they are not included.

As regards the age element, I know the group has met with the Minister of State and the Tánaiste. The families at the centre of this are concerned for their children and young adults, and are worried that if Committee Stage is rushed, there might not be an opportunity for them to further flesh out the changes they feel could make the Bill more reflective of what they want for their children. On that basis, I do not think there would be any need for the House to divide on this and I hope it does not happen.

This Bill is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the families we met yesterday. That man's absolute love for and adoration of his child has not changed one bit and has probably been enhanced. He may have seen what he could have lost, with the element of self-harm and the dark place this young person found themselves in up until the time they could confront who it was they were. I ask that the Minister take my points and those of my two colleagues on board.

Deputy Seán Crowe is sharing time with Deputies Ellis, Ó Caoláin and McLellan.

Go raibh maith agat. In May of last year I spoke on the broad precursor of this proposed Gender Recognition Bill. At the time I raised a number of concerns which Sinn Féin shares with transgender individuals and their representative advocacy group, TENI. I recognise and acknowledge that some small changes have been made to the Bill. I have heard many positive remarks from right across the political spectrum. However, a wide range of respected human rights bodies has been telling the Government that there are unacceptable and unnecessary provisions placed in this Bill. For the life of me I do not understand why the Minister for Social Protection has failed to take on board many of these legitimate concerns.

Most of us would agree there is a clear need for a legal framework for trans people to have their gender reflected accurately. It was for this reason that Sinn Féin produced its Bill on this in 2013 which, if enacted, would have given trans people a pathway to legal recognition without having to jump through unnecessary hoops, such as wasting psychiatrists' and endocrinologists' time by having to get official say so from a medical expert about what their gender is when they could just as easily articulate precisely what it is themselves.

I would like to think that our legislation would not have been downright cruel and forced happily married couples to divorce so that one person might have his or her gender accurately recognised. Our legislation was rights-based and we are pleading, even at this later stage, with the Government to recognise the gaping and unnecessary flaws in this Bill. We will end up reluctantly supporting it because people need an avenue for recognition but members of the Labour Party, in particular, need to recognise that this is far from the win on a social issue it is presenting it as. Telling trans people to divorce or they cannot have their gender recognised is insulting in itself but it is a further insult to say that to them and then portray it as giving them some kind of legislative gift. I take no pleasure in saying it is just plain wrong.

I have met a wide range of groups and individuals on this issue and it saddens me that their legitimate views have not been listened to or reflected in this Bill. It does not have to be like this. Originally, there seemed to be the suggestion from the Government that the single requirement, or forced divorce requirement, was necessary because it did not want to inadvertently introduce same-sex marriage. It seems somehow redundant to do this when same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions are legally recognised here and when we are very close to the referendum on this important matter. Trans people who are married or who have families are entitled to the same protection under the law as everyone else and for a State that supposedly holds the institution of marriage in such high regard, it is a bizarre and cruel approach to effectively force divorce on people who may not want it. It violates people's basic rights to equality, and that is before one even gets to the nuts and bolts of this, taking into account that people will have to separate from their families for five years before divorcing. The idea that this State or any state would compel people to do that is appalling, to say the least. Belgium, Georgia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain have all done away with compulsory divorce for gender recognition and those countries have not experienced societal melt down. Let us be inclusive about this and do the same.

There is no constitutional bar to this, so there is no logical reason to institute the State-sanctioned break-up of families so that people can access documentation to accurately reflect who they are. I would go so far as to say that I have my doubts that a law compelling trans persons to be single to avail of legal gender recognition is actually unconstitutional. The Minister and her Department know full well that it is unlikely this provision would be upheld in the European Court of Human Rights. While we uphold the decisions of that court in other cases concerning divorce and gender recognition, they have essentially concerned states where access to divorce was much simpler and far less paternalistic than in this jurisdiction.

It remains the case that this law, in a weird perversion of justice, would force a happy loving couple to perjure themselves in order to access a divorce, incur huge legal fees and wait five years to get a piece of paper that states their correct gender. That is quite simply a kick in the teeth for trans people. Surely it is perfectly reasonable to ask what the motivations of the Minister for Social Protection are here. I would like her to spell it out for us.

I welcome this Bill which will be good for many people who have suffered due to the State and society failing, or refusing, to respect their gender. That said, it has a number of deficiencies which I will outline and which Sinn Féin colleagues have also addressed but which bear repeating, to some degree.

My colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, published a Bill on gender recognition during this Dáil term. It was a much more progressive Bill than the one before us and without many of the problematic sections. This Bill has moved from being a great and utterly reasonable step in the right direction.

This Bill gives with the left hand and takes with the right. It sets out to respect the gender of individuals and their unique position in identifying their gender but then with other parts, it leans back into the old and damaging ways of pathologising people who have been misassigned a gender with which they do not identify.

It also nannies people by setting boundaries for them as to how they can get their correct gender recognised. No psychiatrist or endocrinologist can tell one what gender one is - that is something each individual knows - and while labels and disrespectful policies may hurt people who have been misassigned, it will never change that. This is the position of TENI and it is my position also. It should be the case that the process of having one's correct gender recognised is as simple as applying for it.

Life, when one has been born into a situation where one's gender has been misassigned, is not easy. Some find it more difficult than others and generally that is to do with the respect they get for their correct gender identification as they grow up.

There are trans people who did not meet great resistance from parents and so were able to transition earlier than others and so faced fewer difficulties but, even so, they had to deal with an issue which many of us never will. For many of us, our gender as perceived by other people is the one that we identify with and that is a big privilege when one considers the resistance, the hatred and the disrespect trans people often face. To have the State recognise that trans people know their individual gender better than anyone and to respect that will be a small step to showing society that being trans is okay. Trans people deserve respect and behaviour to the contrary is not acceptable in our society.

Ireland has a serious problem with transphobia. We have a very small trans community so for many people, it might not be so apparent but that does change the fact that trans people in Ireland are regularly victims of transphobic abuse. That can be online comments, street abuse or harassment or even physical and sexual assault. Everyone deserves to live free from abuse and danger such as that and to do so confident that society would stand in solidarity with him or her should he or she be victimised.

This Bill denies the right to identify one's gender to 16 and 17 year old people, putting in place barriers which mean they would have to go through a parent. This is utterly unfair and would leave many in this age group unable to have their gender recognised for a further two years, which is not right. The Bill denies that right completely to anyone under 16 years.

The Government must think that gender is something people take lightly but it certainly is not. It is important, in particular, to the people who are denied their correct gender identification. One's gender misidentification is a big issue to decide on but it is one which is individual. If a person under 16 years was to decide that they have been misidentified as female when they are male, what harm is it to anyone for them to transition and have the State recognise that so they can live in peace and privacy? If Deputies could try to imagine what it would be like to have their gender denied to them for most of their youth, I think they will understand that this is the wrong way to approach things.

One's body and one's gender are not mutually exclusive. For some, there is a very great link but for others there is not and that should be recognised. Under no circumstances should it require that trans people need to undergo any medical treatment to prove to anyone their gender. This State has a very bad record of thinking it can tell people what they are or how they feel. That should never be forgotten.

Finally, I thank TENI and the trans and intersex community of Ireland for their work in having their rights recognised. This is not the end but it is certainly a positive step and full credit for it lies with that community.

I welcome the opportunity being provided for debate with this Bill being introduced to this House. However, it must be said that we in Sinn Féin feel it is seriously lacking in the protection of young people's rights. Ireland is currently the only state in the EU with no provision for legal gender recognition.

