Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

An additional amendment list has been circulated today and amendment No. a1 is in the names of Senators Norris and Zappone.

I move amendment No. a1:

In page 3, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.—The provisions of this Act shall be construed as applying in all its sections to the registration of both marriage and civil partnership.".

I would like to express my appreciation to the staff of the House, who at the last minute facilitated me in tabling this amendment. I am extremely grateful to them for their courtesy and efficiency.

The amendment proposes that the provisions of this Act shall be construed as applying in all its sections to the registration of both marriage and civil partnership. I want both marriage and civil partnership included because people who do not have a religious belief in the conventional form or who are committed atheists, or whatever, but who have a belief in human values are entitled to the same degree of respect for their commitment to their relationships and the dignity of those relationships. This should be reflected in the law of the land. The same should be also true for same sex relationships and they should be recognised as marriage, but this has not happened. I know, for example, that the Unitarian church on St. Stephen's Green performs same sex unions, but these are simply religious ceremonies and are not recognised by the State. This is dreadful.

Perhaps we should go the way of France and separate entirely church and state. In light of a series of events that have happened recently, including the silencing of priests, instructions given on how to vote in England, Wales and Scotland on these issues, from what is, on one hand, the church and, on the other, a state, the Vatican, I called this morning for a debate on the relationship between church and state. One way to deal with the issues is to separate entirely the church from the State by stating that church marriages are a sacrament.

I am a believing Christian and I go to church every Sunday. I am not antagonistic towards any of the other churches including the Church of Rome and how could I be? However, in France, for example, the religious service is regarded merely as a sacrament which does not preside legally over the distribution of property which is essentially what the civil registration of marriage does as it sets down certain criteria for the division of property and the responsibilities of people towards each other. That is one way of doing it and as a religious person I would be very happy with this provision, that the State recognises only those that are registered under the patronage of the State and that the religious aspect becomes an option. It then becomes much more real for the people involved because they have chosen the option, because they want to do it. I suggest we use this Bill to advance not just one step further, but perhaps two or three. I recognise and I salute the efforts of my good friend, the leader of the Labour Party in the House, Senator Ivana Bacik, in bringing forward this Bill. I will be supporting it and I will not be putting this amendment to a vote. However, I think it is an important opportunity for us to raise these issues and to signal to the Government that we will not wait forever for equality. We will not put up with hearing a lot of prating about equality coming up to the 1916 commemoration when it simply does not exist and when there is still the absolute violation of the rights of children.

I note a baby protesting in the Gallery and I agree with you, darling, you are quite right. It is good to have young people in the House. Suffer the little children to come unto me.

I tabled this amendment at the last minute because I want to signal the first shot in a battle to have marriage recognised equally. I will not be obstructive and I will not press the amendment to a vote. I congratulate Senator Bacik and I hope this Bill will be voted through by the House today.

I echo the words of my colleague and this is why I second the amendment. I commend the work of Senator Bacik in this regard.

I welcome the members of the Humanist Association of Ireland who are in the Gallery and I thank them very much for their help and support with this legislation.

As colleagues know, because we had a very full debate on Second Stage on 10 November, this Bill is aimed at making a small but significant change in the law on the registration of civil marriages. It does not extend to civil partnerships which, of course, are governed by separate legislation. I hope this Bill will be passed and it had full support from all sides on Second Stage last November. If passed, it will allow for the registration of legal marriages by members of, for example, the Humanist Association of Ireland and of other philosophical and non-confessional bodies who may apply under the criteria we have provided for. The amendments which I have put forward, and I thank the Minister for her support, will seek to deal with some issues identified on Second Stage as to what should be the criteria for designation of a non-religious body which can apply for registration. This is the context of this Bill and I will speak further on those amendments when they arise.

I thank Senator Norris and Senator Zappone for their contribution to the debate on Second Stage and for tabling the amendment today because it is useful that we would debate the broader issue of extension of provisions to civil partnership. However, I am grateful to Senator Norris for indicating he will not put the amendment to a vote because this would do a different thing as it would deal with civil partnerships. As Senator Norris knows, I entirely agree with him and with Senator Zappone on the need to separate church and State and the need to ensure equality between gay couples and straight couples. I support the Senators on gay marriage and I entirely agree with their views in that regard. However, this legislation is to deal with civil marriages only and with the registration of civil marriages which are dealt with under different provisions. There is another issue to deal with as regards civil partnerships. I hope to deal with that once this Bill has been passed. I would like to work with the Senators in the future on civil partnership law generally. We are all in agreement in principle but, as Senator Norris said, this amendment is putting down a marker about future developments in the law.

With the indulgence of the Acting Chairman I do not intend to contribute again on this Bill because my party fully supports the Bill. If I may take this opportunity to commend Senator Bacik on bringing this Bill forward, it shows the——

We are dealing with an amendment No. a1.

I accept that, but I did ask for the Chair's indulgence.

I missed that word; I apologise. I am not used to indulgence, the giving or the granting of.

I commend Senator Bacik on this Bill and it shows again the usefulness of this House that we can bring forward Bills which are given Government support. I thank the Minister and the Government for supporting the Bill. I understand that most of the amendments which have been tabled have actually come from the Government and from Senator Bacik and that they are technical amendments. My party will support these amendments.

As regards this amendment from Senators Norris and Zappone, I agree with the sentiment behind the amendment, as does Senator Bacik. This is an issue we should examine at another opportunity. I note there are unresolved issues related to civil partnerships which we need to consider. My party fully supports the view that we need to have absolute equality for everybody in this country on all these issues. I hope we can be given a commitment from the Government to revisit this issue. I reiterate my party's full support for the Bill before us and we will not oppose any amendments.

Like the other speakers, I commend Senator Bacik on her work on this Bill and also the Minister on her support. I support the amendment in the spirit of laying down a marker. However, I believe there will be another opportunity and I will support the measure on that future occasion. I accept that this legislation is not capable of accepting that amendment.

I commend Senator Bacik on this Bill. It was well indicated on Second Stage last November that there was a broad welcome for the humanist right to confer marriages. Today is another step in that journey. I hope, with a bit of luck, we might finish the Bill today. It is a bright new future and a sign of a society that is more inclusive and more diverse and a recognition that everybody has his or her own views and ways of celebrating marriage.

