Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Willie O'Dea. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 5, 14 and 32 are related. Amendments Nos. 14 and 32 are logical alternatives. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 5, 14 and 32 will be discussed together.
Gender Recognition Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, to delete line 20.
We discussed this amendment at some length both on Second Stage and Committee Stage. The position was that for anybody wishing to transition from one gender to another there was an objectionable obstacle, namely, a medical assessment. Following various representations, and I recognise the distance the Government has come in this regard, that was removed for people from the age of 18 upwards.
Representations had been made to the Government regarding the position of people aged between 16 and 18 for whom originally no provision was made. Ultimately, they were included in the legislation but subject to some severe restrictions. They have to overcome a number of obstacles in order to apply for gender transfer, including proof of identity, proof of birth, statutory declaration, parental consent, order of the Circuit Court, another certificate as well as the medical report from both a medical practitioner and an endocrinologist or, alternatively, a psychiatrist.
I am seeking to remove the medical assessment in so far as those aged 16 to 18 are concerned. That it is required flies in the face of all the evidence and studies. I quoted one study on Committee Stage from the United Kingdom which found that only 4% of people come to the realisation they are the wrong gender by the time they reach the age of 18, and 76% of them become aware of this before they leave primary school.
In my opinion, people of any age should be entitled to transition. For people under the age of 18, the practice would be that they would be doing so at the behest of a parent or guardian. There can be no serious suggestion that a parent or guardian would undertake such a process lightly. In some countries, for example, Argentina, it is possible to transition under the age of 16, again at the behest of a parent or guardian. That has not caused any great problems in practice.
On the amendments, while I recognise I will not get any concessions today for people under the age of 16 years, I am asking that the obstacle of a medical statement in respect of people aged between 16 and 18 years be removed. I do not think that is an onerous ask of the Government, recognising that it has already come a fair distance. This Bill has been in gestation for a lengthy period. It follows on from the decision of the European Court of Justice, many reports and various drafts of legislation and so on. This has been a lengthy process. It is unlikely we will return to this issue again in the short term. In light of all of the effort that has gone into this legislation and the number of changes that the Government has already, wisely, made, I believe it should go this one step further in relation to 16 to 18 year olds. This would not require significant alteration of the legislation. There are many obstacles in the path of a person aged between 16 and 18 years. Given that usually people realise at a much younger age than 16 years that they are in the wrong gender, it is desirable that the Government would accept these amendments.
The Minister of State will, no doubt, respond that there is a clause in the Bill which provides for a review after two years. Perhaps he will elaborate on what exactly that review will entail. Will it automatically entail amending legislation if that is deemed to be necessary? I think it will be necessary. We were late legislating in this area. However, being late gives us the advantage of having an opportunity to review what other jurisdictions have done. Jurisdictions that have recently legislated in this area have gone a good bit beyond what we are now proposing. I anticipate that we will have to revisit this legislation to make some of the changes that we could make today and that people will suffer as a result of us not having made them today.
In my view, there should be no need for a medical statement in respect of persons aged between 16 and 18 years of age. This provision should be removed and transition should be possible at any age at the behest of a parent or guardian. As I said earlier, this is not a process that would be undertaken lightly. I am seeking removal of the requirement for a medical statement in respect of 16 to 18 year olds. In my opinion, this is a very minor demand.
Deputy O'Dea's proposal in respect of people over 16 years of age but under the age set down in this particular Bill is very reasonable. During the debate on the heads of this Bill and on Committee Stage, we debated the various onuses this Bill accords at different ages. I acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in the past number of years in terms of the approach of the State to this issue, as reflected in the Bill. However, I do not believe the legislation goes far enough. We now have an opportunity to be a world trendsetter in this area, such that other countries would look to us as an example of best practice in this area, just as in the past we have looked to other countries such as Argentina. Denmark was the first European country to allow a legal change of gender without medical statement. We have learned from that change made by Denmark two years ago. We are close to being one of the first countries to address this issue, although much has changed since this process first commenced. It would be a pity if we did not recognise that people usually know from a very young age, in many cases without medical practitioners or their parents knowing, what gender they are. People are often assigned a gender by society which does not really take account of who they are.