My main issue with the Bill, as children's affairs spokesperson for my party, is the process of recognition for young people aged 16 and 17, and the exclusion of under-16s from the Bill. The advice from the Ombudsman for Children on the issue is that a failure to provide in law for transgender young people to have their preferred gender recognised renders it more difficult to advance awareness of the serious challenges facing them in schools and in other settings. This is unfair to these young people and puts them at an unnecessary disadvantage in life progression. Where 16 and 17 year olds wish to obtain legal recognition of their preferred gender, the barriers they face are onerous. The Bill introduces a mechanism whereby young people aged 16 and 17 can obtain a gender recognition certificate. It is widely felt by transgender organisations that the process as outlined to obtain the certificate is too arduous and unfair on young people.

The gender recognition Bill requires a number of important amendments to fulfil the requirements of international human rights law and tackle the serious issue of discrimination against transgender people. It falls seriously short of providing adequate protection to trans young people, especially within the education system, and makes no attempt to protect and vindicate their right to freedom of expression. As stated by the transgender advocacy group BeLonG To, on a very practical level this impacts on uniform choice, access to appropriate toilets, the name which appears on the school roll and the right to join sports teams targeted at those of a certain gender. It also has been noted that there is serious failure in the Bill to provide security for trans young people transitioning within education and that this will inevitably have a negative impact on the affected young people's mental health. This causes me huge concern. This State has a duty of care to all young people and a responsibility to provide for their protection and well-being. There is also great concern that the Bill will lead to different policies and procedures in schools across the State. This will only make it more complicated and difficult for trans young people to transition to their preferred gender and progress through their educational and personal development.

Another aspect that we in Sinn Féin find seriously concerning and unacceptable is the criterion that one must be single in order to apply for recognition. We are completely against any requirement that a person must be single in order to have their gender recognised, and further that they would be required to seek a divorce in order to have paperwork that accurately reflects their gender. The requirement that a person must divorce their spouse first is outlandish, outdated and quite possibly unconstitutional.

We are also of the view that all reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the dignity and privacy of applicants for legal gender recognition be preserved and that confidentiality is preserved in all cases. For this reason we tabled an amendment in the Seanad, which we will table again in this House. As Colm O'Gorman from Amnesty International has commented, the Bill must "ensure that transgender people can obtain legal recognition of their gender through a quick, accessible and transparent procedure in accordance with their own sense of their gender identity". It is the Government's responsibility to reach out and to listen to the transgender community so that their concerns and views are heard and incorporated into its development. The gender recognition Bill, if it is to achieve what it intends to, must be inclusive, and must be relevant to the needs of the people it seeks to address.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important piece of legislation. When I became a Deputy four years ago, I had certain aspirations, plans and ideals. Perhaps this is not an issue I would have considered at the outset, but in the past four years, I have come to realise that often legislation that affects a small number of people affects society at large, and what is good for a small number of people is good for us as a nation. This issue affects a small minority of people. It is of vital importance that we ensure this House deals with the matter with sensitivity for those persons who find themselves in a situation where gender is identified as a problem at birth or emerges as a result of a realisation that their bodies do not reflect the gender identification that is at the core of their being. It is rare that this House has the opportunity to provide a solution to people who are in these situations. Too often these minorities have been scapegoated, cast out and characterised as abnormal. Gender is at the core of our being, yet there has been a growing understanding of the complexities of gender and gender identity.

This Bill does not deal holistically with gender identity. Nobody suddenly comes to realise his or her gender identity is a problem at the age of 18. While the Bill does provide for some recognition of 16 and 17 year olds, there is nothing for young people under the age of 16. This is certainly a new frontier for many of us but we need to approach it with reason and compassion. Young trans people exist and I have heard of how difficult it is for them and their families. The road to knowing oneself can be a long one. I have had conversations with trans advocates, and I welcome to the Visitors Gallery some members of groups I have met. I have learned that gender identity is not something that a person decides overnight. Individuals struggle with this for a long time before they are able to admit it to themselves in the first place, let alone express it out loud. It is often a long and difficult process but there are young people who know this at an early age.

This week, I have heard stories of the struggles people have had and the persecution they have felt at times. I have accumulated some of those stories and I will put some of them on record because I do not have the time to go into them in great detail today. I have heard of young people who self-harm, who threaten suicide and who are undergoing psychiatric help. These young people who are struggling need to have their identity legally recognised. In the meantime, people face significant difficulties. I have referred to bullying and discrimination, for example, before. This is inhumane.

Let us be clear. We are talking about legal recognition. We are not talking about medical interventions or surgeries for children. This is about creating legislation that affirms a person's gender identity. The Government's movement to include 16 and 17 years olds in this Bill is very welcome as it is an important step towards the visibility of these young people. However, the process is incredibly onerous and restrictive as it requires parental consent, two letters from medical practitioners and a court order. This will act as a barrier for many young trans people to obtaining legal recognition. This is due to the fact that there are very few medical practitioners with expertise in this area and TENI has documented long waiting lists to access these services.

The likely result is that the process will be so time consuming that young people will be 18 years of age before they fulfil the requirements. This was evidenced by the statement of a young trans man who noted, "I was 17 when I got my first letter from a psychiatrist. I'm 21 now and I'm still waiting for my second letter for treatment." In the absence of the Government agreeing to self-determination, I ask that general practitioners, GPs, be included in the definition of "primary treating medical practitioner." I also received a letter from the Irish College of General Practitioners making this request.

Amnesty International has observed:

Absolute denial of legal gender recognition to individuals under a given age is not consistent with existing international standards regarding the rights of children. Legal gender recognition should be accessible to children on the basis of their best interest and taking into account their evolving capacities.

Under Article 42A of the Constitution, the State "recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights." In matters of guardianship, adoption, custody and access to children, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration and "in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child." Legal recognition would benefit young trans people by protecting their rights and supporting their well being. It would enhance their experiences at school and ensure that the Administration provided protection. There are instances where this has not been the case. Furthermore, legal recognition would acknowledge and validate their identity.

I ask the Minister of State, whom I welcome to the Chamber, that we have the opportunity to live up to the ideals that the sovereign people of Ireland recently expressed in the children's referendum. During the debate on this legislation, which I hope will be adopted, the House can do much to help in this important matter.

I welcome this legislation. For a Government such as ours, it is enlightening that we are introducing legislation that we would not have considered or discussed 20 years ago. Like my colleague, Deputy Keating, my first encounter with transgender people to discuss these issues was a couple of days ago. I was moved by that discussion. I spoke with a father who believed that we were not going far enough with this legislation. The justice committee is discussing matters of protection and how to make things right for children. Here we have an opportunity to take on board that discussion.

Young adults recognise their genders at an earlier age than the one for which we are legislating. They know that there is a perception that they must go through a process to have their genders recognised. They are being traumatised and, as Deputy Keating mentioned, bullied in certain circumstances. Some are self-harming. I plead with the Minister of State to revisit the matter of the age at which people can determine their own genders.

We must accelerate the process. Part of it could comprise self-confirmation or involve GPs who have been dealing with the people in question for a number of years. We might not get another opportunity to enact reforming legislation like this for many years. I hope that we consider my point on people recognising their genders at a younger age than we are legislating for and that we empower parents to allow their young folk to decide their genders at an earlier age.

