I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to the House.
Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second and Subsequent Stages
I am very pleased to present this Bill to the Seanad. I am grateful to my colleagues in Dáil Éireann for expediting the progress of this short, technical Bill. I am conscious that while it is a short, technical Bill it is long awaited and much needed legislation to allow families in our country today be recognised as just that in terms of declaration of parentage. I am conscious also that while it is a short, technical Bill it is one that I hope will have a positive impact on many families and children across this country.
After the constructive dialogue I engaged in last week I hope that the Seanad will continue in the same vein as far as this Bill and the related provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 are concerned.
As I indicated during the Dáil debate last week, legislatively, this is a straightforward but important Bill. Its purpose is to correct a typographical and technical error in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of that Act. This legislation is long overdue and urgently needed in order to clarify the legal status of children born in this country as a result of donor-assisted human reproduction, DAHR, procedures.
As was highlighted during the Dáil debate, children are no longer raised solely in what was the traditional mother-father nuclear family but in a diversity of forms that may include biological, social or adoptive parents, or those raised by their guardians. Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act, which are the responsibility of the Minister for Health, were enacted to recognise this new biological reality of donor assisted human reproduction where children may be born to people using donor gametes and embryos. These children require legal certainty in respect of their parentage and guardianship. It is imperative that we, as legislators, put in place a legislative framework that can provide that certainty and vindicate the rights of donor conceived children.
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was enacted to reform family law in a way that is inclusive of, and sensitive to, the reality of contemporary family life in our country and to meet the needs of children living in diverse family types. As such, Parts 2 and 3 represent key elements of that Act and their commencement is required to clarify the legal position of all parties involved in a donor assisted human reproduction procedure, but particularly the children born from such procedures.
The provisions encompassing DAHR procedures relate to cases where the intending mother carries the pregnancy and gives birth to the child. As a result, these provisions apply to heterosexual couples, female same-sex couples and a single woman undergoing a DAHR procedure.
The passage of this short stand alone Bill will enable me to proceed with the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act, which will have a very positive impact on the rights of families that have sought donor assistance to conceive. It is my intention, once this Bill has been enacted, to commence Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act in the autumn.
The commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act will help to clarify the legal parentage of donor conceived children. It will also help to vindicate the rights of such children to information on their genetic heritage through the establishment of a national donor conceived person register and the prohibition of anonymous gamete and embryo donation. The introduction of this register acknowledges that many donor conceived children will have an inherent interest in their genetic origins and provides an important and safe mechanism through which they can access the information relating to the relevant donor, such as his or her name, date of birth and contact details, should they wish to do so.
However, the aspect of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 that has been the subject of most intense interest but also, it is fair to say, some degree of confusion in media discourse and at a political and parliamentary level in recent weeks, is the provisions relating to retrospective declarations of parentage. These provisions enable parents of donor conceived children, who have been born prior to the commencement of Part 2 of the original Act, to seek a declaration of parentage through the courts.
These retrospective provisions in particular are eagerly anticipated by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community. Both my officials and I have met stakeholders in the LGBT community to address their concerns regarding the commencement of this legislation and the legal and practical benefits it will provide to that community. However, I emphasise that Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act are limited in scope and do not regulate all aspects of assisted human reproduction. Much of the focus of the Dáil debate related to matters that are outside the remit of the Children and Family Relationships Act.
What we are doing today is trying to fix a technical error in the Children and Family Relationships Act, ensure that it can be fully commenced in terms of Parts 2 and 3 in the autumn and then move on to the substantive and important debate on legislation we need to pass in respect of assisted human reproduction.
Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 specifically relate to DAHR procedures where the intending mother is also the birth mother.
As such, they do not encompass surrogacy. Provisions relating to the regulation of surrogacy in Ireland are included in the general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017. The latter Bill, which officials in my Department are currently drafting in conjunction with the Attorney General, will provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for assisted human reproduction, of which DAHR procedures and surrogacy are just a small part. While acknowledging the concerns raised during the Dáil debate relating to matters pertaining to assisted human reproduction more broadly, the discussion here today and the deliberations ultimately in the Dáil were on the narrowly focused Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill. This is not the appropriate forum to reopen the debate; rather, we should pass this stand-alone Bill, conclude this matter and then move on to the very important assisted human reproduction Bill.
