Age of Majority Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Anybody reading the first sentence in the explanatory memorandum which was circulated with this Bill could be forgiven for thinking that the report of the Law Reform Commission was being implemented in full in this Bill. However, on closer examination it transpires that only three of the recommendations contained in the report are being dealt with in the Bill. On the bottom of page 1 of the explanatory memorandum there is a statement in very small print which states:

The remaining recommendations in the Report (principally, those relating to the age for marriage and the requirement of parental or court consent for certain marriages and recommendations that certain ages should be changed for the purposes of adoption, income tax and social welfare laws) are being considered separately.

There is no indication of how long the consideration of these matters will take or what action, if any may be taken on them. Therefore, whereas a Bill along the lines of the draft Bill contained in the Law Reform Commission report would be quite a substantial legislative measure, there is very little by way of substance in the Bill before the House.

Paragraph 2, page 2 of the Law Reform Commission report states:

The Attorney General requested the Commission in December 1975 to undertake an examination of and conduct research into the law relating to majority and, if it is thought fit, to formulate proposals for its reform and submit them to him.

Paragraph 3 states:

As the research progressed it became obvious that the Commission could not limit itself to the simple question of whether or not an alteration should be made in the age of majority and that other related questions would fall to be examined.

Examples were then given of some of the related matters which the commission felt should be examined in conjunction with an examination of the age of majority. However, the proposals in the Bill before the House deal with the age of majority only and do not touch upon the other matters which the Law Reform Commission considered should be taken in conjunction with any change in the age of majority. For that reason I believe that the passing of this Bill will result in a number of anomalies in the related areas to which the Law Reform Commission report refers. The explanatory memorandum states:

The main provision of the Bill proposes a reduction of the age of majority from 21 years to 18 years or earlier on marriage. Among the other provisions is one to replace the common law rule, under which a person attains a particular age expressed in years on the day before his birthday, with a new rule to the effect that a particular age is attained on the person's birthday.

I accept that for some years there has been a demand for a reform of the law relating to the age of majority. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1972, proposed that the voting age be reduced from 21 to 18. When this matter came before the people in the referendum on December 7 of that year there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the proposal. Of the 856,353 valid votes cast, 724,836 were in favour and 131,514 were against. I accept also that the Law Reform report puts forward a very convincing case in support of its recommendation that on marriage a minor should in law become an adult.

In paragraph 16, page 8 the commission refer to Article 41.1 of the Constitution which provides as follows:

1º The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

2º The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

Paragraph 17 of the report states:

The Commission noted that from this it could be argued that no legal impediments or obstructions should be placed in the way of young married persons solely on the ground of age and that such persons should have the legal capacity to acquire a home and to furnish it. They should also have the right to establish a trade or business. As a consequence, they should be legally able to borrow money, to incur debts and to undertake contractual obligations. Third persons should be able to deal with any married minor, secure in the knowledge that the minor will be bound by his transactions.

There is a very strong case here that on marriage a minor should, in law, become an adult. The fact that since 1972 young people have been eligible to vote at 18 years has been frequently used as an argument in favour of a reduction in the age of majority to 18 years also. I believe that the strongest and most compelling argument that was advanced in support of the reduction in the voting age was that many young people between the ages of 18 and 21 were in employment and that they had to pay their taxes the same as everybody else. Therefore, if one conceded that there was substance or merit in the age old principle of no taxation without representation then there was a very strong case for giving these young people a vote in the election of those who have responsibility for the taxation system. Since it would be impossible to implement an employment or tax-paying qualification for eligibility to vote, the only way in which these young people could be enfranchised was by reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 years.

The same argument, however, cannot be used in support of a reduction in the age of majority. In my view the case for a reduction in the voting age was much stronger than it is for a reduction in the age of majority. Some of the other arguments which have been advanced for a reduction in the age of majority are not very convincing either. We are told that Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are now the only principal European states whose legal systems retain 21 as the age of majority. We are also reminded that the UK as well as many provinces in the United States and Canada have long since reduced their age of majority to 18 years. I do not believe that we should be too influenced by what has happened in other jurisdictions. After more than 60 years of independence we should take decisions in relation to such matters on the basis of what is best and most prudent for our particular situation.

The fact that the age of 21 years is the age of majority has its origins in Norman or English law or the fact that the Brehon Laws do not appear to have recognised any particular age as the age at which a person could be deemed to have reached the requisite level of maturity to make his own decisions are also in my view not very relevant to a consideration of the case for a reduction in the age of majority. Of considerable more relevance is the way in which the legal position of minors in this country has been altered by various statutes especially in recent years. In addition to the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1973, to which I have already referred, the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, the Succession Act, 1965, the Juries Act, 1976, and the Family Home Protection Act together with the Family Law Act of 1981 have all extended the rights and responsibilities of minors. The fact that this has happened indicates that in recent years there has been an ever-growing recognition that 18 years olds can be relied on to act in a mature and responsible way.

However, it could be argued that while mental maturity is all that is required so that an 18 year old will act in a mature and responsible way, something more is required when one is, for example, entering into a contract or a hire purchase agreement, purchasing property, taking out an insurance policy or borrowing money. Once the age of majority is reduced, all persons between the ages of 18 and 21 and married persons under 18 will no longer have the legal protection that they had heretofore in these situations. I believe, and in this I agree with Senator Honan, that some legal protection should be available in all these areas to persons under 21 years of age.

I am sure the Minister is as well aware as I am that there is a minority of unscrupulous individuals operating in all the areas that I have mentioned. This is a fact of life and certainly it is in no way a reflection on the integrity of the vast majority of people engaged in these areas. I have no doubt also that the unscrupulous few will not be slow to take advantage of a whole new potential consumer market which will be opened up for them when this Bill becomes law and comes into operation. If it is possible to amend this Bill to provide protection against exploitation for persons under 21 in the areas I have mentioned I would ask the Minister to consider doing so on Committee Stage. If it is not possible to provide such protection in this Bill, I feel it should be done by amending the existing legislation which regulates hire purchase, money lending, insurance and so on.

In any event, I ask the Minister to delay the coming into operation of this legislation. It is proposed that when passed this measure will come into operation on 1 March 1985, that is only a few weeks away. I believe that certain things should be done before it comes into operation. This legislation will change the legal status of many thousands of young people. The Minister in his Second Stage speech mentioned the figure of upwards of 200,000. On the day that this legislation comes into operation all these people will be vulnerable to the dangers to which I have referred. I believe they should be put on their guard by alerting them to the implications of this legislation and the danger of exploitation which it may involve for them. This should be done through an extensive media campaign to publicise this legislation and the date on which it will come into operation. I do not believe there will be sufficient time between its passing and March to mount an effective publicity campaign. Therefore, I consider that the coming into operation of the measure should be deferred to a later date.

It is all very fine to say that this is very welcome, progressive and desirable legislation because it will make it possible for a person under 21 to get a county council loan or to buy a home or property. I, too, welcome the fact that it will make all these things possible but I fear very much that it will also leave the very people whom it is intended to serve vulnerable to an unnecessary degree. If that happens then the legislation will have created as many problems as it will have solved.

I also welcome the Bill lowering the age of majority from 21 to 18. For such a young country we have been slow to enact this reform. I note that the Minister referred to amendments which he made on Committee Stage in the other House in relation to provisions for maintenance and for custody to ensure that these provisions would continue under the Guardianship of Infants Act and under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act until the person was 21. That is provided under the Bill. That is a very desirable amendment and I am glad that he acceded to submissions in that regard which were made in the other House when the Bill was debated on Second Stage. I hope that this indicates an openness of mind on his part because my purpose in seeking to contribute on this Bill was to draw attention to an omission and to make a strong case for its inclusion but I find that a number of other Senators have also drawn attention to the omission.