I commend Senators Norris and Zappone on the timing of this amendment. They are certainly keeping the issue on the agenda and it signals the need for a full debate at another time. Today we are dealing with the extension of provisions to include the Humanist Association of Ireland so that it can carry out marriages. We are dealing only with civil marriages in this Bill but on another day we would welcome the debate about the extension of the provision to civil partnership. This will be another significant step and we will need to deal fully with the details of such legislation.

I will be brief in my contribution. I concur with Senator Cullinane's view that these are technical amendments. On yesterday's Order of Business I congratulated Senator Bacik on this very important and significant legislation. This shows again how the Seanad can make a difference. I admire the language in the Bill which describes a philosophical non-confessional body. In my view this is the beginning of a breakdown as to how we might address our own rights and how we regard our relationships with people we want to marry or with whom we wish to participate in this ceremony. I welcome the use of that language in the amendments.

I support my colleagues, Senators Zappone and Norris, on this amendment. It is important that we continue to bear witness, a phrase I use often in the Seanad, to the perceived exclusion of members of our community to which, perhaps on a technicality, this legislation does not relate although another item of legislation does relate to it. The Seanad is an apt House for us to begin to have a broader discussion about inclusivity and for that reason I support the amendment. I acknowledge Senator Norris does not intend to press the amendment to a vote but I support the human rights sentiment behind this amendment. I will support all the Government amendments to the Bill and I welcome and support Senator Bacik's Bill.

Is Senator Norris pressing the amendment?

No. I am not sure if the Minister intends to reply. Perhaps it is not necessary in light of what Senator Bacik said.

I understand the Senator's perspective and Senator Bacik made an appropriate response. I am anxious that we proceed with this and I accept very much the spirit of the Senator's comments on the areas of civil partnership but this legislation deals with the particular issue of marriage.

In that case, I very much welcome what the Minister and all my colleagues have said on this issue. I would like to point out, however, that were this to be capable of being passed, it would have had exactly the effect that I wanted, but it might be a step too far, it might be impossible to sell to the Dáil. I hope very much this Bill will go from here to the Dáil and be passed there as well. Having been accused first of all in my early days of being a revolutionary and then of being of a reformist, gradualist and toady, I understand how important it is sometimes in politics to be pragmatic. I appreciate that if I was to push this and be obstreperous about it, that might impede a Bill which represents significant development in Irish society. Therefore, I will be supporting it. I will support the other amendments Senator Bacik tabled and if they are put to a vote I will come and vote in favour of them. I have to do an interview about one of the Ireland's great women, about whom a book is being written, the late Lily Huban, who was my music teacher and a pupil of a pupil of Frédéric Chopin, and a donator of a prize to the feis. Therefore, I will not be in a position to take part in the debate but should votes be called, I will vote with Senator Bacik on the Bill. I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related, and they may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete lines 18 and 19 and substitute the following:

"‘body' means the Executive or a religious body or a philosophical and non-confessional body;

‘philosophical and non-confessional body' means a body which has as one of its functions the celebration of marriage, and which, for the purposes of this Act—

(a) has been performing marriage ceremonies for a period of at least five years, and

(b) at least twenty couples have participated in the marriage ceremony of the body, and

(c) these marriages have been solemnised by a registrar and registered in the register of marriages, and

(d) at least one of these marriages has been registered in the register of marriages at least five years before the date of an application under section 54;”.

I thank Senator Norris for his kind comments and support for the Bill. He is never obstreperous in this Chamber. I also thank other colleagues for their supportive comments on the previous amendment.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Burton, to the House and I am very grateful to her for indicating her support for this Bill on Second Stage and for being so supportive of it during the process of coming to Committee Stage. I also thank her officials who have been extremely helpful and the staff in the Bills Office who have been very helpful on the drafting side.

As colleagues have said, it is an unusual process that a Private Members' Bill would be introduced during Private Members' time in the Seanad and would then proceed to Committee and Report Stages in Government time in the Seanad with Government support. I understand that was formally approved at Cabinet yesterday. It is a very good day for the Seanad that a Bill of this sort, that was introduced as a Private Members' Bill will finish in the Seanad with Government support and will then proceed, I hope, speedily through the Dáil, sponsored by the Minister, Deputy Burton. I thank her once again for her support. I am delighted about this. I have also thanked the humanist association for the initiative it has taken on this and particularly Brian Whiteside who has been extraordinarily helpful on this.

I wish to give colleagues a context for these amendments. Everyone is aware that the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004, the Act which regulates the registration of civil marriages. Under the current version of the Civil Registration Act, the only people who can solemnise or celebrate legal civil marriages are either HSE registrars — who only work Monday to Friday as we know, and that is not in any way to denigrate them it is simply the fact of the matter — or members of a religious body. "A religious body" is defined in the Act to mean "an organised group of people, members of which meet regularly for common religious worship". That definition has enabled quite a large number of religious bodies to apply for and obtain registration for individual members. This issue came up on Second Stage when colleagues asked what organisations were included. If one goes to the website, the website of the registrar general, one will find a register of solemnisers which contains the list of names and addresses of the individual members of the religious bodies and of the HSE who are authorised to perform civil marriages. One will also find the list of the religious bodies which constitute quite an extensive list. It includes the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland but also quite a number of very small churches, some of which are very local churches; the Gospel Hall, Skibbereen jumped out at me, the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, of which we have spoken, the Pagan Federation of Ireland, Riverside Gospel Hall, quite a number of very small ministries which have applied and obtained authorisation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and so on have authorisation. Quite a wide range of groups is covered.

An issue arose on Second Stage about scientologists but I do not believe they are included — they are not on that list but a wide range of other groups is included. Clearly the definition excludes members of the Humanist Association of Ireland who, in practice, for many years now have routinely been conducting both funeral ceremonies and humanist wedding ceremonies, but those humanist wedding ceremonies have no legal status. Couples who wish to have a humanist wedding must in addition to the humanist celebration also go, as everyone in the Gallery knows, to a civil registry office and a registrar to have their marriage celebrated legally, to give their marriage legal effect.

The fact that humanists and other non-religious bodies were excluded from the definition in the Act is clearly out of line with the current situation in Irish society where the proportion of couples choosing a non-religious civil wedding ceremony has dramatically increased from 6% in 1996 to more than 23% in 2006, and there have been further increases since. The CSO has stated that this year for the first time the number of non-religious wedding ceremonies conducted by HSE registrars may exceed the number of religious ceremonies. During yesterday's debate with the Minister, Deputy Quinn, on patronage, we noted the new census figures on the number of non-religious, which has now gone up to 270,000. Those who say they have no religion are the second biggest group after the Catholic Church in terms of faith and belief in Ireland now. The 2004 Act no longer reflects the changing reality of Irish life, whereby large numbers of people are not members of religious bodies and do not wish to have their wedding celebrated through a religious body. I digressed somewhat to give the context of the amendments and I apologise for that. I wanted to explain how we got to put forward these amendments.