In refusing to accept these amendments proposed by Deputy O'Dea, the Government is forcing 16 and 17 year olds, at a time that can be very traumatic in the life of any teenager, to wait a further two years to transition. While having to wait another two years might not be a burden for those of us who are into the second half of a century, for young people it is a burden. This could lead to further problems for them in school, in society or even at home. The amendments do not go as far I would go but they are a half-way measure. It would be appropriate for the Minister of State to make some changes at this stage rather than wait a number of years until this legislation is reviewed to do so. In my opinion, given the major changes being introduced in this Bill, and the fact that we cannot anticipate how it will work in practice, we will have to revisit it in the future. We had all hoped we would have the opportunity to celebrate the victory of the marriage equality referendum in the context of its implications for this Bill but we have not been able to do so. It is hoped we will have an opportunity to do so when the marriage equality legislation has been published. It is possible that various provisions of that Bill will impact on this legislation, thus requiring us to revisit this Bill sooner than originally intended. Perhaps, during debate on the marriage equality legislation and the outcome of the referendum, the opportunity will be taken to review whether some of the proposals we have put forward in the amendments before the House today can be taken on board.
Many groups have worked tirelessly on this issue, in particular Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, which advocates on behalf of people who have been wrongly assigned a gender by the State or were wrongly diagnosed at a young age by medical professionals to be of a certain gender. As far as I am aware, TENI is happy with the progress we have made but, like me, it believes we could have gone a lot further. I recently reviewed the observations of the Equality Authority on the revised general scheme of the Gender Recognition Bill 2014.
Some of the points we are making today were set out in that document, which shows how long the issues are being teased out not only by Members of this House, but also by concerned organisations. Those organisations are urging us to get the legislation right, just in case we never come back to it or it is years before we do so.
I acknowledge the commitment by the Government to review the provision in two years. That is a saving grace in some ways, but I am mindful that I have heard many such commitments in this House. We should perhaps note that there is emergency legislation from the Second World War still on our Statute Book, namely, the Offences Against the State Act 1939. Just because there is an undertaking to review this Bill in two years time, there is no guarantee it will actually happen. Who can know whether the Minister of State or any other Member will be here then? The problems identified by Deputies on all sides of the House might not be addressed by the next Government, in which case it will fall to the groups that have lobbied us on the matter to continue lobbying. There will be a challenge for us all in seeking to address the issues that remain to be addressed when the review finally does happen.
I support this group of amendments. Unfortunately, I missed the closing date to submit my own proposals and it was not possible, with only two days to do so, to put forward amendments to the amendments. I support the appeal from transgender people aged 16 to 18 and under 16 for the Government to take this opportunity to make provision for an interim gender certificate. Will the Minister of State indicate whether the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs submitted recommendations or amendments to Cabinet in this regard?
I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, has had a number of meetings with Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, BeLonG To and other groups, where he had a chance to speak to people who will be affected by these provisions. The failure to make provision for those aged under 18 will impact directly on young people's lives. They should have had a much stronger say in terms of their communication with the Department. By failing to make provision in the legislation for that age group, we are saying to a generation of young people that they must wait two years before anything will be done for them. In Norway, a recent proposal seeks to extend gender recognition provisions to apply to children as young as seven years of age. In other countries, a lot of research is being done and debate is taking place on how legislation can be changed to accommodate the needs of young people.
The Minister of State knows my position on this issue. There is no reason the legislation cannot be reviewed much sooner than in two years time. We might consider it in six months, say, and, if necessary, introduce amendments to make provision for 16 to 18 year olds and under 16s. Is the Minister of State open to an earlier review, before the five-year term of this Dáil is over? This is good and progressive legislation, which moves us a great deal further along from where we were some months ago. It comes in the wake of the progressive "Yes" vote in the marriage equality referendum. The Ombudsman for Children has called for the Bill to be amended to make provision for under 16s, as has TENI, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Children's Rights Alliance. Those organisations are arguing for the change as something that will have a significant impact on people's lives. The feedback we are getting shows that young people know who they are in terms of gender recognition from a fairly young age. They have to deal with that every day of the week in school, at sports activities and everywhere they go. It will be a terrible shame if we do not use this opportunity to put a more definite process in place for reviewing the need to make provision for 16 to 18 year olds and under 16s. Will the Minister of State agree to review the matter in six months time?
Before dealing with this group of amendments, I take the opportunity to compliment Deputies Willie O'Dea, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Joan Collins on their contributions on Committee Stage of the Bill. I acknowledge that these amendments were put forward in a spirit of co-operation. Our engagement with groups like TENI and BeLonG To and the opportunity we had to meet with young people and parents and hear their stories have helped to shape this Bill into one of the most progressive legislative measures ever to come before the House.