Senator Eoin Ryan was the first to point to the fact that this Bill, although it deals with the age of majority, does not deal with the age of marriage although the Law Reform Commission report dealt with both the age of majority and the age of marriage as being very closely and almost necessarily interlinked. Subsequently Senator Durcan supported the inclusion of the amendment of the age of marriage and other Senators also made the same point. I want to focus on that aspect in making my contribution because we are going to have a number of unnecessary but quite significant anomalies by proceeding to enact a measure which will lower the age of majority but which will not affect the provisions in relation to the age of marriage and the fact that under the law the position will continue to be that a person under 21 requires the consent of a guardian or else has to apply to court. Indeed there are other reasons for seeking to amend the age of marriage.

Both in the other House and this House the Minister referred to the fact that the age of marriage is not a matter which is to be dealt with in this Bill. He said he would not include in this Bill the age of marriage because the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown had yet to report. The reason given appeared to be that he was awaiting the report of the Joint Committee.

It is no secret — it has been made public in various ways — that the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown have agreed their recommendation on the age for marriage. There is no contention about it. They have agreed that the free age should be 18, that that should also be the age at which a person can enter into a valid marriage. A marriage under the age of 18 would be void unless the person has obtained the consent of guardians and of the court. The committee were in very broad agreement and dealt with that in the text of the final report which is not a matter of contention. What puzzles me is that I seem to recall that very recently, certainly since the New Year, the Minister referred to the fact that the Government intend to bring in legislation providing that the free age of marriage will be 18 and that they intend to make the necessary changes. Therefore, it is difficult to see what the impediment is to dealing with this issue in the legislation now before this House. There are compelling reasons why it should be dealt with in this legislation because we have here a Bill which could be amended in order to include provisions in relation to the age of marriage without any undue complications.

Probably it would require an amendment to include it in the Long Title and then the necessary section to provide for that amendment. The Bill would, of course, require to be returned to the Dáil for the Dáil to consider and, I hope, accept those amendments. There does not seem to be any reason either for technicality or complication why this could not be done. The compelling reasons why I would submit it should be done has to do with the whole difficulty of enacting legislative proposals. It appears to take a very lengthy period for any measure, even an uncomplicated measure, to go through the pre-legislative stage, the stage of getting Cabinet approval, of getting the observations from the Department, of being drafted, of coming back to Cabinet for final approval and being published as a Bill. All of that seems to take a very long time with the result that it may be that it would be a year or even several years before we could anticipate a Bill to deal with the age of marriage. It could be, therefore, that we will have lowered the age of majority, as the Minister indicated in his speech, to take effect from 1 March 1985 but will continue a situation where full adults from a legal point of view still need the consent of their parents to marry if they seek to marry between the age of 18 and 21.

Similarly, for strong social reasons I support the raising of the minimum age for marriage. I certainly endorse what the Leas-Chathaoirleach said on the age of marriage. It was a very strongly supported view in the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown on all sides of the House that it was undesirable for strong social reasons that persons would marry under the age of 18, that if it was to happen it should be in very exceptional circumstances and that we should, therefore, raise the marriage age.

All of this should be done now. It should be done in this Bill. There is really no major reason why not or if there is the Minister now has the burden of spelling out why it is not possible to make this necessary reform in the course of this legislation. It is evident that there is all-party support for making the change. I think we are becoming impatient with the delay in securing the enactment of social legislation. Therefore, when there is a Bill before us under which it could be done, when the subject is being treated on the basis of a Law Reform Commission report which dealt with both the age of majority and the various aspects of the age of marriage, it seems desirable that they would be dealt with in the same measure.

The only other point I want to make on this Bill, because I endorse many of the other comments that were made by Senators in relation to it, is that I agree with those Senators who emphasised the significance of the change for the young people affected, approximately 200,000, who as of 1 March 1985 will have full legal capacity but also the responsibility of that capacity. I share some of the concerns expressed by Members of the House about the position of 18 years olds in our society. I would just like to add to what has been said that it does place further emphasis on the need for our education to be an education for living, for our secondary education in particular to lay enormous emphasis on the rights, responsibilities, duties and even the practical realities of young people who are facing into adulthood at the age of 18, who are facing into full responsibility.

I agree with Senator Honan that we should ensure that 18 year old do not feel that they are being somehow isolated or alienated from their families and parents at that age. It is a capacity that does not mean they have to distance themselves but it does mean that they need to be much more prepared in a very practical sense for the implications. I would also agree that the full implications of this Bill should be the subject of very extensive communication, of media coverage, which should be perhaps associated with a greater attempt to ensure that young adults and not so young adults have a greater awareness of their legal position and have greater access to advice. This is one of the great problems we have, that there is not easy access to legal advice at a very early stage which could avoid the possibility of individuals encountering very serious legal difficulties. We need a better support structure of advice bureaux, of the FLAC centres or the various ways in which young people if they have any doubts can have access, without having to incur legal costs in that regard, to reliable advice on their rights in a particular situation.

Therefore I support the Bill as it stands but I share very strongly the views expressed from all sides of the House that the Bill should be expanded by amendment to include the whole issue of the age of marriage and contain the necessary reforms which have the endorsement of the Law Reform Commission and the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown and, which unless my recollection is inaccurate, are matters which the Government intend to make changes on and, therefore, could make them while this legislation is still before the House.

The purpose of the Bill is to implement proposals relating to the age of majority contained in the report of the Law Reform Commission, the age for marriage and other such connected subjects. It is appropriate that we should reduce the age of majority. I know it has been suggested that we are influenced by other European countries and by states in the US, but we can stand on our own two feet in regard to this matter. The youth of Ireland have become far more mature in recent years. They are maturing earlier. They are a better educated group of people than we have ever had in our history. Some people are of the opinion that the youth are only interested in social problems such as divorce, contraception and areas like that. From my own practical knowledge of the young men and women of Ireland they are now very seriously concerned with their careers. They are concerned with bread and butter issues, with getting permanent jobs for themselves, with having careers and better lives for the future. In the knowledge that we have a recession these are the things that are worring the young people, not the other issues suggested by some people.

The age of majority has been mentioned already. Regrettably, there is reference to only three of the items dealt with by the Law Reform Commission. There has been criticism here already today, and probably correctly, that in some way we did not deal with the question of the age of marriage as well. It is proper that we should query the exclusion from the Bill of the Law Reform Commission's proposal relating to marriage. They are saying that the free age should be 18 years without the consent of the parent or guardian. The Joint Committee on Legislation studied this problem and they felt that they should not recommend or fully discuss the age of marriage for the reason that there was a committee dealing with marriage breakdown whose report is expected fairly soon. The Joint Committee on Legislation confined their study to the matter of the age of majority as referred to in the commission's report and they gave very good reasons and one would probably have to agree with them.

I should like the age of marriage to be discussed and taken in this Bill but I can see the Minister's thinking behind it. It was suggested that this matter can be dealt with by the Minister for Health and it does not require full legislation, that it can be carried out in that way, but this is one of the weaknesses. There are other weaknesses in the Bill. The very fact that only three of the items referred to by the Law Reform Commission are dealt with in the Bill indicates a weakness. We are being too specific in this Bill and if we were producing an Age of Majority Bill then we should have gone the full way.