When I introduced the Bill on Second Stage on 2 November 2011, the text was to simply change the definition in the Act which currently states an authority, meaning the HSE or a religious body, and to include also "a body designated by the Minister". In a very naive act of drafting, I thought perhaps this would mean that the Minister could then designate bodies such as the Humanist Association of Ireland to be authorised to apply for authorisation for its members to conduct legal weddings.

However, although speakers on both sides universally supported the Bill on 10 November 2011, many speakers, including the Minister, quite rightly expressed the view that specific criteria would need to be provided in the Bill to guide the decision as to which non-religious bodies could apply to have their members conduct legal wedding ceremonies. Coming away from that debate, I thought the simplest method of dealing with this issue would be to do what Senator Mooney has done, and I am grateful to him for tabling amendments, which was to name the Humanist Association of Ireland as another body. In amendment No. 2, Senator Mooney has proposed a change to the definition of "body" such that a "‘body' means an authority or a religious body or the Humanist Association of Ireland". That seemed to be the most straightforward means of amending the Bill to ensure it would do what we all want it to do, which is to enable members of the Humanist Association of Ireland to perform legal ceremonies. However, after a great deal of discussion with the Registrar General and others, including colleagues and the Minister's officials, and following representation from groups and individuals other than the humanists who might at some stage wish to apply for authorisation, I came to the conclusion it would be preferable not to name any one organisation in the Bill. I stated this on Second Stage to explain why I had not done so originally. There is also a clear danger that if we were to name any one organisation in the Bill other organisations might claim discrimination and might launch constitutional challenges. With all of these issues in mind we examined how best to draft or develop a set of criteria to cover the Humanist Association of Ireland and potentially cover other groups which may wish to apply in future, without being too broad because we are speaking about the very important function of the solemnisation of legal marriages.

This is why in amendment No. 1 and those amendments grouped with it the new definition being provided for "body" means the "Executive", which is the more correct summary of the HSE, "or a religious body or a philosophical and non-confessional body". This definition is not plucked from the air but already has legal status under article 17 of the Lisbon treaty. It is used in the dialogue process between the European Commission, the Parliament and the Council and groups such as the Humanist Association through the European Humanist Federation and Atheist Ireland. The phrase "philosophical and non-confessional" already has status and this is important. Article 17 of the Lisbon treaty provides that the European Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the member states and that it equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations. We have used this phrase as the short version of a body that may apply for authorisation under the Act.

Philosophical and non-confessional bodies are further defined to provide specific criteria with which a body must be able to comply to obtain authorisation for its members to conduct legal weddings. Amendment No. 1 to section 3 provides that the body must, for the purposes of the Act, have been performing marriage ceremonies — clearly these will have been non-legally binding marriage ceremonies — for a period of at least five years. The Humanist Association of Ireland has been doing so for more than five years. At least 20 couples must have participated in the marriage ceremonies, and these marriages would have had to have been solemnised by a registrar and registered in the register of marriages. This means we are speaking about at least 20 couples who have had not only a humanist wedding ceremony but also had their wedding lawfully solemnised at a HSE registry office with at least one of the marriages registered at least five years prior to the date of application. The criteria are rigorous and this is an important point to make. It means people will not apply lightly for authorisation, or at least they will not be granted it lightly. It is important that these criteria are specific, but they are also fair and will serve to reflect the reality of modern Ireland.

I have dealt with amendment No. 2 tabled by Senator Mooney to explain why even though it may seem a simpler option it is not. The preferable option is the route we have taken in amendment No. 1. To quickly run through the other amendments, amendments Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 8 make the same technical change to add "philosophical and non-confessional body" after "religious body". Amendments Nos 5 and 7 are tabled by Senator Mooney and I have dealt with them. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are also technical amendments to make the necessary changes to other provisions of the 2004 Act to include "philosophical and non-confessional body" alongside "Executive" and "religious body".

I am gladdened to hear everyone in the House is supportive of the principle and purpose of the Bill. The amendments are to give greater detail and more specific criteria on how we can achieve this purpose and how the Humanist Association of Ireland can apply for authorisation for its members. I am sorry for taking so long to explain it but because the amendments are technical it is important that colleagues are aware of their context, the reason this route was chosen and the reason for the specific criteria.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Perhaps because I was at my son's wedding last week I am minded to comment on this. This is about enabling the Minister to designate certain bodies to administer civil marriage registration. I would prefer if these were designated rather than at ministerial discretion but this is not the import of the point I wish to make. Yesterday morning I listened to an interesting debate on marriage on Newstalk in which Senator Susan O'Keeffe took part. I understand its instigation, and perhaps the Senator will correct me if I am wrong, was the forming of the Marriage Foundation in Britain because of serious concerns about marriage breakdown. Approximately 50% of marriages in Britain break down with a similar figure in the US. There is a very significant cost to the children of such marriages and to society in general. The Minister is not an uninterested bystander because it also impacts on her budget. There are many compelling reasons for structures to support the institution of marriage.

Those getting married in a Catholic church must complete a pre-marriage course. Some people have told me they found it very good and beneficial and others have said they did not think it was as good as it should have been. Those who apply to conduct civil marriage ceremonies should be obliged to provide properly approved pre-marriage courses. Failing this, and I understand some bodies may not have the resources to do so although I do not know, the State should do it. This would recognise that marriage breakdown in this country has caused serious issues for the couples involved and often for their children. It behoves us to try to ensure we build into the system structures to support and endeavour to ensure marriages are sustainable. Part of this involves pre-marriage preparation.

I remember raising a point about the need for mediation services when discussing a justice Bill with a former late Minister. He assured me we would have mediation services within a short period and we did. Mediation services were mentioned in the programme yesterday, not the ones about which I had spoken but rather mediation to assist people divorcing. I applaud this as I think it is good and necessary but many situations arise where appropriate mediation at the early stages of difficulties in a marriage could keep the marriage together. I was listening to the programme as I was driving and I have a feeling it was mentioned or a message was sent in to state a person had been contemplating divorce but through some mechanism, without any real structured basis, the couple involved had ended up working their way through it and subsequently they conceded they were happy they had done so. As a society and State we should try to ensure we do this.