Deputy O'Dea expressed concern that we might never return to the legislation. In fact, there is an absolutely solid commitment that it will be reviewed. My intention, if I return to the House, is that it be reviewed, at a minimum, within the two years. It will, moreover, be a comprehensive review. All of us who have participated in the debate, at pre-legislative scrutiny stage and on Committee Stage, know how quickly its provisions have changed and how much we have learned in the course of our discussions. I have no doubt there will be changes to the legislation in future as more research is done and a greater understanding is gained of the issues.
The age issue to which Deputy Joan Collins referred is more appropriate to discuss in the context of amendments Nos. 16 to 22, inclusive, and No. 26. I will deal with it, therefore, when we come to discuss those proposals. To answer her straightforward question, I am not aware that the Minister for Children and Youth submitted recommendations or amendments to Cabinet in this regard.
I do not propose to accept this group of amendments. The Bill provides for a model of self-declaration for persons aged over 18. Crucially, there will be no requirement to have any medical input in the application process for a gender recognition certificate. That is a major step forward, as has been recognised outside the House, and makes us one of the most progressive countries in the world on this issue. However, statements from medical practitioners will need to be provided during a court process where a person aged 16 or 17 is applying for gender recognition. The amendments that were passed on Committee Stage provided that within the court process, supporting statements from the applicant's primary treating medical practitioner, who will be either an endocrinologist or a psychiatrist, must confirm that the child has transitioned or is transitioning into his or her preferred gender. It is important to emphasise that the medical element of the process will remain strictly within the boundaries of the court. Where a child receives a court exemption, he or she will not be required to provide any further medical evidence to the Department in respect of his or her application. It is for this purpose alone that the definition referred to in amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and No. 5 must remain as part of the Bill. I cannot, therefore, accept the proposals, although I acknowledge the intent behind them.
I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 14 and 32, which provide for non-disclosure by an applicant in respect of surgical procedures. There was never any question of making gender recognition dependent on a person having to provide medical evidence of reassignment surgery or treatment.
These amendments are entirely unnecessary, and I am concerned that they would have unintended consequences. There was never any question of making gender recognition contingent on a person providing medical evidence of reassignment or any other treatment.
I welcome the fact that a very neglected, abused and harassed group of people are being dealt with in some measure, but I condemn completely the manner in which the Bill is being guillotined. It is outrageous that the debate will finish at 2.30 p.m. Many amendments tabled by me, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and others, which were a result of meetings with TENI and other advocates on this issue, will not be heard, which is really unfortunate. The advances in the Bill are welcome and great credit is due to the social movement that took place in this country around the marriage equality referendum. I have no doubt that the Government would not have agreed to the changes sought if the "Yes" vote had not been so decisive.
The issue of those aged under 18 is important, and I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the decision not to accept the amendments. The idea that because one is aged under 18 one will be treated differently from adults is unacceptable. After everything that has happened in this country regarding the rights of children and women in the past, surely the Government should have taken a much more enlightened approach. Children have a right to express their opinions, their identities and who they are. Let us be clear. Children know from a very early age if they are gay, bisexual or transgender. We have all been educated in recent times about that, and many children know and express that to their parents. Whether their parents accept that is another issue, but it is to be hoped many of them will.
Amnesty International has made the case that young children and those aged under 18 need to be listened to. The Ombudsman for Children has also asked the Government to take account of those aged under 18. The Minister of State could have accepted the amendments tabled to allow people to not have to go through medical examinations or certifications. A person aged 16, for example, is legally allowed to give his or her opinion on what should happen to him or her when he or she is in hospital. The Minister of State could easily have lowered the age in the Bill to 16 years.
Children should be able, with the support of their parents, to apply for a certificate without having to go to a doctor. There are real problems with regard to medical practitioners. TENI has said there is a lack of trained medical professionals and doctors who are willing and able to deal with this issue. The waiting lists are very long and it is likely that it would be two to three years before somebody would be able to have his or her identity asserted.
I wish to make some general points about those aged under 18, because I may not get to make them again. I refer to the issue of schools. I ask the Minister of State to follow the Bill with a discussion about what schools will be asked to do to cater for transgender young people. As we know, 90% of primary schools and 53% of secondary schools are denominational. Some excellent documentaries have been aired on RTE radio on which young transgender people were interviewed, and a major issue for them was schools. People are forced to wear very gendered uniforms which they do not want to wear. They are forced to use certain toilets, which is inhumane and undignified. Schools have refused to recognise that some young people want to be a different gender, even when they have the support of their parents and families.