Obviously this Bill has many benefits for the young people of Ireland. If they can get married then any legal obstacle should be removed for those young people who might wish to receive finance to set themselves up in a home or for life. One could argue — and this is another weakness in the Bill — that if they can vote at 18 years surely they could stand for office in the Dáil, county council or Seanad elections.

There is a weakness also in the whole area of social welfare. The details are not spelled out sufficiently. For example, people over 18 years who are living at home and who apply for unemployment benefit should be assessed on their own. They should not be assessed on the basis of the parents' incomes.

Generally the Bill is quite limited. It is quite specific. In the area of local government many young couples have come to me over the years — married at the age of 25, responsible young couples — who wished to get an SDA loan or a loan from a building society but found that they could not do so. With the income available they would have qualified for an appropriate loan, yet they were debarred. If couples can get married the obstacles preventing them from getting SDA loans and other housing finance agency loans should be removed.

I am assuming — the Minister might reply to this — that the tenancy of local authority houses will be available to couples 18 years and over as a result of this Bill being passed. I note that the operational date for this Bill is 1 March. I need not remind the House of the unfortunate situation we have in Athlone, known as the Nancy O'Donnell case. One of the principal arguments put forward by the county manager was that Nancy O'Donnell was not of the proper qualified age — she was 18 years old at the time of her father's death. This raises an interesting point. I now understand that the county manager has decided to appeal the District Court case of 8 January to the Circuit Court. I think the appeal will take place some time towards the end of February. If this Bill is operational on 1 March I wonder what effect, if any, the passing of this Bill will have on that case. It will be debated, I am sure, and will cause some interest for the future.

Overall I support the Bill. We have made the decision ourselves, the Irish people, about the age of majority and we have not been influenced by other countries. People are maturing more quickly than previously and they are better educated. Generally a reduction in the age of majority will be welcome. There will be criticisms on both sides of the House of the fact that other areas have not been spelled out or dealt with. Nevertheless I support the principles of the Bill.

To be against this Bill would be like an American politician being against motherhood or apple pie, it just would not be understood. For that reason we should be grateful to Senator Mullooly for the views which he put on record regarding his concern about the Bill. It is much too easy to overlook the fact that there are two sides to the story, that it is not a simple matter of giving recognition to people between the ages of 18 and 21, but that in giving them that recognition we are placing upon them considerable potential obligations.

The movement towards the reduction of the age of majority — which has the overwhelming support of the Members of both Houses — is understandable and is explainable by the earlier age at which people reach physical maturity and financial independence compared with children of previous generations. However, it surprises me that we should consider it necessary to reduce the age of majority in one jump from 21 years to 18 years. I have no particular problem in supporting the concept of majority at 18 years, but I am surprised that the Minister has not given some consideration to the reduction of the age on a phased basis. It would appear prudent to reduce the age to 20 and to let a year or two pass — even if it was contained in the Bill that a further reduction could be made by a resolution of the joint Houses of the Oireachtas — to see how that worked and what effect it had before taking the irrevocable step of reducing the age of majority to 18.

Senator Mullooly must also be congratulated for pointing out a number of truths, which may not be very comfortable for people who are between the ages of 18 and 21. Lest anyone should forget it, I was between 18 and 21 on one occasion also, as was every Member of this House. Therefore, we are not talking about anything which did not apply to ourselves during that time. Between the ages of 18 and 21 citizens, children, adults — whatever you want to call them — have reached a very vital time in their lives where those of them who are not pursuing third level education are in some class of training course or employment or are looking for work. A substantial but increasing minority of these people are receiving full time education. It should be our objective to ensure that that is a growing minority. The condition of being in receipt of full time education — when that condition follows directly from post-primary education — is not a time of one's life when the duties and responsibilities of citizenship weigh very heavily on the individual. They are a minority anyway — I will consider them again later.

Some Members have spoken about the fact that the citizens decided to extend the franchise to those of 18 years and upwards. That is very significant because it supports the idea that there is a general welcome for measures of this kind, but we should distinguish between the privilege of voting and the kind of obligations which are going to be an opportunity which will be presented by this legislation. Voting is an occasional privilege. It is not a solitary privilege. When we exercise our vote we do so in common with many other people of the same generation as ourselves, and any individual's view is tempered by the view of the remainder of the citizens.

However, an individual who is entering into a financial contract is not entering into a financial contract on behalf of the country. He is not entering into a financial contract part of which will have to be borne by other people. He is entering into a financial contract which is personal to himself. It is a decision which will have great significance for him personally in his future life. It is not like voting where his views are watered down as all our views are watered down by the number of people who exercise their franchise, and the will of the people is exercised and ascertained in that way.

The contracts which we are permitting people between 18 and 21 to enter into will be personal to them. They will have financial consequences for them which may extend for years to come. Therefore they are of a much more personal and far reaching kind than the responsibilities which the occasional privilege of voting gives rise to for the individual concerned.

It has been said here today that because people pay taxes the franchise should be extended to them or alternatively they should in some way be entitled to be treated as adults. The reality is that even a child of two or three years of age who has an income will pay taxes. Everybody who earns money will pay taxes; it does not start at 18 years of age. A child who happens to have a gift or talent out of which he or she makes money, will be liable, directly or indirectly, for taxation.

We are talking about something which has gone too far and has too wide support of the community to consider it fundamentally at this stage. The majority of the people between 18 and 21 will be able to carry the additional responsibility which will be put on them. However, it is important that this responsibility should be explained to them. In that regard I support what Senator Mullooly said and its endorsement by Senator Robinson with regard to a dignified form of publicity on the effect of this legislation.

The Minister made an amendment with regard to the question of maintenance. He has responded to pressure in the other House, obviously in an openminded way, but I do not think he has thought the matter through. The position is described well in the Law Reform Commission report, Working Paper No. 2, 1977 at pages 56 and following, rather than the report, summarises the responsibility of parents to maintain their children. Basically it says that there is an absolute duty on parents to maintain children up to 16 years of age and beyond that there is a responsibility in two circumstances. One is the question of a child suffering mental or physical disability. The second is the question of an order made under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976 where the person in respect of whom the maintenance order is made is receiving full-time education or instruction at a university, college or other educational establishment and is under 21 years of age. There is a two tier system. There is a responsibility to maintain one's child up to 16 years of age if the child leaves school, but if the child happens to continue at school — up to now that position would be probably a joint decision between the child and the parent but ultimately a decision for the parents — then the responsibility is extended to 21 years.

I would like to make two comments about that. First of all I do not see any good reason why the responsibility to maintain children should cease at 16 years of age and not at the age of majority. It might, however, be going outside the scope of this Bill to amend the law in that regard. An amendment of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976 might be more appropriate. However, if one refers it to the question of imposing a duty on parents to maintain children until they reach the age of majority its relevance to this Bill will become apparent. I do not see any reason why children should not be able to expect maintenance from their parents up to the time they reach their majority. If the majority is going to be 18 years of age now, that appears to be very reasonable. That is not to say that in all cases the legal right of the children will be insisted on, but it is there as a safeguard to be used if necessary. I would like to recommend that, since the Minister gave some consideration to the question of the maintenance of children he should give further consideration between this and Committee Stage in this House to whether that should be further amended to include the raising of the responsibility up to the age of majority.

