Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Debate resumed on amendment No. 46:
In page 37, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
“(b) in subsection (4)—
(i) in paragraph (c), by the deletion of “child,” and substitution of “child, and”,
and
(ii) by the deletion of paragraph (d),”.
-Minister for Justice and Equality

In the Minister's contribution to this group of amendments she said that this is a first step. I accept that it is a first step and that the Minister has listened to some of the comments on Second Stage and Committee Stage. It is not good enough, however, that the Minister does not go further in this regard. This legislation is extensive and complex. It goes to incredible lengths to provide for protection for people who find themselves in situations where, for all kinds of different reasons, they are parents of children. The Bill goes out of its way to confer rights on people in all kinds of situations where the State deems a person to be the parent of a child. To some extent, the Bill could be criticised for bringing about a situation where parents will now be whoever the State decides they are. It raises all kinds of other issues which, unfortunately, we have not had time to delve into or discuss.

One glaring omission of this Bill relates to where there is no question about the genetic parentage of a child in respect of the father and where both parents are agreed on the matter. It is undoubtedly the case that good public policy would provide for automatic guardianship in those situations. In fact, one would have to ask why it is that the State would not provide for automatic guardianship in those situations. Whatever about historical situations, I cannot understand how such a provision in legislation in 2015 would not be open to contest in the courts because of refusing or failing to provide for automatic guardianship in these circumstances. I do not understand why the Minister is not prepared to address that.

I believe the Minister has been quite disingenuous, as have others as well, in raising the issue of domestic violence as some kind of defence for not providing for automatic guardianship for unmarried fathers. Regrettably, domestic violence is all too common in this country, but it is certainly not the preserve of unmarried fathers. It is wrong for the issue to be raised in that context. Clearly, there are several situations or circumstances in which a father or mother may not be the best person to have guardianship of a particular child. However, those decisions should be taken elsewhere on a case-by-case basis and not on the basis of someone's marital status. Again, I am unsure how this could possibly stand up to any kind of legal challenge.

On what basis is the Minister suggesting that simply because a father of a child is married he has automatic rights, whereas the father of a child who is not married does not enjoy those rights? It seems to be fundamental that someone in that situation, a person who is the father or the mother of a child, should have automatic guardianship rights, unless it is one of those rare circumstances where that is not in the child's best interests.

Underpinning all of this must be those fundamental rights, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for every child to know and be cared for, as far as practicable, by both parents. If we subscribe to the UN Convention, as I assume the Minister does, then what on earth can the rationale be for denying automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers? I simply do not understand it.

It is not sufficient for the Minister to say to us in 2015 that we have taken the first step and that we will see about the other steps later. That is simply not acceptable. The Minister is providing for all kinds of other situations, including setting down the legal parameters of parentage in many different unusual and new circumstances, whereas she fails to address this issue. It has been with us for a long time and the Minister knows it has been an issue for a long time. Despite this, the Minister is not taking the opportunity of this legislation to deal with that.

This is not only about the right of the child; it is about the rights and responsibilities of fathers. We see too often unmarried fathers being blacklisted or dismissed as not important in their children's lives. Negative messages come out at an official level about unmarried fathers, and that needs to be changed urgently. It is the case that where we expect a lot from someone, they tend to give a lot, but if we expect little from people, they will give little. There is an official attitude to unmarried fathers to the effect that they are not important, that they should not be around, that they are not necessary and so on. That type of negative attitude is very much reinforced through our social welfare and tax legislation as well as social policy in other areas. There are fundamental issues around the rights of the child but also around the rights of fathers which are not being catered for in this legislation. That is a serious omission.

I call on the Minister to explain the basis on which she is discriminating between fathers who are married and fathers who happen to be unmarried. In effect, that is what the Minister is doing. I call on the Minister to provide justification for that, because I do not believe there is any justification, and, if not, I urge the Minister to address this matter comprehensively in the legislation. The Minister knows it will be a considerable time before the Government revisits this area of family law. The Minister should not leave a glaring omission.

Other aspects of what the Minister proposes require more exploration, for example, the question of establishing guardianship. I am unsure why the Minister has amended the Bill to make it operative from the date of the passage of this legislation. If it is good practice that certain rules should relate to guardianship, then I do not see why children who were born last month or last year cannot enjoy whatever limited benefits have been conveyed by this Bill.

I also ask the Minister to explain why she came up with this figure of 12 months. On what basis does 12 months convey rights of paternity? I would also ask her to explain how it will be possible to establish that there has been cohabitation for 12 months. She referred to amendment No. 83, but that does not go anywhere near far enough, in my view, and while it is a start, it is not adequate. Why does the Minister not provide for the registrar to be required to inform fathers about their rights in regard to making a declaration? It would have been very easy to state that the registrar "shall" inform fathers of their entitlement to make a statutory declaration. I cannot understand why the Minister has not done that.

The Bill states that the registrar may take and receive a statutory declaration. How does a registrar receive a statutory declaration? Is the Minister suggesting that the registrar will be given a statutory declaration? What does the registrar then do with it? Does he or she lodge it somewhere? Is any record of that kept anywhere? It would seem from the Minister's earlier comments that she does not intend to do that.

The Minister in this legislation goes to considerable lengths to provide for the additional information that will be added to a birth certificate where a person was born as a result of assisted human reproduction, and to outline how all of that is going to be worked out. If there are registers for that kind of information, why on earth would we not provide for a register for statutory declarations in regard to guardianship? That just seems to be standard good practice. The Minister mentioned something about the difficulties involved. I cannot understand how there could be difficulties. It is a straightforward thing. A legal document is declared, yet no record of it is kept. Will the Minister explain to us why she is not providing for a record? It is very disappointing that the Minister has not paid heed to the representations that have been made to her in this regard. I believe she is leaving the State open to a legal challenge by not doing that, but, more importantly, she is leaving children of unmarried parents in that legal limbo where a child's right to know and be cared for by both parents is not actually being upheld by the State. Equally, she is providing for a situation in which fathers, in cases in which paternity is not in dispute and the man is the undisputed genetic father of a child, are being denied the rights and responsibilities of good fathers simply on the basis that they have not cohabited with their partners. I cannot see any logic in that provision and I cannot see how it could possibly stand up to any kind of challenge.

I would be very interested in hearing the Minister's explanation on all of those questions. Hopefully, we can get some kind of commitment that she might address this lacuna in the law when the Bill gets to the Seanad.

I also raised this issue on Second Stage. Obviously, my comments come in the context of general support for this Bill, which is a very welcome Bill that acknowledges the reality of diverse family relations in our society today. However, the issue of unmarried fathers having to pass a criterion of having lived with the mother for 12 consecutive months, including for three months after the birth of the child, is very arbitrary and does not make any particular sense. While I apologise for not having been here earlier, I would be most interested to hear the Minister's justification for this.

Obviously, there are circumstances involving a father from whom the mother of the child is separated, or with whom she never had any long-term relationship, where the mother may believe there are reasons he should not have automatic guardianship, and I certainly think we have to allow for that in some way. However, on the other hand, in the vast majority of cases fathers and mothers, married or unmarried - the parents - want to play a full part in bringing up their kids. I do not believe we should start from a presumption that any category of parent has to have extra hoops to jump through in order to benefit from automatic guardianship.

If the Minister needs to put in safeguards which allow a mother to debar a father whom she thinks might be, for example, a threat to a child or to herself from having guardianship, then such provisions obviously need to exist and may be spelt out explicitly. Obviously, people can go to the courts, and the best interests of the child are firmly established in the Bill. However, I do not see why the Minister has this particular category and these fairly arbitrary criteria when, probably in the majority of cases, there is no difficulty with an unmarried father who does not happen to fit these criteria having automatic guardianship. I say that as an unmarried father myself. I think I would probably just about fit these criteria, so I think I would pass. However, a person could be on the borderline. It is very arbitrary. I would like to hear the Minister's response and I hope she will be open-minded in how she deals with this when it moves to the Seanad in order to take on board these concerns.

First, I want to apologise for any confusion I caused earlier. I had picked up the Committee Stage amendments by accident - mea culpa.

I very much agree with the points made by Deputies Shortall, Boyd Barrett and Mac Lochlainn. What I would say that is a little different is that I accept progress is being made in this legislation in that more unmarried fathers will qualify for guardianship than would otherwise have qualified if the legislation had not been passed, which is welcome. I also welcome the changes the Minister is making through amendment No. 83, which is very significant and on which I will have questions later.

Nonetheless, this is still very discriminatory. Our law as it stands is very discriminatory, and this continues in that mould. It is particularly discriminatory against younger fathers. The idea that 19 year old parents would have to live together is just not the reality of the situation. Very often a family decision is made, including the grandparents, that the parents will not live together and that they will continue with their education, for example. Another point is that younger people are more vulnerable, more impressionable and more influenced by what their parents might decide for them.