School textbooks and policies on bullying are also issues, and need to reflect the fact that there are more than two genders in society and that a spectrum of genders exists. I have spoken to young people involved in the Spectrum Group, which deals with the major problem of homophobic and trans-phobic bullying in schools. There has to be a recognition that society has changed and people want a tolerant, diverse, pluralist and open society. The Amnesty International findings on abortion, which were published yesterday, bear this out. People want a separation of church and state in this country. That is the only way young transgender people in schools will be able to fully express who they are without being pigeonholed and told not to feel a certain way.
During the marriage equality referendum, a bishop said that if the vote was passed schools would not be expected to reflect same-sex couples in school textbooks, but they are. What about transgender people? The Bill is very important and a good step forward, but it must be followed by a realisation by this and future Governments that we need to separate church and state and allow much more diversity of options, particularly for young people who do not accept the shackles and straitjackets that our generation and others were put into.
I will withdraw amendments Nos. 14 and 32, because the Minister of State said there could be potential unintended consequences. The intention was to ensure that those aged under 16 or, for that matter, anybody else, would not have to comply with strict medical reports. The Minister of State has given a commitment that that was never the intention of the Bill, and therefore I am happy to withdraw the amendments.
The main intention of this group of amendments is to give recognition, at the very least, to the way society has evolved. There is a discussion within it about the age of responsibility, what age people can get married at and the age at which people can play as full a role in society as possible. There is a debate among the USI, the National Youth Council and others on reducing the voting age. Most parties believe the voting age should be reduced to 17, if not 16, thereby putting major responsibility into the hands of 16 or 17 year olds. If one accepts that those of that age can make decisions that could influence future Governments or the society in which they live, one cannot at the same time be unwilling to give them the full rights and respect necessary to have a full understanding of their gender.
We should open up the new provisions contained in the Bill as fully as possible to those aged 16 and 17 years of age. As I said, I would go further, and I support the amendments tabled by Deputy O'Dea.
To avoid confusion, I understand from the Minister of State's reply that it is an either-or situation between a medical report and going to court. A person aged between 16 and 18 years of age has to jump both hurdles. One of the documents one must present to the Circuit Court if one hopes to be successful in one's application is a medical report. Circuit courts are currently fairly inaccessible. In my part of the country it can take up to 12 months to bring a case to the Circuit Court, and it is an expensive process. A person aged 16 who gathers the necessary documentation and applies to a Circuit Court could be almost 18 years of age before he or she gets a hearing.
It is a very difficult situation for people aged between 16 and 18. I firmly believe there should be no age limit whatsoever because this will be done for younger people at the behest of their parent or guardian, who are not likely to go out and apply for a change of gender on a whim. I am disappointed the amendments do not find favour with the Government. I will press them, but not to a vote because I and the organisations in question are anxious that the legislation be brought through and put on the Statute Book as quickly as possible.
I am disappointed. Like my colleagues I do not want to put an age on when a person is entitled to gender recognition. It is a shame. I received a letter sent from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, stating he has proposed two further amendments to the Bill. The letter states:
Following our recent discussions, I promised to come back to you with proposals regarding the Gender Recognition Bill which you are taking through the Oireachtas at present. I welcome the recent amendments you have proposed, including making the process much less complex for those aged over 18. In the note attached, you will see that I propose two further improvements - one to add general practitioners to the list of medical professionals under section 12(4) of the Bill for those in the 16-17 age cohort, and a second to provide that the promised review of the legislation will specifically consider the needs of persons aged under 16 years.
I do not know what are the dynamics here. We should seriously look at this because young people should have a say. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs recently brought out a national strategy on children and young people's participation in decision-making and their voices should be heard much more strongly in the legislation.
Generally speaking, the legislation is to be welcomed. There has been some acknowledgement of concerns raised at earlier Stages in the debate. All of this is to be welcomed, but it quite simply does not go far enough, particularly in the area of young people. It is a pity that the Government is still lagging behind on this issue, given the absolutely fantastic sentiment for equality expressed in the marriage equality referendum, the fact that our society has grown up and the people have led the way in demanding real equality and have thrown off many of the shackles which have held the country back so badly and have done such damage to young people, women and other groups. Deputy Collins has indicated to us that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, has indicated the Minister of State should have accepted the amendments to change the medical hoops being put in the way of young people between the ages of 16 and 18 and deal in a fair way with people aged under 16, but the Minister of State is still refusing to do so. I do not really understand why, because everybody, including the UN, the ISPCC, TENI, all of the groups and anybody who knows or cares about this issue is saying the Minister of State needs to go further and accept the amendments, and clearly it is the expressed will of the people in the country. It is a bit difficult to understand why the Minister of State is failing to do so, even when people in Cabinet are stating privately if not publicly that he should do so. It is not too late and the Minister of State should take on board these amendments and make the Bill all it should be.