While the Bill is important it is relatively insignificant in the overall context of two people who decide to commit to each other and who have children, and I am very concerned about where children are involved. I have yet to meet anybody from a broken marriage, unless from a high-conflict relationship, who would state anything other than that they regretted the fact their parents broke up. Many people have been scarred as a consequence, psychologically and otherwise. I urge the Minister to consider setting in place either obligations or a State-sponsored system that would encourage and make mandatory pre-marriage courses. In addition, I suggest that in future consideration be given for a structure that would assist people. While I acknowledge certain structures are in place, I am uncertain how proactive they are or how skilled some of those who engage in them are either. There would be a significant payback for society, the State and the individuals involved, were it possible to position the State to be constructive, helpful and of assistance in that particular area. I urge that this be done.

While I may not have mentioned it earlier, I should state officially that Fine Gael supports this Bill. As for some of the amendments under consideration, it is useful to have laid out the particular criteria in amendment No. 1 that could be drawn down by any other group in the future. That is helpful because it means Members will not be obliged to draw up another amendment subsequently. Amendment No. 2 tabled by Senator Mooney, which specifically names the Humanist Association of Ireland, also is useful because historically, this marks a special moment as the point at which it will be able to confer legal status on the marriages the association wishes to carry out. I have one or two questions with regard to amendment No. 1, which proposes to include the phrase, "these marriages have been solemnised by a registrar and registered in the register of marriages". Which registrar is being referred to in this regard and, for example, does it refer to the civil register? My second questions pertains to a phrase that recurs throughout the Bill, namely, "‘body' means the Executive or a religious body or a philosophical and non-confessional body". While I understand fully that the Humanist Association of Ireland is a philosophical body, what exactly is meant by a non-confessional body? While all Members are aware of the connotations associated with the word "confession", the term "non-confessional body" is interesting.

In response to the remarks of Senator Walsh, regardless of whether one ends up with a marriage that is Catholic, civil or humanist, marriage is not simple. When a couple decide to get married and have children together, there is no magic bullet to ensure that even with all their best efforts and all the best will in the world, the marriage always will succeed. One must be careful because the term, "broken marriage" can be dangerous. I know of marriages that have split up in which the families are better for it and I often have heard that a bad marriage is no good for the children. The Senator made a good point about how mediation and counselling can be helpful, with which I agree. He is aware such services are available at present for those who can afford it but in the context of this debate, does the Senator propose a State structure of mediation and counselling to assist people to work through their marriages? The Minister, Deputy Burton, also may wish to comment on that point, given her brief on social protection and the various allowances and schemes that exist to assist one parent families in various circumstances. Ultimately, this debate has been highly interesting because Members are discussing the type of Ireland they desire. Is it an Ireland in which, once one decides to get married, one will be supported in remaining married, if this is what one absolutely wishes to do, for the sake of the couple and the children? Should the State have a role in this regard? This is the question now being asked when there is evidence to suggest this would be the better thing for society and the Bill has opened up a very broad debate.

As for the amendments before Members, my understanding is they are not discussing the definition of marriage itself in this debate. Were they to so do, I certainly would assure Senators Norris and Zappone that I would have no difficulty in including gay and lesbian couples within the institution of marriage. However, I will preface my remaining remarks by noting Members are not discussing the institution of marriage.

There is no question or doubt regarding the importance of marriage and the critical importance of the institution of marriage for the stability of any society. In this regard, I consider this Bill to be a positive step because in the context of the stability of marriage, the capacity to marry within one's own belief structures surely is of vital importance to the success or otherwise of that marriage. I believe this legislation constitutes a significant step forward in that regard. I also believe it is important not to limit this debate to the humanist group as I believe that in the future, if we are to look forward to inclusiveness, other groups within society will seek to be in a position to solemnise marriage ceremonies. As such, it is important to consider the criteria as to which groups should or should not have the capacity to perform this highly important role within society. I consider the criteria as set out to be sufficiently rigorous not to undermine the institution of marriage itself, which is an incredibly significant institution. If anything, the requirement, for example, that marriages will have been performed for a period of five years before the date of application to be entered on the register of solemnisers will be a quite difficult criterion to reach. Moreover, for any new body coming forward, particularly given the change in Irish society over the past decade in particular, this will be a significantly high bar to reach. If anything, I would have suggested a period of three years might be more realistic.

I agree with the comments of Senator Walsh that it is important to support institutions — I would not restrict such support to the institution of marriage — that support the family, whatever those institutions may be. I also believe there may be a role for a debate, particularly in respect of children, as to how society is treating the changing role of the institution of marriage and other institutions. As matters stand, given the future development of society, it is important to avoid being overly prescriptive, while at the same time being sufficiently rigorous in how groups that are capable of solemnising the institution of marriage are categorised. In the context of moving forward in this society, Senator Mooney might consider not restricting the legislation to one particular group.

Some specific points were raised and I wish to respond briefly to them. As Senator Hayden has noted, this debate did indeed open up into a discussion on marriage more generally. However, the Bill has a relatively narrow purpose. While it undoubtedly is a small but significant step towards the recognition of a more pluralist Ireland, it has quite a narrow purpose, which simply is to extend the definition to enable organisations like the Humanist Association of Ireland to apply for authorisation for its members to conduct legal weddings. That is the important point to make and it is not about marriages more broadly.

In response to a couple of the points raised, I am grateful to Senator Healy Eames for indicating Fine Gael's support. As I have stated, this Bill is supported by the Government and I am delighted it clearly has this support and will proceed to the Dáil as a Government Bill. The amendments would circumscribe ministerial discretion. The concern on Second Stage was that too broad a discretion had been left to the Minister and there were no criteria. These amendments seek to apply a set of rigorous criteria but that are not so rigid that they would exclude everyone. They are rigorous and fair. Senator Healy Eames asked about the criteria which requires that marriages be solemnised by a registrar and recorded in the register of marriages. This refers to HSE registrars. In other words, to get accreditation a body like the humanists would have to show that it had performed marriage ceremonies for at least 20 couples in the previous five years and that those couples had also had legal civil wedding ceremonies with a HSE registrar. As I stated——

——and as mentioned by Senator Hayden, the five year provision is relatively rigorous. At least one marriage must have been registered for more than five years prior to the application.