In recognition of the important conversations and debates that need to occur regarding the development of a legislative framework for assisted human reproduction in Ireland, I have committed to convening a round table of all the relevant Ministers and Departments in September to work through these matters. I have also committed to providing a detailed update to the Oireachtas within the coming months on progress in respect of the development of the assisted human reproduction Bill and its introduction in the Houses, and to meeting with Opposition spokespeople on health regarding the matter.
It is important to emphasise again that this amending Bill does not change any of the substantive provisions or policy intention of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act. We are fixing typographical errors to give effect to the provisions and policy intention already debated and passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I will now go through the Bill to outline the content of each section. Section 1 provides that the definition of the principal Act to be amended is the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. As I stated from the outset, the sole purpose of the Bill is to remedy a number of technical drafting issues with the original Act. This will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of that Act.
Section 2 amends section 4(a)(ii) of the principal Act relating to the definition of "donor" by the substitution of "section 26(5)" for "section 26(6)". Section 26(5) of the 2015 Act refers to gametes that are subject to a transition period of three years, during which those acquired on an anonymous basis prior to the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act may be used in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure in the State, subject to certain conditions. In the 2015 Act, as enacted, section 4(a)(ii), relating to the definition of "donor", refers to section 26(6) rather than section 26(5). This amendment simply resolves that matter.
Section 3 amends section 14 of the principal Act to provide for the Minister for Health to make regulations under that section. Section 4 amends section 16 of the principal Act to provide for the Minister for Health to make regulations under that section. Section 5 sets out the citation and commencement provisions for the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The advent of assisted human reproduction and subsequent advances with this technology have created a new reality, and Irish law must adapt to reflect these changes. Legislation relating to parentage, as outlined in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, brought much-needed clarity to this area. Further delays in commencing Parts 2 and 3 of the Act would have an impact on the rights of the most vulnerable individuals in donor-assisted human reproduction procedures, namely, children. This is why we are all so eager to resolve these issues through the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act, which the enactment of this amending Bill will facilitate.
I commend the Bill to the Seanad. I hope we can move and pass the Bill today so we can resolve the technical issues the Bill seeks to address and facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act. I am sure we will all agree that these provisions are eagerly awaited and long overdue. From my discussions with many Members of this House and the other House, members of LGBT Ireland and other stakeholders and indeed other Ministers, I know there is much more work we need to do to put in place a comprehensive framework to regulate assisted human reproduction in Ireland. I know there are issues we need to address. They are the subject of that general scheme. That is available on my Department's website. I refer Senators to that. It has been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny from the Oireachtas all-party health committee. I await its pre-legislative report. If we can pass this stand-alone Bill today so we can fix this anomaly, which has been painful for families and children in this country, and commence these sections in the autumn, I am absolutely committed to working on a cross-party basis and with stakeholders to try to make real progress on the assisted human reproduction Bill in the next session. I have already set out a timeline for engagement starting in September with stakeholders, other Ministers and Members of both Houses.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Harris, back to the House. I make this contribution to the debate on the Bill on behalf of my colleague, Senator Swanick, who is unfortunately at another engagement. The Fianna Fáil Party will support the Bill. However, it is disappointing that technical and drafting errors in the original Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 have made it necessary. Nonetheless, we supported the original Bill, and it is essential that this legislation be passed quickly to give effect to the original intent of the 2015 Act.
The Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018 has as its purpose, as the Minister has outlined, the correction of typographical and technical errors in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. The correction of these errors will facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of that Act. As well as making regulations in respect of donor-assisted human reproduction procedures, Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act make provision for children conceived through the assistance of a donor. This includes a requirement for gamete and embryo donations to be made on a non-anonymous basis and the establishment of a national donor-conceived persons register to enable children to access information on their donors, should they wish to do so, when they come of age. Donor-conceived children will also be able to seek and obtain information from the register relating to other children born as a result of other DAHR procedures involving the same donor. All those donating sperm, eggs or an embryo for use in a donor-assisted human reproduction procedure after the date of the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 must consent to the recording of their personal information on the national donor-conceived persons register.
It is only in recent years that society has woken up to the trauma suffered by many adopted people through not knowing where they came from. Women incarcerated in institutions set up to keep them out of sight and mind were forced to give up their babies. Many of those babies grew up totally unaware of their history. Some who did try to find information were met with brick walls and incomplete files. We as a society and as legislators must learn from these mistakes. Access to information on genetic heritage is vital, and I am glad this requirement is contained within the Bill. Upon reaching the age of 18, a child can request from the Minister for Health the name, date of birth and contact details of the relevant donor stored on the national donor-conceived persons register. Upon passage of the Bill, the relevant sections, to which the Minister has alluded, of the 2015 Act are commenced and anonymous sperm and egg donation in fertility treatment will be prohibited under law.
