Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to handle this motion, but the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is doing so instead. He might explain why, as this has to do with amending the Civil Registration Act 2004. However, I am delighted that he is present and I expect a positive response to this sensitive request born from the most tragic circumstances.
Will the Government amend the Civil Registration Act to facilitate the registration of deaths in Ireland of Irish citizens who have died abroad? The Minister is probably aware of the position because the two young men who died last summer were from our constituency of Galway West. It is because of the Facebook petition by their parents and friends that I am in a position to highlight the matter. One of the young men was Keith O'Reilly from Merlin Park, Galway, who is buried in Leenane cemetery. The other young man was Brian Forde from Athenry who was in America for a few days. He was a young teacher in Loughrea.
It is not the case that all citizens who die abroad have their deaths registered and recorded in Ireland. The 2004 Act covers the registration of births, stillbirths and deaths. Under the Act, the death of an Irish citizen who dies abroad is only recorded and registered in the Republic if he or she was on an Irish aircraft or ship, a foreign ship or aircraft that was in transit or a serving member of the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces. This is all fine, but it means that for the majority of citizens who die abroad their deaths will never be recorded or registered in their home country.
I was stunned to learn as a result of this campaign by the young men's families and friends that in 2009, 244 Irish citizens had died abroad and that their deaths had not been recorded in this country. Can one imagine how great the number would be over time? Is this an oversight in the Act or deliberate? I need the Minister to explain the reason.
The lack of registration at home makes life more difficult for the family members left behind. It also means that figuring out what happened to one's ancestors will be extremely difficult for future generations searching through Irish documentation. The people who have died are not statistics. They were born and, in many cases, educated in Ireland. They may even have worked here. The two young men to whom I have referred were on holiday in the United States and deserve the right to be recognised by their country, even in death. It is important that we make this change to help with the grieving process.
I will provide some quotations from the families, but one of the mothers has told me that for every beginning, there has to be an end and that her son who began in this country has to be given the dignity and justice of having his death registered here. It is also important for future families who may have to go through this awful experience.
Already, 1,174 people have signed the on-line petition. I attended the funerals of both of the young men who died in the United States. The Minister may also have attended them. They died ten days apart but quite separately. Coincidentally, they had shared a flat in New York the previous summer. One of the mothers said:
They were our kids. They were only there on holiday. There are no records of their deaths in this country. There should be a beginning and an end to everything. We need closure. Without registration of their deaths in Ireland it is unfinished business.
That mother said she might accept the situation if her son had permanently emigrated.
We need to look at the cases where one might not see fit to register an Irish citizen's death abroad, perhaps if he or she had gained citizenship in another country. One must live in the United States, for example, for five years before qualifying for citizenship. I support these families' needs. Where a young person is on holiday or is working abroad temporarily the Government should see fit to register his or her death in his or her home country.
The law in the United Kingdom changed in this regard within the last ten years. If a visitor from the United States or the United Kingdom died in Ireland his or her death would be registered in Ireland and in his or her home country. Perhaps we should look at how other countries do things.
The "Help bring them home" petition can be seen on Facebook. Keith O'Reilly's mother said, "Life is just so different now. We are just doing it for Keith because he is pushing us along to do it."
I was interested to read some of the comments placed on Facebook by the families and young friends of the two men who died. Colm Lehane said, "Amend the Act". Sheila O'Neill said, "Help bring them home". Dominique Mulvaney said, "It is not right not to register someone's death just because they died outside Ireland". Another said, "This is a very important petition and I trust that many more people will sign it, leading to a change in this legislation". Mark Quinlivan commented, "This is a disgrace. Get it sorted and let their deaths be registered". A similar comment reads:
This is the most ridiculous Act ever. It needs to be changed. A terrible law. Please change the law. Imagine if it was your son or daughter. It would be the right way of doing things, especially because they are Irish.
How would the Minister or I feel if the person involved was our son, daughter, brother or sister? These young people were born and educated in Ireland. They went through primary, secondary and third level education. Brian Ford was due back in Ireland the following Monday to do an interview for a permanent teaching post with County Galway VEC. Keith O'Reilly was in the United States for the summer on a J1 visa.
One on-line comment reads:
As an Irish citizen, I believe this is of huge importance. Please do the right thing and amend the 2004 Act. It is vital that this amendment is put through. It is a basic right for parents and families who have suffered the loss of a loved one abroad who is also an Irish citizen.
Another reads, "I am an Irish citizen living in the US and I fully support this petition".
I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. This issue will be brought before the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs at the end of April. I hope the Minister's reply will allay their fears.