In that regard, I was watching a programme last night in which people are helped to trace their parents who gave them up for adoption. There was a case in which a woman of 46 met her father for the first time. Basically, when he was 20 he was not really given any option to keep his child and the decision was very much taken for him and the mother of the child. We are very much perpetuating that treatment of young unmarried fathers with this legislation.

Another point is the societal problems that have been identified.

Young unmarried fathers are pushed away for many different reasons, including cultural reasons, the way our social welfare system operates and so on.

The idea that unmarried fathers would have to live with mothers is a very morally judgmental way of approaching the issue. It is not applied to any other type of parent or guardian in current legislation or the Bill. To say that a father must live with the mother for a certain period of time is a moral standpoint. I have problems with that.

The Law Reform Commission recommended going much further than this Bill and, with some qualifications, giving automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers. That has been done in other countries. I am aware of jurisdictions where if a father is registered on a child's birth certificate, he gets automatic guardianship rights. That is what the Bill should state.

Court cases, including at EU level, have highlighted injustices over the years, such as the fact that unmarried fathers have not been consulted about adoption. It is one of the rights and responsibilities that comes with guardianship, which is delineated in an amendment proposed by the Minister. The fact that an unmarried father would not be consulted on an adoption because he does not have guardianship status is a very significant problem.

I understand from what Deputy Boyd Barrett said that this is not retrospective. The Minister said one of the amendments is to make the criteria about living with the mother for 12 consecutive months clear. It does not apply retrospectively. For example, the law will not change the situation pertaining to an unmarried father who has lived with a mother for 20 years. There are no new options in the Bill for such unmarried fathers. What is being done for such people? There are men who may have lived with mothers for a long period of time, but no longer do so. If the Bill is not retrospective, how will such men be catered for? What advice did the Minister receive? Was it that the Bill cannot be retrospective? Can anything be done retrospectively for people who will not get the benefits of this Bill?

I refer to Deputy Coppinger's points. She spoke about domestic violence, which is to tar everyone with the same brush. Most people are not violent.

I said it was one in five.

The majority are not.

I did not say it was the majority. Do not misrepresent me.

I understand what she is saying. That should not be used against everybody. She said a particular phenomenon should be used to rule out a right for everybody. As Deputy Shortall said, does she have evidence that unmarried fathers are more likely than married fathers to be violent? What evidence does she have to back up her claim? I am not aware of any such evidence.

Many other types of guardians, other than parents, are mentioned in the Bill. The same criteria being applied to unmarried fathers are not being applied to them. Certain criteria are being applied because of marital status, something with which I have a problem.

I asked whether the Bill could be retrospective and what was being done for people who will not receive retrospective recognition. I welcome amendment No. 83. If a registrar receives declarations, will he or she be able to keep them? Will they be recorded in any way? How will such records be kept? I see no provision for such things in the Bill.

Deputy Shortall made a good point. The discourse in society is about equality, which is very welcome, but not if one is an unmarried father. In such cases, equality is not even being argued for, apart from individuals in the Chamber and those outside who are very much in the minority. The issue is not, as far as I can see, being debated in the media. There is one group we seem to think against which it is fine to discriminate, namely, unmarried fathers.

I thank Deputies for their contributions on this topic, which was a key part of the discussion on Second Stage. As I said, I have taken action in a number of the amendments I tabled to make it easier for fathers to get information on the statutory declaration which is, in effect, the mechanism by which non-marital fathers can assert their guardianship rights at the current time. We know that many do not.

Constitutional protection for the family refers to a family based on marriage. To some degree, the provisions of the Bill reflect the existing constitutional protection for marital fathers and are the consequence of legal advice. Equally, we are discussing statutory declarations, which I accept.

The complexities of this debate are illustrated by the comments of Deputies Mac Lochlainn and Coppinger on automatic guardianship for fathers, which captured some of the issues in the Bill. Where a father has ongoing and real involvement in his child's life, it is very important to ensure he can be the child's guardian. That is why the Bill already extends automatic guardianship to fathers living in a family unit with the child's mother and the child.

I am also ensuring that information is more readily available to parents and it will be much easier to make statutory declarations, appointing the father as a guardian. The Bill, and what I will introduce, will substantially improve the position of many non-marital fathers who are actively and meaningfully involved in their children's lives, regardless of the relationship with the child's mother, to pick up on Deputy Boyd Barrett's point. We know there can be conflict.

I understand the point made on automatic guardianship in all cases. There are a range of issues.

I remind the Minister that her two minutes have elapsed.

In fairness, many different issues have been raised. We would agree to the Minister being given more time to respond.

The Minister will have an unlimited amount of time to reply at the end of the debate.

I have no more comments to make.

Are there any further-----

There are a lot of amendments. Is the time allowed only two minutes?

There are a number of amendments.

We are dealing with amendment No. 46.

I thought there was a group.

They are all being taken together.

There are no other speakers indicating.

No. In fairness to the Minister, there are a lot of issues. I would like to come in after the Minister has replied because I adjourned earlier.

You can speak now, if you wish. The Minister can reply at the end.

This is quite a complex issue and I want to clarify a few things. I do not agree that a father should have to live with a mother to gain guardianship. The law does not state that. I do not agree with the provision and I have raised questions about it because it is arbitrary and gives extra rights to somebody who lived with a woman, but that does not mean he is a suitable father. My problem is with a whole raft of Deputies arguing that there should be automatic guardianship in every case.

I do not agree with that, and I will explain why. Any father can make a statutory declaration that he is a guardian, and he does not have to live with somebody for a year to do so. It has been proposed by some Deputies that extra rights are earned if a person lives with a partner for a year, but that is not true. The Minister has indicated that she will make the statutory declaration a bigger issue, and I agree with Deputies that this has not been discussed enough. There are many people in this position, so it should have been debated more, and it is a little disappointing that the media have not taken more of an interest.

I have never said that somebody who is unmarried is more likely to commit domestic violence. I made the point that just because a person has lived with a woman for a year, there should not be an automatic right to guardianship. Many of the one in five women who, according to Women's Aid, experience domestic violence in this country will now be put in a very difficult position because the man who abused them, and possibly their children, will have guardianship. We put down amendments, which unfortunately were ruled out of order. There should be conditions relating to guardianship. For example, Women's Aid called for a rebuttal presumption to be introduced relating to custody, and the same goes for guardianship.

The Deputy will have to conclude.

I was speaking before the break for Leaders' Questions but I was cut off.

The Deputy's time for this session is concluded. If there is another round, she may come in again.

Okay, although it is difficult to make a point of disagreement in two minutes.

I am just applying Standing Orders.

I would like 30 seconds to sum up. It is ridiculous to have a limit when there is no objection.

I must apply Standing Orders. If there is another round, the Deputy may come in again.

The Minister has not provided any basis for the selection of 12 months as the magic number. Will she do so? In the context of the 12-month period, how is cohabitation established? The Minister also stated that information will be "readily available". I do not know what that means. As far as I can see, the Bill or the amendments do not provide for information to be made available, and that is why I have suggested an amendment that the registrar of births "shall be required to inform" people of their rights to make a statutory declaration. There is woolly stuff there about information being made available, and this needs to be set down in law. Just as provisions have been set down that the registrar must inform people that there is additional information on the issue we discussed earlier, why can this not be done for parents with regard to the right to make a statutory declaration?

I cannot understand why the Minister will not provide for a record of statutory declarations. How does a person who has made a statutory declaration establish that as the case five years afterwards if he happens to have mislaid the declaration? Why can a register not be provided? An important point was made by Deputy Tuffy that unmarried fathers' rights are frequently overlooked when it comes to adoption. That is a major problem, which was a feature of a recent legal case in which somebody with no blood relationship with the child ended up having superior rights to the genetic father of the child. Given that the Law Reform Commission and the special rapporteur, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, have both clearly recommended automatic guardianship, why is their advice being ignored?

Does the Minister have more time to reply?

If there are no further speakers on this grouping, the Minister has unlimited time to reply.

Everybody wants to hear the Minister's views.

I agree there are complications in giving automatic guardianship to any category of father, and there should be conditions in this regard. There is no reason to believe a father who is the parent and happens to be married is any more suitable for automatic guardianship than an unmarried father. The opposite could just as easily be true. In other words, the unmarried father might in some circumstances be more suitable.

There is the 12-month cohabitation period.

The relevant clause indicates:

6B. (1) A man who—

(a) is, under section 5(1)(b) of the Act of 2015, the parent of the child,

and

(b) has married the mother of the child,

shall be a guardian of the child.