I wish to refer to the amendment which the Minister brought in which provided that the maintenance of children in receipt of full-time education should continue until 21. I do not think that makes sense. I understand the reason for it and I understand that in reality many children will be maintained by their parents not only up to 21 but far beyond that if they are in full-time education, but we are not talking here about what the moral or social obligation of parents should be. We are talking about the legal framework. If we believe that people are sufficiently mature at 18 to become adults, why should we impose on another adult the obligation of maintaining them? It is a double think. Deep down we do not think that children between 18 and 21 are full adults, we only pretend that they are. We feel it necessary to impose an obligation on another adult who happens to be their parent to maintain them if they happen to be in full-time education.

There are three concepts in the law to which it would be useful to refer. There is the question of maintenance, the question of custody and the question of guardianship. Maintenance is the payment of money or support in a financial way. Where there is a dispute between parents, one is said to have been awarded the custody and the other is not, or in non-disputed cases both parents would have the custody of the children. The question of guardianship is more vague than that but it is also an important legal principle. It can be best demonstrated by this: where there is dispute between the husband and wife with regard to the custody of a child and one or the other is awarded custody — very often that happens to be the wife or the mother, and that is the normal decision which is arrived at — the partner who is not awarded the custody of the child retains guardianship. In other words that partner retains the right to have a say in the future of the child, for example in deciding what college or university the child will go to, whether that child will pursue third level education and so on.

On that basis, even where a parent has not custody of a child, that parent still retains a right to have a say and be consulted with regard to the future of that child. Payment under 21 years in pursuance of a scheme which had been agreed between the parents and the children is the context in which the extension to 21 years under the 1976 Act must be seen. Now guardianship is going to be removed, and that parent will have no right to say what the 18-year-old will do. At 17 the child may have decided to go to work and at 18 might decide of his own volition to go to university and reimpose an obligation on his parent with regard to maintenance without the parent having any right to even be consulted with regard to the future of that person who is now not a child. This is woolly thinking. Why should one adult who has no right to be consulted with regard to the future of a citizen be under a financial obligation to support that citizen in a decision which that citizen takes and over which that adult has no control? I am very anxious to hear the Minister's view on that, and I will give him the opportunity of pursuing it in Committee. This has not been properly thought out.

I do not know on what basis a citizen of this country can be forced to maintain another citizen over whom he has no control whatsoever. I doubt if that can be done. Therefore I recommend that the Minister should change the age to which maintenance applies upwards from 16 to 18 in respect of people who are not in receipt of education and downwards from 21 to 18 in respect of people who are, so that the same legal privileges will attach to people who are in receipt of education and those who are not.

On the question of marriage, it is my honour to be a member of the Joint Committee on Legislation who were appointed by this House for the purpose of examining various matters. Among the matters which we are asked to examine are the reports of the Law Reform Commission, which are very interesting documents. During the examination of the report on the law relating to the age of marriage and some connected subjects to which the Minister so generously referred in his introductory speech, some consideration was given to whether we should make a recommendation with regard to the question of marriage. It was represented to the committee and decided unanimously that because the matter was being discussed by the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown it would not be appropriate for us to make a recommendation. The Minister has followed that logic also, and I have considerable sympathy for him in that regard.

It may be that we have been informed of some of the views of the committee, it may be that some of their views have been leaked to the press, it may be that Members who happen to be members of the committee said in the House today that their view was that 18 should be the age of majority, but there are other considerations. If we are going to change the age at which a person has the right to marry then it should be changed from 21 to 18 because to do otherwise is to be as illogical as I suggested the new rule on maintenance would be. To change the age from 21 to 18 has unanimous support, in so far as I am aware, of both Houses of the Oireachtas, but what may not have the unanimous support of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas is the raising of the age at which marriage will be permitted from its present level to 16 or 18 years. As reported by some of the Senators, it appears that the recommendation would be that 18 would also be the minimum age for marriage and that that minimum age would be capable of being set aside by application to the court or by consent of the parents. There are those of us who might not agree with that and who might feel that no marriages should be entered into by persons under 18 years of age.

A further examination of that possibility might be significant and important, particularly when one takes into account the present law with regard to the indissolubility of marriage in this country. We must make our laws, recognising what our other laws are. We should make it quite difficult for people to get married because they are entering on a most extraordinary contract which even with the approval of both parties cannot be rescinded. I have no objection to the Age of Majority Bill being expanded to include the question of marriage, but it is not a simple matter of reducing the age from 21 to 18. The question of the increase of the minimum age has also to be considered and, having agreed to an increase in the minimum age to 18, there is also the possibility to be considered of any exceptions being allowed to that and, if so, in what circumstances.

Having spoken about those matters and congratulated particularly Senator Mullooly on the clarity of thought with which he displayed his knowledge of the problems which may arise in this regard, and recognising that those problems are very real, nevertheless I think that the reduction of the age of majority from 21 years is a step to be welcomed and the Bill in so far as it seeks to achieve that has my support. The other matters, particularly the one regarding maintenance, can be pursued on Committee Stage and I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to the problems that I have raised. My interpretation of the law in that regard may be incorrect, but I think it is correct and I hope the Minister will have a further look at that matter to see what changes he might consider in the light of the representations I have made.

I support the Bill. The determination of the Minister in bringing in legislation of this kind as well as other kinds is to be commended, and I hope that we will have a very fruitful Committee Stage discussion of the Bill when the various problems which I and other Senators have raised and additional problems can be discussed at great length.

I congratulate Senator O'Leary for a very clear speech. The freedom of the back benches appears to have relieved him of some of the woollier thinking of Fine Gael. It would be unfair for me to wish this to continue, but I wish that the clarity of his speeches would continue.

I welcome this Bill in principle and I welcome the spirit behind the Bill. It is undoubtedly a recognition of the importance of our young people and the huge numbers of young people in this country proportionately today. It is also a recognition of the growing maturity of our young people. There are certain aspects of the Bill with which I suspect every Members of this House disagrees but symbolically it recognises that 50 per cent of our young people are under 25 and it recognises their significance. It recognises the trend in other countries, in Great Britain, in the United States and in Europe where the age of majority has been progressively reduced. This is not true everywhere but generally throughout the world this is the case.

I do not believe that it is terribly important where you actually pitch the age of majority. Indeed, it is impossible to get it right because the maturity of some 18 year olds and some 21 year olds varies enormously. People of 12 to 15 are quite capable of taking responsibility and making what we would call mature decisions whereas some people over the age of 40 are still incapable of making what we would consider to be mature decisions. It is important that there should be consistency. While the trend in the Bill should be welcomed, there is a problem about the consistency in the Bill which Senator O'Leary pointed out.

I do not wish in any way to repeat what most Senators who have contributed said already but I question what the Minister meant when he said that the Government regard the age of marriage as a separate issue from the age of majority. I believe that, if you are going to recognise that people of a certain age have reached maturity, whether it be at 16, 18 or 21, you must also recognise that they are capable of making a mature decision about marriage. I cannot see why it should be different. I cannot see why, as a rule, it should be a separate issue, nor have I ever been able to see why there should be any such thing as parental consent at all in the case of marriage. In the case of marriage you have to recognise the right of someone to make that decision and that the whole concept of parental consent, whether it is in regard to 16 or 18, should be abolished and should not be recognised by law.