People generally recognise that this is an important social topic. I plead with the Minister of State to consider the justice committee's discussion on children's rights and the protection of the child and to have it form part of this debate. People should be given the right to decide their genders.

I entered the Chamber approximately an hour ago. I usually arrive a little early so that I can get involved in what other people, hopefully with a bit of passion and experience, are saying. It can inform what I have prepared in advance.

We debated this matter last March. A number of Members were present, for example, Deputy Crowe. Possibly for the first time, we held a significant discussion and mentioned the word "transgender" in a full debate with the current Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. Very few Members were present. They were the ones who had been carrying the light on this issue for a long time. I am delighted that so many people have come around to the issue, but I am disappointed that it has been only in recent days.

I am a Labour Party Deputy. I have listened to both sides of the House. One bashed us. I will get away from the politics in a second, but I must say what I am going to say. With no disrespect to my colleagues in Fine Gael, some told the Minister of State that he could have done better because, in recent days, their hearts and minds had been won over. My heart and mind and those of the Labour Party have been won over on this issue for a long, long time. I have news for every Deputy - one in five people voted for the Labour Party. Our political strength to make something happen depends on the cards we have been dealt. Advocacy groups like the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, and so on are upstairs in the Visitors Gallery. Maybe if political pressure had been put on everyone earlier to win over hearts and minds, as Deputies on all sides have so eloquently stated, we would not be discussing how this legislation could be better. It would be better. I had to say that. I have sat here for an hour and am more annoyed by some of the political debate than by the points in the legislation that need to be improved. That is disappointing.

Like those sitting in the Visitors Gallery and Dr. Lydia Foy, who has been fighting a battle for 21 years to have herself recognised for the person she is, I know what it is like to be in a minority group. By God is it difficult. Persuading people who have no idea what it is like or the reality one lives is also difficult. Ironically, that reality is pretty much the same for others who, for some reason, seem to deny us those rights. Deputy Crowe will remember because he was present on the day in March when we debated this matter.

Perhaps the Deputy is right. I referred to Ms Elizabeth O'Farrell, the lady who exited the GPO with the heroes of the 1916 Rising and gave the surrender flag to the British. As we all know, she has been airbrushed out of the picture depicting the moment of surrender. In most of the photographs that we see, there is a man in her place. I know, TENI knows and transgender people know what it is like to live in the shadows of society and not be recognised as the people we are. It is tough. Most Deputies are straight and face no issues over their genders or sexualities. They never need to debate in this House and put their hearts on their sleeves to achieve a better society. They may debate from their hearts upwards and have passion and enthusiasm for what they say, but they are unlike the people upstairs and do not know what it is like at first hand. I do not know what it is like either, but I know what it is like to feel that I must constantly do more than every other politician and expose myself because I believe in a better society.

Perhaps in generations to come, there will be no issue with the words, "transgender", gay" and "lesbian" because we will recognise people fully for who they are, which is individual citizens, with equality for one and all, with no difference or segregation and with everybody having access to participate fully in society because that is what society is about. That is why I am in politics and that is why I will try to stay in politics because I want to keep on fighting. However, I will be delighted to see the day when the politicians who come after me and those who come after the tremendous people who have been fighting for transgender rights can reach the point where transgender people can eventually lay their hats down and live their lives as one just like us. That is all that people want. I did not come to the House to say that but I was getting frustrated. I mean no disrespect to my colleagues on all sides of the House but I am calling this for what it is, having listened to an hour of contributions.

We have to face up to where we are at. I would like this legislation to be better but the people who would most like it to be better are those who will suffer because the legislation is not as progressive as they would like but I see the glass half full and that is the way I look at life. I cannot help but acknowledge this is landmark legislation. For this first time those who have been airbrushed out of society because they are transgender will be brought into society and recognised. Imagine living one's entire life without being recognised by society in the laws it provides for its citizens. Yet these people get up and go to work, pay taxes and vote but they are not recognised by society. As much as it will disappoint some people to hear me say this, we must recognise that the legislation is a significant landmark in itself. For whatever reason between a political push and legal proceedings over 21 years, we have arrived at a stage whereby, thank God, a sector of our society which has been forgotten is recognised. Because of them being forgotten, airbrushed out of society and being left in the shadows, they have been stigmatised and mistreated. It will take more than legislation to address this but the Bill will allow the provision of services to people who are transgender to develop in order that one day their gender issue will be a non-issue.

Previous speakers mentioned the single criterion. I listened to the Minister of State's opening contribution in my office but these Members obviously are not aware that the Government is tabling an amendment to ensure the same-sex marriage Bill will include provision to amend this legislation. For everybody affected by the need for a "Yes" vote in the referendum, we need everyone to ensure it is secured. I urge the transgender community to get as many people out as possible because we can and will get a "Yes" vote. That will eliminate the single criterion issue.

I refer to the medical criteria issue. I am a gay person and back in 1974 the medical world thought I was somebody who needed to see a psychiatrist. I had something else prepared to say until this morning but I genuinely think it would not be right for me to have to see a psychiatrist and for him or her assess whether my sexuality is what it is. It is not right that we should put anybody in that position because the individual knows best. We need to find a road map to get to that space. We can come to the House and criticise the lack of such a road map or we can find the solution to provide it. The two year statutory review will be the gateway to get there. I spoke to the Minister of State earlier and he is anxious to keep in contact with TENI and various other transgender groups on a regular basis and to use the review period as an active road map to develop the legislation. I would like this to be different but, being realistic, that possibly will be the solution.

On the GP issue, people having to expose themselves constantly takes away their dignity. The GP is the person with whom they might feel most comfortable and we do not need to put them in an unnecessarily undignifying position. We do that currently and that is not acceptable. We must find a way to get to a point whereby the certification can be issued through GPs, if not now, then as soon as possible. I would not like as a gay person to have to go through that process and I believe transgender people will relate to what I have said.

I refer to the issue of young people aged under 18 who are in schools, training centres and universities. It is not acceptable that just because a birth certificate states a person is called X, that he or she must be called by that name when he or she finds his or her gender and is living in that space. It is unacceptable to undermine a citizen like this. Schools should not need a circular about this. A school that values every person in the school community and his or her dignity should do that without having to be told by the Minister for Education and Skills. However, she is anxious to ensure the strongest enforcement and messaging delivered to ensure this does not happen to people.

We are where we are and I would like it to be better but let us recognise that for the first time transgender people will be given a legitimate legal space in society. I wish this had happened a long time ago but I am committed to doing what I have done for the past number years and not just recently, which is to work with the people affected by this issue and to keep on championing it. Members in other parties will do the same because that is how change is delivered. It does not happen by hearing from somebody two days before a Bill is taken and coming into the House to say what must be done. Any sensible politician will know that it is through the long game of political engagement and constantly achieving a critical mass that political change is created, not by listening to people affected by an issue two days before a Bill is taken in the House. It is a long game. I wish all those Members had become involved in this much sooner and perhaps we would not be talking about these changes now.

I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Paul Murphy.

Like many Members, I have met people who are transgender, their parents and support groups. I am conscious of the difficult journey that transgender and intersex people have and, therefore, I am sure every Member will hope that the legislation makes the journey less difficult. While the Bill is progressive, it contains some drawbacks and deficiencies with regard to rights and recognition for adults, the stressful procedure for 16 and 17 year olds and the lack of any provision for those aged under 16. While there are reasons for progressing the Bill quickly given it has been so long in coming, we have to get it right for transgender and intersex people. This is a children's rights issue and it is part of what we want in our society, schools and communities, which is inclusiveness, mutual respect and, especially, respect for difference.