The 12-month cohabitation is dealt with later. Just because somebody happens to be the father and happens to be married to the mother - or was married to the mother - does not make him any more suitable for automatic guardianship than an unmarried father. One can argue for conditions, but they would apply to both groups. There is a distinction being made between married and unmarried fathers, with one seen as automatically suitable for guardianship while the other is not. That does not make any sense and is completely arbitrary. If we think there should be conditions, we could indicate that the father of the child should get automatic guardianship as long as there is no reasonable objection made by the mother. That would be regardless of whether they are married, as bringing marriage into the process is discriminatory. It harks back to all the stuff that we have been trying to deal with.

I may not have done as much work on this as Deputy Coppinger. Many of the people who have suffered domestic violence are married and have husbands. That is agreed by everybody. Nobody is going to put conditions on the guardianship rights of a married father, as we almost certainly could not do so under the Constitution. The family is based on marriage in the Constitution. I presume that is where the logic is for both married mothers and fathers to have automatic guardianship rights: married fathers could not be discriminated against when compared with married mothers.

What about the interests of the child?

I do not believe that could happen, and it would not be a good idea. I understand the issues of violence, as women constitute the majority of victims. Women have automatic guardianship rights, no matter what, and it is not as if there would never be an issue. There were proposals from my party on this. The ruling is that there is automatic guardianship if a person is on a birth certificate, but it is not as if there are no qualifications. For example, rape could be used as a qualification, and other issues could be dealt with as well.

This is a complex debate, as I have acknowledged from the beginning. The issue is definitely evolving, as we can see from the approach I have taken in the Bill to extend automatic rights to unmarried fathers where they have been living with the mother for a time. There were a number of questions concerning cohabitation. The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act contains a definition of cohabitation.

It is normally understood as a committed and intimate relationship. It will be for the court to determine and have evidence on cohabitation. Courts are adept at looking for the kind of information that a couple could present in that respect. That would only come up if the situation was contested between the couple who are living together, because it is automatic if they are living together after 12 months. If a disagreement arose subsequently and if the father said he had lived there for 12 months, including for three months after the birth of the child, there is a definition of cohabitation in the civil partnership Act, but it is also up to the court to examine that and look for the evidence it would need to prove cohabitation. That would not be a major issue.

I pointed out the various elements in this debate. We have just heard an argument, and Deputy Boyd Barrett said it too, that there should be exceptions - that it should not necessarily be automatic. It is automatic for marital fathers, and the mother has the rights by virtue of giving birth. There is constitutional protection for the married mother and father. One could not take that away, nor would one want to, although it can happen through a court dispute about access and custody, separation or divorce. The Bill reflects existing constitutional protections for marital fathers. We are moving towards giving greater rights to non-marital fathers. Where a father has ongoing and real involvement, we are making it very easy with the statutory declaration. The information is given much more readily than it was before. It is interesting, as Deputies say, that there has not been much discussion of this. It is surprising, given the importance of the father’s role, marital or non-marital, in a child’s life. I am surprised at the number of men who do not realise that by getting a statutory declaration signed they get full guardianship rights.

Nobody tells them that.

Why does the Minister not require the registrar to tell them?

That is precisely why I am dealing with this issue and working with the Department of Social Protection to ensure that information is given.

Presumably they would know if they wanted to know.

I am not putting it into legislation, but it will be done by way of administrative response from the Department of Social Protection. I have already had discussions with the Department and it will provide that information, just as information is provided stating that a birth must be registered within three months and where that can be done. All new parents find out about that and register their children. We will ensure that the information about the statutory declaration is made available, and I have a commitment from the Department of Social Protection that it will become involved in making sure the information is provided. That is a big change and it arose from the discussion here and the contributions of Deputies Collins and Mac Lochlainn about the need to create far more awareness of the rights of the father and how the father can guarantee them. Once there is agreement with the mother, the statutory declaration is open. Many fathers do not fill out that form. It is a relatively simple declaration to make before a peace commissioner or commissioner for oaths. We are dealing with the information issues on that.

The question of maintaining the records was raised. It is a very interesting one. We do not have a record of guardians in this country. This has not just arisen in the context of this Bill. Guardianship decisions are taken in the courts all the time. Many fathers go directly to court when there is disagreement with the mother to get their guardianship rights asserted. The courts refuse between 5% and 10% on the basis that it is not considered to be in the child’s best interests, including with regard to the range of issues we have touched on.

What is the percentage?

Between 5% and 10%. That is where the mother disagrees, but the majority of applications are granted. That is an estimate. It is hard to get that figure. For decades courts have made decisions on guardianship, and it is up to the person, just as in the case of a will, to take possession of what we might call the guardianship certificate. Solicitors may have a copy but there is no repository as such.

We are being asked to begin to keep an automatic record, a register of guardianship. In principle that is the right thing to do, but it is quite complex. The records have to be gathered from every court in the land. The Courts Service has to work out how that will be done. A process has to be put in place. There has to be a decision on the shape of such a register, where it will be held, the combination of national and local records and the information technology systems that record or do not record them. This is a large piece of work.

Treoir makes the point that we keep records of many things in this country but there are many contracts that we do not keep records of. This is a very important aspect of a child's and a family’s life. I am suggesting in amendment No. 60 that I would begin the process of moving towards that by having two pilot projects to work with organisations, such as Treoir and Women’s Aid, which have a point of view on this to see how we can put together a policy approach and a recommendation on how to move forward.

I assure Deputy Shortall that the role of the registrar is being developed and there will be administrative arrangements and probably regulations from the Department of Social Protection about developing this. That would be in line with the way information is provided on a variety of rights. That is a major move under this legislation.

Several Deputies spoke about the broader context in respect of how a court deals with these issues. We need family courts to take these decisions. I will bring forward legislation to establish family courts. We received advice that establishing family courts would require a constitutional amendment. I have now decided to move ahead with establishing a family court in each division of the courts, where there would be judges who specialised in this area and more time to hold complex family law cases. There is also a need to develop mediation services further. We do not have enough. There will be a mediation Bill. Both of these will substantially help the situation.

Several points were made about cohabitation for 12 months, including for three months after the birth of the child. We discussed this on Committee Stage and I changed the provision based on the committee’s recommendations.

The approach in the Bill is to require a committed relationship, with a couple living together for three months after the birth of the child. That is a move towards automatic guardianship for couples in those situations. Many will be in such a situation and will be able to avail of automatic guardianship as a result.

Deputy Tuffy asked about retrospection. Where a couple has lived together for a number of years, the father is immediately entitled to seek a statutory declaration. If the couple lives together and there is no objection, as would be the case in the circumstances to which the Deputy referred, the father gets full guardianship rights. As a result of this Bill, the father in such a position will have automatic rights within a year.

Some Deputies asked about automatic rights for all fathers and referred to the different treatment of non-marital fathers in this country. Some of that arises from the constitutional position but there are issues to be worked on around automatic guardianship. Those issues include cases where there is no real involvement in the child's life, where the father is not around or where the father fails to exercise his guardianship responsibilities, as Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned. In such circumstances there are real consequences for the mother and the child. For example, the mother would have to apply to the court to dispense with the consent of the father for the issue of a passport. While it is a rare case, it would also apply where a lone parent decided to place a child for adoption.

We have spoken about domestic violence and abuse and I agree that we should not make a decision as to the rights of a non-marital father on the basis of the poor behaviour of some other people. There is further policy work to be done to enable us to deal with the exceptions in legislation. I have given a commitment to a review of the legislation in two years and, in the meantime, work will go ahead on the various policy issues on which Deputies have commented.

A number of Deputies said that other countries have moved to automatic guardianship. That is true but there exists a variety of meanings for the word "automatic" in this context and it does not always mean one can go from one situation to another. A range of considerations has been taken into account in the legislation in those countries and we would need to do likewise. I will do further work on this issue but I believe the provisions in the Bill will substantially change the number of fathers who will automatically be guardians. They will now know that they can become guardians by signing a statutory declaration and the situation regarding the rights of natural fathers will be much improved.

One Deputy stated that parents will now be whoever the State says they will be. I reject that comment. Parents continue to be the biological parents except in the very limited and highly specific circumstances of donor-assisted reproduction, which is subject to massive safeguards in the child's best interest. The golden thread running through this legislation is the child's best interest. We have to begin to legislate for AHR and DAR, and the way we have approached these issues in the legislation is extremely respectful towards biological parents. It takes full cognisance of their rights and makes every effort to ensure that the right of the child to genetic information is fully respected. Some 300,000 people in this country are affected by infertility issues and it was important to deal with parentage issues arising in cases of AHR or DAR. I reject the characterisation of the Bill as one in which parents are to be whoever the State says they are. We are building in extra protections for children and families in order that we can have more stable family units where the parents who actually rear the children will have guardianship rights and this will be in the interests of the child.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 37, lines 14 to 18, to delete all words from and including ", and" in line 14 down to and including "child" in line 18.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 33; Níl, 49.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Róisín Shortall; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 37, line 15, to delete “months,” and substitute “months occurring after the date on which this subsection comes into operation,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 49 is in the names of Deputies Coppinger, Murphy and Higgins.