I was also a little disappointed to hear the Minister say that the Government are unwilling to make any decision on the age of marriage before the report of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown because I am afraid to say that the report of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown is a very movable, a very doubtful thing. This committee are due to report now for the third time on 19 February and this, according to the Minister, will have to be given full and careful consideration. The Government should be able to make a decision on this and other matters independent of what the committee say because I do not believe that the decisions of the committee are guaranteed to be implemented at any stage in the life of this Parliament and the Government could make that decision now without referring it back.

There is also an inconsistency in regard to maintenance. There is an inconsistency in giving the right to maintenance orders to those over 18 in fulltime education. I can understand the reasons behind this. I can understand why perhaps this right should be given to people well over 21, which is the limit of it. The Minister said no further. In the interests of consistency we cannot have this old figure of 21 remaining in our minds. We have gone half the way. We have to abolish the idea of two ages of majority. When this Bill is passed we will have a two-tier system where the age of majority is 18 for some things and 21 for others. This again is inconsistent because we are talking about when people are mature enough and responsible enough to make mature and responsible decisions. If they can make one responsible decision they should be able to make another.

To a certain extent this Bill is creating an elite between the age of 18 to 21 for those in full time education. It should be recognised by this Bill that 18 to 21 year olds should not only be able to have the privileges of the age of majority but they should also have the obligation of being able to maintain themselves. Perhaps it is not so palatable but if this Bill is to mean anything it has to be balanced and, as the Minister said, those who make contracts and incur debts, which 18 year olds would be able to do, should also be able to fulfil the terms of those contracts and also have to pay those debts. Similarly, those people should be able, as normal adults, to maintain themselves in the State and not be given any extra benefits.

There are other inconsistencies in the Bill. One which has been mentioned already is that nobody between the age of 18 and 21 can become a Member of the Oireachtas. The practical reason for this is because it would require a referendum. I do not believe this is a good reason. It is a practical reason but it should be said that "No, we are not prepared to have a referendum on this particular subject at the moment". There was a referendum in 1972 which reduced the age for voting from 21 to 18. At the same time, I believe we should have reduced the age for Members of the Oireachtas from 21 to 18 because again there is an inconsistency there.

I would like the Minister to say what effect the Bill will have, if any — I suspect he will say none because it is a separate issue — on the age of criminal responsibility. I know that there is a Children Bill on the way which is meant to deal with that, but it is only right that if you are conveying privileges and obligations on those at 18, if you are saying that people are mature and responsible at the age of 18 and they can make adult decisions, you must implicitly be saying that those under the age of 18 are incapable of making fully adult decisions. It is a logical conclusion from this that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised not from seven, where it stands at the moment, to 11 or 12, which is being bandied around, but that it should be raised fully to the age of 18. That is the full logic of this Bill and I would like to have the Minister's comments on whether he feels that we should have a third tier where people are capable of making decisions, that maybe the age of criminal responsibility should be 12 or 13. It would be inconsistent, I hope that we will be mature enough to raise the age of criminal responsibility to the age of 18 as the logic of this Bill would suggest.

As a layman I see the Bill as being non-contentious. Obviously the people who have legal training see some contention ever though in the main they welcome the Bill. Senator O'Leary made a point about one adult carrying another adult financially. Maybe it is not a good analogy but there is nothing new in that. The PAYE workers are carrying other individuals. There is nothing extraordinary about that particular situation. We are subsidising third level education and there is nothing extraordinary about that and many who are being subsidised are adults.

Senator Robinson made the point about bringing in the age of marriage from the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown. It would be unwise of any Minister to start taking piecemeal proposals out of the committee which has got itself into a lot of argument and where at this point there is not harmony. Even if that situation did not arise, it would be wrong to take something piecemeal out of any committee and start giving effect to it in other legislation. This would cause all sorts of problems.

I note something like 29 Acts are either altered or affected by the introduction of the Age of Majority Bill. It is indicative of the fact that there were many problems in introducing some of the things that have been mentioned by the other legal people here. It must present certain difficulties and there must be some good reason. A layman appreciates that there were difficulties in bringing about some of the things raised by Senators Mullooly, O'Leary and Robinson.

It is not a good analogy but I can think back to when there was not much concern when we were allowing 16 year olds to go over to England, join the army, fight in the war and take on responsibility. They were not educated and they had not the benefit of modern communication. I see the situation as being totally different now, with the educational process, raising the standard of education, communication and the general access which people have for putting pressure on. The person of 18 years today is a different person to a person of 18 in the thirties, forties or fifties.

It is only proper that they should get those rights. I do not suggest that the 200,000 would come into a single entity and become a pressure group. Inevitably, like every other pressure group for family law and illegitimacy they would become a pressure group. This will circumvent that and will also open up opportunities for the people when they get these rights to look for further rights.

I said that because of the educational standards it was only fitting that we gave them those rights. We are increasing their share of responsibility to people at 18 years of age. To leave things as they are, in present day circumstances, could lead to the point where the feeling of oppression would grow among the majority of the 200,000 we referred to. They have earned the trust from us to be given more security. This has been done in altering many of the Bills affecting the age of majority in order to facilitate those people to pursue their rights and in coming to grips with things which up until now they could not get their teeth into.

Nowadays people at 18 years of age want control over their own affairs. Some Senator mentioned that people are much more independent. They want to leave home earlier, live in flats and lead their own lives. Even if they live in the city they want to move away to another residence. They do not want to be under family control all the time. It is an indication that they want independence and they want to be able to agitate from a stronger point of view. They are, in the main, people who have studied hard and learned well. It is understandable that they would have a great desire to assert themselves more in society.

It must be appreciated by legislators that in those circumstances they must be given a leg up. This will assist them to pursue fuller enhancement. They will show appreciation by expressing solidarity with people as a whole. At the moment we are talking about single entities but when we will come to the question of dealing with a national youth policy, it will be quite clear that whilst we are talking about youth we will not be talking about them in the context of a single entity. This will be appreciated and solidarity will emerge from the passing of this Bill.

We are only deluding ourselves if we think people do not want this responsibility and they will not be able to handle it. They want more say not only in their own affairs but in national affairs as well and in things that affect their day-to-day life.

Some Senators spoke of maturity earlier on. I agree that there are people who are immature up to any age. I do not want to lose votes, but I think if one searched hard enough in both Houses, one would find a few immature people around the age of 40 years and maybe beyond. We are talking about the greater majority of the people in the 200,000 category. They are the people who have matured and have got a good education. They have also got to the stage where the maturing process, disciplining and learning to socialise has become different to what it was years ago. I would have argued some time ago that a fellow was still trying to find his way up to 25 years of age and may be beyond but I do not think this is the case any more. Generally speaking they have got over their adolescent fears such as lack of self-confidence that I witnessed in my lifetime.

This maturity is evident in the way they handle shocks and disappointments in life. Years ago, people used to take a disappointment seriously and they were totally depressed. Most of the young people nowadays take a disappointment as a setback. They do not see it as a disappointment. If one deals with many people in that particular age group who have any sort of learning at all, one realises that those shocks and disappointments are seen not as a disappointment in the sense of total collapse but rather as a temporary setback. They know how to handle it and get on with living and trying to get themselves back into the firing line again.

We are dealing with 18 year olds who are much more responsible. Despite the crime and violence we read about, which gets very extensive headlines and vast media coverage, you find they are more dependable when you get to grips with actually dealing with them in group situations and so on. My experience with the young people I have dealt with is that they are more ready now to carry the load than a lot of people in my time. It would be wrong to argue that everybody in the 200,000 can distinguish between romance and reality. We have got a lot of them around. I will not mention which party they are in. There are still many romantics around who cannot distinguish between romance and reality.

