Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

International Protection

Nadim Hussain is a 34-year-old man from India. He is from a Muslim background. In 2018, both of his parents were killed in anti-Muslim violence. Nadim came to Ireland. He currently lives in Cork city, at the Kinsale Road direct provision centre. Nadim worked all the way through the pandemic. He worked in a hospital as a security worker. He paid his taxes. Last month, Nadim received a letter from the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, which affirmed a recommendation of the international protection officer, which stated that he should be refused a declaration as a refugee along with subsidiary protection status. Nadim had provided certificates from his family's doctor concerning the death of his parents, along with a multiplicity of other documentation. Part of the problem is that Nadim has been unable to provide written documentation from the police outlining the details of the death of his parents. Anyone familiar with the question of anti-Muslim violence in India these days and the role of the state under the Modi Government will not be surprised by this. They would not expect someone to get certificates of that kind from the police. Someone knowledgeable about the situation would say that Nadim is being asked to clear an impossible hurdle. The appeal to remain is on the grounds that his life would be in danger were he to be deported back to India. He commenced a hunger strike last Thursday, taking liquids but refusing food. Tonight is the sixth night of his hunger strike.

As the Minister of State knows, physical and mental impairment can begin within two to three days of the commencement of a hunger strike. Nadim's GP has already expressed his concerns in this regard, particularly relating to his kidneys, even over the next couple of days. Despite this, there would be no justification for force-feeding this man, but he claims that energy drinks were force-fed to him by centre staff yesterday. A solution to this situation must be found on the basis of agreement. Is the Minister of State willing to talk to this man or to have a senior official from his Department do so? I would suggest that this should happen in the morning.

While I am on my feet, I also raise the case of the tiler, Raminder Singh. Raminder also lives in Cork. He is a Sikh from Punjab. His family has also been the victim of sectarian violence. He has a wife, Harinder Kaur, a daughter, Sandeep, aged 22, and two sons, Gursewak and Gurcharan, aged 20 and 18 respectively. Sandeep is studying to be a beautician and wants to start her own business. Gurcharan plays cricket for Cork County Cricket Club, and aspires to play for Ireland. Gursewak is a talented member of the Citadel music group. Like Nadim, they too are in danger of deportation back to India. The Singh family are well known in Cork. They made fantastic colourful masks during the pandemic, and distributed them on the main street, St. Patrick's Street, free of charge. A petition supporting their right to remain has been signed by more than 3,000 people so far.

I want to make some points about the direct provision system. I will do that in my supplementary question. My main question for the Minister of State is for a comment on this case and a request that he or a senior official from his Department would contact this man in the morning.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. As the Deputy is aware, I cannot comment on any individual cases. However, I can assure the Deputy that each application for international protection is examined in detail on its individual merits, taking all factors into account. The permission to remain process includes a full consideration of their private and family rights in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights as well as consideration of their work situation, among other issues. My objective is to have decisions made on international protection applications and permission to remain considerations as soon as possible. This ensures that those who are found to be in need of our protection can receive it quickly and begin rebuilding their lives here with a sense of safety and security. For those found not to be in need of international protection, a full consideration of all aspects of their case under the process I have outlined is considered before any deportation order is made.

I can also assure the Deputy that a negative decision on an appeal by the independent International Protection Appeals Tribunal is not the final stage in the international protection process. In these circumstances, an applicant will have their permission to remain consideration reviewed by the International Protection Office. This represents a fifth opportunity for the applicant to put forward his or her case to be allowed to remain in the State, having already been considered for a grant of refugee status, subsidiary protection, permission to remain and the appeal to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal. All appellants who come before the independent tribunal have their appeals assessed on an individual, objective and impartial basis. This is based on precise and up-to-date information from various sources, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about the general situation prevailing in the country of origin of the appellant concerned, including such information contained in submissions made by them or on their behalf.

I assure the Deputy that the principle of non-refoulement applies to decisions made on international protection applications. Under international human rights law, the principle of non-refoulement guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where he or she would face torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.

I want to restate the basic point that this man is on the sixth day of a hunger strike. Tomorrow is day seven of this hunger strike. The man's GP has expressed some serious concerns about the effect of this on him, particularly on his kidneys. He is not talking in terms of weeks but about the next number of days. I have requested that the Minister of State would contact the man directly or have a senior official in his Department do so. The Minister of State has not replied to that question and I ask that he do so. There are nearly 7,000 people in the direct provision system and more than 8,000 asylum seekers in the country as a whole. Many of them, like Nadim and Raminder, face the threat of violence or even death if they return to where they came from. Many, like these two men, worked and contributed to our society during the pandemic. I understand that the Minister of State's Department is currently preparing an amnesty scheme for undocumented workers. I welcome this, even though I fear that it may not go far enough.