I thought that was ruled out of order. Is it in order?

I am sorry. I thought it had been ruled out of order. I move amendment No. 49:

In page 37, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

“(2) The Minister shall report to Dáil Éireann 12 months following the enactment of this Act on the impact of the changes to guardianship outlined in this section, and in the drafting of the report to consult with groups and organisations concerned with the welfare and safety of children and women.”.

This amendment ties up some of the issues that arose in the earlier discussion about putting safeguards in place with regard to automatic guardianship. We want the Minister - say, in 12 months - to examine this and consult with groups and organisations concerned with the welfare and safety of children and women about the very important minority of situations in which women experience domestic violence. We mentioned earlier that one in five women experience this. In 2012, 12,000 barring orders were granted. On one day, for example, 217 women and 152 children were accommodated in refuges. From 2000 to 2005, gardaí responded to 15 to 30 incidents of domestic violence a day.

There has been a denial that this is a serious issue for a cohort of women in this country, but it is ludicrous to then say that this is being applied to all men; it is not. It is a cohort of women and their children, and some safeguards should be attached to automatic guardianship.

In terms of the other situations that can arise, some Deputies mentioned examples such as that of a young girl who might become pregnant in a situation in which the father, understandably, cannot live with her. Such fathers should have rights, and I hope that will be the case. However, most lone parents are not young girls. They are women with a number of children whose relationships have broken down or whatever. We all know teenagers or young girls who became pregnant who did not have a meaningful relationship with the father of the child. We would not agree that that father should necessarily have automatic guardianship. Are we saying that teenagers who make a mistake in their lives should be stuck with gobdaws for the rest of their lives who will have control over their passports?

Listening to some Deputies in the House, one would think there are women who are knowingly and deliberately preventing fathers from having constructive, meaningful relationships with their children. The evidence would suggest otherwise. I cannot think of any woman who would prevent somebody having a relationship with their child, or guardianship, if he was playing a positive role. However, 90% of lone parents are women, and two thirds of those lone parents are living in poverty because in many cases they are not getting financial help from the fathers of their children. The Growing Up in Ireland survey completed in 2013 found that 50% of fathers make no financial contribution to the maintenance of their child. While I agree that we want fathers to play a positive role with mothers, there are cases in which men are not stepping up to the plate and are not willing to support their children financially, emotionally or in other ways.

The purpose of my amendment is to include safeguards with respect to guardianship to ensure it is not granted automatically and to provide that organisations such as Women's Aid and other groups who deal with families who are victims of domestic violence will be consulted in 12 months' time to determine whether there has been a negative impact for women and their children arising from the granting of automatic guardianship.

It is ironic that Deputies who trooped in here and voted down a Bill to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution, which would have allowed women more control over their own fertility, are now lining up to support fathers' rights without giving any recognition to the fact that women are being left in this position. By the way, I do not agree that women should be left in control of children. There should be a shared arrangement but, unfortunately, we do not live in that type of society. It seems that many women are not living with the fathers of their children, presumably for a reason, and these men can and should apply for custody and for shared parentage. That facility is written into the Bill. My quibble related to the automatic granting of guardianship, which allows men control over matters such as passports and where the woman lives.

A woman who is staying in the women's refuge in Blanchardstown came into my clinic on Monday. She has a good profession but has not been able to work for two years because of her husband's violence and his sexual violence against the children. When we discussed this Bill, that woman was horrified to think that because she lived for a period with the father he would automatically have guardianship of those children and she would then have to go to court to prevent him from having that guardianship. My amendment proposes that safeguards be attached to the granting of guardianship, and I believe everybody should agree with that.

On the example Deputy Coppinger cited of the woman's husband, she stated the woman was shocked to find that a Bill would give him automatic guardianship. He already has automatic guardianship.

Okay, fair enough. I suppose we are revisiting issues we have already addressed. The issues Deputy Coppinger raises should be dealt with in other ways and not through the granting of guardianship, because we do not do that for married fathers and mothers or unmarried mothers.

There is another side to it. I briefly worked as a solicitor and when I was an apprentice, I worked on some family law. The system is a real obstacle for some unmarried fathers who would be good parents. It is an obstacle to go to the court. It puts a barrier in place that is difficult to overcome. There is prejudice. For example, there will be situations where in the case of a young couple with a child, the mother's parents think the father is a waster and the less the young mother has to do with him, the better. Sometimes, they change their attitude over time. There is also prejudice. One gets in all walks of life those who are good, bad or good and bad, but one cannot say a particular category of person is more likely to be bad.

We all accept it is an unfortunate fact of life that domestic violence is all too common in this country and needs to be addressed comprehensively. My concern is that this issue was raised, both by Deputy Coppinger and the Minister, in the context of discussing the denial of automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers. It was wholly unfair to do that. I am not aware of any figures that suggest that there is a higher rate of domestic violence among non-marital fathers.

Nobody said that.

Deputy Coppinger raised that in the context of a discussion of setting down the rights of non-marital fathers, and that was unfair. It adds to the societal view in this country. It is a negative message that has been sent out about unmarried fathers.

We are talking about rights. It is not only about the rights of mothers or fathers but also the right of children to know both their parents because many studies show that fathers and mothers are important to children. That is why it is important that we, as a Legislature, uphold the rights of children to know and be cared for to the greatest extent possible by both their parents. That is why some of us made the point that it is wrong to discriminate against fathers simply because they are not married to the mother of their child. I still hold that view. It is regrettable that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to deal with that issue within the legislation.

I do not have a difficulty with the proposal that this be revisited in 12 months to allow consultation with organisations concerned with the welfare of children, women and men. We should look at that in the context of all the rights of mothers, fathers and children and all the responsibilities involved.

As others stated, there is a problem in this county in that the legislation on social welfare, tax, housing and other social policies sends out a negative message to unmarried fathers and it is important we turn that around. We must say to fathers, no matter how young and no matter what their circumstances, even where they may not be in a position to provide the care and attention their children need, that it is important they play as full a part as possible in their children's lives because they need them. It is also important that we expect a great deal of them because by doing that, we are likely to receive a great deal in return.

We need to change that negative attitude. We need to talk about the importance of fathers because we know that they have a critical role to play in their children's lives, and fathers should be encouraged to play that role to the greatest extent possible.

This is a good amendment because we need to re-examine this section. The Minister should take it on board. If we can get this right for the Seanad, the Minister should be open-minded about it.

There are two conflicting perspectives which need to be reconciled. First, Deputy Coppinger raises the legitimate concern as to why, in a situation where the parents do not live together and where they no longer have a relationship, the father should get automatic guardianship because there are many circumstances where that could be problematic. She is correct. There are many circumstances where it could be problematic and, therefore, it should not be automatic.

Equally, and this is my problem with the Bill, the Minister's criterion for giving automatic guardianship, where the parents live together for 12 months, including three months after the baby is born, is arbitrary and meaningless. It is a criterion for which the Minister cannot provide any rational justification. It is arbitrary and therefore discriminates against unmarried fathers who happen not to live with the mother of the child. I have a friend who is about to have twins with his partner and they will not be married. They do not live together and they will not be living together. To get guardianship, he is going to have to go through an extra hoop over and above somebody who happens to live with their partner. That makes no sense. The way to deal with this and to level the playing field is to remove subsection (3) in page 39 and the related paragraph (b). In this way, for an unmarried father to get guardianship, he would merely have to sign a declaration. That way one would not have these two different categories. One would merely have to sign a declaration. In addition, it should be made as easy as possible for that declaration to be made, unless the mother has an legitimate objection, which she might well have, and there should be a requirement on the State to inform parents about their right to make that declaration. This arbitrary criterion the Minister has created jars and makes no sense. I have explained how I think we could resolve this. The Minister should do that.

In that context, Deputy Coppinger's requirement that there would be a report on all this later on to see how it is working and whether there are unexpected consequences is a sensible amendment and I support it.

I do not often agree with Deputies Coppinger or Boyd Barrett, but in this case I do. I also believe that both mothers and fathers matter a great deal in a child's upbringing. I have had a lot of interaction with an organisation called Mothers and Fathers Matter. I am sure the Minister has met its representatives as well.

I see nothing wrong with a review, as called for in this amendment.

It is complex legislation for which little time has been allowed for debate on the issues involved. In that context, I see no problem with having a review after 12 months and consulting with various groups, including parent support groups, on how the law is bedding in and assessing its impact. I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that it should be simple enough to for an unmarried father to make a declaration, particularly if the mother is agreeable. The process should be simple and should not involve people having to jump through numerous hoops. It is the children we should be concerned about, fundamentally. I know lots of single fathers with children who are doing an exceptional job of raising them. A review would be not be any harm and for that reason I support the amendment.