The definition of "philosophical and non-confessional body" was taken from the Lisbon treaty. The definition of "philosophical" is clear enough. As I understand it, "non-confessional" means that the body is a body which does not take confessions from its members. In other words it does not apply sacraments. It is I suppose another way of saying it is a non-religious body. It is a definition I favoured because it is clearly set out already in European law and appears to be an objective definition in respect of groups such as the humanists.

I congratulate Senator Bacik on introducing this important legislation and thank all parties in the Seanad for their work on it.

In Ireland, we rightly value the institution of marriage. We recognise it in our legislation and acknowledge it socially. When two people make a public commitment to each other by way of marriage, it is a cause of great celebration. It is one of those occasions when not only do people wish to have their family and friends around them, but also wish to celebrate in a manner which is appropriate to their belief system.

The proposed amendment to the Bill before us seeks to widen the circle of belief systems whose facilitation of the celebration of marriage are formally acknowledged in our registration system. I concur with the comments of Senators Hayden and Walsh on the importance of marriage, in particular for the children of marriage and on the need for the State to be sensitive and caring towards people who are married. It must be acknowledged that many marriages do run into difficulty. Expert mediation can be extremely helpful to people experiencing such difficulty, in particular in avoiding expensive legally-based adversarial procedures. What often does the most damage in terms of the break-up of a marriage is intense adversarial legal proceedings involving a couple who were previously sufficiently in love to commit to marriage, which is extremely difficult for the children of that marriage because most children love their mothers and their fathers and do not want to see them in dispute.

On the technical element of amendment No. 1, the purpose of the amendment is to extend the definition of "a body" in section 45 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 to include a "philosophical and non-confessional body". The Bureau of European Policy Advisers was established in the 1990s by the then President of the European Commission, Mr. Jacques Delors, to facilitate dialogue between churches and communities of convictions and the European integration process. Article 17 of the Lisbon treaty has lifted that dialogue from good practice to legal obligation, enshrined in primary law. Article 17 provides that the EU respects the status under national law of churches and religious associations in member states and equally respects the status under national law of "philosophical and non-confessional" organisations and that the EU shall maintain and open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations, thus the recognition of philosophical and non-confessional bodies contained in the Lisbon treaty provides guidance as to the most appropriate way to address the objectives of the Bill.

The Lisbon treaty does not include a definition of a "philosophical and non-confessional body" but it is appropriate to devise such a definition solely for the purposes of the Civil Registration Act 2004. The definition is intended to establish the bona fides of bodies wishing to solemnise marriages, to require that such bodies have a substantial tradition or track record of providing marriage ceremonies and to ensure that such ceremonies are taken seriously by all concerned in that they have been registered in the civil register following solemnisation by a registrar under the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004. I consider that the amendment provides for adequate safeguards in regard to these matters and I am happy to accept it.

As stated by Senator Bacik, a register of bodies authorised to solemnise marriages currently exists, which register is available on the website of the General Registrar's Office. The register includes a wide number of churches and religious organisations, including the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, the Blanchardstown Baptist Church, the Pagan Federation of Ireland, the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, the Six Principles Baptist Church of Ireland, the Salvation Army and so on. This Bill seeks to extend that definition in line with the European treaties to include and acknowledge the humanists as people who perform marriages and to recognise in the conditionality that is set down that we mark that this is a serious and solemn power being given to a religious, philosophical or non-confessional bodies. Hence, the conditionality which we feel to be appropriate to underline and mark the solemnity of the celebration of marriage and the important function carried out by people who are solemnisers.

What should have been a simple and straightforward procedure has become bogged down with a variety of technicalities. A succession of amendments, which I can only describe as jumping through hoops, have been tabled to this Bill.

I refer the House to the Second Stage debate on this Bill in which Senator Bacik stated:

The majority of registered solemnisers are members of the well-known churches — the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and so on. The definition I have mentioned covers organisations such as Pagan Federation Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland. As they have applied for and obtained registration under the Act, their individual members may seek to be entered on the register of solemnisers. Although the definition is relatively broad, it excludes members of the Humanist Association of Ireland, who routinely conduct humanist funeral, naming and wedding ceremonies.

This is the reason we tabled the amendment. The main provision of the Civil Registration Act 2004 relates to marriage. It provides for common preliminaries and a single set of documentation for all marriages, the introduction of the marriage registration form, a single licensing system, establishment of a register of solemnisers and provision for a choice of venue for civil marriages.

Section 51 provides that a marriage may only be legally solemnised by a registered solemniser. It goes on to state that a religious body is defined as "an organised group of people, members of which meet regularly for common religious worship". That was what raised the whole issue on Second Stage. I do not think pagans refer to themselves as being religious, although maybe they do.

Religious would seem to suggest it is about a higher being but perhaps they have a different wording. The point has been made that if pagans and spiritualists can get licences, there is hardly any other institution that comes within the scope of the Bill. That is true. This legislation was introduced in 2004. Has there been an application from anybody who has been excluded under the legislation and who has said it is not inclusive? As I said on Second Stage, and on which we are all agreed, the original legislation and its drafters were attempting to achieve inclusivity. The whole purpose of the legislation was about inclusivity and they did everything in their power not to exclude anybody.

One body, to which Senator Bacik referred, the Humanist Association of Ireland, is excluded under the current definitions. Essentially, that is what this Bill is all about. Now we have many wider definitions which will be introduced. I do not have any great problem with them but I am curious to establish their purpose and who they address, other than the Humanist Association of Ireland. What other organisation has applied and has been turned down for a licence to act as a solemniser since this legislation was introduced eight years ago?

That is not the point.

It is the point. The legislation has been in operation for eight years.

The Bill should be there for others who may meet the criteria in the future.

We are giving the Minister for Social Protection the power to designate bodies which may apply for the registration of members to solemnise marriages. That is what this is about. We are giving the Minister the power to do that into the future.

Time and again in her Second Stage contribution, Senator Bacik made reference to the fact the Humanist Association of Ireland was not involved. Listening to her Second Stage contribution, it seemed the whole purpose of her drafting this legislation was to include the Humanist Association of Ireland. Now we have a wider definition and the Minister of the day can decide who or what may register.

On Second Stage, I argued very strongly about the primacy of Parliament and that it should decide and not the Minister of the day because who knows what particular ethos or philosophy the Minister of the day will have. The Church of Scientology could be included. Senator O'Keeffe should not look quizzically; she knows what it is.

It could be included — people who rely on a bunch of aliens for their higher thinking.