I stand for the abolition of the direct provision system. The Minister of State is proposing no significant change in this system for a number of years. That is not acceptable. I put it to the Minister of State that, alongside the changes for undocumented workers, he needs to introduce a package for asylum seekers this side of Christmas. This is an urgent issue. There is significant frustration in these centres. The Government has, in a backhanded way, admitted that the system is not fair.

It is in the programme for Government that the system will be abolished before the Government's term ends. That is an admission that the system is not fair and has to change. The issue is there are hundreds and thousands of asylum seekers who are not prepared to wait for that. The frustration is shown in this instance and the Government must address it. Again the question to the Minister of State is: Are you prepared to act on this case? It is six days into a hunger strike. Tomorrow is day seven and the health issues are mounting up.

As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for direct provision centres falls to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, and not the Department of Justice.

I repeat what I said in the opening, which is that I cannot comment on individual cases. A negative decision on an appeal by the independent International Protection Appeals Tribunal is not the final stage in the international protection process. In these circumstances, an applicant will have their permission to remain consideration reviewed by the International Protection Office. This represents a fifth opportunity for the applicant to put forward their case to be allowed to remain in the State, having already been considered for a grant of refugee status, subsidiary protection, permission to remain and the appeal to the IPAT. A full consideration of all aspects of their case is carried out before a decision is made to grant permission to remain in the State or to make a deportation order. This includes a full consideration of their private and family rights in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as consideration of other relevant issues.

Fishing Industry

Earlier this year, representatives of the fishing sector from across Ireland sailed to the ports of Cork and Dublin and called for fair quotas. They called for protection of the future of the industry and sector. Among those fishers were many from non-EU countries. Together with their fellow crew members and friends, they called for fairer quotas and the protection of the future of the fishing industry. I was there. I heard the speeches, met the non-EU fishers and talked to them and they called together in one voice for the end of the atypical scheme that has not served them well. They called for this because the scheme is flawed. It is not working.

I ask the Minister of State to immediately enact the process to end the atypical scheme and replace it with a scheme that works, protects non-EU workers and removes the constant fear of deportation in which they live. It is so they do not have to go through the bureaucratic, arduous process of reapplying year after year to get back into the atypical scheme or back into contracts and have the same rights as their fellow crew members and friends, with whom they are shoulder to shoulder and side by side on these boats doing quite dangerous, hard work. Will the Minister of State please listen to the calls of the fishing sector and the non-EU fishers in the industry, who we need because fishing has been seen time and time again as a less viable way of earning an income? They need to have a scheme that works for them, protects them and serves them. I ask the Minister of State to begin that process straight away. I thank the Minister of State.

I thank the Deputy for raising the important matter of the atypical working scheme. I know the fishing industry and community is hugely important to the Deputy and he has raised this matter with me on a number of occasions. I have always been struck by his compassion for the industry, the fishermen, the employees and the communities.

As a result of the Deputy and other Deputies raising this important issue, I have had discussions with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. The Deputy will be aware that in 2015 the Government established an interdepartmental task force with the objective of formulating a co-ordinated and effective cross-government response to the issues raised on the employment of undocumented non-EEA crew members in the Irish fishing fleet. It was highlighted at the time by The Guardian.

The culmination of the work was the development of a new sector-specific scheme that involved putting in place detailed contracts between the vessel owners and non-EEA nationals with a series of built-in protections and obligations. This was the atypical working scheme which, at the time, was welcomed as an immediate solution to the risk of exploitation and to guarantee employment rights and protections to non-EEA fishers availing of the scheme while ensuring fisher employers were able to recruit staff. It set down minimum terms and conditions of employment applicable to non-EEA fishers which are in line with the general statutory terms and conditions of workers more generally in the State.

Permission holders under the scheme can make a request to change to a different employer licensed under the scheme at any time during their permission. They do not need to leave the State in order to do this. The scheme requires that the new crew member be provided with a copy of their contract of employment in both English and in their native language by their employer. However, the scheme is now more than five years old. It was brought in as a response to issues highlighted at the time but a review is timely.