This is a large, comprehensive and complex Bill. Having listened to the most recent contributions of Deputies Shortall, Boyd Barrett and Mattie McGrath, I would suggest that it boils down to the reality of situations. If we try to create a framework for fairness and responsibility, having recognised the truth and reality of the situation, then we are on the road to respect for the individuals involved. Anybody who comes into existence is an individual. That may sound trite or too obvious but sometimes one has to express the obvious. Everybody who comes into existence has the relationship potential of father, mother, daughter or son. These are the four possibilities and they are extraordinarily valuable and unique to each individual. Respect is what is needed for those relationships.

If one starts timing and stop-watching obsessively to give the appearance of legislative safeguard, one can create a prison rather than a liberation for those individuals. Therefore, I would be inclined to agree with the observations made by Deputies Shortall, Boyd-Barrett, Coppinger and Mattie McGrath but let us not get neurotically tied up with an algebraic approach because it does not work. There is no stop watch or calendar to measure reality; they are convenient reference points for the truth of existence. Therefore, whatever we can do to assure respect for the arrival of children into this world, as sons or daughters to fathers and mothers, should be done. The relationships may, at any given point, be not so good or good; they will change. People have mood swings within a day. It is important not to snooker future human beings, whether they are mothers, fathers, sons or daughters and to give every prospect of respect by what we do. These are some context thoughts to bear in mind before the ink dries on the Bill.

This is a particularly important part of the legislation which I also made reference to during the Second Stage debate. All Deputies in this House will have had different experiences of how the law applies and will know of instances where flaws in the law became apparent later. This is an extremely complicated area. I am not a legal professional but would like to be one in the future, given the scope for such professionals afforded by this legislation. The theory and practicality can be argued ad infinitum, as they will be. They will be appealed to the higher courts and not always with the result that either the child or the parent might anticipate or want.

The concept of the rights and entitlements of parents must be set against their responsibilities and those responsibilities should be borne in mind at all times. I would be inclined to favour the view of the mother and to weigh my thinking, on balance, in her favour unless there are very serious issues presenting, such as an addiction, for example, which might impact on her ability to be a good mother. As we all know, when cases go to court there is generally an argument as to whether either parent is a fit parent and generally discussion revolves around the basis upon which such a conclusion is reached. In some cases, situations can be constructed so as to make it appear that one parent is not a good parent and to be fair, the length of time that the courts have to deal with cases is not always sufficient to come to a sound judgment on that, although those involved will try to do the best they can. We have all come across cases which seem clear cut on the face of it and about which a conclusion is reached. However, if one were to investigate those cases more deeply, one would find variations and nuances that were not obvious at first sight and which would have impacted quite significantly on any judgment or evaluation made.

Reference has already been made to guardianship and the wider implications for same. We have all had countless experiences of situations where guardians, particularly in respect of social welfare legislation, have to go to the ends of the earth to prove that the other party is no longer willing to, or capable of, honouring their responsibilities. As a result, some guardians may find themselves without adequate resources to sustain themselves and the child who is the subject of the guardianship. I would hope that this will be borne in mind in the future and that we do not see pitfalls emerging which could mean that the welfare of the child, which is supposed to be paramount in all of these discussions, is at risk because of a lack of resources on the part of his or her guardian.

We have all dealt with situations which are relevant here. If a parent is absent without contact for a number of years, then regardless of previous living arrangements, it is very difficult to sustain an argument that he or she is seriously concerned about the welfare and well being of the child involved. We have all come across situations in which one parent decides to absent himself or herself from the family home and disappear into thin air, as it were.

They could then leave that partner, come back to the first partner after ten or 15 years and say ,"Hello, I'm back", with them deemed to be the returning prodigal son and that all is well. If a reconciliation can be reached, I am all in favour of it but I would not like to see the rights and entitlements of the parent who took responsibility during those years, went through all the hardship it involved, stood up to their responsibilities and reared that child or children on their own ignored in that kind of situation. I would not like to see their situation weighed against them in a court.

My last point relates to who determines what the child wants. The legislation proposes that an expert such as a child psychologist would carry out this work. We all claim to be experts in our own right, some of us to a greater extent than others in this particular business. I fail to see how, in the space of an hour or two or even less, an expert can look into the eyes of a child aged five, four or three and work out what they think the child requires and what he or she favours. I do not accept it at all. It is unfair to the expert as well to ask him or her to come to the conclusion he or she has been asked to come to, namely, to tell the court what he or she believes the child wants because the child has hinted at this. We should remember that even a very young child may feel intimidated by one or either party and may wish not to offend one parent or the other. There are many nuances here that the Minister is aware of because of her own knowledge of the subject. It is particularly important that we as legislators take cognisance of those very complicated issues that will emerge because like Murphy's law, if it can happen, it will happen.

I thank Deputies for their input and the points they made. In respect of appropriate family courts, mediation and contact centres, we have had some very good pilot projects lately relating to contact centres where parents who have separated but who are in dispute about the children can be helped to work through the many issues. This is preferable to these disputes being in court. It is something I would like to develop. The legislation will be useful in terms of determining those very complex issues because Deputy Durkan is right about the role of experts. That is just one input. In the legislation, we have defined the best interests of the child for the first time and provided ten or 11 criteria by which that decision will be made. This will be a very useful framework for the court to consider when making decisions on custody, access and guardianship. It will involve all those involved in ongoing relationships with the child and will examine the capacity of the parents to continue to be involved and a range of issues.

I have already spoken about how domestic violence can be taken into account. It will not just about one person trying to determine the views of the child. It will be about that complex set of criteria being used to determine what should happen to the child. I believe that where there are disputes relating to guardianship, custody and access, much more could be done, as is done in other countries, to make sure families agree these decisions outside the court setting through mediation and contact centres. If it is in court, the development of family courts would be the way to go so that these issues would have the kind of time they deserve and decisions would be taken by people who have a special interest or expertise in the area.

Many of the contributions are about becoming a guardian after one year. The thinking behind this was to show a sustained relationship and a familial relationship in terms of living with the child but it was not considered to be too high a threshold in terms of the amount of time. We are not saying it should it be three, four or five years. We are talking about a period of one year so it is not a very high threshold. I take the point made by some Deputies. Deputy Boyd Barrett quoted a friend. In that situation, clearly the statutory declaration is available immediately to that father. The Deputy also argued that there are exceptional cases. If he was quoting a different type of situation, he might be saying that there are certain factors in this case that I would be concerned about where this might be considered an exceptional case and where there would not be automatic guardianship. I am making the point that there is work to be done on this and that I am committed to linking with the various groups who would make inputs into this. I am very happy to engage in a consultation in the very near future to begin further work on this. I have committed to a two-year review.

In respect of the point made by Deputy Coppinger about a year, it is a very short period because there is work to be done, for example, in terms of developing the regulations that will apply for the registrar in charge of the more readily available statutory declaration. That will take some time. It is a very short period to do the review. I do not think we will have enough information for me to agree to the amendment. I ask the Deputy not to press the amendment but I will commit to carrying out a consultation in the very near future with all of the relevant groups the Deputy referred to. I repeat the commitment I made on Committee Stage that the Department and I will review the operation of the new guardianship provisions within two years of their coming into operation. I also have the pilot project relating to the development of the register of guardianship. We need a pilot project to tease out all the issues around that. I am advised that it is a very substantial piece of work. Given the number of guardianship arrangements in courts and the range we will have under this legislation, I need the pilot projects to see how that might be developed and to scope out the scale of the work that needs to be done.

We have had a good airing of the issues. I accept what the Minister has said as it will take a while to set up and if the Minister is giving a commitment that there will be a review within two years. Hopefully, that will carry on to the next Government regardless of whether the Minister is in office. There are significant changes in the Bill. It would have been better if there had been a lot more discussion outside the House because of the complexity of family situations. For some reason, this has not happened on television and in the rest of the media.

I wish to clarify that I had a fantastic father and that I am all for fathers but I also recognise that it is not an ideal world, that there are situations where women and children need protection from fathers and that guardianship gives someone a lot of power over a family even if he is not living with the family. If we are extending guardianship, we need some kind of review of it. I also welcome the statutory declaration, which should be promoted.

Some Deputies have given the impression that fathers are beating down the door to get access to their children. We need scientific analysis of this because there is quite a vociferous fathers' rights lobby out there. Most of us know situations where men are not treated equally in the courts but for every one case, we know ten others where women have been left supporting children economically and socially. I favour a complete change in the way parenting happens. It should be shared. It is not right that it falls on women, which is one of the reasons there are very few women in this Chamber. There are fewer women here than there are in the parliament in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the type of society we have puts the responsibility for child rearing on women. This needs to change but until it does, we also need to recognise that there are men who do not take responsibility not just in terms of domestic violence, but in supporting their children over the years.