I am concerned, as a layman, about the question of phraseology. People who are legally trained can just pick up the Bill and go through it. It takes me much longer to read and understand the Bill. Sometimes we say a few Hail Marys for the drafters and we wish they could be a little more explicit. It is difficult to understand some of the matters. When I first read it, I admit to being confused and I thought that if a fellow got married he could vote, even if he was only 16 years of age but when I re-read it I discovered that that was not the case. We are dealing with a different sort of person than we were years ago.

I support the people who were worried about many of the points raised here earlier, about guardianship, dependence, marriage age and so on. I do not think that would hold any longer. Even though we hear talk about many marriage breakdowns and so on we cannot lay the blame on the age of marriage solely as the cause of marriage breakdown. Many people get married nowadays and say that if it does not work out they will split up. That is an attitude in life at the present time. It is not always attributable to 18 year olds. We should not confuse ourselves into thinking that marriage breakdowns will cease as a result of the age of majority or the marriage age, whatever it is. There are other factors in relationships that cause breakdowns. We should not allow that to go as a reason why the Bill should not be welcomed.

I welcome the Bill. I congratulate the Law Reform Commission on the depth of understanding they have had and the wide ranging attitude they had to exploring all avenues. I commend the Minister on bringing in the Bill. It will lead to other rights for people. One point which the Minister probably appreciates is that if somebody complains about being hungry and you feed him, once he has the food, he wants other things. Family planning will be part of those rights.

My contribution on Second Stage will be very brief. I feel I can make a more meaningful input on Committee Stage and I will ask a number of questions then. This is a very important and necessary Bill, even though I regret that it is so limited in scope. I was very interested in the anecdote in the Minister's introductory speech when he told us that historically the 21 years was based on the physical development of a young man who would be fit to wear the heavy armour and sword to fight for his feudal overlord.

The age of majority should be related to the mental development of a person. In this sense we could say that it is an implementation of the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword. In this day and age with our education, television and the media, young people are far more developed mentally than we were when we were their age. In my experience, and I think the experience of every other Member of the House who would have problems in the housing area, there was a grave problem where a young couple under 21 years of age tried to get a mortgage. There was the disability the Minister referred to. It is very difficult to understand this anomaly. It is even more difficult to understand where one of the partners was over 21 years of age. The problem still existed, once one of them was under 21 years of age. I am glad that this Bill brings that to an end. Although young people could vote at 18 years since 1972 they were not capable of taking out a mortgage. There was a certain amount of cynicism for that reason.

The Minister and Members of the House have paid tribute to the Law Reform Commission. I would like to join in paying a tribute to the important and painstaking work they have done and the valuable work they have done in presenting this report. There are 75 pages in the document and 29 are taken up with the actual report. The balance is given over to a draft Bill. It is a pity that that Bill could not be accepted in its entirety on account of so much work having gone into it. The Minister said that some of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission are not being implemented in the Bill as it was considered that they would be more appropriately dealt with as separate matters. The age of consent was one of these. The Minister stated that the Government considers that the question of the appropriate minimum age for marriage constitutes a separate subject from that of the age of majority and that it would be desirable to deal with it as a separate issue. If that is so, why did the Law Reform Commission include it in their report? It is part of the same subject. It is a grave mistake that it was not included as part of the Bill.

With regard to the detail about calculating the person's age, the Minister told us that section 4 of the Bill implements the commission's proposal to abolish the existing common law rule for calculating a person's age. At present a person is deemed, under common law, to attain a particular age at the commencement of the day before his birthday. The Minister says that this is illogical and artificial. I cannot see anything illogical or artificial about it. It is simply saying that the year is calculated on the first moment of the day preceding the birthday. The Minister stated that if a person's birthday falls on a Saturday he is deemed to have reached the relevant age at midnight on the preceding Thurdsay. It is actually the first moment of the Friday. I do not see anything illogical and artificial about it. I agree that this tidies it up. I do not see any practical benefit whatever in it. I would like to know if it helps out in any situation beyond just tidying up this matter. Has it any other benefit? I will have questions to ask on Committee Stage.

As has been pointed out, this will apply to 200,000 new people. From that point of view and also for the reasons I have said it is a very important and very necessary piece of legislation, but I do regret that it does not include all the matters which were considered by the Law Reform Commission and that therefore its scope is restricted in this way.

I welcome this Bill. It recognises the responsible attitudes of our youthful population which are being extended and formalised. By constitutional amendment 18 year olds were given a vote. So, in a way, the Oireachtas is only catching up on the wishes of the people. We should and do realise the value of our young people to our country and our community. They are the source of courage, change, innovation and hope for us. Their political maturity will have an increasing voice in Ireland's affairs.

With the additional freedoms allowed by this Bill we must create responsible institutions for the exercise of our youths' idealism, creativity and enthusiasm. They are entitled to and must get democratic institutions to outlet their energies.

I would like to make two suggestions about this Bill. First of all, not all 18 year olds have the maturity generally shared by that age group. This could lead to their being in a position of being unable to cope with certain transactions. I will give an example which I recently came across. This year there was an 18 year old who was a plaintiff in an accident and there was a substantial sum in court for him. His parents conducted this case for him and yet, as I understand it, are not entitled to apply to a court to prevent or modify the payment out of a large sum. In this day and age investment requires experience and guidance. A simple mechanism requiring the parent or next friend to consent to or be notified of the payment out, with liberty to explain to a judge any problem they see, would be advisable. Another aspect that may need looking at is the total freedom of a young person to enter a substantial hire purchase or financial agreement without due consideration. I think in England one has three months to make up one's mind after signing the initial contract.

Overall, I would like to point out that legislation is increasing all the time. A large number of qualifications exist on the freedom of under 18 year olds. These are set out in different Acts, for example, licencing of drivers, liquor, dance Acts, gaming Acts and many more. It is difficult for members of the public to know what freedoms exist. I have come across this in my own experience. The new Children Bill which is being drafted should amalgamate these age limits into a coherent whole so that people will be easily able to find them. They should be grouped to reflect the stages of development of the child and young adult.

Overall, I welcome the Bill. It gives extra responsibility to our young people who are demanding it at the moment.

Limerick East): First of all, I would like to thank the Cathaoirleach and also all the Senators who have contributed to this debate. The contributions fell into a number of definable areas. First, there was a general welcome for the Bill. I thank the Senators for that. There was a discussion on the scope of the Bill. Eighteen year olds enjoy many privileges and responsibilities at present. They can vote at 18. They can serve on a jury at 18. They can pay tax at 18. They can join the Army at 18. They can leave home and live an independent life and make all decisions without the consent of their parents.

There are very large numbers of young people, both at work and in college, who are leading independent lives. They are making their own personal decisions, moral decisions and decisions that control their own lives quite independently of parents and guardians. What they cannot do is enter into legal contracts. They cannot get a mortgage for a house if they are married. They cannot enter into a hire purchase agreement. A young farmer or a young business man cannot borrow to invest in a business. These are great disabilities which young people suffer under. The Bill removes all those disabilities.

A second very practical area where the Bill will have effect will be where young people have moneys in trust for them. Many Senators would have experienced young people involved in car accidents where money would be held in trust. They will get the benefit of that now at 18 rather than at 21. There are in the Bill a whole series of Acts which are affected. But in the practical day-to-day lives of young people these two areas are the areas of maximum effect, particularly the area of contract and the area of getting loans and mortgages and so on.

