Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 1:

1. In page 3, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

“5. The Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 23:

“23A. Within six months of the coming into operation of the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Act 2018, the Minister and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall have conducted a review of the following areas:

(a) the parental rights of same-sex couples in cases of surrogacy;

(b) the position of spouses, cohabitants and civil partners of those availing of a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure outside of the State or otherwise outside the remit of this Act; and

(c) the retrospective issuing of birth certificates and other documents to record both same-sex parents;

and lay a report on the review before both Houses of the Oireachtas.”

I know the amendment has been mentioned, but I wish to clarify it and respond to what the Minister said. We are proposing inserting a section into the principal Act to make it absolutely bona fide nailed down that within six months there has to be action on this. We are proposing a report because that is the mechanism by which we can table an amendment to ensure it is acted upon tonight. I do not see any contradiction between what the Minister has promised and us agreeing to the amendment.

We have failed people already; we all have to take responsibility for not seeing the drafting error. We are ensuring that while this cannot be dealt with by tomorrow, it will be dealt with as soon as the Dáil returns. If the Minister comes back with legislation to deal with all these issues, that is fine. We will not need a report but we will have done all we can to give people assurance that the Dáil is taking this seriously. I urge people to support the amendment. It does not create unnecessary work for the Minister if he comes back and deals with the issues.

We are proposing that within six months the Ministers for Health and Employment Affairs and Social Protection shall have conducted a review dealing with the issues that were left out of the principal Act. The first issue is the parental rights of same-sex couples in cases of surrogacy, which are not dealt with in the principal Act.

The second issue is the position of spouses, cohabitants and civil partners of those availing of donor-assisted human reproduction outside of the State or otherwise outside the remit of the Act. While, of course, that is outside the State, the children are inside the State. It does not matter how they got here; they are children who need to have their rights asserted. I have huge question marks over surrogacy. It is a profit-making enterprise that exploits women in poor countries in many cases. These are often women of colour. I have huge issues with it. The point is that when children are born and brought back to this country, they have to be dealt with.

The third issue is the retrospective issuing of birth certificates and other documents to record both same-sex parents to allow them to go back.

In the spirit of saying that he is trying to get agreement, the Minister would give people succour and comfort by accepting the amendment rather than saying he will oppose it because he is dealing with it in another way. We have all been in these positions. If we took the Minister's line of argument and withdrew the amendment, he might not come back with the legislation; that is the point. It could be for many reasons such as him being busy or whatever else.

I wanted to make clear why this is necessary. LGBT+ people were hugely validated and affirmed by the majority of people in the marriage equality referendum. It has been shocking that we have not dealt adequately with the practicalities of their lives and made them fully equal families and people in society. We want to be seen to be including LGBT+ people and their families- their children - in every possible way. The delays that people have had to endure for the past three years are not acceptable. This is about children's rights and no matter who their parents are or how they came into the world they should have the same rights as anybody else. I have mentioned some of the key problems of inheritance, citizenship, leaving the country, getting passports and also parents not feeling that they, themselves, are registered and recognised as the parents of these children.

The Minister knows we are doing this because we have been inundated with requests about it. This might seem like a minor issue, but there are many families in these positions and they have contacted all of us. It would be wrong to leave here tonight and withdraw an amendment because we accept an assurance. We should vote for the amendment and hope it is dealt with.

If, when the original Act was passed, we had included the need for a report within six months of commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, we would be in a different situation now because presumably the issue would have been spotted six months in rather than three years in and it could have been rectified rather than the delay that we have. That is the purpose of inserting these kinds of report mechanisms into legislation.

The issue dealt with in subsection (b) of the amendment is probably the most substantive of the points in the report. We understand the situation with subsection (a): it is an attempt to put political pressure on the Government, the Civil Service, the committees, etc., to progress the assisted human reproduction Bill. It is not fair to characterise it as attempting to legislate for things that happen outside the State. As Deputy Coppinger said, it is a question of how we treat children who come into this world as a consequence of activities outside the State. We have the power to legislate for that as opposed to clinics in other countries.

Subsection (b) refers to procedures "outside the State or otherwise outside the remit of the Act". In particular that deals with the issue of home inseminations which is not dealt with by the original legislation at all. It is a huge area where for reasons of cost and so on many people have home inseminations and are not catered for. While inserting this does not resolve it, it means that in six months we will get a report on what is being done to resolve it. If it has not been resolved in six months, it will create a pressure for the Government. Therefore, it will focus minds on the need to deal with this.

The amendment is well intentioned and I share the proposers' view that the delay of three years has been unacceptable. Some of it was reasonable because the infrastructure needed to be put in place. The legislation made some significant changes. I share the frustration over how long this has taken and I acknowledge that it is not all-encompassing - Parts 1 and 2. I also share the desire to keep the Government under pressure because there have been too many delays.

My concern with the amendment is that essentially we would insert into legislation a call on the Government to report on different legislation that does not exist yet. That does not seem to be helpful. We have all been contacted by people who have been trying to figure out what the two separate Bills do. There are Parts 1 and 2 of the Child and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill, which will be commenced after tonight because I think everyone is supporting it.

There is also what we are dealing with in the Joint Committee on Health, which is the assisted human reproduction Bill. Only today did we sign off on our pre-legislative scrutiny report which will come back to the House for consideration. I am concerned that the reason there is confusion and, therefore, the reason there is a lot of understandable anxiety among people affected by these two Bills is that they are very close.

This Bill deals with cases where the intending mother gives birth. Therefore it works for straight couples, lesbian couples and a woman on her own. It does not work for surrogacy or for a man on his own or for two gay men.

That is not a clear and it is confusing. I fully accept the amendment is not meant to cause any confusion but my concern is it will because it would legislatively link the two Bills and they are separate.