There are thousands of fathers and mothers who are not married but who propose to live together, are living together, or have lived together but separated, all of whom share parenting relationships. Many of those people have not sought a declaration. Where a relationship between a mother and father breaks down, the mother might not agree to sign the declaration, even though she should do so. That is a problem.

Deputy Boyd Barrett appeared to be suggesting that the status quo continue, in that we already have in place a system of statutory declaration. However, the mother must to agree to it. As I understand it, under this Bill the mother still has to agree to it.

A declaration cannot be signed by the father only. Although I do not agree with the way in which progress is being made in this Bill, progress is, none the less, being made. As a result of the new provision in relation to cohabitation, more fathers than would otherwise be the case will have guardianship rights. That is progress. As a result, more people and, particularly, more children will benefit. However, more needs to be done.

I am not opposed to the type of review proposed by Deputy Coppinger if the purpose of such a review would be to build upon the legislation. Any problems arising following enactment of the legislation will need to be looked at, but it will also be necessary to examine how we can build further on those rights. Many Deputies spoke about automatic guardianship rights. As I understand it, under the legislation, entry of the father's name on the birth certificate is conditional. It is important that protections be put in place in respect of particular situations. I understand the Law Reform Commission has made proposals in this area and that measures in this regard are in place in other countries. For example, in the case of a rape, the father's name would not necessarily be entered on the birth certificate and, therefore, there would be no automatic guardianship rights. Those are the types of issue that will need to be looked at.

The more one discusses this the more complicated it gets. I agree with Deputy Mathews that one cannot put a stop-clock on human relationships. If I come up with any brilliant ideas before this Bill goes to the Seanad, I will mention them to the Minister, and any necessary amendments can be introduced there. All we can do is air our concerns, provide for a review and consultation and monitor this closely.

The point I was making was that these particular criteria are totally arbitrary. It does not make any sense to me. An argument can be made for either the status quo or automatic guardianship for unmarried fathers, which could be problematic for the reasons outlined by Deputy Coppinger. How we reconcile this will require a stroke of genius on our part between now and the Seanad consideration of this Bill.

I think we have covered this issue. It is important to point out that under this Bill, registration of the mothers and the father on a birth certificate will be obligatory. That is an important move. A similar measure has been in place in other countries for some time. As a result of this, more fathers will be involved in the birth registration process. Also, as the registrar will under this Bill have a role in the statutory declaration, more fathers will be involved in the making of those statutory declarations. With the statutory declaration comes all of the rights of guardianship. It is now easier to access information in that regard. As I said, the Department of Social Protection will develop the information needed in this regard. We want to ensure mothers and fathers are given every possible opportunity to be involved in the parenting of their children. The purpose of this Bill is to outline as clearly as possible the rights and responsibilities of those who are parenting a child day to day, while at the same time, as set out in the legislation, acknowledging the biological links in the case of AHR and DAHR.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 50, 61 and 90 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 37, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

"References in enactments to guardians appointed under section 6C or 6E

41. The Act of 1964 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 2:

References in enactments to guardians appointed under section 6C or 6E

2A.(1) Subject to subsection (2), a reference in a provision of an enactment specified in section 6C(12) to a person who is a guardian of a child pursuant to this Act shall include a reference to a person who is appointed as guardian of the child under that section if the court so appointing the person orders that he or she is to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of a guardian under the provision concerned.

(2) Subsection (1) shall apply subject to such limitations (if any) as may be specified under section 6C(9) in the order of the court under that section appointing the person concerned as guardian of the child concerned.

(3) A reference in a provision of an enactment to a person who is a guardian of a child pursuant to this Act shall, in the case of a temporary guardian appointed under section 6E, be construed subject to such limitations (if any) as are imposed under subsection (6) or (11) of that section on the exercise by him or her of the rights and responsibilities of a guardian under the provision.".".

I indicated on Committee Stage that certain additional references to "guardian" in other legislation would need to be restricted in relation to a guardian appointed under sections 6C or 6E of the 1964 Act, as proposed to be inserted by section 45. These amendments impose those additional restrictions unless the court expressly orders otherwise. For example, a step-parent guardian is not intended to have the right to authorise the taking of samples from a child in the context of possible criminal proceedings against the child, unless the court has conferred full rights of parental guardians on that step-parent. These are measures for better protection of the child in difficult circumstances. The rights of a temporary guardian are restricted in this way only if the court expressly provides, because in circumstances in which a temporary guardian is in place, the child has no parental guardian capable of exercising guardianship responsibilities in the interests of the child.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 38, to delete lines 36 to 38, and in page 39, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following:

" "6B. A man who is, under section 5(1)(b) of the Act of 2015, the parent of the child, shall be a guardian of the child.".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 38, to delete line 38.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 53, 62, 63 and 67 to 69, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 39, line 5, to delete "the" where it secondly occurs and substitute "a".

These are minor drafting amendments to ensure clarity and consistency.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 39, to delete line 7.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 39, to delete lines 9 to 14.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 39, line 11, to delete "months," and substitute "months occurring after the date on which this subsection comes into operation,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 39, lines 19 and 20, to delete "as guardian of the child," and substitute "as a guardian of the child, and".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 39, to delete lines 21 to 23.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 39, line 24, to delete "(d) have" and substitute "(c) have".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 39, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“Central Register for Statutory Declarations for Joint Guardianship

6C. The Minister shall cause to be established and maintained a register to be known as the Central Register for Statutory Declarations for Joint Guardianship, the purpose of which is to provide protection for the statutory declaration documents which grant guardianship rights to unmarried fathers in respect of their children.".

We discussed this amendment previously on Committee Stage. It arises out of representations from groups such as Treoir who seek that a central register for statutory declarations be put in place. Apparently, this is not currently the case, and this creates difficulties for parents, particularly fathers. I believe this is an entirely reasonable proposition, as per the groups' submissions on the Bill. I hope the Minister will accept it.

In the course of today's debate, we have already had some discussion on the matter. This amendment would require the establishment of a central register for statutory declarations of guardianship. I have already gone into the details on the complexity of the establishment of such a register, which we do not have at present. I will make a number of points in this regard. I am concerned that it should not become or be perceived as a necessary step in the acquisition of guardianship. That is an important point to make. The existing statutory declaration mechanism to make certain parents guardians is readily accessible, has no cost and is straightforward.

As I indicated, I am already taking steps to ensure people are more aware of its availability to become guardians with no cost implication. It is particularly important that we should not make registration of the declaration compulsory because in any such situation there is a multi-step process and we do know from other experiences that it is possible for people not to complete the process. I would not want that to be the case. If we set up a system and there was a perception that failure to register a declaration could mean that a person would not be a guardian, it could have the entirely unintended consequence of making guardianship more difficult to obtain.

I believe such a centralised repository as proposed by Deputy Mac Lochlainn could have value and I understand why people recommend it and Treoir has raised it. Developing an appropriate solution will take time as further analysis is required. The Deputy will appreciate there are related issues such as security, data protection and data exchange and management. There are also financial implications. I must examine a wide range of issues to which the amendment gives rise. That will take time, but once we have had some consideration of the broad range of issues, I will establish a number of pilot projects in the coming months as the most appropriate means of testing the idea. That will involve inviting parents who have made statutory declarations to deposit copies of their declaration in an administratively operated repository as a traditional security mechanism. I will put such a pilot project in place. We will get the agreement of parents who have made statutory declarations to examine the issues around it and to see how the process has worked. I will report on the outcome of the pilot project to see what further steps may be required.

On that basis, I ask the Deputy not to press the amendment. I will put a pilot project in place and see what range of issues arise because it is not simply a question of saying we will establish such a register and doing it. The various issues to which I referred come into play. It has not been done previously. I am sure other Deputies share my surprise that there has not been an attempt to do this previously or to keep such records. I expect one of the reasons is due to the huge complexity involved, the changes in guardianship the courts oversee daily, and the difficulty of the co-ordination of all that material.

I am surprised to hear what the Minister said. However, I accept there are resource implications. When one registers the birth of a child, the birth certificate is filled out. It is already the case that a copy of the record is maintained and held locally and State-wide. Having the parents' names on the birth certificate does not guarantee guardianship, but a record is kept of the birth certificate, which is very important documentation for many reasons as one moves on in life. We cannot stand over the fact that the statutory declaration which gives one guardianship is not maintained centrally. While I accept that the amendment and the proposition from Treoir has resource implications, it is necessary. One cannot have a situation where there are serious implications if somebody loses a document. I accept it is unlikely that someone would lose a statutory declaration, but documents do get lost and sometimes there can be mischief involved. In the event of such happening, a person would not have a backup. It is necessary to have a centrally held backup of proof of evidence that one has made a statutory declaration.

