Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him and his staff for coming before the House to deal with this matter. This is a Bill "to provide for the effects in civil law of persons who are missing, including arrangements for interim management of the missing person's property, and to provide for the civil status of the missing person where the circumstances of their absence leads to a presumption of death; and to provide for related matters". It stems from a Law Reform Commission report of 2013 which contained a very detailed examination of the existing law in this area. The number of families directly affected is quite small but it is important that we consider the issue, which the Law Reform Commission deemed important. The membership of the Law Reform Commission at the time of the publication of the report comprised Mr. Justice John Quirke, who had by then retired from his position as a High Court judge, Finola Flanagan, barrister-at-law, Donncha O'Connell, Tom O'Malley, who is from the Minister of State's area, and Marie Baker, who was a senior counsel at the time and who has since been appointed to the High Court. These people had much experience and a very long number of years of legal background. They examined this area quite extensively and produced a report which runs to more than 100 pages. They considered all the legal issues involved in cases of missing persons.

The problem at present is that if a person goes missing and everyone knows that he or she has died but a body has not been located, an inquest cannot proceed. There is a procedure under the Coroners Act, I believe, whereby the Minister for Justice and Equality can give a direction for the coroner to hold an inquest. There have been a number of such cases but they have been very rare. The problem is that when someone disappears and no body is found, a death certificate cannot be obtained and there are, therefore, many matters one cannot deal with, such as the person's bank accounts and property. Mortgages, for example, present difficulties. I was looking at the figures in this regard. There were 62,426 cases of people reported as missing over a ten-year period, and after extensive searches and so on, 385 still could not be located. In the region of 7,000 people per year - approximately 20 each day - go missing or are reported as such. One might say the number is quite high. Many people are located and identified but, as I said, more than 385 people were still not accounted for.

There was a case in the south where a couple just disappeared overnight and to this day have never been located. In County Tipperary a man was missing for two years and nothing could be done until the body was eventually located in a slurry tank. Everybody knew the person was dead because his account had not been touched, the car had not been moved and the passport was still in place.

In dealing with legislation on missing persons we must be careful of the issue of fraud. There was one case, the John Darwin case in 2002, where this man went missing and the body could not be located. There was a drawdown of a life insurance policy. The man subsequently turned up in a police station a number of years later. Both he and his wife were prosecuted. Such cases are very rare. In Scotland this law is in place and an average of five court orders, called a presumption of death order, are made per annum. Under my proposed Bill, a person will apply to the Circuit Court for a presumption of death order. In Scotland, the average is five applications a year, which is quite small but it is still important for the families who are directly affected. In the period up to 2011, of the 150 cases that had gone through the court, only one person subsequently turned out to be alive. It was very effective for the families and of assistance to them.

Section 23 of the Coroners Act 1962 provides that where death has occurred and all the evidence is available that a death has occurred but no body has been identified, the Minister can direct that an inquest would be held. That would arise in cases where a person is lost at sea or where a building has been burned down but the remains cannot be identified because the damage was so extensive.

When the Law Reform Commission was preparing this report, it looked at legislation in Australia, Canada, Scotland and other jurisdictions. There was a great deal of research done on it. It is important that we move forward in this matter. One of the things that happens here that I do not like, is that we produce reports and then park them on shelves. This has tended to happen in cases like this. The Law Reform Commission report was produced more than six years ago and we have not brought forward any legislation on it.

The Bill sets out what needs to be done and the procedures that can be put in place. Section 1 sets out the definitions and terms used throughout the Bill. A definition of "missing person" is clearly set out. Section 2 sets out the persons who may apply for orders under the Bill. Section 3 sets out an application for an order of presumption of death and provides for an order for the interim management of the property of the missing person. The sections set out both the procedure that needs to be adopted. It is a Circuit Court application and there is a very detailed structure on the management of the affairs of the missing person. Before the court makes an order it must be satisfied that all of the criteria have been produced to the court. It is very comprehensive in dealing with that issue.

Let me give an example. The appointment of an interim manager may only be made when (a) it is not known whether the missing person is alive, (b) reasonable efforts have been made to find the person, and (c) where the person has not contacted anybody who lives at the person's last known home address for at least 90 days, or any relative or friend of the person with whom the person is likely to communicate. The Bill sets out all of the criteria that must be met. If the person dealing with the court application, be it the county registrar or the Circuit Court judge, is in any doubt whatsoever he or she may look for further information before making the order. They will not be rushing off making an order unless all of the criteria have been satisfied.

