The object of this Bill is to make the father of an illegitimate child responsible for the maintenance of that child. As the law exists at present the father of an illegitimate child can be made liable in two forms of action. One is what is called an action for seduction. That does not lie at the suit of the mother herself; it lies at the suit of her parents if she resides with them-or with her employer if she is working. If she is not residing with her parents or if she is not in the service of an employer no action lies. At the same time, unless she was living with her parents at the time of the seduction and at the time of the birth of the child, equally no action lies, and if in addition she is in employment only nominal damage can be recovered from the father at the suit of the employer. The Seanad will see, therefore, that the action for seduction is not one of universal application. There is another form of action which is also limited in its scope, that is to say, when an illegitimate child is being maintained at the expense of the rates the body maintaining it can maintain an action against the father for the maintenance of such child in the workhouse. In that case, the evidence of the mother has to be given and that evidence has to be corroborated. But the Seanad will see in that case likewise, that the remedy has not a wide application, being confined only to cases where the child is in the workhouse.
This Bill proposes to make, as far as possible, in every instance where it can be fairly done, the father of the illegitimate child responsible for its maintenance. The procedure is that the mother goes before a magistrate, makes an information against whoever she charges as the father of the child, whereupon a summons is issued and the case heard. If her story be believed, and the defendant be found to be the father by the Court, he becomes, if the child is dead, liable for burial expenses; if the child be not dead he is liable for maintenance under the provisions of this Bill at a rate not exceeding £1 a week, up to the time the child reaches the age of 16. If the child dies in the meantime he is also liable for the burial expenses. If the child is mentally or bodily deficient after reaching the age of 16 the liability for maintenance still continues. There is also provision by which the Court can order that the father of the child should pay an apprenticeship fee not exceeding £50 in order to have the child apprenticed to some trade.
Of course, the sums which I have mentioned are maximum sums, and it does not follow that in every case a court would award a maximum sum. It would depend very largely on the financial circumstances of the putative father. There are also provisions by which this annual payment may be commuted into a lump sum at the discretion of the District Justice. Payments are made in the discretion of the District Justice either to the mother, or, where relief is given, to the body giving the relief; it may be made to the person in whose custody the child actually is, or it may be made if the Justice thinks it wise—and in a great number of cases, no doubt, he will think it wise—to the Clerk of the District Court in which he resides, or, if it would be more useful, in his judgment, it may be made payable to the clerk of some other District Court. A voluntary agreement may be entered into between the father and the mother for the support of the child, but this voluntary arrangement must receive the sanction of the court. If the putative father changes his address he must give notice of the change to the person to whom the sum for the maintenance of the child is payable. There is another provision that, if he does not pay, his income or pension, if he enjoys a pension, may be attached by the court, and in that manner he may be compelled to discharge his liability. The Bill does not take away the liability of the mother to support her child. If she is in a position to support the child her existing obligations to the child are not destroyed. If the father has no means of paying, the liability of the mother still continues. These are briefly the provisions of the Bill. I submit to the House, as a wise provision, that which provides that the evidence of the mother must receive corroboration. That is the existing law, as far as actions brought by public bodies giving relief in such cases are concerned, and I think it is a wise provision. Of course, there is great danger that a Bill of this nature might be used for the purposes of blackmail. That is a very real danger which we must safeguard the community against. There is another provision to which I would like to draw the attention of the Seanad. That is contained in Section 3 (5), which reads:—
All applications to the District Court and all cases under this Act shall be heard in camera and publication of such cases shall be limited to the statement of the fact that an affliation order has been granted in a particular court against a person whose name and address shall be included.
That is a provision which was not contained in the original Bill as I introduced it in the Dáil and it is a provision which I personally do not like. I do not like this idea of hearing cases in camera. I think it is thoroughly unsound. It is liable to a great number of abuses and I might say for the information of the Seanad that an order was made in England some time ago that all charges of incest should be heard in camera. After a few years' experience that was changed and these cases are now heard like other cases in open court. My own view is that it would be well that cases under this Bill should be heard in open court. I know that the suggestion has been put forward that girls might not go into court if their cases were heard in public. That is a view I cannot share. I do not believe that one girl would be kept out of court if such cases were heard, at any rate, in the presence of representatives of the Press. While I say I am opposed to the principle of hearing cases in camera I am still more opposed to this particular section which seems to me to be grossly unfair to the man charged. It says that the fact that an affiliation order has been granted against him may be published, but it is very particular to state that if an innocent man is charged, and if he proves his innocence before the Court and leaves the Court completely free from stain, then the newspapers cannot publish the fact that his reputation has been cleared. That appears to me to be grossly unjust. A charge is brought against an individual; he fights it out and establishes his innocence. I think he has a right to have his innocence known to his neighbours. The fact that he has re-established his reputation is a thing that his neighbours ought to know, and therefore I think that certainly Press representatives should be present at these cases, and be able, of course within the limits of the Censorship of Publications Act, to report them in the interests of justice and in the interests of fair play. That however is more of a Committee point than a Second Reading point. I think I have briefly put before the Seanad the main provisions of this Bill and I commend it to the House.