If both parents register their names on the birth certificate, based on the Minister’s amendment, they are notified that such registration does not guarantee them automatic guardianship and they are given an information leaflet. They could be advised they have 14 days in which to apply for guardianship. If at that stage the couple is happy and they come back and fill out the declaration but the relationship later breaks down the mother of the child would automatically have guardianship but the father would be in a difficult position because there is no central register with evidence of the statutory declaration, which is more important for the child in terms of parentage and guardianship than the birth certificate. It is not enough to introduce a pilot scheme. A central register must be set up. Given that my party will resubmit the amendment in the Seanad in two weeks’ time, if the Minister cannot accept the amendment now, I urge her to think about the resource implications in the intervening period. Such a measure must be introduced as part of the legislation.

I support Deputy Mac Lochlainn. It is a bit like the Land Registry as it solved a lot of problems when land and properties were registered centrally. Previously title documents were lost. We are talking about a statutory declaration, which by its nature the State protects. Given the importance of what the declaration protects, it ought to be on a central register to keep it safe. That is the case without a doubt. It is a sine qua non, as the lawyers say, an indispensable condition without which something should not happen.

I am sure many Deputies are surprised we do not have such a register already. Deputy Mathews referred to the Land Registry where changes of house ownership get registered and one can access them. Of course there is an element of personal responsibility in terms of keeping a copy of one’s statutory declaration but, equally, we know that people can lose such a document and difficulties could arise if they cannot access it elsewhere.

Many of the examples to which we could refer where records are kept, be they birth certificates or whatever else, have taken a very long time for the system to develop. They have been in existence for decades and the systems relating to them have been developed and computerised. I need to scope out precisely what is involved. The legislation presents an opportunity for Deputies to raise this point and for us to acknowledge that a central register does not exist. We acknowledge the work of Treoir in particular in highlighting the matter. I am beginning to scope out this issue. If I can come up with any more information on the scoping exercise that is needed before the Seanad discusses the Bill, then I will do so. I agree with Deputy Mac Lochlainn that having access to the information is important, but I do not want it to become another barrier to couples getting statutory declarations to get guardianship.

I wish to add a brief point. Based on my interpretation of the Minister’s amendment, would the General Register Office, which registers births, deaths and marriages, be the office that would receive and authenticate the statutory declaration?

This is part of what we have to figure out. Many of the guardianship applications are dealt with in the courts system. Information would be gathered from a variety of sources, including peace commissioners, commissioners for oaths, the courts and the registrar. Given that it would be available in at least four locations, a scoping exercise would be required to ascertain how one would proceed with this type of a register.

Will it be possible to conclude the exercise before the Seanad debates the Bill in a fortnight?

The reason a register is of such great importance is that this particular type of statutory declaration vests responsibilities of guardianship and is not only a statutory declaration of fact. Property vests title, ownership and the responsibilities and obligations of owning property. The Land Registry was needed because otherwise we would be left with the mess of human business intercourse. In this case, a register is important because it relates to the interests of the child as a result of the guardianship, which is the safety packaging of this responsibility. Statutory declarations should be registered in order that no one is left in any doubt, whether their motives are innocent or, as Deputy Mac Lochlainn stated, mischievous. The statutory declaration needs to be registered at the time it is being made. It is essential that it is done and it would not be a big deal to do so.

If the proposed register were established, it would not cover those who signed declarations under the existing legislation, in which case it would not provide a complete record.

It could be made retrospective.

It is not possible to legislate in the manner outlined as to do so could undermine the rights of people who already have a declaration. In cases where the declaration was not registered, the validity of a declaration that had already been signed would be undermined. There are issues that need to be explored.

While Deputy Tuffy makes a valid and legitimate observation, I am sure there are any number of examples where one commences and processes-----

The Land Registry is a case in point.

If the logic of Deputy Tuffy's argument were applied to all legislation, we would not change anything and would continue to do things as they have always been done. If a central register were introduced, it would be necessary to invite people to register declarations retrospectively. This would facilitate people who have made a declaration prior to the establishment of the register. I am sure a solution can be found.

As Deputies will agree, the statutory declaration, which is signed with the consent of the mother and constitutes the mechanism by which guardianship is granted to the father, is a precious document. Surely, therefore, a central or back-up system should be in place to record the making of all such declarations. While I appreciate this presents a conundrum and the introduction of a register would have resource and logistical implications for the Minister, I will press the amendment because a major element is missing from the legislation. This is a very important issue which has been brought to our attention by Treoir and other organisations.

I will put the question.

Strictly speaking, the Minister is precluded from contributing again. However, as she was asked a question, she may respond briefly.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn makes a specific point on statutory declarations. I undertake to commission a report on this issue because it needs to be scoped. This matter did not arise as a result of the introduction of this Bill. There has been a lacuna in this area for decades.

The legislation is an opportunity to address it.

Yes. The precise details, including data protection issues and a range of other matters, need to be identified in a scoping exercise. At this point, I have difficulty accepting the amendment because I first need to have such a scoping exercise done. I cannot transfer this to the General Register Office without discussion and negotiation or knowing what is the scope of it. However, I will, in the first instance, have a pilot project introduced before moving forward on the issue. I will also commission a report on the matter.

While I propose to press the amendment because I feel strongly about it, I also accept the commitment the Minister has given. My party will revisit the discussion when the Bill goes before the Seanad.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 61:

In page 41, to delete lines 6 to 17 and substitute the following:

"(11) The rights and responsibilities referred to in subsection (9) are the rights and responsibilities of a guardian:

(a) to decide on the child’s place of residence;

(b) to make decisions regarding the child’s religious, spiritual, cultural and linguistic upbringing;

(c) to decide with whom the child is to live;

(d) to consent to medical, dental and other health related treatment for the child, in respect of which a guardian’s consent is required;

(e) under an enactment specified in subsection (12);

(f) to place the child for adoption, and consent to the adoption of the child, under the Adoption Act 2010.

(12) The enactments referred to in subsection (11)(e) are:

(a) section 2A(2) of the Firearms Act 1925;

(b) section 5 of the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996;

(c) sections 50 and 50A of the International Criminal Court Act 2006;

(d) sections 79, 79A and 79B of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008;

(e) section 14 of the Passports Act 2008;

(f) the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 42, line 39, to delete "through" and substitute "through serious".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 44, line 16, to delete "views."." and substitute "views.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 44, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

"Declaration that person is guardian

6F. (1) A person specified in subsection (2) may apply to the court for a declaration under this section that a person named in the application is or is not a guardian by virtue of the circumstances set out in section 2(4A) or 6B(3) of a child named in the application (in this section referred to as the ‘child concerned’).

(2) An application for a declaration under this section may be made, in relation to a child concerned, by—

(a) a guardian of the child concerned, or

(b) a person seeking a declaration that he or she is or is not a guardian by virtue of the circumstances set out in section 2(4A) or 6B(3) of the child concerned.

(3) An application for a declaration under this section shall not be made in relation to a child concerned other than—

(a) where the application is made by a person referred to in subsection (2)(a), on notice to each other guardian of the child and the person named in the application in relation to whom the declaration is sought, and

(b) where the application is made by a person referred to in subsection (2)(b), on notice to each guardian of the child.

(4) The court may direct that notice of any application for a declaration under this section shall be given to such other persons as the court thinks fit and where notice is so given or where notice is given under subsection (3) to any person the court may, either of its own motion or on the application of that person or any party to the proceedings, order that that person shall be added as a party to those proceedings.

(5) Where on an application for a declaration under this section it is proved on the balance of probabilities that a person named in the application is or is not a guardian by virtue of the circumstances set out in section 2(4A) or 6B(3) of the child concerned, the court shall make the declaration accordingly.".".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 65 is out of order.

Amendment No. 65 not moved.

I move amendment No. 66:

In page 44, to delete lines 20 to 27 and substitute the following:

"7. (1) On the death of the guardian (‘deceased guardian’) of a child, a guardian (‘surviving guardian’) surviving the deceased guardian, if any, shall be guardian of the child jointly, where applicable, with—

(a) any other surviving guardian, and

(b) any person or persons appointed testamentary guardian by the deceased guardian in accordance with this section.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 67:

In page 44, line 36, to delete "the" and substitute "a".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 68:

In page 45, line 1, to delete "the" and substitute "a".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 69:

In page 45, line 3, to delete "the" where it secondly occurs and substitute "a".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 70:

In page 45, line 34, after "section 6D," to insert "and subject to subsection (2) of that section,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 71:

In page 52, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 27 of Act of 1964

58. Section 27 of the Act of 1964 is amended in subsection (1) by the substitution of "section 6A, 6C, 6E, 11, 11B or 11E" for "section 6A, 11 or 11B".".

This is a technical amendment to ensure that certain proceedings in relation to guardianship, custody and access to a child can proceed in the absence of the child unless the child is of an age and maturity to express his or her own views on the matters to the court. It is often unnecessary and not in the child's best interests to attend proceedings on occasions. The amendment reflects the new provisions made regarding guardianship, custody and access.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 72:

In page 52, to delete line 29 and substitute the following:

"(b) the views of the child concerned that are ascertainable (whether in accordance with section 32 or otherwise);".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 73 to 76, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 73:

In page 53, line 9, to delete "family" and substitute "household".