There are checks and balances in the Bill. While the Bill is published, I am not saying it is written in stone. If the Department wants to table further amendments, I have no difficulty in dealing with that.

I believe we need to bring forward this Bill and we need to ensure it is put in place at an early date in order to cater for the families where the person who is missing has property, bank accounts or assets that cannot be managed. At present one must wait for seven years before a final order can be made. There is a period of uncertainty that needs to be dealt with.

I understand that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is seconding the Bill.

I second the Bill. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Canney. It is good to see him here even in these traumatic days.

Within the first hour of this debate, one person on average will have been reported missing in Ireland. One person goes missing every hour of every day. For family, friends, carers and social workers, there is possibly nothing as traumatic as not knowing what has happened to their loved one or the person they care for. The number of missing persons reported in Ireland has increased from 5,000 in 2004 to 9,000 in 2014. I welcome the announcement in recent days that the Garda Síochána is set to gain access to the EU-wide border security database for the first time next year which will assist in finding missing loved ones. The Bill that Senator Colm Burke has introduced would go further in assisting this work.

On 30 January 2013, as Senator Colm Burke has alluded to, the Law Reform Commission published a report on civil law aspects of missing persons and made 19 separate recommendations that formed the basis of the Bill before the House and the work undertaken by the then Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. In the previous Oireachtas, Senator Colm Burke's Bill was accepted in principle by the then Government and the then Minister, Mr. Alan Shatter. I hope this Government would make further progress on this initiative as this would make a significant difference to those affected.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016, a Bill that gives clarity under the law to people who have loved ones who are missing for long periods of time and who are unfortunately very unlikely to return home to their families. People in this situation at present are caught up in legal uncertainty as to what their options are when a loved one is missing and the Bill aims to rectify this by putting in place a statutory framework which would provide for the making of a presumption of death order in respect of two categories. The first category is where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that the death is virtually certain and the second is where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return. The records of the missing persons bureau of the Garda Síochána show that almost 20 people are reported missing every day, totalling 7,000 persons reported missing annually. While in the vast majority of cases the persons who have been thought to be missing turn up safely, unfortunately some do not.

As the law presently stands in cases where a people remain missing and it is clear from all evidence available that they have died, there is no legal procedure available to allow for their estate to be managed. This is what we are talking about. While families of missing persons always hold out hope for their safe return, it is not always the case that they will return. Where it is not the case, it is helpful to the families to have a clear, legal pathway as to what their options are when dealing with estates, money and property, if any exist. Regardless of whether the missing person returns, those left behind are faced with immediate practical problems, such as how to deal with mortgage payments, how to deal with the lack of access to bank accounts that might become overdrawn, insurance, and all that life has left behind.

This only adds to the stress on families and we can help to alleviate that stress with this Bill, which I welcome.

The Bill is also intended to clarify the legal position as to who is entitled to apply to the court for an interim manager to be appointed to administrate the missing person's estate and what procedures must be complied with before the courts will issue a presumption of death order. The applicant may be a spouse, civil partner, cohabitee of the missing person or another family member. When someone is missing for a very long period and in most cases presumed to have passed away, a coroner will also be able to supply a death certificate if the court agrees. The fact that this can be done by a coroner along with the courts will hopefully go some way towards giving a family closure, a word I do not like, bringing an end to their living of a somewhat alien life and allowing them to begin the grieving and healing process that we all must go through when a loved one is lost.

While this Bill is largely technical in nature, it will be helpful to many families. Regardless of the circumstances of a disappearance or the period of absence of the missing person, the impact on those left behind, family members in particular, cannot be underestimated. As the disappearance of any person is often unanticipated and unexpected, the emotional trauma caused by that disappearance can be devastating for those left behind. I am currently writing a report for the Government on dying, death and bereavement in Ireland. I know, from what I have learned while preparing that report, that the devastation of those who are left behind, who do not know what has happened to a loved one, particularly when people have been missing for many years and are unlikely to return, is appalling. The mother of a missing teenager in England stated:

There is no preparation, no luxury of hindsight for dealing with the loss of a loved one. You are thrown into an alien world.

We must try to give some clarity to those people who have faced the devastation of losing a loved one in such tragic, unanticipated and unexpected circumstances. It is on these grounds that I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State. Fianna Fáil is happy to support this Bill. I commend Senator Colm Burke and others on all the work they have done in respect of this legislation, including Members of the previous Seanad. This Bill has been a long time coming. As Senator Colm Burke outlined, it was drafted on foot of a Law Reform Commission report which suggested the streamlining of the law relating to this area. We are happy to support it.