This is very serious legislation which was initially introduced to be as inclusive as possible and has proven to be over the past eight years, with the exception of the Humanist Association of Ireland. That is why I tabled this amendment, which is very specific. It does not go into all the other elements.

By the way, I am not, in any way, diminishing the efforts Senator Bacik made. It is her Bill and I praised it and her initiative on Second Stage. I have not changed my view on that but this was being rolled over as if somehow we were into a new age of enlightenment here by including all these amendments in legislation, which the Minister will agree is quite simple and straightforward. Now it will have a whole load of bells and whistles attached to it — the reason being to include the Humanist Association of Ireland. I have heard no argument from Senator Bacik as to why she is including all of this other than to ensure the Minister is given the widest possible latitude to include the Humanist Association of Ireland.

Our amendment states that "body" means an authority or a religious body or the Humanist Association of Ireland. It seems to be pretty straightforward. There are no complexities about that. It is simple language and it fits easily into the legislation.

I will respond to Senator Mooney. It is unfortunate in a debate in which we are all in agreement — everybody has welcomed the Bill — that Senator Mooney's words were delivered in a somewhat discordant style. That may not have been his intention but he sounded somewhat hostile at certain times and that is unfortunate.

The first thing I should say about these amendments is that they have the full support of the Humanist Association of Ireland, members of which are sitting in the visitors' Gallery at my invitation and with whom I have consulted at every step of the way. They are entirely happy with the rigorous criteria set down here. Senator Mooney quoted my words on Second Stage, which I absolutely stand over. I am grateful to him for reminding the House of them. On Second Stage, we debated at length the issue of criteria. Everyone was in agreement on Second Stage that the Bill, as I had originally drafted it, was too broad and that it did not set any criteria and simply said the Minister would designate. It was wide open, therefore, for groups such as commercial groups to apply for designation and to be able to perform marriages for commercial purposes — Las Vegas style, I suppose. That is certainly not what I want or what anyone wants.

On Second Stage it appeared as if there were two routes we could go down on Committee Stage. One route of amendment would be to name the Humanist Association of Ireland and another route would have been to set down a rigorous set of criteria. As I said, subsequent to the Second Stage debate, I received representations from other groups and individuals who said that they might wish to have authorisation to solemnise marriages in the future.

Could Senator Bacik name them?

Atheist Ireland, which is included as one of the philosophical and non-confessional organisations under the European definition. There are other groups which may not have applied yet but which potentially may do so in the future should they fit rigorous criteria. I certainly did not wish to close off that potential. I do not make any judgment about any group as to whether it might wish to apply in the future, because it is clearly not my place.

There was also a further concern, which I have already set out as a reason for the way in which the amendments are drafted, that if a non-religious group which was not named but which identified itself as wishing to perform marriages in the future wished to apply and saw the Humanist Association of Ireland had been named, there was a danger it might challenge the Bill under the Constitution as being discriminatory. That concern, having discussed the matter with officials, others and, indeed, the humanists, weighed heavily enough on me and I felt the better of the two approaches we had identified on Second Stage was to go down the route of rigorous criteria.

I think everyone is in agreement that these criteria are rigorous and it will be very difficult for non-religious bodies to apply for registration. That is right and proper as nobody wants to see it opened too widely.

In terms of the numerous groups the Minister and I listed which already have authorisation, the vast number of solemnisers are still from the main churches because the individuals authorised must be members of the religious bodies. If one looks at the number of individuals listed, the vast bulk of them are from the main churches. There is usually only one or two named individuals from the very small groups.

I think we are all in agreement about the need for this Bill. The format the amendments take is the question. I think I have outlined fairly fully, as has the Minister, the reason these amendments giving the criteria are preferable to the amendments naming the Humanist Association of Ireland. I suppose the proof of the pudding is that the Humanist Association of Ireland is very happy with the definition included in my amendments.

Everybody is in agreement that marriage is a fairly fundamental institution in society and that it is important that those who solemnise marriage meet certain criteria and a certain standard and that it is a serious event. We have seen examples of it being trivialised. There is one example in the headlines with people doing it for the publicity and maybe the money they will gain from the publicity. That is not good and sends wrong signals to young people. If we allow that to happen, we cannot be surprised at the number of marriage breakdowns and the consequent cost to the State and society as a result. There are many examples. All we have to do is look at other countries. We are in a better position than they are now but if we do not do this properly, we will not be in as good a position.

I am inclined to be prescriptive in this regard. The Minister may well be very responsible in the way she will adjudicate on this but anybody could hold her portfolio.

What tends to happen in many of these cases is that anybody could hold that portfolio. The individual concerned could be susceptible to lobbying for numerous reasons or else ideologically inclined to accept bodies which would bring the institution of marriage into disrepute. I am not in favour of that. I agree with Senator Bacik that we need to define section 3 in the original Act because it was wide open. However, I have yet to be approached by a constituent claiming to have a problem because of this issue. I do not want a situation where some people sitting in a pub one evening can decide to form a non-confessional body.

I am surprised the Minister intends to proceed with this despite admitting that the concept of a philosophical and non-confessional body is not defined. That is a recipe for disaster. I have yet to see legislation which does not clearly define the concepts to which it refers. That is the minimum I would like to see in this Bill. I have no difficulty with the involvement of the Humanist Association of Ireland but everybody seems to be hitching the wagons to that organisation. I have attended a couple of funerals presided over by members of that association and they were conducted with dignity and empathy for the bereaved. I have not yet attended a wedding involving the association, however.

I am somewhat suspicious about where we are going with these measures. Senator Bacik mentioned a number of organisations which might apply in the future. Perhaps I do not fully understand the definition. They would have to perform ceremonies for a period of at least five years and at least 20 couples would have to partake in their marriage ceremonies. How would they meet these criteria if they have not already been designated and approved? Perhaps I am missing something but we need to be careful not to jump on ideological bandwagons. We must ensure citizens have a right to be married, appropriately and with the commitment that should accompany marriage, in the environment they desire. If they do not want a religious environment, they should have the right to choose otherwise. However, the definition should not be so broad that it allows any group to solemnise a marriage.

I have seen, not too far from where I live, some celebrities bring a child up a mountain for baptism. It came across as a bit of a joke and that may have been the intention of the exercise but if we allow that to happen, particularly in respect of marriage, the thought processes of other people may bring them to regard it as a trivial exercise which does not require real commitment. We have seen examples of that elsewhere. We would be wrong if by legislating we allow that to happen, and we would be appalling if we encouraged it.