As I indicated on Committee Stage, I consider it clearer to refer to "household violence" rather than "family violence". The former term more clearly links the concept to the child's presence in the household and the effect of violence on the child. The purpose is the same, namely, to ensure that in considering the best interests of the child, the courts must consider the effects on the child of witnessing or experiencing violence.

Amendment No. 74 provides a revised subsection (3) to take account of the changed approach and focus more clearly on the risks the perpetrator of violence may pose to the child. For additional clarity, amendment No. 75 removes the qualifier, if any, stating that a parent's conduct may be considered to the extent, if any, that it is relevant to the child's welfare and best interests only. This is in response to concerns expressed that this could suggest that household violence or domestic violence between a child's parents might be interpreted as having no effect on the child. Clearly, this is not the intention. We know that violence in the home has a significant psychological impact on children, irrespective of whether they are directly physically abused. International research clearly indicates that this is the case, as UNICEF points out. Research in Ireland, such as the report, Listening to children: Children's stories of domestic violence, by Fergus Hogan and Máire O'Reilly, supports this finding.

This set of amendments, which I imagine will get support, is intended to provide a clearer evidence-based approach to assessing the child's best interest where there is or has been household violence. It also reflects the importance I attach to ensuring that the provisions that enable the court to take account of household violence are robust.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 53, to delete lines 27 to 35 and substitute the following:

“(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(h), the court shall have regard to household violence that has occurred or is likely to occur in the household of the child, or a household in which the child has been or is likely to be present, including the impact or likely impact of such violence on:

(a) the safety of the child and other members of the household concerned;

(b) the child’s personal well-being, including the child’s psychological and emotional well-being;

(c) the victim of such violence;

(d) the capacity of the perpetrator of the violence to properly care for the child and the risk, or likely risk, that the perpetrator poses to the child.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 53, line 37, to delete “extent, if any,” and substitute “extent”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 54, line 9, to delete “ ‘family violence’ ” and substitute “ ‘household violence’ ”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 77 to 79, inclusive, are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 77 to 79, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 80 has already been discussed with amendment No. 26.

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 63, line 21, to delete “in such manner as may be prescribed”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 81 has already been discussed with amendment No. 25.

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 64, to delete lines 3 to 7 and substitute the following:

“(1B) Where an application for a declaration under this section is made by a person referred to in paragraph (b) or (c) of subsection (1A) of this section in relation to a person concerned, the person concerned shall be joined as a party to the proceedings.”,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 82:

In page 70, line 28, after “child” to insert “(within the meaning of Part 2)”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 83 has already been discussed with amendment No. 46.

I move amendment No. 83:

In page 72, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“Registrar may take and receive statutory declaration under Guardianship of Infants Act 1964

92. The Act of 2004 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 27:

27A. For the purposes of section 1(1)(d) of the Statutory Declarations Act 1938, a registrar may, during the period of 14 days immediately following the date on which the birth of a child is registered or re-registered, take and receive a statutory declaration made under section 2(4)(e) or 6B(4)(c) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 in respect of the child.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 84 to 88, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 75, line 5, to delete “(inserted by section 45 of the Act of 2015)”.

These are minor drafting amendments which were signalled on Committee Stage. I have tabled them for the purposes of clarity and consistency.

Amendment No. 88 is a minor correction to a cross-reference in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 75, line 10, to delete “(inserted by section 45 of the Act of 2015)”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 86:

In page 75, line 13, to delete “a child” and substitute “a child,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 87:

In page 100, to delete lines 23 and 24 and substitute the following:

"(c) in subsection (9)-—

(i) by the substitution of “person in whose favour the order was made” for “civil partner who is not the member”, and

(ii) by the substitution of “that person” for “that civil partner”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 103, lines 2 and 3, to delete “or (bb)” and substitute “or (ba)”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 89:

In page 107, after line 33, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 3 of Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Act 2000

173. Section 3 of the Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Act 2000 is amended in subsection (2) by the deletion of paragraph (e).”.

Amendment No. 89 was signalled on Committee Stage. It is consequential on some of the new provisions of the section 6D being inserted in the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 by section 45. That section 6D sets out clear rules on when a non-marital father is a guardian by virtue of the operation of the law, administrative measures and court rulings of other jurisdictions. The new section 6D is clearer than the existing provision in section 3(2) of the Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Act. I propose to repeal section 3(2)(e) by means of this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 90 has already been discussed with amendment No. 50.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 107, after line 33, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 2 of Student Support Act 2011

174. Section 2 of the Student Support Act 2011 is amended in the definition of “parent” by the substitution of “guardian appointed under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, other than a temporary guardian appointed under section 6E of that Act” for “guardian appointed under the Guardianship of Children Acts 1964 to 1997”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 91 is out of order.

Amendment No. 91 not moved.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I take this opportunity to thank Deputies for the constructive debate on this Bill. In particular, I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn and Deputy Niall Collins as well as the other Deputies for their support. There has been cross-party support for the passage of this legislation. I welcome the broad support expressed in the House for what I believe is an innovative Bill dealing with many issues which have been outstanding for some time.

The Bill has been worked on extensively over the past year. I thank all those from my Department who have been involved in it, including Dara Breathnach, Carol Baxter and Conan McKenna. I pay tribute to them. I thank the Attorney General's office and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for the great support, expertise and hard work involved in bringing the Bill to fruition. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, for his great commitment to this legislation and the vast amount of work he put into the development of it. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, under the chairmanship of Deputy David Stanton, carried out a vast amount of work, in particular, the Opposition spokespeople in this area and the members of the committee. The committee sought and examined 37 submissions on the Bill from the broad range of stakeholders during the discussion of the heads of the Bill last year.

Inevitably in recent months there have been changes to the Bill and a development of certain issues that were raised. We have taken on board the committee's recommendations. We have been in a position to do that in several areas. I believe Committee Stage was very constructive. I hope Deputies will see that I have been in a position to take forward many of the amendments proposed by them, although perhaps not as fully as they would have preferred. I believe, however, they will be able to see that we have progressed several of the suggestions made on Committee Stage. The Department will be in a position to further develop work in several areas highlighted by Opposition Deputies, including the issue of the guardianship rights of non-marital fathers. The debate has highlighted the complexities. I believe there has been a good debate of the complexities of the area as well as the issues that need further work and I am committed to proceeding in that vein.

The amendments agreed to date provide new mechanisms for parents to complete statutory declarations under an easy process. Essentially, it involves a one-stop-shop where parents can combine birth registration and statutory declarations. That will be supportive of fathers in particular and of the family situation generally.

This is landmark legislation and it is long overdue. It supports parents in diverse families and ensures that parenting will be supported by stronger and more cohesive legislative provisions. Again, I thank Deputies and all involved who have ensured that we have completed Second Stage and passed this legislation today.

I commend the Minister on bringing the Bill to this point. I commend her team, who have worked very hard. I thank them for the courtesy the have shown throughout the process. There have been some small areas of disagreement but I believe there is wide consensus. This is an important overhaul of our legislation and it reflects the diversity of modern families in Ireland and the importance of valuing them equally.

For all the confrontation, disputes and so on that take place as well as the anger and passion in the Chambers, at times I believe that collectively we do a good job on behalf of the people. We do a service to the promise of the Proclamation. When we walk past it this evening and look at it again, I believe we can be satisfied that we have moved one step closer towards the promise and objectives of the Proclamation, above all the objective of valuing our citizens equally, particularly our children.

I add my thanks to the Minister, her Department, her officials, the Opposition spokespersons and to everyone who took part in the debate. I am sorry that I was only able to attend a limited amount of it. The Bill is the full expression of how realities have changed in our country and among our people. It is indicative of the wider family that is Ireland with all the people who have come from different countries with their traditions and what they have to offer.

We are trying to catch up and make a place that is safer and more secure for all of us to live, whether we are on a day-to-day basis fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. In existential terms that is what we are and that is what makes us special as human beings. That is why we have all the rules, arrangements and frameworks for safe conduct of our lives and our community etc. That we can do that in a fair, just and respectful way is indicative of the fact that we are all making progress.

I offer my thanks to all involved and to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I commend the Minister on her stewardship of this Bill through the House at all Stages and praise her staff significantly for the tremendous work they have done in preparing it. This Bill is about children, the rights of the child and, as Deputy Mac Lochlainn said, cherishing all our children equally, as our Proclamation says. This Bill is important. I appeal to those who have a different view of it from many of us in this House to recognise it for what it is. It is about offering the child security, putting that child's rights into legislation and making that legislation a modern, effective piece of work. I thank the Minister for her work. I hope this Bill will be passed without a vote in the House because it is what it deserves. I commend the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.