As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell outlined, the disappearance of a loved one leaves people in a limbo emotionally, psychologically and, often, financially. It is great that there will finally be a clear framework in place because the current model is cumbersome, costly and involves applications to the High Court. I am glad to see that future applications will be to the Circuit Court, which will limit the financial exposure of families who are already suffering and going through a very difficult time. I commend Senator Colm Burke for bringing this issue to the House's attention.

The two categories of persons that this legislation will cover is also significant because every missing person's case is different. It is good that we have made the requisite distinction in that regard. I look forward to the passage of this Bill through the House and I may table some amendments to it at a later stage.

I will not even need the eight minutes allowed because, like other speakers, I commend both the proposer and seconder of the Bill. This is important legislation. While I will probably indulge in some repetition of what has been said already, it is important that I put on the record the position of my party because the legislation we are seeking to progress today is so significant. Sinn Féin has been of the long-standing view that legislation such as this must be introduced. The House should note that Deputies Pearse Doherty and Jonathan O'Brien of Sinn Féin introduced legislation on this matter in the Dáil. That in itself indicates the significance of the issue, with both Houses of the Oireachtas paying it due regard.

The Bill is designed to provide arrangements for the management of a missing person’s property but also for processes where the circumstances of the person's absence leads to presumption of death. This presumption would apply to persons where the death is virtually certain and where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate it is highly probable that the missing person has died, for example, where the disappearance occurred in dangerous circumstances or other circumstances where the loss of life might be presumed. The law currently allows for the assumption that a person is alive for up to seven years after he or she goes missing but it is not conclusive. Under the Coroners Act 1962, an inquest can be held where the body of a missing person has not been found. If the inquest concludes that the missing person has died, the death may be registered as it would under normal circumstances. This is hugely important for the families of many missing persons in Ireland today.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell outlined the trauma and impact that disappearance has on families. While we are debating this legislation, it is important that we reflect on and remember the significant loss suffered by many people throughout this State. There are hundreds of families across the country that are missing family members or friends. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are reported missing every year, which is almost 20 every day. Most of these actually turn up within a very short time and less than 1% remain missing for a long time. It is the to families and friends of that 1% who never return home that this Bill can provide some practical and moral help. It will bring this jurisdiction into line with the North and with Scotland in allowing for an application to be made to a register of presumed deaths. A presumed death will only be registered if it meets the strict criteria laid out in the Bill. This Bill comes out of a hope that when the worst has to be presumed, family members of the missing person do not have to suffer more difficulty than necessary. There is a gap in legislation that benefits nobody and compounds the tragedy of missing persons cases for families even further. Like other Members, we are happy to support this Bill.

I thank the Minister of State for being here. Again, I will not need the eight minutes allowed as I do not want to repeat what others have said. I thank Senator Colm Burke for approaching me to support this important legislation and for his tenacity in ensuring this issue is dealt with in Seanad Éireann. I welcome the work of the Law Reform Commission on the issue of how our legal system deals with missing persons. I commend, in particular, its 2011 consultation paper, Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the drawbacks of our current legislative framework and makes recommendations on the improvements that can be made in how the State responds to the many issues that arise from circumstances where a person is missing.

I can only imagine - in fact, I do not have to imagine because I have a friend who is missing, presumed dead - the stress for a family or a community that has to deal with a situation where a loved one has gone missing. To be completely in the dark and unaware of the whereabouts of or the circumstances leading up to a loved one going missing is one of the most heart-breaking ordeals. In the tragic circumstances where this occurs, there is little that we can do to provide solace to a family that has to respond. However, what we can do is ensure that when this happens, the State is able to make the post-disappearance legal process as simple, straightforward and manageable as possible. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that our current legal process in respect of matters such as these does not meet these criteria.

The Law Reform Commission’s 2011 paper details how one of the greatest challenges to families having to cope with these situations is one of "ambiguous loss", where much of the emotional impact on those left behind can be attributed to the lack of information when a person goes missing. These are people who are vulnerable and for whom this can impact hugely on their lives. Beyond the emotional impact, there are immediate practical and financial Implications that families have to deal with such as accessing bank accounts, making mortgage repayments and other issues relating to property. The fact that, under our current arrangements, families can be caught in this limbo for seven years is unacceptable and shows just how much we need to reform the system.