As I said, I have recently discussed the matter with my colleagues, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, and we have agreed to carry out a review of the scheme. Officials from the three Departments met last week. They are working closely together and will meet again soon to carry the review work forward, agree the terms of the review and look at important issues around the effectiveness of the existing scheme, whether the enforcement is working, whether the scheme has run its course and whether the sector should move to a permit scheme, similar to other sectors.

I thank the Minister of State. It is good news that the Minister of State has met the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and they agreed to review the scheme. I welcome that the Minister of State mentioned the possibility of a permit scheme. That is exactly the type of scheme non-EU workers are looking for, a scheme that would allow them to enter contracts for three years and allow flexibility as opposed to the current rigid, inflexible system. That is welcome news and I thank the Minister of State for the work he has done on that.

I urge the Minister of State to consult. Regarding whatever the terms of a new scheme might look like or what a permit might look like, I urge him to consult with the boat owners, the sector, the Irish and EU crew who work shoulder to shoulder and side by side with the non-EU crew and, most important, consult with the non-EU crew members who contribute so much to the sector, the regions and the coastal towns they live and work in. They need to be consulted in order to get this right. Please do not let language or anything like that be a barrier. In my experience, they want to engage and have their opinions and thoughts heard. I urge the Minister of State to ensure there is consultation in bringing this new scheme together.

I again thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this matter on the atypical scheme. I am pleased to confirm that a review of the scheme is being put in place. Coming from a fishing county myself, Wexford, I know how hard and dangerous the fishing sector is for skippers and their employees. The fishing sector is under huge pressure at the moment. I felt that this is something on which the Minister of State, Deputy English, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and I could work together quickly and in consultation with the boat owners, skippers, crews and non-EEA employees who are most affected. Most skippers and those involved in the fishing industry want to ensure that the human rights of all employees are protected. A few rogue employers should not be allowed to run down the entire industry and the fishing community.

We are determined to ensure that the review is done in a timely fashion and in consultation, and that we will look at all of the concerns that are raised on the atypical scheme. The scheme was welcomed on its introduction five years ago because it was necessary to move quickly but after five years it is time to have a full review of how effectively it is working.

Insurance Industry

I thank the Minister of State with responsibility for insurance, Deputy Fleming, for taking the debate.

An ice rink operator in Limerick city, Fran O'Donnell, has gone public. He was on Newstalk earlier today. He has run an ice rink in Limerick for the past 15 years, claim-free, yet he cannot get insurance cover. That is the case with all ice rinks, which are a traditional feature of Christmas time up and down the country. Equally, other areas of the leisure sector cannot get cover. This situation arose for a number of reasons. It emerged following Covid that the mainstream insurance companies in Ireland are not covering many aspects of the leisure industry. In many cases, the sector was being covered by insurance companies operating from within the EU with passporting rights, and some from the UK. Brexit has been a factor also.

I understand there are applications before the Central Bank from insurance providers from Europe and the UK that would provide cover in the leisure sector, but the applications are taking a serious amount of time. I spoke to some insurance providers in Ireland who are seeking to become registered to provide insurance. They are going to other countries such as Malta where they are processed more quickly, and they can operate in Ireland with passporting rights. I would like companies operating in the insurance market in Ireland to be regulated here. It gives comfort both to the individuals being insured and the entire sector.

I urge the Minister of State to take up the matter with the Central Bank to see what the status of the applications are for these companies. Following the pandemic, we now need to carry out a proper review of the insurance cover that is being provided. There is an onus on the main insurance companies in Ireland to provide insurance across all sectors, not just specific sectors, which is the case currently.

The Minister of State is probably aware that the Alliance for Insurance Reform published a survey today and I wish to refer to a number of its features. First, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, announced a 40% reduction in the average personal injury award. Second, we must set up a register in the Central Bank or even in the Department. When the insurance companies were before the finance committee three years ago, the main companies gave me a personal commitment that any reduction in claims and legal fees would be passed on pro rata in insurance premiums. That must be tracked on a daily basis. That is something we must see happen.

Will the Minister of State contact the Central Bank about companies that are seeking to operate in Ireland to provide insurance cover? Will he examine why insurance cover is not being provided in the leisure industry? Will he contact the Central Bank on all those matters?

At the outset, I acknowledge the issues raised by Deputy O'Donnell regarding the difficulties being experienced by businesses in the leisure sector with respect to the availability of insurance cover. This industry plays a key role, not only from an economic perspective, but more importantly often serves to enrich the quality of life in communities across the country. Accordingly, I do not take the challenges that these companies and groups have experienced with regard to the obtainability and affordability of insurance lightly.