I refer to an INTO initiative, Different Families, Same Love. It is a programme for different classes which aims to create a school climate of respect and acceptance of the diverse families in our society. We know how central families are to forming a child's identity and, therefore, it is important to recognise that we are not talking only about the traditional family. The programme begins with the following wonderful quotation from poet, Adrienne Rich: "...when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in to a mirror and saw nothing". I have just come from the Abbey Theatre where Larkin Community College performed a play of its own called "Girl With No Name". While it was about homelessness, what they said struck me as relevant to this debate.

This is what happens and still happens, unfortunately, for many who are LGBT. A great deal of progress has been made but it must continue in the right direction because we are all aware of the negative effect of bullying. Research shows the greater the support and the feeling of inclusion and equality for LGBT people, the less they are likely to be affected by stress. The Bill must play a part in this. The first positive associated with the Bill is it will recognise the gender identity of transgender and intersex people but it must go further to honour the right of everyone to be recognised by his or her gender of choice.

It should go further by honouring the right of everyone to have his or her gender of choice recognised. That is a principle in international human rights law. We all have an entitlement to live as who we are, and be respected as the person we choose to be.

Under the Yogyakarta principles, "gender identity" is defined as "each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth". This Bill has certain drawbacks in that regard, and that is why amendments are being called for. One drawback relates to children under the age of 16, who are being denied the legal right to their gender identity even if they have parental support for that identity. I suggest this will lead to further stress, distress and marginalisation. There is a scarcity of information on the debate about gender identity. I have seen a piece of qualitative research which found that some 94% of transgender adults identified their gender before the age of 18, some 48% of them identified their gender before the age of five and some 44% of them identified their gender between the ages of five and 14. Just 2% of them identified their gender between the ages of 13 and 18 and another 2% of them did so after the age of 18. There was no response from 4% of those identified.

This Bill will put in place strict requirements for 16 and 17 year olds who might want to go through this process. I think it will encourage them to wait until they are 18 before doing so. They will be left in a kind of no man's land in the meantime. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 will have to get a court order, the authorisation of two doctors and parental consent, all of which could take a long time. I am aware from my experience of those between the ages of 16 and 18, and of younger teenagers, that they know their own minds, are very articulate and are very conscious of their identities. The Ombudsman for Children's opinion is that a 16 or 17 year old should be able to decide on his or her identity and that those under that age should be able to do so with parental permission.

I suggest that people in the public service, the education system, medical circles, the Garda Síochána and youth services need an element of training to assist them to be aware of the needs of transgender and intersex people. I think transgender and intersex people should be able to change their birth certificates without having to face onerous procedures. There are transgender people who have the identity of a male and the body of a female, but do not want surgery. The implications of the medical criteria for them and others are particularly disturbing. I refer, for example, to the requirement for multiple separate medical opinions. This measure seems to be predicated on the idea that all transgender or intersex people require some degree of surgery in order to fulfil their status. We know that is not true. The medical practitioner who will be required to discuss the medical evaluation under this Bill is narrowly defined as "an endocrinologist [of whom we have very few] or psychiatrist".

The criticism of this measure is that it links medical treatment with legal recognition. The Bill does not differentiate between the medical transition, which some but not all may want, and the legal transition whereby the person could and should have his or her true civil status recognised. Transgender Equality Network Ireland has argued that medical interventions and legal rights need to be uncoupled if the human rights of transgender and intersex people are to be respected. There seems to be an unwillingness to accept and respect the decision-making capacity of transgender people. It seems that self-determination and self-declaration are being undermined. I wonder whether those who drew up this Bill examined the legislation in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where they have a third option on birth certificates. Countries like Malta, Denmark and Argentina seem to be very progressive on the whole area of self-identification. It should be a question of modelling the Bill on more progressive legislation.

I think everybody in this House supports this legislation. I certainly support it because it is far superior to what was in place before now, which was really nothing. However, there are people who feel that this Bill, welcome and all as it is, is based on some outdated practices and could consequently lead to more marginalisation and discrimination. Ironically, this is coming at a time when the Government, through the marriage equality proposal and the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014, is being more liberal and inclusive. Equal rights have to be at the core of the legislation. I will conclude by quoting from Senator van Turnhout's speech on this Bill in the other House. She stated:

I am thinking of the six year old child who has clearly articulated his preferred gender and which has been fully embraced by his parents, friends, extended family and community. Is this young child, a boy, really going to be forced to go through a girls' school wearing a girl's uniform and using the wrong name and pronouns to gain access to the education available in his locality?

That is what will happen unless we get all the aspects of this Bill right.

I thank the Chair for giving me this opportunity to speak on the Gender Recognition Bill 2014. I warmly welcome the debate. Despite some flaws in the legislation, I support it strongly as an historic step towards a more equal and inclusive society. I believe this is a major civil rights issue because I want to live in a country that respects and celebrates diversity. When we knocked on the doors during the last general election campaign, many people demanded change and reform. I welcome this legislation as part of the change and reform agenda. I urge all Deputies to support it.

I had the honour this week of meeting Simon and Broden, who are parents and activists on this legislation. I would like to quote from a letter I received from Simon following our meeting and which really sums up the whole issue. The letter states:

This is indeed an opportunity for you and your colleagues to do just that - make members of the trans community's lives a whole lot easier by passing a law that validates them and gives them rights. This is not just about a piece of paper. It is about human rights - the right of a small minority of citizens to be themselves [I emphasise the words "be themselves"] not because a medic says so, not because Lydia Foy won a historic case in the European court, but because every person, and every child especially, has the right to be respected, valued and protected by their State.

I think that sums up what is going on in this legislation today. It is also a message to all of us that we need to act soon in relation to children and their rights.

I was interested to hear the comments of Deputy Lyons in reaction to some of our colleagues. He seemed to be beating up on people who are supporting the legislation because they did not come to the table sooner. I remind him that equality does not belong to any particular party. Equality is about the citizens of this State. Equality and respect for difference are important parts of any inclusive democratic society. It is important to recognise that in this legislation and in this debate. Ireland is the only country in the EU that does not provide for the possibility of legal gender recognition of transgender and intersex people. The term "transgender" refers to a person whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the sex assigned to that person at birth. The term "intersex" refers to a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definitions of female or male. These are the definitions.

Legal gender recognition provides a process for an individual to change the gender marker on their birth certificate and be legally recognised by the State in their true gender. As foundational identity documents, birth certificates are often requested for official purposes, such as accessing social welfare entitlements, obtaining personal public service numbers, getting jobs and getting married. In certain cases, a person may be recognised as one gender on certain documents and as another gender on his or her birth certificate. This puts the individual at risk of being outed when he or she applies for a job, a new passport or entry to education. It can also lead to a denial of services and restrict an individual's ability to travel domestically and internationally. Forced outing may result in harassment, discrimination and even violence. That is the world of many transgender people. The lack of State recognition of transgender and intersex identities is a major contributing factor to the marginalisation of these communities and is an urgent health and human rights issue. That is where I am coming from. We have to ensure it is a human rights and equality issue as well.

I emphasise that I am strongly supporting this Bill because it is inclusive and progressive. When Opposition Deputies are supporting Government legislation, it is proper for us to point out any flaws we see in it. This Bill retains the blanket exclusion that prevents children under the age of 16 from obtaining legal recognition. This represents a failure on the part of the State to acknowledge the existence of transgender and intersex young people and the extremely high levels of prejudice they may encounter because of their gender.