I welcome the changes that have been made in the Bill and the Minister of State's commitment to it in recent months. As others have put on record, it is important to acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, made suggestions, perhaps not at Cabinet but certainly to the Minister, that a review be considered. The Minister of State has given a commitment to review the legislation in two years' time, and at that stage perhaps consideration can be given to persons under 16 who are not eligible for exemption to apply for a gender recognition certificate under section 12 of the Bill. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, holds this view.
I take on board the point made by Deputy Coppinger. She wants us to reflect on the area of education. We are very anxious and concerned that transgender children in schools are protected and respected. This is a major concern for parents and is one about which my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is also concerned. I have met many parents on this matter. When Deputy Ruairí Quinn was Minister, he introduced wide-ranging compulsory anti-bullying procedures which cover this area. The Minister for Education and Skills has already had a meeting on this and I am aware she has written to TENI, BeLongTo and school representatives on having further round table discussions. Transgender children have their main experiences in the educational system. We need to engage further with educators to ensure transgender children are respected in the education system. Before I came to the House, I spoke to a parent about how uneven the experience can be and the difference the attitude of a principal can make. The Minister and I want to ensure proper policies are in place throughout the education system whereby children will be treated with respect. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy O'Sullivan, will follow up with interest groups and representatives of principals and others in education in a round table discussion which will lead to a policy to ensure transgender children are treated with the respect any child deserves. I have no doubt this will happen.
This has been quite a long process and Deputies O'Dea and Ó Snodaigh have engaged extensively on it. We had prolonged discussions on Committee Stage on a range of issues. These changes did not come about because of the marriage equality referendum. They were well flagged. We withdrew the Bill and engaged with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on a range of issues. The original pre-legislative scrutiny which took place was based on the age of 18. In response to those discussions, this was lowered to 16. In response to the debate in the Seanad, the two year review was introduced. The Bill has progressed much slower than I wanted, and I would have much preferred to have seen this legislation at a much earlier stage. The Bill is all the stronger, but at some stage one must go forward and enact legislation which will be reviewed.
With regard to Deputy Collins's remarks on the Minister, Deputy Reilly, he is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I hope he takes on a very strong role with regard to transgender children. It is very much within his remit. If he proposes amendments, I hope he brings them to Cabinet. This is complicated legislation and there must be forethought and a large amount of consultation before any changes made. A significant amount of consultation has taken place throughout the Bill's progression and every Member of the House has engaged with a wide range of people. If the Minister, Deputy Reilly, intends to bring forward amendments or further legislation on transgender children he will certainly have my advice and support and I look forward to it. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, holds strong views on this and has concerns about transgender children and I am sure he will continue to work in the area. When the legislation is passed, I do not want to see it put on the shelf. Much more work has to be done with regard to adults and children.
This is to ensure, particularly with children, that they have a very good and positive experience in the educational system.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, to delete lines 26 to 28.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, to delete lines 3 to 6.
Amendment No. 4 is out of order as it does not arise from Committee Stage proceedings.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 6, to delete lines 14 to 21.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 7, to delete lines 20 to 26 and substitute the following:
"Review of operation of Act
7. The Minister shall not later than 1 year after this section comes into operation, commence a review of the operation of this Act, and commence a subsequent review not later than 5 years after that date, assessing, in particular, its consistency with international best practice in the field of gender recognition and its compliance with national, regional and international equality and human rights standards, and shall make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from the review drawn from the findings not later than 12 months after completion of both reviews.".
This amendment proposes a review of the operation of the Act. The Minister of State has suggested two years as being appropriate and he has made some commitments. Questions have been raised in the last batch of amendments, along with those we are not likely to reach at this stage because of the guillotine at 2.30 p.m. That means we will not be able to tease out all the questions. In some ways, we have already had the arguments but they needed to happen. If we set the period to one year, it will mean that as soon as the Bill passes, we will begin preparing for a review.
Following the referendum on marriage equality, which must be endorsed by the courts, we will see new legislation before the Houses on marriage equality. That will have implications for the Bill before us, which will have been passed into law at that stage. There is a major piece of work to be done in that regard, and we would all love to see it being done. The Minister of State has indicated that the requirement for married people to divorce needs to go but I will not go into that. If the amendment is accepted, we know we can start a review in a year. There will be a new Government this time next year, no matter what I or those opposite do in the mean time. Since we know there will be an election and a new Government, this would force it to act very quickly rather than in two years, which the Minister of State proposes.