The Bill sets out clear processes for the appointment of an interim estate manager, the process by which a presumption of death order can be obtained and the circumstances in which such orders can be dissolved in cases of reappearance. This Bill may only affect a small number of our citizens but to those it will affect, it will mean a great deal.

I am proud to support the Bill. I acknowledge when we work together we find areas that we can work together on and all agree on. I and other Senators from the Opposition and the Government supported this Bill. It is something that we should use in the future when the vulnerable are affected. We should be looking to other areas where we can agree In order that we can start pushing legislation as important as this Bill through the House as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend Senators Colm Burke, Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Ruane on proposing this important Bill. In particular, I commend Senator Colm Burke who has worked on this issue for a good deal of time. It is good to see this Bill come before the House on this agreed basis. I echo Senator Ruane's comments that it is a sign of the Seanad at its best when we work together in a consensual manner to bring forward important legislation such as this on which a great deal of work has been done.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell put it succinctly, stating this Bill would set out a clear pathway for the families of missing persons and for dealing with the civil status of missing persons. Clearly, this is an issue that is devastating for many families and we all need to acknowledge that.

In 2012, the then Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I was a member, conducted a hearing on the issue of missing persons and published a report. At the public hearing that committee held on 28 March 2012, it was really very affecting to hear about the deep trauma and the devastation suffered by so many as a result of individuals and family members going missing. We heard from a number of organisations which are involved in searching for missing persons. We heard poignant and compelling testimony from Search and Rescue Dog Association, the missing persons helpline, Mountain Rescue Ireland and others.

One of our recommendations was that we would have a national missing persons day, which we have had since 2013 on the first Wednesday in December. That is an important symbolic way of recognising the trauma and devastation for families and the fact we have significant numbers of persons going missing. Others have quoted figures on that. Certainly, when we were compiling our report, we noted that in the previous five years there had been 40,000 reports of missing persons to An Garda Síochána, the vast majority of which, happily, as we acknowledged, were resolved and persons were found safe and well within 24 hours. Nonetheless, there are a small but significant number of persons who remain missing and that is really what this Bill seeks to address.

Others have pointed out that the Bill is very much based on the Law Reform Commission recommendations. The report of the commission in 2013 included a draft Bill. It pointed out the need to establish a statutory framework for the making of a presumption of death order that would be a less cumbersome process in respect of the two categories of missing persons, both where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain and where the circumstances and length of disappearance indicate it is highly probably the missing person has died and will not return. I echo the words of others that it is important the application would now be made under this proposed framework in the Circuit Court rather than in the High Court to keep costs down and to ensure easier access to the courts and, significantly, fewer delays.

It is an eminently sensible Bill. The groundwork has clearly been laid for the Bill. There is a broad consensus in support for the Bill and I would like to add the support of the Labour Party to that of others who have supported the Bill.

We at the justice committee also heard from an impressive group of transition year students from Davis College in Mallow in Cork who had run, as a transition year project, a forget-me-not campaign to acknowledge and raise awareness of the issue of missing persons in Ireland. They had a visual presentation that really affected all of us on the committee at the time and made a powerful impression in terms of the impact that persons going missing has on families and communities. That is something that stayed with me.

I commend Senator Colm Burke on his great work in doing this. I commend the Minister on supporting the Bill and all the other colleagues who have expressed such strong support for it.

On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank Senators Colm Burke, Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Ruane for presenting the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016. I am happy to tell the House that the Government has decided not to oppose the Bill, although the text of the Bill is not without its problems. Careful analysis of its content will be necessary and amendments will inevitably be required when the Bill is considered in due course on Committee Stage.

I am aware that Senator Burke proposed legislation in this area on a previous occasion and on that occasion also the then Government indicated it could support the Bill in principle. That indication was given in good faith and with every expectation that it could be followed through. Regrettably, it did not prove possible to accommodate the assessment needed of the potentially wide-ranging implications of this legislation given the need to deal with what became other pressing major legislative priorities at the time.

Senator Burke has indicated that the primary purpose of the Bill is to deal with the civil law status of missing persons. To this end, the Bill would put in place a statutory framework to provide for the making of a presumption of death order in respect of two categories of missing persons. The first category is where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain. The second category is where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return, for example, where the disappearance occurred in dangerous circumstances or in other circumstances in which loss of life may be presumed.

The Bill also has as its objective the putting in place of a regime which would allow an interim manager to be appointed to manage the missing person's estate. It places various obligations on those who are appointed to manage the estate of the missing person, including the requirement to effect a policy of insurance. This dual focus of the Bill is potentially problematic in that it blurs the boundaries between those who are missing and are in all probability dead and those who are missing but still alive. The legal issues attaching to the resolution of the difficulties presented by these two scenarios are not identical and, ideally, should not be conflated.