For children, large aspects of education, sports and activities are gendered. Therefore, it is important that trans and intersex young people are able to participate fully in school life and activities. We must lead on this issue and deal with it. I refer particularly to schools, youth clubs and all youth groups. It is important to identify this because education will play an important part, as was seen in other equality issues over the past number of years.

I strongly support the HSE model for self-determination. This was strongly proposed by Dr. Philip Crowley, the HSE national director of quality and patient safety when he spoke at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. He states, "The HSE endorses a gender recognition process which places the responsibility for self-declaration on the applicant rather than on the details of a medical certificate or diagnosis". I strongly support that position and it is important to say so in the debate.

I welcome the Bill because it is of historic importance. It is about children and people but, above all, about creating a more caring and inclusive society in Ireland in 2015.

I pay tribute to the campaigning work of transgender people and, in particular, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI. Without that, we would not have the Bill before us. The campaign is responsible for having the Bill and also for the fact that the criticisms raised about the inadequacy of the Bill have been widely reflected in the debate on Committee Stage in the Seanad and today in the Dáil. It is a tribute that the group has not accepted the Bill as grateful people happy to have something but, instead, have pointed out the real weakness and have struggled to make it a stronger Bill. It is a real illustration of what the abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, said that power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and never will. It takes oppressed groups of people struggling and fighting in difficult circumstances to force any progressive change. These are not granted to people but won through struggle from below. It is only by a continuation of that level of struggle that we will finally reach a stage where trans people are not discriminated against.

The basic elements of the Bill, legal recognition of people's gender identity, is a step forward and a step out of the dark ages where Ireland is the only country in the EU that does not allow legal recognition of transgender people. It is the beginning of an end of a nightmare where people's gender is not legally recognised. We can imagine the situation that creates for people. Those of us who have attended briefings and discussions with people in the past number of months have heard multiple stories about people going to school wearing the wrong school uniform, which is not the school uniform of someone's gender and not being able to use the correct toilets of someone's gender and having teachers who see people in a gender that is not their gender. All the way through life, this creates difficulties for people. It is no wonder we hear statistics on the prevalence of mental health issues. In some studies 78% of respondents had thought about ending their lives and 44% said they had self-harmed. This information has been made available from the TENI study Speaking from the Margins: Trans Mental Health and Wellbeing in Ireland. That is not an individual problem or failing of those who experienced mental health problems but a problem of society that does not recognise their gender. This is reflected in many ways, whether in families that tragically do not accept their children for who they are, social exclusion from peers, and discrimination.

Like many of these issues, legal recognition will not change that overnight but it can be an important factor in changing attitudes. That is the most important aspect. There are serious problems with the Bill and the Government should not hide behind saying it is big progress, there is a need to have the Bill enacted now and that if we want to have more progressive legislation we would need more consultation. It is cowardly of the Government to do so, given that these issues have been raised repeatedly since the debate started in the Dáil, in the committee and in the Seanad. The Government should accept there are failings in the Bill and accept key amendments to change it that would make a real difference for people.

The first key issue has been addressed by others, which is the effective requirement for a forced divorce. This forces people to get divorced before they can get legal recognition of their gender identity. It ignores the actual reality that trans families exist and discriminates against their marriage, the trans people, their spouses and their children. I do not accept the argument that it will be resolved with the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum and that we should wait. At the very least, we should have a sunset clause to ensure that, when the referendum is hopefully passed, the requirement automatically disappears.

The second key issue is discrimination against trans young people, first, by saying there is no possibility for those under 16 years of age to have their gender legally recognised. This is despite the fact that studies suggest the vast majority of trans people had identified their gender before the age of 18 years. It is some 94% according to a study from 2013 and many have done so much below the age of 18 years. Second, the barriers put in place for those aged 16 and 17 years, of parental or guardian consent and a high level of medical assessment, means that it will not happen. We can say it is legally possible to have a 16 or 17-year-old to have gender legally recognised but that will not happen. People will be 18 years of age before it happens so it is not of much use. We should be clear that we are not talking about medical transition but the simple legal recognition of people's gender. At the very least, 16 and 17-year-olds, and I would argue younger people, should be able to self-determine and self-declare their gender.

The third key problem with the general approach of the Bill is the medical approach, seeing this as a medical issue and requiring medical assessment and intervention. The requirement of a certificate of a medical practitioner, an endocrinologist or a psychiatrist is entirely wrong and unnecessary. It says that it is up to medical professionals to decide whether people are able to correctly determine their gender identity. That is not the case, it is up to people themselves to determine it. That is the whole point about a progressive approach on this issue. At the very least, the Government should take on board the letter from the Irish College of General Practitioners, which urges the addition of GPs to the definition of primary treating medical practitioners. At the least, this would make it more accessible to trans people but, in reality and in line with best practice, there should be a simple administrative process where people make a statutory declaration as to their gender identity.

The final point I will raise is the absence of consideration of those who do not identify with either binary gender, male or female. This is the case in Australia and Germany in certain circumstances and there should be the possibility of identifying as ex-gender and not forcing people who do not identify with either to choose between male and female.

I hope the Government takes on board some of the key amendments but mainly I hope that, regardless of what happens, if the Bill is passed it is seen as a partial victory for those fighting for it and that they continue to fight and to press until we have full equality and an end to discrimination.

I propose to share time with Deputies Seán Kenny, Anne Ferris and Seán Kyne. I am happy to speak on the Bill, which is important. Anyone speaking out must give enormous credit to Dr. Lydia Foy, who through decades of perseverance, legal challenges and of holding the State to account, often in legal confrontation with it, must be commended on the Bill and on it being debated in this positive manner. Reading many of the attempts, via the High Court and elsewhere, used by Dr. Foy - it culminated in the declaration that our law did not comply with the European Court of Human Rights judgment - illustrates the struggle to get this to where it is today. I commend the Minister on engaging in such a proactive way with the stakeholders in the Bill.

There are disagreements about some of the technicalities and principles being debated.

That the Bill, which is very progressive when compared to some of the legislative frameworks already in place in other European states, is before the House is an extremely positive development. That we are debating it is a sign that we no longer live in the dark ages. I welcome the fact that the matter with which the Bill deals is receiving the attention and appreciation it deserves.

A number of commentators in the human rights sphere have criticised the legislation as being in some way less than it should be. I am not sure I agree with all of the analysis that has taken place but I am sure that the Second Stage debate provides people with the appropriate opportunity to air any grievances they may harbour. Some individuals have suggested that as person should not be obliged to profess his or her gender and then exclusively assign himself or herself to it for the foreseeable future or forever and that it should be possible to switch back. It must be recognised that an individual's gender identity can change over a period. While no one would state that the decision to opt to transition to one's preferred gender should be taken lightly, it should be possible for a person to take this route if his or her circumstances change.

As previous speakers indicated, there is a contention regarding the age at which a person may apply for gender recognition. We are all aware that some children can, at a very early age, realise that the gender listed on their birth certificates is not that with which they identify. I hope we will be able to tease these matters out further on Committee Stage. If there is certainty on this matter in the mind of a child, then we possibly should be able to consider his or her circumstances further. If one considers the law as it relates to medical procedures and the ability of a minor to give consent, one will find that this has developed in the context of a number of cases. The jurisprudence in this regard very much focuses on the age of 16 as being the point at which a person can give informed consent in respect of the carrying out of a medical procedure. I thank the Tánaiste for succeeding in reducing the age in this Bill from 18 to 16. However, perhaps we should consider including a clause which would allow consideration to be given to certain cases in exceptional circumstances.