I have a second concern which is a small team of officials is dealing with all of this. We are dealing with it at the health committee but the committee's schedule is full. There are a lot of things going on in health. The first meeting of the health committee next term will be on the eighth amendment and our second meeting will be on the implementation of Sláintecare and so forth. There are many different issues. Seeking a report will take up time and could conceivably slow down the passage of the next Bill which we are all behind. We all want to see as much as possible. I fully support the intent of the amendment. It is not trying to confuse but it could slow things down. Linking the Act with a Bill on which we are still at heads of Bill stage will lead to further confusion. It is up to the proposers of the amendment to do what they want. What we all want is to keep up the pressure. If the Minister were to consider committing to the House this evening that in the next six months rather than us giving a report which will be filed and on which there might not be any debate, he could give some Dáil time to discuss this issue again. We could go back and forth with him. The pressure would be maintained with the added benefit that we could all stand up and have a go if it was not being addressed. We can do the same in committee. A report will come and go. I wanted to put that suggestion forward.

If the amendment is pressed, Fianna Fáil will abstain for those reasons. I fully support what the amendment is trying to do but it will add to the confusion and slow everything down, which none of us wants. It is up to the Minister. Will he consider committing to Dáil time in which we could do a question and answer session to make sure progress is being made because it has not been made quickly enough?

I share the concerns expressed. I have also been contacted by families impacted by this. I have had my own experience of getting recognition for my own small family unit. Deputy Donnelly has made a helpful suggestion. This is in no way meant personally towards any person sitting here but the intention is to keep pressure on for a group of people who feel they have been left behind. We do not want to do anything that will delay the progress of the assisted human reproduction legislation because it is also extremely important. We also need to hear if that commitment is forthcoming, how it will work and whether we can schedule it. Obviously we cannot schedule it at this stage. It is a matter for the Business Committee as all these matters are.

We are in receipt of a large number of representations from people who, for all sorts of reasons to do with drafting and human error, are affected. We know all of those reasons and we are not pointing any fingers because we have all managed human error in our time. There has to be something that will give something to the people out there who are not encompassed by this legislation. I appreciate there is a huge amount of confusion on this. I want to get on with the business of processing the assisted human reproduction legislation because it will address much of this. We are also dealing with people who have waited three years and they are not convinced if this is let slide that we will see the sort of progress we need. Sinn Féin wants to hear what the Minister has to say and we will make our decision on that basis.

I remind all in the House there are 15 and a half minutes left for the Committee Stage debate. I ask the Minister to respond.

I thank Deputy Donnelly for his reasonable suggestion which I would be pleased to accept. It can achieve what my colleagues opposite want to achieve which is that I will come into the House within six months and have questions and answers and statements on how we are progressing with the assisted human reproduction Bill. I am pleased the committee signed off on a report today and I look forward to it being debated in the House. I am more than happy and I give a commitment, which will be recorded in the Official Report and will be facilitated by the Government in terms of our engagement with the Business Committee, that within six months I will come to the House and at the very least will be in a position to give a detailed update on how the assisted human reproduction Bill is progressing. I will then answer questions on the issues in so far as it is possible to answer some of the questions that have been outlined by the Deputies. I take the point, and I share the view, that there are an awful lot of people watching this debate at home tonight who are not provided for in the Children and Family Relationships Act. It was reforming legislation backed by, as far as I remember, almost all Members of the Oireachtas. It was an important step forward. What we are trying to do tonight is get that done and be able to let those families move on with their lives and with what the people wanted to happen in terms of recognition of their families. It focuses the Oireachtas and the Department on the assisted human reproduction Bill. I would be happy to come back into the House to keep the pressure on me on this issue and to take questions and answers and statements in whichever way the Business Committee wishes to design it.

In view of the Minister's assurances, will Deputy Coppinger-----

Can I speak for a minute on it to sum up the amendment and address the points that have been made?

A report does not have to be the same length as "War and Peace". It can be a page saying the issue is being dealt with. I do not buy the idea of confusion. We do not have a facility to write in an amendment saying a law will be brought forward. This is the way we are doing it. A report could be brought forward saying the issues are being addressed in impending legislation next month. Fianna Fáil will abstain on the amendment but I am not sure whether it would be passed on that basis. The Minister cannot give a commitment about Dáil time.

I can give a commitment on behalf of the Government that we can support the provision of Dáil time. Presumably the Opposition will also support it and therefore it would be unanimous.

Can the Minister give a timeframe for that?

Within six months in line with the amendment.

Okay. The key issue is the Parliament has made an error. As my colleague, Deputy Murphy, said, if things like this had been put in it might have been spotted earlier. There are reason we use these devices to put them in. I do not get the idea that it will add work for civil servants if the legislation is being drafted. People would be happy about it. If the Minister is willing to assure us he will make this an absolute priority when the Dáil reconvenes in September or October, because there are lives at stake in the sense that people's daily lives are being impacted in terms of passports, citizenship and not being able to travel or deal with many legal and practical issues, we may be willing to consider withdrawing the amendment.

I thank Deputy Coppinger for the constructive way in which she is engaging on this. I will commit to meeting the Opposition spokespeople in September on this to update them on where we are at on it. At that stage I will have had further engagement in early September with stakeholders on some of the broader issues we have discussed. We can agree as a collective on when would be a useful time to have the questions and answers and statements on this issue. I would be happy to have it soon but it is important we have it when we have something to report to people. That is why I thought the Deputy's suggestion of six months was reasonable.

Within six months.

Exactly. I will happily meet the Opposition spokespeople the first week the Dáil is back in September to agree a timeline to put to the Business Committee.

How stands the amendment? I take it the Deputy is withdrawing it.

We agree to withdraw it on that basis.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 5 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.