The second part of the amendment provides for a five-year review. As the Minister of State indicated in the first contribution, much is happening not only in Ireland but right across the world. I have mentioned Denmark as an example of how things are moving quickly. We need to ensure that we will not just have a review in two years. We hope the next Government will be enlightened and address the shortfalls that will become apparent, and we have already identified some of them. In five years or ten years, others may become evident. I am just trying to ensure this will not just be a once-off review, with the legislation put on the shelf forever.
We are discussing a small group in society and I am thankful they have been blessed by very good advocates able to explain to those of us who were not fully au fait over the years the difficulties faced by children, in particular, and adults. They have been able to get across to us, as legislators, the importance of addressing this issue through a human rights approach to law. I want to ensure we can have a quick review and a follow-up one to capture some of the changes in our society. I hope it can deal with the positive changes at least.
I support Deputy Ó Snodaigh's amendment. This is obviously a substantial and progressive change to our laws that we welcome, albeit with certain criticisms and reservations. It is new legislation so that is the idea for having a review as quickly as possible is to see how it will work and affect different groups of transgender people or to ensure any problems can be quickly ironed out and changed.
I will highlight a few issues and one relates to what we have just discussed. In one year, we should be able to examine this in a real way and see if anybody between 16 and 18 years of age managed to get a gender recognition certificate by going through the process of courts and medical examination. If they have not done so over the course of a year, would it illustrate a problem and mean that we should simply lower the age from 18 to 16? It is a concrete question and with the benefit of a year's experience, we would be able to review it. I accept the Government's commitment to resolve the forced divorce requirement but will it be done in a year? It is a vital issue and at least if there is to be a definite review in a year, it will force the Government of the day to confront that reality. If it has not been dealt with for some reason, it can be dealt with at that stage.
Other issues are not considered in the Bill and a review in a year would likely highlight the need to deal with them. For example, there is a question of an "X" gender, or those people who identify neither as male nor female. We have amendments on that later but it is likely we will not get to them because of the guillotine. A review is likely to highlight that as a major issue requiring amendment. Amendment No. 4 dealt with a residency requirement and after a year, we could see if it affects any groups of workers or students not in the country for a year but who seek, for whatever reason, a gender recognition certificate. Finally, we could see the impact of the legislation in education and whether further action should be taken. It is clear that in this case, we need a quicker review period than two years. The Minister of State has the right under the current wording to do it more quickly but it should be in law that this must happen within a year.
I support the amendment. Section 7 introduces the obligation on the Government to review this within two years. The wording is that it must "commence" the review not later than two years after the Bill passes and a review could take some time.
It could be three or more years before we get the results of that review. When we look at how fast this issue is moving and how other jurisdictions are already changing their laws, despite the fact that this legislation is enlightened and despite the long distance the Government has come, this legislation is already being left quite a bit behind.
We are rapidly running out of time, so I will ask about the forced divorce clause. My understanding is that, assuming the courts do not strike down the results of the same-sex referendum - we hope they do not, and I do not think they will - then marriage equality legislation will be brought to the House, which will be used as a vehicle to get rid of the forced divorce clause in this Bill. Is that correct? Is that the Government's intention?
I will answer the Deputy when I reply.
When that marriage equality legislation is before the House, will the Government be prepared to allow that Bill to be used as a vehicle for other changes that have become necessary in this area? Will the gender component of the marriage equality Bill be confined to the forced divorce clause, or can we look forward to other progressive changes in the area of gender in that Bill?
I also support this amendment. It is entirely sensible and appropriate. The Minister of State has acknowledged that elements of this Bill will have to be changed but cannot be changed at the moment for purely legal reasons, as Deputy O'Dea mentioned. The main explanation given to us on Committee Stage of the debate was that the marriage equality amendment had not yet been passed. Therefore, now that the referendum is over and the amendment is passed, once any legal problems are cleared out of the way, it logically follows that the Government will immediately amend this Bill, if it is still in government, or that any future Government would do so immediately.
The Minister of State made a point earlier in response to me about the significance of the marriage equality referendum in setting a context in which the Government could go further than it is going in this Bill, particularly in the area of dealing with young people aged between 18 and 16 and people under 16, and the other issues that need to be dealt with. I am sure this was discussed before, but the requirement for a person to declare a solemn intention of living in the preferred gender for the rest of his or her life also should not be there. We should be supporting gender self-determination. I do not see why one has to give a commitment to stay in a particular gender forever in order to get a certificate. We should have gender self-determination.