The Bill means a great deal to those with whom it deals. I hope the referendum in May will be passed - there is support for a "Yes" vote among almost all Members of the House - and that we will be thereby in a position to deal with the issue of the compulsory dissolution of marriages in relevant instances. It must be recognised that the Constitution - as it stands and in terms of the way it currently defines marriage - does not allow for such dissolutions. Germany was able to legislate in respect of this matter but I do not believe we are in a position to do so here as a result of our constitutional and legal framework. The people will be required to make a decision in May. In such circumstances, those of us who intend to campaign for a "Yes" vote must use reason and highlight the issue to which I refer in order to further our arguments and ensure that the referendum is passed.

I welcome the Bill, which is an important step forward. There is a possibility for further progress to be made in respect of the subject matter of the Bill on Committee Stage. I hope all of those involved will engage in a constructive debate at that point.

This legislation demonstrates how far Ireland has come in terms of social progress in recent years. While the Bill is welcome, it must also be stated that Ireland is currently the only country in the European Union which has not already made provision for legal gender recognition. In reality, therefore, we are merely catching up. The delay in introducing gender recognition legislation has left transgender and intersex persons without formal legal status and has significantly impacted upon their ability to access services such. The publication of this Bill marks progress in that regard. The Bill will give formal legal recognition to the preferred gender of transgender persons by means of the issuing of gender recognition certificates by the Department of Social Protection. This will mean that a person's preferred gender will be fully recognised by the State for all purposes, including the right to marry or enter a civil partnership in his or her preferred gender and the right to a new birth certificate. The term "preferred gender" is, in line with a recommendation made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection and Education during the pre-legislative scrutiny process, contained in the Bill. This will facilitate applications for gender recognition from people with intersex conditions.

The Bill is a progressive measure and I would like it to be enacted as soon as possible in order that members of the transgender community will be able to avail of the opportunity to have their preferred gender formally recognised. Once it becomes law, a person to whom a gender recognition certificate is issued will be officially legally recognised by the State as being of the preferred gender from that day forward. He or she will be recognised in the preferred gender for all purposes, including with regard to his or her dealings with the State, public bodies and civil and commercial society. He or she will be entitled to marry a person of the opposite gender or enter a civil partnership with a person of the same gender. He or she will also be entitled, where relevant, to a new birth certificate that shows the preferred gender and new names, if names are also changed.

The application process for gender recognition will be administered by the Department of Social Protection. Applicants will either have to have their birth registered in Ireland or be ordinarily resident here. This process will consist of a statutory declaration by the applicant that he or she intends to live permanently in the new gender and a validation by the primary treating physician that the person has transitioned or is transitioning to the preferred gender. Details of care, including medical history or confirmation of a diagnosis, will not be required, nor will the person be obliged to confirm he or she has been living in his or her preferred gender for a specific period prior to his or her application. The Bill requires that, pending the outcome of the referendum on same-sex marriage due to take place in May, an applicant for gender recognition should be single.

The Oireachtas joint committee recommended that the minimum age for gender recognition be reduced from 18 to 16 years. The Bill provides for applications from 16 and 17 year olds but with significant safeguards, which seek to balance the rights of such applicants with the need to protect their interests at a vulnerable age, attached. In particular, in such cases it will be necessary to secure a court order exempting the applicant from the standard requirement of a minimum age for gender recognition of 18 years.

The Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP, has been keen to see the definition of "primary treating medical practitioner" contained in the legislation extended to include general practitioners. I support its efforts in this regard for a number of reasons. General practitioners are more than capable and fully qualified to fulfil the certification duties under the legislation and are also more than likely to be familiar with the circumstances of applicants. The latter means that they will be well placed to provide verification of an individual's medical transition. General practitioners would be also the first point of contact for most transgender people seeking health care and would, I understand, monitor the medical transition after transgender people have engaged with specialist services. Having their local general practitioners involved would be of great benefit to transgender people.

I met representatives from Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, earlier in the week. One of them was a person with whom I had worked some years ago, while another served as a public representative in the 1980s. I wish them every success in having their gender recognised under the terms of the Bill. Transgender people have been and remain marginalised in society. It is well past time that this changed. There is more work to be done in the coming years. I strongly commend this legislation to the House.

Before I refer to the Bill, I wish to place on record my deep appreciation for two brave women whose lifelong work has led to the point where, for all of its flaws, we are discussing this Bill. Lydia Foy is a champion of gender equality. Her commitment to human and gender rights has inspired Irish people affected by these issues - young and old, women, men and intersex - to speak up and have their voices heard. One hundred years ago the gender recognition fight was about achieving votes and equal rights for women. That fight is still only partially won. Women occupy just 16% of the seats in this Chamber, which is a sad statistic in international terms. We have a long way to go in this country before women achieve equal rights with men. The road to gender recognition is an extremely long one. For transgender women and men to even get on that road has been a long struggle. Lydia Foy has led that struggle in Ireland.

She deserves to be thanked by this House and at the same time given a public apology. It is shameful that it has taken her more than 17 years and three court cases to have the human rights of so many Irish people recognised by the Oireachtas. The other woman I wish to acknowledge is an Englishwoman, Christine Goodwin, who sadly passed away last December at the age of 77 years after dedicating a lifetime to changing the law in her country. Christine Goodwin's success in the European Court of Human Rights was instrumental in the subsequent 2007 judgment of our High Court that Ireland had breached Lydia Foy's human rights in a similar manner. The Government of the United Kingdom responded within two years of the Christine Goodwin judgment by introducing the Gender Recognition Act 2004, but for another seven years this State continued to deny human rights to the thousands of people in this country who were affected by the Lydia Foy ruling. For three of those years the former Fianna Fáil led Government had the audacity to challenge Lydia Foy in the Supreme Court.

To say that Ireland urgently needs gender recognition legislation is to state the obvious. What we do not need is a near carbon copy of ten year old British legislation. We have learned a lot in the past ten years about how to legislate for this issue, and Ireland can gain from that knowledge. Deciding to disregard an official birth gender is not an easy choice for any individual to make. When such a significant life decision is made, it should be trusted and respected rather than second guessed. If a medical fact is deemed to be absolutely necessary, the word of a GP should be considered to be as valuable as that of any other medical expert. This legislation reflects nothing of what we know about the psychological damage that can occur if gender recognition is forcibly delayed beyond the formative teenage years and it needs to be adapted to meet the specific needs of fragile young people. Furthermore, it ignores the existence of an inter-sex gender. I also have significant concerns that the Bill may in fact be unconstitutional in its requirement that married persons must divorce prior to recognition of a gender change. It is deeply worrying that the State might be contemplating legislation which would compel a married couple to live apart for four years and then divorce, and for a family to be forcibly broken up.

Where human rights are concerned, the Oireachtas should use all the tools at its disposal to repair what otherwise may be an unconstitutional Bill. That was my opinion a few weeks ago when I voted in favour of the Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill 2013. It remains my position now. I support the passage of this Bill to the next stage of the legislative process and trust that the Members of this House can work together to achieve the necessary amendments.

I thank all the relevant organisations, including Transgender Equality Network Ireland, my colleagues in the Labour Party and friends and constituents in County Wicklow who have contacted me regarding this issue in the past four years. I promise them I will continue to fight the good fight. I also thank the Minister, Deputy Burton, who has worked extremely hard in the past four years to bring this Bill before the House.

