I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Legislatively, this is a straightforward but very important Bill. Its purpose is to correct a typographical and technical error in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the latter. The Children and Family Relationships Act represents one of the most significant changes in family law in a generation and attempts to better reflect the reality of contemporary family life in this country. It was enacted to reform family law in a way that is inclusive of, and sensitive to, the reality of contemporary family life in Ireland and to meet the needs of children living in diverse family types.
Children are no longer raised solely in the traditional mother-father nuclear family but in a myriad of forms. For example, these relationships may be as a biological or social parent, as a guardian or as an adoptive parent. Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, for which I am responsible, recognise the new biological reality of donor-assisted human reproduction, DAHR, where children may be born to people using donor gametes and embryos. The provisions encompassing DAHR procedures relate to cases where the intending mother carries the pregnancy and gives birth to the child. As a result, these provisions apply to heterosexual couples, female same-sex couples and a single woman undergoing a DAHR procedure. As such, Parts 2 and 3 represent key elements of the Children and Family Relationships Act and their commencement is required to clarify the legal position of all parties involved in a DAHR procedure, but particularly the children born from such procedures. Being able to proceed with the commencement, once this short piece of legislation passes, will have a very positive impact on the rights of families which have sought donor assistance to conceive. It is my intention, once this Bill has been enacted, to commence Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act in the autumn. I have met stakeholders in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, LGBT, groups to convey this to them.
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was originally brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, who described it at the time as "a watershed in the development of family law”. The advent of DAHR arrangements has led to the birth of children who need legal certainty in their parentage and guardians. We have a responsibility to put in place a legislative framework that can provide that certainty. In addition to clarifying the legal parentage for donor-conceived children, the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 will also help to vindicate the rights of such donor-conceived children to information on their genetic heritage through the establishment of the national donor-conceived person register and the prohibition of anonymous gamete and embryo donation.
The national donor-conceived person register will house the details of the relevant donor, the intending parents and the child or children born as a result of a given DAHR procedure in Ireland. The introduction of this register acknowledges that many donor-conceived children will be curious as to their genetic origins and provides an important and safe mechanism through which they can access the information relating to the relevant donor, such as his or her name, date of birth and contact details, should they so wish. Similarly, donor-conceived children will also be able to seek and obtain information relating to other children born as a result of other DAHR procedures involving the same donor.
Another important aspect of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, and one that has been the subject of some confusion in recent weeks, is the provisions regarding retrospective declarations of parentage. These provisions enable parents of donor-conceived children, who have been born prior to the commencement of Part 2 of the original Act, to seek a declaration of parentage through the courts. The commencement of these retrospective provisions has been the subject of extensive interest and discussion, both in media discourse and at a political and parliamentary level. I am very aware that the implementation of these provisions is particularly eagerly anticipated by the LGBT community. However, the Children and Family Relationships Act is not a panacea and does not regulate all aspects of assisted human reproduction. Much of the focus has related to matters that the Children and Family Relationships Act does not actually encompass. This Act specifically relates to DAHR procedures where the intending mother is also the birth mother. It is a really important point and I have had conversations with many Deputies and Senators, as well as members of the LGBT community, about this. There is much more we need to do in this area but it is not my intention to reopen the debate on the Act. We are fixing the error and seeking to commence the Act in full, providing the legal certainty that was intended by the Oireachtas. A very important discussion must take place at the health committee in the first instance on the assisted human reproduction Bill, and we can make very significant inroads into a number of these important matters.
It is very important to emphasise that the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 does not encompass surrogacy. Provisions relating to the regulation of surrogacy in Ireland are included in the general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017, to which I have referred. The latter Bill, which officials in my Department are currently drafting in conjunction with the Attorney General, will provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for assisted human reproduction, of which DAHR procedures is just a small part.
The general scheme is published on my Department website. The Joint Committee on Health review of the general scheme as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process is still ongoing.
In my discussions with LGBT+ groups in recent days and weeks there has been an eagerness to contribute to the process of pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme. I hope that the joint committee can facilitate as much work as quickly as possible in that regard. We would certainly welcome the input of those groups in the report of the committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny as we continue the development of the Bill.
It is important to emphasise that this amending Bill does not change any of the substantive provisions or policy intention of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act. We are fixing typographical errors to give effect to the provisions and policy intention debated and passed by these Houses. As I stated from the outset, the sole purpose of this Bill is to remedy a number of technical drafting issues with the original Act. This will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act.
I will go through the Bill to outline the content of each section. Section 1 provides that the definition of the principal Act to be amended is the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.
Section 2 amends section 4(a)(ii) of the principal Act relating to the definition of "donor" by the substitution of "section 26(5)" for "section 26(6)". Section 26(5) of the Act of 2015 refers to gametes that are subject to a transition period of three years, during which those acquired on an anonymous basis prior to the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act may be used in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure in the State subject to certain conditions. In the Act of 2015 as enacted, section 4(a)(ii) relating to the definition of "donor" refers to section 26(6) rather than section 26(5). This amendment simply resolves the matter.
Section 3 amends section 14 of the principal Act to provide for the Minister for Health to make regulations under that section.
Section 4 amends section 16 of the principal Act to provide for the Minister for Health to make regulations under that section.
Section 5 sets out the citation and commencement provisions for the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The technology of assisted human reproduction has created a new reality. Irish law must adapt to reflect these changes. The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 brought much needed clarity in this area. Further delays to commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act will impact the rights of the most vulnerable individuals in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure - the children. That is why we are all so eager to rectify this area. It will enable us to commence these provisions in the autumn and have declarations of parentage established. That will allow the families affected to be recognised as we all intended when we voted for issues like marriage equality and passed legislation to give effect to the new reality of a more inclusive and tolerant Ireland.
There is far more work to be done on other important issues, including issues relating to surrogacy. I hope the Oireachtas seriously gets on with that business. Certainly, I will be committed in that regard in the autumn session and beyond with this assisted human reproduction legislation. Again, I refer people to the general scheme on my Department's website and the pre-legislative scrutiny currently under way in the Joint Committee on Health.
I commend the Bill to the House. I hope we can speedily resolve the technical issues that the Bill seeks to address and facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3. I have no doubt we all agree these provisions are eagerly awaited and long overdue. I thank Members of all parties and groupings for their co-operation in the speedy introduction of this stand-alone Bill.