This brings me to the first point of criticism raised by many Senators. They said that not all 18 year olds are as mature as one would like them to be and that consequently there is a danger that they will be exploited by people who would use this new-found freedom to encourage them to borrow beyond their means and to exploit them financially. There has been a request that we would do something about this and put in some kind of safety net under their decisions even though we are moving the age of majority from 21 down to 18. The major difficulty with this is that if we try to put in a safety net of that sort, which would suggest that a young person at the new age of majority of 18 was less than fully liable for any debt entered into, I am afraid that we would frustrate one of the major intentions of the Bill. I do not think either banks or building societies or insurance companies or finance houses would actually lend the money to young people unless they were sure that the young person would have the full obligation to honour the contract. If we do not, as well as transmitting the benefit of being able to enter into contracts, impose the responsibility on young people then I am afraid we will nullify what we are trying to do, because I do not think that lenders of money or those who offer goods on easy payment will deal with young people if there is some kind of fail mechanism which brings about a situation where young people would be freed from the contractual obligations they have entered into.

There is, of course, always the danger of people being exploited. This does not just affect people between 18 and 21: it affects people at any age. The answer to the problem is not in amending this Bill but by moving to bring in consumer protection legislation. That is the appropriate area for the kind of protection which Senators have requested.

Many Senators raised the exclusion of the age of marriage. In section 2(4) of the Bill the exclusions are listed and the various marriage Acts are excluded. This was done quite deliberately by the Government for one main reason and for a number of subsidiary reasons. First of all, we have the Committee on Marriage Breakdown who have looked at this. We know from newspaper reports the particular line they have adopted on the age of marriage but they have not yet published their report or finalised their report in any way whatsoever. I think if I came in here with proposals which pre-empted that report I would be subject to criticism in the Seanad. Secondly, the age of majority and the age of marriage are not necessarily linked together. One can make a very strong argument that if somebody is a full and mature adult at 18 and taking on the kind of contractual obligations that they will now be in a position to take on, that person should also be free to marry without consent at 18 years of age. That is an argument that I fully accept, but we do not need legislation to bring this about. The 1972 Marriage Act has a section in it which empowers the Minister for Health by order to reduce the free age of marriage to any age which he thinks appropriate. It is not necessary to include it in this Bill; we do not need to put it into any Bill. If the Minister for Health recommends to the Government that the age of 18 years should be the age of marriage to line it up with the age of majority, all that is needed then is a ministerial order.

This is the free age of marriage; what we need to debate and consider very carefully is what to do with the people under the free age of marriage. Do we say that one cannot marry at all if they are under the age of 18 years? At the present time, as everybody is aware, the free age is 21 years; from 16 years to 21 years the consent of parent or guardian is required and if the consent of parent or guardian cannot be obtained one can go to the courts. Under 16 years of age there is still a mechanism whereby somebody can make a submission to the President of the High Court and he can allow them to marry. There are three phases in this: the free age; the age with the consent of parents, guardian or court; and the under 16 year olds. Is the suggestion now that if you are 18 years you are free to marry and if you are under 18 years any arrangement you make is null and void and the marriage is void? If this is the situation, I suggest that this is not something that should be changed by amendment on the Committee Stage of a Bill, as this would require very careful consideration. We know from the statistics that there are many people under 18 years of age who are married and a lot of these had the permission of their parents or guardians but a lot more of them had to go to the court to get permission. We also know that there are a number of people who have got permission to marry from the President of the High Court who were under 16 years of age. I have listened to the arguments of Senators and I will not pre-empt a decision of the Government or the Minister for Health on this. This is something that should be looked at separately from the age of majority. It does not necessarily follow that because the age of 18 years is the age of majority we should say that 18 years is the free age for marriage but that below 18 years one cannot marry at all. It requires more debate than that.

There are certain groups in society that traditionally marry at a young age: this should be taken into account when we are discussing the age of marriage. There is no difficulty in lining up the free age of marriage with the age of majority. This can be done, as I have already stated, by order of the Minister for Health if that is the policy decision, and it does not require legislation.

The question of what do we do with the people under the free age of marriage and what is the mechanism to provide if they want to get married, or do we exclude them completely, requires debate and discussion. It would not be proper for me to move on such a serious matter without the report of the Committee of the House of the Oireachtas which was specifically set up to look into this and other matters.

The other exclusions, as can be seen in section 2, subsection (4) are the Adoption Acts. The age of adoption is not necessarily the same as the age of majority. Again, there is a report for the Minister for Health — which is ready — and he can act on it if he sees fit.

The Social Welfare Acts are excluded. The reason for this particular exclusion is that parents are in benefit at the moment under Social Welfare Acts for their children up to 21 years of age. If I were not to exclude the Social Welfare Acts, the parents would be excluded from any benefit they now have for any child between 18 years and 21 years of age, because these children would now be adults. If this should happen, my argument is that it is a matter for social welfare legislation and it is certainly not something that should be dealt with in an Age of Majority Bill.

The same applies to the exclusion of the Income Tax Acts. Again, there are certain allowances available to parents for children up to 21 years of age. It would not be appreciated by parents if, under the Age of Majority Bill, they were going to lose their tax allowances for children between the ages of 18 and 21 years. If it is thought appropriate that that should be the case and that people would be absolutely adult at 18 years of age and that there would not be any two-tier system whatsoever, it is a matter for a Finance Act. Any changes in taxation would be a matter for a Finance Act and not for a Bill brought in by a Minister for Justice. The same applies to the provisions for illegitimate children: the Affiliation Orders Act, 1930 provides support for the maintenance of children up to the ages of 21 years.

Pensions are sometimes calculated, especially State pensions of teachers, gardaí, Army officers' widows, on the basis of the number of dependent children they have. If we exclude those between the ages of 18 years and 21 years, we are reducing the pensions of widows in a situation where it would be unfair to do so, and there is no demand for this to be done; if this is to be done it is a matter for some other form of legislation and not for this one.

The question of maintenance has been raised. The working paper which was produced advised that the existing situation should be maintained. The final report recommended that it should be changed for the reasons which some Senators referred to, that if somebody is an adult at 18 years, there is a kind of inconsistency that he should be maintained by another adult. That is fine for the sake of consistency and neatness, but if you are 19 years of age, and you are either at home or in school and as a result of a Bill you find that the maintenance order which was granted to you in court no longer applies to you you will lose. It is better to maintain the existing situation. There are people at present who are the beneficiaries of maintenance orders — if I can use the word "beneficiary" in this sense — and these will run until they are 21 years of age. If I did not make this exclusion, which I made by amendment in the Dáil, they would run until they are 18 years of age. The trouble about this is that people are in particular situations where they need the maintenance at the moment: this can be highlighted by a classic case of where somebody has one year or one and a half years done in university with the expectation that they are going to be funded by the maintenance order for another year and a half and suddenly they find that this is not so because the Minister changed the age of majority under the Age of Majority Bill. This is the reason for the amendment which I moved in the Dáil

Those are all reasons for the exclusions: some of them are a question of practical commonsense and others are a question of policy. As I have stated, the one which concerns people most and is very topical is the question of the age of marriage. If we decided the free age of marriage is to be reduced it does not require legislation — it can be done by order. If, on the other hand, we decide that there is a minimum age for marriage below which any marriage entered into by young people would be null and void, this requires legislation. What I have suggested to the Government is that we wait for the report of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown and after consideration of it legislate accordingly.