The provision in the Bill allowing for a presumption of death order to be made when a missing person is understood to be dead but where the death cannot be confirmed or where the body cannot be recovered reflects the principles agreed by the Council of Europe in 2009. That principle is to the effect that states should provide for a person to be declared dead where death is virtually certain or highly probable. The Bill also conforms to the Council of Europe's principle that the declaration of presumed death, in this case through the presumption of death order, would have all the legal effects of death in terms of its impact on property, succession and relationships.

As Senators will be aware, the Bill before the House is inspired by the work contained in the Law Reform Commission report of 2013, Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons. The report addresses two very specific issues. First, it addresses the need for a presumption of death order which could be obtained on foot of a court application and which would require a variety of proofs under a range of specified headings. The court would also have to take account of additional circumstances including, where relevant, the abandonment of valuable property and the presence or absence of a motive for the missing person to remain alive but disappear. Second, it contemplates a mechanism for an interim solution to be put in place where a person's affairs need to be managed in the short term but where the person's ultimate circumstances are unclear. This will enable a person's liabilities, such as for a mortgage or car loan, to continue to be paid. Being able to access a missing person's bank accounts to continue to pay essential bills such as a mortgage on a family home would go some little way to alleviating the deep emotional distress which is undoubtedly experienced by families in circumstances where a person is missing. However, it is also essential that adequate safeguards are put in place to ensure premature action is not taken which could have detrimental effects in so far as the missing person is concerned.

Persons who are missing are not always dead. There have been some high profile instances but there are also many cases each year of persons who go missing but who are in fact alive and seeking to escape stressful situations, either temporarily or permanently. In examining this Bill, we need to be sure the potential for abuse is minimised to the greatest extent possible. We do not want to create a legislative framework which, however well-intentioned, could be suborned by those unscrupulous enough to see it as a vehicle for exploiting the assets of a vulnerable relative. Therefore, the scope of this legislation needs to be considered carefully to ensure an appropriate balance is struck.

The definition of a missing person in the Bill may be too broad in that it encompasses all missing persons, including those who step out of their lives for whatever reason but who subsequently return to that life.

A narrower focus on the intended target group would see reliance on a definition which draws on the Council of Europe’s definition that a "missing person" is "a natural person whose existence has become uncertain ... because he or she has disappeared without trace and there are no signs that he or she is alive". An overly loose definition could result in premature applications being made to the court, particularly relating to the appointment of interim managers of the property of those who were not truly missing.

The question of whether to impose a minimum waiting period regarding an application for a presumption of death order also requires careful attention. The Council of Europe has recommended that there be no minimum waiting period only where the missing person’s death can be taken as certain but where their bodies cannot be recovered, for instance as a result of the 2004 tsunami. It is a very particular category of missing persons. For those whose death was likely, the Council of Europe recommended a minimum waiting period of a year. It also recommended that the seven-year waiting period be retained for missing persons whose deaths are uncertain.

Under the terms of Senator Colm Burke’s Bill, there would be no requirement for a minimum waiting period where a presumption of death order was being sought and a court would have to decide on the application based on the specificity of evidence available. While it is desirable to streamline processes to the greatest extent possible, thereby facilitating the families of missing persons in achieving legal certainty with a minimum of delay, we will have to consider carefully whether to dispense with a minimum waiting period, given the adverse consequences of a presumption of death order for a person who is subsequently found to be alive.

I will touch briefly upon some other matters which also merit further consideration. First, the Bill envisages that a missing person who returns and who has been the subject of a presumption of death order can apply to the court to overturn the dissolution of the marriage or civil partnership which was attendant upon the granting of that order. However, it is wholly unclear as to the protections which would be in place to safeguard the position of the spouse or civil partner who was left behind.

Second, the impact of a presumption of death order on the operations of An Garda Síochána in respect of the investigation of missing persons may also need to be considered further. Furthermore, there remains the question of whether the register of presumed deaths provided for in section 5 of the Bill would be better provided for as an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004 rather than creating a stand-alone arrangement. Taking the Civil Registration Act route would bring the register under the wider civil registration framework, for example, correction of errors, searches and issue of certificates etc.