All these things need to be looked at, most importantly the situation for young people. My point about the referendum was not that it forced the Minister of State to make some of the changes he has made. That is largely down to the advocacy groups, who have educated us all on these matters during the course of the debate. I accept his point on that. It is the advocacy groups, TENI and others, that have helped us to understand the issues. My point is that the referendum indicates that the people are way ahead of politicians on matters of equality. Any political hesitation that might stop the Government from going further in this Bill is unwarranted. The people have stated their belief in equality in these matters. The statement made was not just about marriage equality; it was about the need for equality more generally, including in matters to do with transgender people.
There is no political reason to lag behind where the people are - something we have done, sadly and at a terrible cost, in this State for many years. The political system has lagged behind. Big, powerful institutions have held us back and lagged behind where people are. A year is a long time in the life of a young person. Things are pretty tough for young people, generally speaking, and if a year is a long time, two years is a very long time. The Minister of State has spoken about the need for more consultation on these matters. We have had the consultation, we have had the best advice and we have had an extensive discussion. I do not see why he will not accept the amendments, but given that he is not going to, I do not see why he could not agree to the review in a year and making those changes in a year's time, rather than stringing it out for two years, because that is a long time in the lives of young people.
Two years is adequate. The numbers we are dealing with, as the Deputy pointed out, are such that we may not even see a case in the 16 to 18 age group in that period. Two years is an adequate period to have a look at it. In response to Deputy O'Dea, once the review has commenced, a report needs to be made to both Houses within 12 months, which is an important element. A review is adequate.
We will get to the other amendments regarding the requirement to be single and all that, so instead of jumping around the place, I will respond to that then, but Deputy O'Dea knows very well from Committee Stage that I had hoped to be able to bring amendments on Report Stage, and it is the intention of the Government to remove that provision, subject to the outcome of the case that is now in front of the courts. Depending on how the court case goes, the Government is committed to bringing forward an amendment removing the requirement that a person undergoing gender recognition must be single. The Deputy can take it that this will be done as speedily as possible.
I know that in legislative terms and in terms of where we have come with this piece of legislation, the 12-month difference might not seem significant to me and the Minister of State, but given that we are talking about young people in many cases, as well as others who may fall foul of what we have produced, all we are asking is that the review be initiated. It means that work will be done on this for the 12 months, whether by the Department itself or by the committee, which did very good work on the original legislation and proved in many ways that parliamentarians could grapple with legislation at an early stage. This was one of the first pieces of legislation that came under the pre-legislative scrutiny model and it proved that we could do that. It allowed us to engage, as parliamentarians and on a cross-party basis, with advocates who had heard the horror stories and so on of people who have been struggling with our society and our society's views over years.
The likes of Dr. Lydia Foy, FLAC, BeLonG To, TENI and Focus: The Identity Trust, came to us individually but have also made submissions to the committee. That is the type of work I am talking about. The committee can do it anyway, but at least if it is in legislation that there is to be a statutory review so quickly, we can start the work. We already know some of the issues. It will still be fresh, unlike in two years' time. I hope some of us will be around to help that work, but if we were all to go, there would be at least some committee members who are advocates. The nature of this type of work is that Members advocate for a while and then move on to the next issue. We have not dealt fully with this issue and that is why we should come back to it as quickly as possible - so that there is a currency to it.
Everyone has made the points as to why this amendment should be accepted by the Government. I cannot see why the Minister of State will not accept it. It would give a bit of a boost to those in the transgender community. It would give them a positive feeling that we are serious about moving the situation on, even though the Minister of State is not accepting any changes with regard to the age.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, in a letter to the Minister for Social Protection, suggested two amendments to the Bill, one of which was the addition of a new subsection, section 7(c), providing that the Minister "incorporate into the review consideration of the needs of persons under 16 years who are not eligible for an exemption to apply for a gender recognition certificate under Section 12 of the Bill". Obviously, there are concerns, particularly about those under 16 years, but I would like to see a review of all the different areas generally.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh correctly stated that the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill was excellent. As he knows, the Bill goes well beyond the recommendations of that committee, and it is progressive.
On many occasions in the House, the legislation of other countries has been mentioned, but there are also quite regressive elements in that legislation. The Bill surpasses such legislation. Deputy O'Dea mentioned Norway earlier. It has a consultative document, not legislation. We are not too sure what legislation will be enacted there.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh mentioned jokingly that we may not be returned. I have such a grá for this that, whether I am in this House or not, I will be taking a keen interest in the matter. I hope the Bill will create much more acceptance in society of this issue, which has been somewhat passed over. Deputy Ó Snodaigh himself has a keen interest in this area, having introduced a Private Members' Bill on the matter on behalf of Sinn Féin. I acknowledge that Bill, which has obviously influenced this Bill.