Naming an organisation would confine the legislation. The CSO recently published figures revealing that one in five weddings taking place in this country is civil. Not all of these will be humanist. The Minister outlined the organisations that have already been defined. That law was passed by Senator Walsh's Government. The definition that applied previously will continue to apply. If we set out criteria for every single body, religious or otherwise, the Bill would be as big as the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

I concur with Senator Walsh regarding the structures to support marriage institutions. We cannot legislate to mandate groups to do anything because it is their own business but it is a good idea to ask them to facilitate pre-marital counselling courses. Marriage is not something anyone enters into lightly. Many of these organisations already offer counselling but I have noticed that commercial groups are now providing courses for profit.

I welcome the amendments proposed by Senator Bacik and the Labour Party. We are catching up with Scotland. The first bride to tie the knot under Scotland's humanist legislation in 2005 came from County Clare. Society is changing and people are living together. We have to facilitate them because, as our legislation recognises, living together and marriage are two different things.

Senator Walsh is right to advise caution but this is why rules and procedures have been put in place. The idea that organisations would apply because an individual desired to conduct marriage ceremonies is fanciful. Organisations will have to demonstrate their seriousness of intent by seeking to be included. By putting a framework in place we will be taking the issue seriously. We do not want to legislate for one group after another. In a country that is increasingly aware of the separation between church and State, this is our moment to make space for other organisations, like the Humanist Association of Ireland and, perhaps, Atheist Ireland, to come forward.

In regard to the idea that a Minister may be more vulnerable to lobbying on this issue than on other areas of policy, we have always taken a risk in regard to whom we appoint as Ministers. Some have performed better than others but we cannot give up on legislation because we fear a Minister might behave in a manner that is not quite kosher. If we did that, we would never legislate for anything.

I am disappointed in Senator Bacik's suggestion that my style of debating could be interpreted as introducing a discordant note. It is probably more out of frustration than anything else. My initial interpretation of her motives in introducing this legislation was that she wanted to facilitate the Humanist Association of Ireland. She has since mentioned another organisation, Atheist Ireland, which I did not even know existed. Does that organisation possess a formal structure? Does it celebrate weddings? Does it have some form of blessing or something that meets the criteria set out in the Bill? Since the legislation was introduced in 2004 has there been one application from any organisation that was excluded under the original 2004 legislation? By the Minister's silence I know the answer already — there has been none unless there has been one about which we have not heard. I will not oppose the Bill. In one sense I felt it was being helpful by introducing the one organisation that has seen itself to be excluded. It is obvious that it is a matter of such import to it that its representatives are in the Gallery today and I welcome them. We tabled this amendment in order to simplify the situation.

I understand Senator Bacik's reasons for specifying the criteria. In fairness to her, a query on the criteria was raised on Second Stage. I will not labour the point further. While I will not take the matter to extremes, given the original motives of the Bill I feel all this is unnecessary to facilitate an organisation that feels excluded. The drafters of the original legislation went out of their way to ensure they had almost total inclusivity. That was the purpose of the original 2004 legislation.

Does the Minister wish to comment?

I was just consulting with the registrar on Senator Mooney's question. Three bodies had their applications refused by the Registrar General. These applications were subsequently appealed to the previous Minister. One appeal was upheld, one rejected and one is still under appeal. I understand that the one that was upheld was that of Pagan Federation Ireland, which represents people who would describe themselves as witches and so on. They would have a variety of beliefs and describe themselves as forming a federation. That was upheld by the previous Minister because it came within the remit of the original legislation. One is under appeal — I believe it was a community-type body that applied. Its qualification was not clear, but obviously the organisation itself felt — perhaps for good reason — that it wished to have people solemnise weddings.

In the very interesting debate we have had all those who spoke said they want to see the celebration of the institution of marriage done in an appropriate and solemn way. The definition has been taken from the work done at European level to get a definition that is appropriate and reflected in the Lisbon treaty. As has been said here the conditions are onerous requiring bodies qualifying under those conditions to have a track record and a certain time to have elapsed so that it will be possible to identify that they meet the criteria. The alternative of having a looser regime might result in the surprising qualification of a number of organisations that Senators present might not welcome celebrating and solemnising marriages. In some jurisdictions, particularly in some states in the United States, there is a very commercial element to the solemnisation of marriage often in ways that we in Ireland would not find appropriate in terms of the solemnity and the statement the couple is making to their family and friends, and to society in general.

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply.

I remind Senators that this debate is scheduled to end at 1.30 p.m. and we still need to get through a considerable number of amendments.

This is my final observation. I quote the Minister's comments on Second Stage:

It may also be worth examining whether there is a case for the Registrar General to have a role in the designation process. Under the current system, bodies may apply to the Registrar General. If the Registrar General refuses to register a person or cancels an existing registration, the affected person may appeal this decision to the Minister [as she outlined in the cases she mentioned]. In the circumstances, it would appear reasonable for the same system to apply.

While I presume it cannot be dealt with under this legislation, has the Minister given any further thought to it?

Regarding support for marriage as an institution, it has often been said that states in general facilitate to an extraordinary degree the solemnising of a union between two people without having any safeguards or bells and whistles attached. In other words people are not required to satisfy any criteria. Senator Walsh mentioned the Catholic Church's practice of obliging people to take pre-marriage courses. It is amazing that the State does not provide ongoing support for marriages. It provides support for marriages that have, unfortunately, broken up or failed, which is commendable. However, the State does not involve itself in ensuring that people are suitable for marriage. I know it is an age-old question. I ask the Minister to address the specific question of her comments on the registrar.