I welcome this Bill, which was prepared as a result of the campaign by Dr. Lydia Foy and others. Dr. Foy has been seeking a new birth certificate in her preferred gender for the past 21 years. The Bill provides for the formal legal recognition of a transgender person's preferred gender through the grant of a gender recognition certificate when the applicant has satisfied certain criteria. The transgender person will be then entitled to a new birth certificate setting out his or her preferred gender, marry a person of the opposite gender or enter a civil partnership with a person of the same gender. The Bill requires that an applicant for gender recognition divorce pending the outcome of the referendum on same-sex marriage, which is due to take place in May 2015.

This is a subject with which few people are familiar. I acknowledge the work done by those who have lobbied for this Bill in terms of informing and educating me about the issues arising. While there is a broad welcome for the Bill, concerns have been expressed about certain shortcomings, some of which are temporarily required while others are not necessary. When we introduce Bills of this nature, we should do so to facilitate people in obtaining a certain status. I do not understand why we would make it more difficult for people to achieve that status. It has been pointed out to me that the requirement for a certificate from an endocrinologist in order for the process to be completed would give rise to undue weight being put on this area. This process is not the same as changing one's hairdo or favourite football team. It is a serious and brave decision for those involved. I can only imagine the trauma and challenges such individuals have encountered and I hope when the Bill is passed that they will not face similar experiences in future. I ask the Minister to consider allowing the certification to be completed by a GP.

Issues also arise in respect of putting obstacles in the way of individuals aged between 16 and 18 years. The issue of blocking at puberty was raised with me. I ask the Minister to take expert medical advice or to engage with stakeholders on this issue because it is an important aspect of the Bill which might make life much easier for those concerned. The context of this Bill is situations in which gender was incorrectly assigned from the beginning or else where the nature of the gender assigned to an individual changed for biological reasons. It is not an illness or something that lands overnight; it is a fact of life.

Married people will be required to divorce before they can avail of the provisions in this Bill unless the same-sex referendum is passed. It would be regrettable if the referendum is defeated and people are not be able to avail of the Bill. I am a strong defender of equality and I am also conscious that when one does not utter a certain mantra or line, one can leave oneself open to ridicule. My good colleague, Deputy Buttimer, is a strong advocate of same-sex marriage. I believe the majority of Irish people support the principle of equality. Perhaps, however, the Government should have considered putting same-sex marriage on an equal footing in the Constitution rather than redefine the current provisions. I am concerned this issue will be used in the coming months to create uncertainty and muddy the waters. I believe there is overwhelming support for gender recognition. There is no room for ambiguity because it is a factual, biological matter for people who have encountered considerable difficulties in the past.

There is an onus on all of us, including educators, to examine the way in which we treat younger children who self-identify as a different gender from the one that society ascribes to them. Such a child may be attending an all-boys or all-girls school. The authorities and the State must give credence to that position and to take whatever logistical steps which might be required. It should be understood that it is not acceptable to describe a class is an all-girls class if it includes a transgender person. We have to put in place the physical mechanisms and create an understanding of such people. We should not regard this Bill as merely setting out an administrative process for people who reach the age of 16 or 18 years. We should educate ourselves and society about the needs of those who are caught in this situation earlier in life.

For many, the recognition that they have been incorrectly assigned a gender or that their gender has changed over time and the practical issues that arise are very difficult. It is important that any assistance that can be given by society at large and State agencies, in particular, is given to make things much easier. I support the Bill fully and hope the shortcomings which may be identified for very good reasons can be addressed as soon as possible.

I hope Deputy Billy Timmins is still my colleague and friend. He may have strayed for a while, but he will be always welcomed back in our tent, which is a big one.

The herd left a long time ago.

This is a very important day. It is days like today on which one has a sense of pride in being a Member of the Dáil. If we cast our minds back 30 years, we remember that those of us who are gay were discriminated against and criminalised. Those of us who are transgender were marginalised and cast to one side by a society that was uncaring and unkind. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, and the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, for the work they have done on the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that not everyone will consider it perfect or that it may not contain everything the Ministers or I want. Nevertheless, it is a Bill of which we can be proud and for which we will vote.

Like Deputy John Lyons, I am not a latecomer to this issue. I cast my mind back to a trans conference in Waterford two years ago which was probably the most influential morning of my public life. For all of my involvement in the gay and trans communities and the enthusiasm of people in TENI, including Vanessa, I remember a mother who spoke about her love for her child, the anguish and upset in their house and the transformation to acceptance and love. I am doing her a disservice in my commentary and speech, but they were probably the most influential few words I had ever heard. That morning I had a real awakening. There are people in the Visitors Gallery who are citizens of the Republic and deserve not just our words and accolades but everything we can give them and more. They are our friends, work colleagues and neighbours. They have worked diligently to bring about a Bill that reflects the reality of life for them. I am so proud of them. We talk about Lydia Foy who was the person at the front and the trail blazer. Behind her are people whom we need to acknowledge in many ways. In our own Fine Gael LGBT group we have a tremendous person in Claire who is so determined and positive and really wants to see change, not just for her but for all of our society. I think of the many telephone calls I have had with Vanessa, Broden, Sarah and Sam. They are people who want us to reach out. Hillary Clinton spoke about shattering the glass ceiling and that is what the people mentioned are doing in this country. While they may be disappointed with the Bill and while we might like to go a little further in an ideal world, in fairness to him, the Minister of State has been receptive and open to engagement. His door has always been open.

I had a huge speech written like Deputy John Lyons, but I will not use it as the arguments have been articulated. This is a day on which we can hang out our brightest colours in celebration of the fact that in the Houses of the Oireachtas we are acknowledging as a state our trans friends and saying they are citizens with equality. While they may argue that there is not full equality, there will be. That long journey and the long nights of meetings and travel around the country to persuade and cajole people to come out and tell their stories have worked. More than anything, we must ensure people who are on a journey cannot be marginalised, allowed to walk down town to be hassled, cajoled and mocked, or side-lined by the State. That is why today is so important. It is about people's stories. They are ones with a right as citizens of the Republic. We must put the pall to one side and unveil a new Ireland of equality, acceptance and love.

For future children, the Bill is so important, as is this debate. It is imperative that we acknowledge that when the Bill is passed, this will no longer be the only country in Europe with no legal provision for our trans friends. The journey we have been on has been the result of the work of the brave campaigners who brought transgender issues to public attention. We are here because of the people who have lobbied and advocated and the Bill is a symbol and a sign on one level of the change we have wrought and the movement of the country. It offers affirmation to transgender and intersex people. It is saying that as a state we support them in the challenges they face and that we are prepared to walk with them to make things a little easier. The Bill and the debate and the attention arising from them will have the effect of bringing to the attention of our wider society the difficulties transgender and intersex people face as they go about their daily lives. I hope, by focusing that attention, we can help to overcome misconceptions, challenge prejudice and create a better place in which to live. As TENI state in its debate pack for Members, this is about the most vulnerable people.

As Deputies Seán Kyne and Andrew Doyle who are strong campaigners want to speak, I will conclude by saying this is a significant step. We are giving formal recognition 22 years after Lydia Foy started her campaign. It has been a long and difficult road which has been fraught with tension. However, there is also time for celebration today. I commend TENI, LGBT Noise and any other group that has been involved. They have helped to make the country a better place. The aim of the Bill is to help people and make it easier for them to live their lives. I commend the Minister of State on his work. He understands the issues raised into which I have not had time to go. I hope we can come back to them to, perhaps, make this a better Bill. I commend the Minister of State and the Minister on their work.