However, the Deputy will know there is no single policy or legislative initiative which the Government can take to persuade insurers to provide cover for a particular industry. Moreover, neither I nor the Minister for Finance can direct a company to do so. Notwithstanding this, we continue to prioritise insurance reform and this work is progressing right across Departments on the timely implementation of all the actions outlined in the Action Plan for Insurance Reform. As the Deputy knows, the first action plan implementation report was published in July, and 34 of the 66 actions contained therein are now completed.

As part of my intensive stakeholder engagement on the reform agenda, I have for my part met with many groups to discuss the difficulties in obtaining insurance. I am aware of the exit of a number of UK leisure insurers from the Irish market in recent years. Furthermore, I also understand that an unstable personal injuries environment was a large factor in those firms making the commercial decision to exit.

The new personal injuries guidelines were a key element of the action plan, which was delivered about six months ahead of schedule. When we came into government the legislation provided that the guidelines would be published by 31 October 2021, but we did it six months ahead of schedule, with the assistance of the Judiciary bringing forward its work. Early data published last week from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board shows, as the Deputy indicated, an average reduction of 40%. This is an encouraging development. It is my hope that this trend will continue and once bedded in will result in lower costs for businesses.

There should be a pound-for-pound reduction in the premiums based on the savings. However, it is important that people recognise that while personal injury claims is the single biggest cost affecting insurance companies, it is only one of the costs. What was covered by the guidelines was the smaller injuries, slips and trips and soft tissue injuries, which only represent a percentage of all personal injury costs. If there is a car accident, there are cars to be repaired and sometimes the personal injury is part of the overall cost of settling a claim. The very serious injuries that require lifelong treatment are not covered by the recent board because nobody would suggest that the costs of caring for a person in the long term should be reduced by the awards. While there are cost savings, our job is now to ensure that they are passed on to customers as quickly as possible. Once that trend gets established, we think it will be important.

The press release from the Alliance for Insurance Reform today acknowledged that there was a reduction of 10% in motor insurance renewal costs. It did say that some sectors have been very badly hit, despite the recent reform. That is especially in the area of high risk such as the leisure and entertainment area, and outdoor activities and pursuits.

The legislation dealing with occupiers' liability and the duty of care is being finalised and will be brought forward very soon. That is a key component and the industry wants to ensure that there is a fair spread of the risk associated with claims.

I thank the Minister of State. I note he indicated he will be meeting with the major insurance companies in the coming weeks, and I ask that this would take place with immediate effect. I also ask that he would communicate to the Central Bank that, if there are insurers from the UK, other EU jurisdictions or other European jurisdictions outside the EU, they would be fast-tracked in particular with regard to this area of cover.

I want to also make a further request. It is generally felt in the insurance market that matters will stabilise next year. We had Brexit and the pandemic and, as the Minister of State said, we also now have a trend where awards are coming down by 40%. I ask that the main insurance companies in Ireland would look to provide insurance cover, just as a once-off for this period and particularly over the Christmas period when there are family activities such as ice rinks, which are a tradition in all cities. Furthermore, we must ensure that the public insurance bodies, with the local authorities, would also look at this issue.

We are in a particular transition period where many of these insurers have left the market. We need to ensure that anyone who wants to come into the market is fast-tracked without any sort of delay in terms of the Central Bank approving their applications. Second, the Minister of State should ask the main insurance companies to step up to the plate in terms of a goodwill gesture to get over this period and to allow family activities like ice rinks, which are a tradition of Christmas, to proceed.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It is a very live issue, especially in the leisure sector, and he referenced the ice rinks as a particular area of difficulty. I will ensure the transcript of this debate is forwarded to those in the Central Bank tomorrow so they will be able to take on board the points he has made directly in the Chamber. While I cannot direct them as to what to do, I can certainly pass on the information and the content of this debate. They may not be sitting up watching the debate at this moment in time, but I will make sure they receive that information tomorrow.

I want to refer to recent developments that will help this sector move forward. Obviously, we know about the PIAB report in regard to the personal injury guidelines; we made perjury a statutory offence for the first time this year, which will help; and, the Central Bank published a final report on differential pricing. Today, the Cabinet approved a general scheme for an insurance (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, details of which I expect to be published tomorrow. That deals with the specific issue of price walking, whereby there was a loyalty penalty for people who had car insurance or home insurance for a long number of years. We will ensure that is no longer legally allowed from 2022 onwards. The reform of the duty of care legislation, the Occupiers Liability Act, is progressing very quickly and the enhancement of the enforcement powers of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is also being dealt with, together with bringing forward the general scheme of a Bill to reform PIAB. We are reducing insurance fraud through the Insurance Fraud Coordination Office and the Central Bank has issued its report on differential pricing. I am also meeting the Garda Commissioner in connection with the issue of uninsured motorists. That is all in the insurance area and dealing with those issues will improve the environment for people through extra competition into the future.