The regulations are set out in the legislation. Senator Mooney's party introduced that legislation. I believe the arrangements are coherent and workable, which is important. They also provide for an appropriate, if one likes, qualification which assists in ensuring that due solemnity and ceremony is attached to the solemnisation of marriage as opposed to a different model which might result in it becoming over-commercialised as has happened in some jurisdictions. While ultimately we all hope for the best for two people who get married, it does not always work out, but that is a different situation. We are just discussing the celebration and solemnisation of marriage. That is all that is relevant to the legislation.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, before section 4, to insert the following new section:

"4.—Section 51(3)(c) of the Act of 2004 is amended by inserting the words “or philosophical and non-confessional body” after the words “religious body”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, lines 23 and 24, to delete "or a body designated by the Minister," and substitute "or a philosophical and non-confessional body,".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 3, lines 27 and 28, to delete "or a body designated by the Minister," and substitute "or a philosophical and non-confessional body,".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 3, after section 5, to insert the following new section:

"6.—Section 54(3) of the Act of 2004 is amended by inserting the words "or a philosophical and non-confessional body" after the words "religious body".".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 12 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 3, after section 5, to insert the following new section:

"7.—The Act of 2004 is amended by the insertion of a new Section 54A:

"54A.—(1) An application under section 54 by a philosophical and non-confessional body to have a member or members registered in the Register of Solemnisers shall not be accepted unless an tArd Chláraitheoir is satisfied that—

(a) the body in question has been performing marriage ceremonies for a period of at least five years, and

(b) at least twenty couples have participated in the marriage ceremony of the body, and

(c) these marriages have been solemnised by a registrar and registered in the register of marriages, and

(d) at least one of these marriages has been registered in the register of marriages at least five years before the date of the application.

(2) The body in question shall provide such evidence as an tArd Chláraitheoir may determine to satisfy him or her that the conditions specified in subsection (1) have been met and such evidence shall include direct evidence from the couples referred to in paragraph (b) and (d) of subsection (1), or as many of them as is practicable.

(3) A member of a philosophical and non-confessional body who is registered in the Register of Solemnisers may not solemnise a marriage unless at least one of the parties to the marriage is a member of the body in question.".

We have had a very full debate on the other amendments and essentially this is part of the same series of amendments but somewhat different. The amendment would insert a new section 54A into the 2004 Act which would refer specifically to applications by a philosophical and non-confessional body. It sets out the same criteria we have already debated and agreed. It just requires that the body would provide such evidence as the Registrar General, an tArd Chláraitheoir, may determine to satisfy him or her that the conditions have been met. This responds to some of the points made by others. It will not be a body designated by the Minister — it will be the Registrar General who will adjudicate on the applications as the registrar currently adjudicates on applications by religious bodies.

Subsection (3) of the new section would require that a member of a philosophical non-confessional body registered in the Register of Solemnisers will not be able to solemnise a marriage unless at least one of the parties to the marriage is a member of the body in question. This is a further relatively onerous requirement which would mean that anyone, for example, who wishes to have a humanist solemniser celebrate his or her marriage would have to be a member of the Humanist Association of Ireland. That amendment, which would create a new section, is entirely in keeping with the amendments we have already discussed. Amendment No. 12 simply inserts a new subsection to create an offence where a person breaches section 54A(3). Again, this is very much linked with amendment No. 9. We have already debated the criteria, and the substance of the amendments has already been passed. These are further amendments to facilitate applications by a philosophical non-confessional body.

I am sorry I forgot to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley. He is very welcome to the House.

I also welcome the Minister of State.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 3, after section 5, to insert the following new section:

"8.—Section 56(5) of the Act of 2004 is amended as follows:

(a) in paragraph (a) by inserting the words “or a philosophical and nonconfessional body,” after the words “religious body” and by deleting “,” after the words “religious body”;

(b) in paragraph (c) by replacing subparagraph (i) with the following:

"(i) in case the appeal is by the Executive, a religious body or a philosophical and non-confessional body, by a judge of the circuit in which the Executive, the religious body or the philosophical and non-confessional body has its principal place of business or its principal office,";

(c) in paragraph (c)(ii) by inserting the words “or a philosophical and nonconfessional body” after the words “religious body”;

(d) in paragraph (c) by replacing subparagraph (iii) with the following:

"(iii) in case the appeal is by a person (other than the Executive or a religious body or a philosophical and non-confessional body) and the Executive, a religious body or a philosophical and non-confessional body, by a judge of the circuit in which the Executive or the body has its principal place of business or its principal office.".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 3, after section 5, to insert the following new section:

"9.—Section 57(1) of the Act of 2004 is amended by inserting the words "or a philosophical and non-confessional body," after the words "religious body" and by deleting "," after the words "religious body".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 3, after section 5, to insert the following new section:

"10.—Section 69(10) of the Act of 2004 is amended by the insertion of a new paragraph (k) as follows:

"(k) contravenes subsection (3) of section 54A,”.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I compliment Senator Bacik, as I did on Second Stage, for initiating this important legislation. I also thank her for addressing, not just adequately but enthusiastically, a number of points made about inherent flaws in the Bill during the full and comprehensive debate that took place on Second Stage. I am sure the original objectives she set herself will now be achieved. We can all feel confident that when the Humanist Association of Ireland makes its application under the new amended legislation, it will be included on the list. I wish it well.

I thank the Senator for dealing with this legislation and also for her prescience in ensuring that those of us who were contributing to the debate were brought up to speed with documentation relating to it by e-mail in the last couple of days. I am grateful to her for that.

I thank Senator Mooney for his kind comments. I did try to ensure people were kept up to speed by e-mailing all colleagues a briefing on the amendments and the rationale behind them, and I am grateful to all colleagues on both sides of the House that the amended Bill has passed unanimously. The aim with which we were all in agreement — that the Humanist Association of Ireland be included in the Register of Solemnisers — can now be fulfilled by this legislation. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, for coming to the debate, and, in particular, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, who has been hugely supportive of this Bill. I also thank the Registrar General, the officials and advisers in the Minister's office, and the Bills Office, as well as colleagues in the Labour Party group, who sponsored this originally, and on both sides of the House.

This is a good day for the Seanad. This is a Private Members' Bill from the Seanad that has been accepted by the Government and will now proceed to the Dáil, sponsored by the Minister, Deputy Burton, and passed — very soon, I hope — as a Government Bill. To be personal for a moment, I have attended many humanist wedding ceremonies, which of course had non-legal status until now, and I very much look forward to attending my first legally binding humanist wedding ceremony. There was some reference during the full and considered debate to marriage break-up, but this relates to a very happy occasion, the celebration of marriage.

This Bill seeks to ensure that those who wish to have their marriage celebrated by a member of the Humanist Association of Ireland or a philosophical non-confessional body can now do so in a legal way. It is an inclusive Bill and represents a small but significant step towards greater inclusiveness in Irish society. It will greatly improve the quality of life for those who wish to have humanist wedding ceremonies and it will ensure our laws are somewhat more reflective of our pluralist and diverse society.

I thank the members of the Humanist Association of Ireland for their forbearance with the difficult legislative process, although I must point out that this Bill was relatively quick to pass through the Seanad. I hope it will pass through the Dáil even more quickly.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.25 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.