Of course, outside the legislative framework, some initiatives have been undertaken which recognise the lasting trauma for the families and friends of those who have gone missing. As previously mentioned by the Senator, the national Missing Persons Day is now an annual commemorative event. A particular feature of last year’s ceremony was a presentation from Forensic Science Ireland on the DNA database system and the valuable role it can and does play in identifying missing and unknown persons.

In conclusion, I again thank Senators Burke, O’Donnell and Ruane for bringing this Bill forward today. I also thank all the other Senators who spoke on the Bill and acknowledge their contributions and points of view. The Government is committed to giving careful and sympathetic consideration to the proposals which have been made. Any legislation in this area, however, has potentially wide-ranging implications and time will be needed if workable solutions are to be developed and the right balance struck. I hope therefore that it will be understood that a period of some months will be required to progress matters and I believe it is likely to be close to the end of this year before the necessary progress can be made with a view to bringing forward substantial amendments on Committee Stage.

Since there are two Senators in the House named O'Donnell, I would like there to be reference as to which O'Donnell actually signed this Bill. Can we put that on the record? It is very important.

I am flattered, but I am actually named Ó Donnghaile. I appreciate the Senator's point however.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill is named Ó Domhnaill.

Is it Senator Kieran O'Donnell?

Sorry. To clarify, does the Senator refer to Senator Kieran O'Donnell?

Senator Kieran O'Donnell; I do not want it to be confused.

It is on the back of Bill, that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell-----

It is important because many people ask about something I said in the Seanad, when in actual fact it was Senator Kieran O'Donnell.

I thank the Senator for the clarification.

This is especially the case when I have words of wisdom that I need attributed to myself.

We are grateful for them.

I thank the Members who signed the Bill with me, namely, Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Ruane and I thank them for their assistance in this matter. I thank Members who spoke on the Bill from each of the parties, that is, from Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin, and all the independent Senators, who have supported this Bill today. I believe in working together and Senator Ruane referred to that matter. This is an issue on which there is no political divide. While this issue affects only a very small number of people, it is important for them that some legal structure be put in place for them.

As I said at the outset, well-prepared and well-researched reports have been produced in the course of which people have spent not just one or two days but in many cases up to 12 months looking at and going through all of the complexities this issue throws up. They prepared a very detailed report and researched the issues both here in Ireland and in the common law jurisdictions and in other areas. They researched in Australia, Canada, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They did not rush into drafting a report. They prepared a very detailed report and, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to, they gave very detailed recommendations as to how it should be dealt with. These reports should not be parked. That is why I have looked at this very carefully. I introduced a Bill in 2014, which obviously fell when the Dáil was dissolved, but I reintroduced it in July because this issue should not be parked.

While I hope it never happens here, I will bring up the issue of what happened in Asia, where an entire plane disappeared and only very small parts of it have been identified. If such a case occurred, and I hope it never does, would we have to come into these Houses and rush through emergency legislation to provide for the families? Had Irish people been on that specific plane, would there have been a legal structure in place for any family to deal with it? This issue should not be parked.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for his contribution. I accept what he is saying. This is not written in stone. The issue he raised in respect of the marriage question is very important and complex. I am not in any way qualified to say what I have set out in the Bill is the position that has to be accepted.

Senator Bacik raised the fact that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality has dealt with this in great detail and has spent a lot of time on it. I am concerned that matters coming before committees of the House or joint committees are then sometimes parked. We should not be dealing with that.

I accept that each Department has its own priorities for legislation. It has its A list, which is a priority, its B list, about which something must be done and its C list, to which it must try to get around at some stage. The groundwork is done. I remember being involved with the youth section of my party long ago. We wanted to bring about a change in the law of illegitimacy whereby a child born outside of marriage had no legal right to his or her father's estate. I remember that on starting that campaign, we set out that it would take us ten years to get the law changed in that area. I remember holding public meetings and getting signatures in the street during that campaign. I thought ten years was very far-fetched. It actually took us seven years to get the law changed.

There are young people here today who might think it strange law that a child born outside of marriage had no right to the father's estate, but that was the law in this country until 1987. It took us seven years to get that law changed. We are now running to seven years from the time the Law Reform Commission report was published to get this law changed.

I appeal to the Department to take this on board, if possible. The groundwork is done. I accept that amendments are needed and that and all the loose ends need to be tidied up. I believe we should progress it and move it forward. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and I thank the Department for examining this matter and coming forward with constructive proposals for amendments. I have no difficulty sitting down and dealing with the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 21 February 2017.
Sitting suspended at 2.30 p.m. and resumed at 5.05 p.m.