I should like to move to the specific points raised by individual Senators. Senator Ryan welcomed the Bill and remarked that it was cautious, and he talked about the age of marriage and so on. Our record on legislation is not as bleak as some Senators have suggested. I have spent a share of time in this House. I can draw your attention not alone to this Bill but to the Criminal Justice Bill of recent infamy or fame: we had another great day here when we were putting through the Funds of Suitors Bill; we had various——

The Minister speaks as if he is going to leave us.

(Limerick East): This is simply half-time. I have another two and a half years to go. It is only the prisoners that get half their sentences cut; Ministers have to go the full distance.

We also brought in the Community Service Orders Bill and we had a couple of others so there is a certain amount of legislation going through. I have learned one thing — and I am sure a lot of you have been my teachers — that if one wants to do something one packages it in small segments. This might be a more effective way of doing business. That criticism was raised with the Criminal Justice Bill; many Senators asked why it was not broken up into a number of Bills instead of going for the major blockbuster of a Bill which would give us difficulty; why not package it in smaller segments? That is exactly my approach here. We are dealing here with a very important piece of law reform. It will immediately affect 200,000 young people. Over the next 12 months it will affect all that cohort of people who are now preparing for leaving certificate in our schools, the 17 to 17½ year olds. That is another 60,000 or 70,000 people in 1985. We are talking of over one quarter of a million young people being immediately affected by this and we are extending certain legal benefit to them which they will welcome. There will be some responsibility attendant on that but I think they will welcome it. As well as being practical it is a vote of confidence in our young people also.

I have outlined my view on other matters like the age of marriage. It is not a question of ducking the issue; it is a question of doing this much now because I am sure of what I want to do, waiting for the report from the committee on the breakdown of marriage and then moving on that, although I think it will be a different Minister who will be involved in that, because the 1972 Marriage Act was sponsored by the Department of Health and the Minister for Health. The particular provision to change the free age of marriage is at the discretion of the Minister for Health by order.

Senator Honan talked about jury service. Eighteen year olds can serve on juries already. This Bill was not needed to give them that responsibility. Yes, it could happen that four young people could be serving on a jury together but of course the normal powers to object to membership of juries apply. We should also remember, if I remember my statistics from the Criminal Justice Bill, that something like one-third of all indictible offences are being committed by people under 17 years of age and if the whole basis of the jury system is that one should be tried by one's peers, there is an argument for young people adjudicating on the transgressions of other young people. Why should the old hand down the judgments on the young, why not the young also? I do not see any particular problem in that. Senator Honan was also worried about the maintenance of handicapped and mentally-handicapped children. We have protected them in the Bill and we are maintaining the existing solution there. The intention of the subsection she referred to is to provide for continuing protection for handicapped people and to bring the 1964 Act into line with the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act of 1976. A detailed discussion of that can be gone into on Committee Stage, but the provision is there to do that.

Senator Durcan dealt with the age of marriage and talked about various regulations, and I think I have covered that in general. Senator Mullooly was rather critical about the Explanatory Memorandum. I think the opening sentence of the Explanatory Memorandum is absolutely clear; it does not give any kind of false impression. It says: "The purpose of the Bill is to implement the proposals relating to the age of majority contained in the Law Reform Commission's Report on the Law Relating to the Age of Majority, the Age for Marriage and Some Connected Subjects". It says quite clearly that the purpose of this Bill is to deal with the proposals on the age of majority and nothing else in that particular report. There is certainly no intent to give any kind of false impression that we were dealing with the whole report, which we were not, and it says so quite clearly in the first sentence.

Senator Mullooly said the commencement date should be postponed. I do not think that is necessary. The Bill was published last September and it received a reasonable amount of publicity during the passage through the Dáil. I think it can be expected that legal practitioners and the public in general are now aware of the existence of the Bill. Indeed, people who would be inclined to enter into contractual arrangements of a financial nature with young people would be aware of the Bill also, such as banks and finance houses, building societies and so on. I think the commencement date will not cause hardship or inconvenience.

It is worth mentioning here that there was a suggestion made in the other House that if there was an explanatory leaflet available which would outline the changes being made in the Bill and if this were provided through youth organisations and schools, that might be of help, and I will see how practical that is and evaluate the cost of it. I think it will be worth doing and it would meet the point raised by Senator Mullooly.

Senator Robinson was deploring the exclusion of the age of marriage and so on, but I have dealt with that also. Senator Fallon felt that unemployment assistance should not be assessed on the basis of parents' means. We are excluding the social welfare provisions. I think it would be appropriate, if a change is to be made where somebody between 18 years and 21 years was no longer considered a dependant for the purposes of an allowance under the Social Welfare Act, then a consequential change would have to be that somebody who was 18 years would be entitled to full adult benefit in certain circumstances. That is certainly a topic for the Minister for Social Welfare and would have very far-reaching implications and not necessarily for the benefit of young people or not necessarily for the benefit of families. It is something that will have to be evaluated separately.

Senator O'Leary spoke about reducing the age of majority on a phased basis. That was one possible way of doing this. The Law Reform Commission report would have adduced the experience of other countries. It seems that 18 years is the generally acceptable age, and I think there is a strong argument for doing it in one jump from 21 years down to 18 years. Every young person of 18 years of age is not suddenly going to take on contractual obligations, but they will be legally entitled to do so; it will depend on the individual. Some of them will never take on any obligation of that nature between 18 years and 21 years. Others at 19, 20 or 21 years who are working may buy a car if they can get insurance. On the other hand, they may buy a record player at 18 years. If you look at the individual case, this is worth doing and I think it is worth doing it in one move from 21 years to 18 years.

Senator O'Leary raised the question of maintenance orders. I have outlined my intent in my preliminary remarks, but I think it is something which will probably be discussed in greater detail on Committee Stage and we can leave it until then.

Senator Ross spoke about raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years. Again, change in the age of criminal responsibility is a matter for the Children Bill; it is a matter for the Minister for Health to bring a recommendation to the Cabinet for a decision. I am not going to pre-empt that by suggesting any age. I doubt if there would be much support for 18 years of age as the age for criminal responsibility, because what you are saying is that below a particular age you are not criminally responsible; therefore you are immune. I do not think we can have a situation where everybody under 18 years of age is immune from criminal prosecution. That is when the exploitation would really start. Whatever about acting on their own initiative I am sure there would be people who would organise other people who were immune from the law. We went over that argument previously, and I do not think there is any point in going through it again.

With regard to reducing the age for membership of the Oireachtas, again it is a matter for a referendum, as Senators know quite well. I have no objection. I have no 18 year olds in my constituency who are trying to be candidates; I suppose everyone will have to make his own evaluation. It is a matter for a referendum and it would be brought in by the Minister for the Environment. It is an interesting constituency.

Senator Fitzsimons said there was nothing illogical about calculating the age at the moment. I think it is far more logical if somebody reaches 18 years or 19 or 20 on their birthday. I cannot see why somebody should reach 18, 19 or 20 on the morning of the day before their birthday. Apart from a desire to be neat and to tidy things up, one of the reasons for this is to line it up with social welfare legislation, because that is the way it is defined in the social welfare legislation. It should be brought into line with that. He also talked about the exclusion of the age of marriage proposals.

I have dealt with most of the points raised in a general way. I thank all the Senators who contributed. I am sure we will have an interesting Committee Stage on the Bill. I thank all the Senators for their contributions on Second Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for 6 February 1985.
Sitting suspended at 5.30 p.m. and resumed at 6.30 p.m.