What about meeting the main insurers?

I am meeting every one of them individually in the next couple of weeks.

Legislative Measures

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for including this important issue in today's Topical Issue debate. This is pregnancy and infant loss remembrance month, a time to mark loss in pregnancy or soon after birth. This is an incredibly sensitive matter which represents tragedy and bereavement for thousands of families. Pregnancy loss in the form of miscarriage or stillbirth occurs in up to one quarter of all pregnancies. This loss can have a devastating impact on parents, other children and family members. It is vital that this particular form of grief and isolation is recognised and supported. Last Friday was the global wave of light when candles on monuments and buildings were lit in the colours pink and blue in memory of lost young lives. I know many families and communities across Ireland marked this day by remembering their own loss or showing solidarity with others.

Féileacáin, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland, is a volunteer-led organisation that supports families affected by perinatal loss. This year, it launched the Remember Our Names campaign, which is calling for an immediate amendment to section 8 of the Stillbirth Registration Act 1994 to make the stillbirth register public. Under the current Act, only parents can view the details of infants on the stillbirth register. This register was treated differently to others to protect the privacy of families involved. Reading over the Dáil discussion of this topic over 25 years ago, the motivation of the Minister and Deputies at the time was to recognise the intense personal nature of this matter. However, understanding of pregnancy and infant loss has developed since then, and the families directly affected are calling for a change.

Féileacáin’s Remember Our Names campaign highlights that a mandatory sealing of this register hides away the details of their lost infants. Officially, no one besides the parents could find out about them. Féileacáin is requesting that the 1994 Act be amended to allow families to opt out and to allow their babies' names on the public record. It is also rightly suggesting that any records for the period prior to any legislative change would remain private unless requested by bereaved parents.

This is an issue that families feel very strongly about, and I am sure the Minister of State has seen the very personal stories that some bereaved parents have shared as part of the campaign. One of these stories, Liliana’s story, describes the shock and pain of a stillbirth. Her parent details how it is not a tragic event but “a life-long process where you learn to live in a world that has shifted and you no longer know your place in it”. They go on to explain the impact of the mandatory privacy around the stillbirth registry. Again, I quote her parent, who said:

[Liliana’s] siblings, nieces and nephews have no right to know about her - future generations will not be able to include her in our family trees, despite the fact that she has had such a profound impact on her family. I felt it was an insult to her to hide her away like that.

There, they sum up the issue. They illustrate the additional pain that the current system forces on grieving families. The 1994 Act was passed in the best interests of parents and families and in response to the information available at the time. We now understand things differently. Will the Minister of State look into what can be done to amend the law to help families suffering pregnancy and infant loss?

I join with Deputy Cairns and other Deputies in reflecting on the enormous losses of parents as part of this month's marking of pregnancy and infant loss. I do not think anyone in this House will disagree when I say that a stillbirth must be one of the most traumatic events that parents can experience. My own experience of engaging with parents is that the loss can be overwhelming, long-lasting and, importantly, very difficult to reconcile.

When legislation to establish a stillbirth register was enacted over 25 years ago, this State was 30 years behind Northern Ireland and 40 years behind England and Wales in giving formal State recognition to a stillborn child. The Minister of the day, the late Mervyn Taylor, when introducing the Bill in 1994, outlined his approach to the long-awaited legislation. He explained that his approach was determined by two considerations. The first was to recognise the therapeutic effect that registration might deliver for grieving parents. The second was to create a permanent record akin to the register of births within the civil registration system. While acknowledging the points the Deputy has made in terms of how our understanding has come a long way since then, these two considerations remain as valid today as when the legislation was first enacted.

The recently published eighth report of the national clinical audit on perinatal mortality in Ireland, conducted by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre in Cork, provides essential insights into the incidence of stillbirths and perinatal deaths. The centre has the aim of identifying quality improvement initiatives and proposing recommendations for the improvement of care for mothers and babies in Ireland. All 19 Irish maternity units reported anonymised data to the centre. The report details that some 325 deaths occurred in 61,298 births occurring during 2018.