Deputies Seán Kyne and Andrew Doyle are sharing time. Topical Issues will commence at 4.42 p.m.

I apologise for being late. I was chairing the EU affairs committee and will have to rush off after this to get to Galway to attend meetings this evening.

I acknowledge the people in the Visitors Gallery. I met Broden, Claire, Sam and Tanya of TENI yesterday. The Bill is long overdue and will finally provide a mechanism for transgender persons to acquire official recognition and birth certificates indicating their true gender.

It is long overdue and it will finally provide a mechanism for transgender persons to acquire official recognition and a birth certificate of their true gender. Unfortunately, this has taken 22 years which, in my view, is outrageous. Dr. Lydia Foy, first sought a new birth certificate to show her gender as female, as far back as 1993. Unfortunately she was refused and in the time-honoured tradition, the State commenced a battle through the courts. The State persisted even when a High Court judge declared for the first time that Irish law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It is deeply disappointing that the State chose to continue appealing decisions until 2010. It is also disappointing that nearly five years passed before the introduction of this gender recognition legislation.

Dr. Foy and her solicitor, Michael Farrell and the free legal advice centres, are to be commended on their work in getting us to this point. The publication of this Bill is very welcome and it will start the process of ending discrimination against one of the most marginalised sectors of our community.

Many of us are not familiar with the issue which this Bill addresses and perhaps it is because of this lack of familiarity that reform has taken so long and that so many people have had to endure problems caused by the law and by attitudes which the law has reinforced. It is difficult to imagine the challenges that transgender persons face but we must try to imagine them. We must try to imagine what daily life can be like for a transgender person in a world in which gender is so demarcated. We must try to imagine what it is like when one's feelings, one's identity and one's sense of self do not match the outside physical attributes. It is only when we do this that we can begin to enact legislation that is meaningful and effective, legislation that will tackle problems and challenge discrimination.

It is clear that some people need to make a greater effort. The Bill contains positive measures but also glaring deficiencies. The Bill is positive because, when enacted, Ireland will finally join every other country in the European Union by having a provision for recognising transgender persons.

I have attended meetings with the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland, TENI, with parents of transgender persons and with constituents and it is clear that several areas of concern need to be examined. Other speakers may have commented on these issues but I wish to put them on the record of the House. The first is the condition that a person be single before being able to avail of the provisions in the Bill. In effect, this condition will mean that the State is seeking to break up existing relationships against the wishes of partners. I realise that a Yes vote in the forthcoming marriage equality referendum, which I dearly hope happens, will negate this condition. While we are working towards securing this result, I urge the Minister of State to reaffirm his commitment to removing this condition without delay if the referendum succeeds.

The second issue concerns the age requirement. The Bill does not apply to persons under 16 years of age and this is despite the fact that many transgender persons are aware of their true gender long before the age of 16. It can be a very challenging time for families and some parents have great difficulty with acknowledging it. Everyone must remember that gender is not a choice. We need to re-examine the Bill in order to provide help for both parents and the child. A provision is required to allow parents to make an application on behalf of their child.

The third issue is medical recognition. While the best system of recognition is one similar to that in force in Denmark which is based on self-declaration, this Bill could be improved by an amendment of section 2. I urge the Minister of State to widen the definition of medical professional, as set out in section 2, to include general practitioners. A person's GP is very well placed to assist in meeting the medical criteria of this Bill. I note the Irish College of General Practitioners would welcome such an amendment, as would the IMO.

I acknowledge the Minister of State's commitment to review this legislation after two years. However, it would be in everyone's interests if the legislation were to be reviewed after one year, given that it has taken decades to get to this starting point. Any further delays in enacting the rights-centred gender recognition legislation would be completely unacceptable.

I commend the Minister of State on his work on this Bill. I acknowledge those in the Gallery and their campaigns over many years to see this Bill to this point. It is regrettable it has taken so long but I look forward to Committee Stage next week and a safe passage after that.

I thank my colleagues for affording me speaking time. I wish to register my support of the intent of this legislation which is long overdue. I was away on parliamentary business so I have not prepared a written contribution.

A former school mate of mine is in the Visitors Gallery. It was only when he approached me that I came to realise the impact and import of this lack of recognition and legislation for people who need and wish to have their gender alteration recognised legally and who wish to be afforded the same status as everyone else. As I said during the debate on the Children and Family Relationships Bill, people are good and bad and neither their sexual orientation nor their gender determines their qualities. There are many other reasons people are either good or bad but everyone should be treated equally. It is very important that we are a society of equals and that respect is given and tolerance is the norm, that people are not subjected to bigotry or are targeted because they are different. The positive aspect is that at long last this legislation has come to the House and gender recognition for people in this group will finally come to pass. In the event the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage is passed - this is never certain but current trends indicate it should be passed - the issue of single status and divorce must be dealt with as quickly as possible either by amending legislation or by regulation. The referendum, if passed, will mean that same-sex marriage will be legal.

These issues, including the age limitation, can be further discussed on Committee Stage. There are concerns about people of a young age making decisions that are so life-changing and fundamental. Young people under the age of 16 may not be fully capable of making those decisions. Doctors, parents and the child in question, need to be consulted. There needs to be compassion and understanding shown. At all times the best interests of the child must be considered. It is important that all outstanding issues raised by TENI and others are taken on board during the discussion on Committee Stage. After so many years waiting for this legislation we must ensure it is fit for purpose. There is no point in legislation that is well intentioned but not workable for some. However, as the Bill stands it will help many people who have been alienated.

I commend the Bill to the House. It is important that we take on board everything that has been said. The organisations who made submissions are speaking from their knowledge and understanding. Most people in this House would not be as au fait as others. I listened to Deputy Lyons's impassioned contribution. We should speak as he has from the heart rather than from the head. If we embrace this legislation for what it is we can make it right and fit for purpose for the future.

According to the Order of Business we must conclude the debate at 4.42 p.m. What is the Minister of State's position regarding his concluding contribution?

I am sure he would like very much to respond to all of the issues raised by Members if time permitted. Will that happen next week on Committee Stage?

It will, Acting Chairman. However, if I may, I will use the remaining two minutes to respond very briefly to the debate.

I very much welcome the discussion we have had today. I was particularly struck by the contributions from Deputies Jerry Buttimer and John Lyons, which were not scripted and were spoken from the heart. When the Labour Party included this legislation in the programme for Government, this conversation was not taking place among members of the public. The debate in the Seanad and in this Chamber today will help to ensure there is a much broader understanding of the issues.

Deputy Willie O'Dea referred to the scheduling of Committee Stage. Yesterday, all Deputies were e-mailed to notify them of when the Bill would be debated in committee and that the deadline for submitting amendments is 11 a.m. tomorrow morning. Almost all the parties have submitted their amendments already. We published this legislation just before Christmas and it has already gone through the Seanad. It was flagged up well in advance of its coming to this House. I have taken note of all contributions and look forward to addressing the issues raised as we go through Committee Stage.

I thank Members for their contributions and the persons in the Visitors Gallery for their attention. Above all, I thank Dr. Lydia Foy for campaigning for so long on this issue. This legislation is 20 years in the making and has been on the programme for Government for four years. I thank Members for supporting it.

Question put and agreed to.