One year is too short. We need two years for a review. Taking into consideration what will be happening with regard to legislation, it is the Government's intention. I hope any subsequent Government will take the same interest in what is an important social issue. The Department of Education and Skills, under the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will carry out important consultation work from September on the experience of transgender children in the education system to ensure that this is improved and that they are treated with the respect they deserve. To deal with this small number of matters, because every citizen in this country is extremely important, there is the two-year period. From the commencement of the review, that report should be given to the House.
Should there be a need for further reviews after the two-year review, the other element was that there should be a further five-year review. The review process - it may be much quicker or it may take a little longer - will lay down best practice.
The wording of the provision follows the model used in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. I am happy that the wording is entirely satisfactory.
It is not intended, whether in the Department of Education and Skills or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, that this legislation will be the end of it. It is evolving. Deputy Joan Collins read out a letter written by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly. It shows that he has a keen interest in the matter and I believe he will follow up on it in that Department.
I will not divide the House on this.
In view of what has happened with regard to reports, recommendations and reviews in the past, even though the provision for a review after two years is in the Bill, there is no guarantee that a Government will act. It does not matter whether it is my amendment or the wording in the Minister's Bill. There are two reviews provided for in my amendment; there is one in the Minister of State's Bill. With mine, one is guaranteed two bites of the cherry, and there is a quick turnaround.
As I stated, I will not divide the House. The problem is that we have virtually run out of time. At this stage, it is frustrating. There are five minutes left and we are only starting to get to grips with some of the major problems. In some ways, that beggars what I am trying to do. It is the matters that we are not going to get to today that we would have been coming back to within 12 months if my amendment had been passed.
Amendment No. 7 in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh is out of order as it does not arise out of committee proceedings.
Amendment No. 8, in the name of the Minister, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 24, 25, 30 and 31 are technical amendments. Amendments Nos. 24, 30 and 31 are cognate. Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 24, 25, 30 and 31 will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, line 38, to delete "section 91" and substitute "section 90".
These are technical amendments dealing with references in the Bill to the register of inter-country adoptions and the foreign birth register. Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 refer to the Adoption Act 2010, under which the register of inter-country adoptions is maintained. Amendments Nos. 24, 30 and 31 relate to the foreign birth register. They amend the reference to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, as the latter is the more appropriate wording. Section 14(9)(b) provides that the Minister for Social Protection shall notify the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a gender recognition certificate is revoked under section 14. It also provides that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will amend the person's entry in the register of gender recognition of foreign births accordingly. Amendment No. 25 inserts the words "if applicable," into this provision, as there may be no such entry. It is not mandatory for a holder of a gender recognition certificate to ensure that such an entry is made.
These are technical amendments.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, line 40, to delete "subsection (1)(b) of that section" and substitute "section 91(1)(b) of that Act".
Amendment No. 10, in the name of the Deputies Higgins, Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Ó Snodaigh, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 10, 16 to 22, inclusive, and 26 are related. Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are physical and logical alternatives to amendment No. 16, and amendment No. 20 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 19. Amendments Nos. 10, 16 to 22, inclusive, and 26 will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 9, line 14, to delete "18 years" and substitute "16 years".
This calls for a reduction in the age requirement to apply for a gender recognition certificate from 18 years to 16 years. A number of my points have already been made. At 16 years of age, one can consent to medical procedures. A 16 year old should also have the right to vote. It is only a matter of time before that is introduced. At 16 years of age, one can leave school, go to work and pay taxes. The Minister of State could have agreed to this change. There cannot be inequality between young people and those aged over 18 years. A young person aged between 16 and 18 years who is capable of making the decision should be able to apply for a certificate.
I must interrupt the Deputy.
This debate is being guillotined. A group of people needed greater ventilation of these issues. The proposal on the Order of Business was bad.
There was a long debate on Committee Stage that was not guillotined.
I cannot allow the Minister of State to-----
I am sorry, but I am not on that committee.
The Deputy was entitled to attend the meeting.
Not all Deputies are on committees.
The Deputy is entitled to make a contribution on Committee Stage.
We should all attend one another's committees, so. I am referring to the full Dáil.
The full Dáil is-----
As it is 2.30 p.m., I am now required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That the amendments set down by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection undisposed of are hereby made to the Bill, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."
The Bill, which is considered to be a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann in accordance with Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution, will be sent to the Seanad.