Stillbirths and early neonatal deaths accounted for 270 and 108, respectively, of those 325 deaths. In 2019, 360 deaths arising from 59,574 births were reported, of which stillbirths and early neonatal deaths accounted for 242 and 118, respectively, of the total.

The General Register Office, GRO, is notified of all births that occur. It reports similar data to those I have indicated, stating that between 300 and 350 families are affected each year by loss due to stillbirth and early neonatal deaths. The GRO also observes that due to the voluntary nature of the stillbirth registration process, approximately half of parents select to register the event, perhaps reflecting, in part, the huge loss suffered by parents and their wider family. I encourage parents to register their loss. The stillbirths register can provide a tangible record and acknowledgement of stillborn children. As well as serving as a focus for the memories of bereaved parents, it also has the strength of providing familial linkages for future generations, but only if the records can be accessed.

In her contribution to this debate, Deputy Cairns has conveyed the proposals advanced by advocacy groups that seek legislative change to open the stillbirths register to public access in a way that is similar to the birth, marriage and death registers. The Civil Registration Act 2004 provides that no person other than the Registrar General or a member of staff of the GRO is authorised to search the stillbirths register. The GRO provides whatever assistance it can to enable searches. There are restrictions on providing copies of the information held in the form of a certificate to anyone other than a parent. My colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, has indicated that she is willing to reassess these restrictions as they are set out in the Act. Given the sensitivities involved, she has stated that we may not go as far as providing full public access, as in the case of the birth register, but that other, less limiting, forms of access may be considered. We should recognise, too, the parents who, for their own reasons, choose not to register.

This discussion is timely given that we are in the month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I welcome the Minister's commitment to open a dialogue on how we can better manage the system of registration. She has asked the GRO to examine the policy and legislative implications involved in making the stillbirths register more open and whether it should be fully open, as with other public registers, as proposed.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. For the families involved in this campaign, public registration is a means of recognising their children. It is a relatively minor change in legislative terms but one that can have a major impact. The Minister of State indicated that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will look at the matter with a view to change, but perhaps not to the extent I am proposing. It is important to highlight that Féileacáin wants to give parents options for how they register their child, rather than there being a blanket approach. I ask that the Minister consider this suggestion. I implore her to begin the process of changing the law and giving families a system that better reflects their needs. It would be great if the Department would liaise with the voluntary organisations on the move to a changed system.

Given the Minister of State's portfolio, I want to raise a related matter that needs some consideration. Under social protection regulations, mothers of stillborn infants, that is, infants born after 24 weeks of pregnancy, are entitled to maternity leave and maternity benefit. However, those who suffer miscarriage or loss at under 24 weeks of pregnancy are not entitled to anything. This means that two families in similar circumstances may be treated very differently, depending on whether tragedy befell them a few days before or after the 24-week mark. While I understand that regulations sometimes requires a framework such as a sharp divide, the divide, in this instance, does not reflect the reality of pregnancy and infant loss. I urge the Minister of State to look at how this matter can be addressed.

The UK Department of Heath and Social Care committed recently to a strategy of halving the rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in England by 2025. Will the Minister of State ask his counterpart in the Department of Health to follow that example or look into what exactly is being done in the UK to achieve its target?

It is important to recognise the work of groups such as Féileacáin and the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, which do incredible work supporting families, as well as the Pregnancy Loss Research Group and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre in UCC, which provide vital research in this area.

I welcome the short debate on this important matter, which has afforded the House the opportunity to mark the month in which Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day occurs. We know that 300 to 350 families are affected by stillbirths annually. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is also conscious of those parents who register stillbirths on the understanding that the records will not be open to public access. Some formulation should be found to accommodate their needs and wishes.

As I said, the Minister of the day set two aims for the relevant legislation when it was introduced in 1994. The first was to recognise the therapeutic effect that registration might deliver for grieving parents. The second was to create a permanent record akin to the register of births within the civil registration system. The challenge is to ensure these two aims are being addressed in the current manner in which registrations are completed and records accessed. As the legislation stands, access is very restrictive and somewhat out of line with the access allowed for other forms of registration where sensitivities are also engaged. The Minister is committed to engaging with parents and interested parties to see whether a better formulation can be found to address their concerns while also aligning the operation of the stillbirth register with other registers maintained by the GRO. I will take the points the Deputy made about access to maternity leave and benefit to the Minister. I thank her for the opportunity to address this topic.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.36 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 October 2021.