I thank the Minister once again for attending the House and assure him of the support of the Fianna Fáil Party.
I welcome the Minister to the House again. I welcome the Bill and am happy to support it. I recognise that it will give considerable comfort and relief to many families who have been affected and eagerly await the commencement of these sections in Parts 2 and 3 of the Bill. This will be an important step forward in clarity for many.
There are, however, as the Minister himself acknowledged, a number of areas which still need clarification, and there is a huge variety and complexity of situations in Ireland. For so long we have not acknowledged the reality of people who struggle to start families or the difficulties they face. Assisted human reproduction has not had regulation or clarity. People have struggled and found different solutions. I know there are concerns among many as to whether or not they or their concerns are addressed in the Bill. I recognise that the Bill does not attempt to address all that. I know the assisted human reproduction Act will, but there are some ambiguities, even specifically in the terms. For example, I received a letter from one family facing particular health complications. They went with a named donor because that is crucially important. It was a traceable donor in the UK. They have had one child and they are basically in the process of starting a new procedure in the UK.
They do not know what might be the situation in terms of the embryo they have that is in the UK. Does it fall under the three-year window that is likely to be addressed in terms of embryo or gamete donations here or does it fall elsewhere because it is in the UK? This is why they see it as linking with the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018. I understand that many of these issues relate to assisted human reproduction but the family are concerned regarding their daughter and whether her future relationship with her potential genetic siblings would be recognised. These are examples of the complexities involved.
The Minister might indicate that there will be an attempt, via the assisted human reproduction legislation, to link back to the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018. With the National Women's Council of the time, I was a passionate advocate of the proposed Bill. It was an extraordinarily positive step forward. It is good and healthy, as with our gender recognition legislation, that Ireland continues to update, improve and strengthen the legislation in these areas and to ensure that we remain to the fore in the context of best practice.
Finally, I echo the eloquent points made by Senator Wilson on the question of the child's right to identity. I strongly welcome the clarity to the effect that people will have named donors and that they will also have the right to know their genetic identity and origins. I would urge the Minister to continue to engage with his Cabinet colleagues and address what needs to be addressed in the light of St. Patrick's Guild and all the rest, namely, the clear problems in terms of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. We know how important this is and we have seen the court cases play out. Yet again, people are having to go to the courts to try to vindicate the importance of that identity. I hope that the spirit of the recognition of relationship which goes beyond the question of who is the primary care giver and beyond questions of guardianship - that wider right to relationship - is supported for those who have been through a poorly regulated and, in some cases, illegal adoption process in Ireland. I also hope that we will ensure their rights are fully vindicated.
I am happy to support the Bill. I look forward to engaging the Minister on these issues further in the autumn.
I welcome the Minister and his officials and thank them for their work on this Bill.
As the Minister stated, the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was enacted to modernise family law in a way that is inclusive of and sensitive to the reality of contemporary family life in Ireland and to meet the needs of children living in diverse family types. Indeed, it probably brings us to a point where we may wish to have a referendum on the definition of the family in due course. It is certainly something that needs to be addressed, notwithstanding the amount of potential referendums we have in the offing at present.
In addition to making regulations in respect of DAHR procedures, Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act make provision for children conceived through the assistance of a donor. The Minister outlined much of that. The key provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 are: removal of donor anonymity; establishing a national donor-conceived person register; restriction to altruistic donors; performing DAHR procedures; clarification of parentage of donor-conceived children; and retrospective declarations of parentage. The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 does not encompass surrogacy. Provisions relating to the regulation of surrogacy are included in the general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017. The Government approved the drafting of a Bill on assisted human reproduction and this is a matter of priority for the Minister and his Department. It is certainly something that I, as a Member of the Oireachtas, believe we need to address in the short term.
I would like to highlight a case pertaining to the 2015 Act that was brought to my attention. The case is that of a couple who had to attend a clinic in the UK for IVF because one of the ladies involved had significant fertility issues and the procedure they required is not currently provided in Ireland. Under the terms of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, they will be able to apply retrospectively for parentage for their daughter once the Act commences because retrospective recognition applies to children conceived in clinics abroad. The couple fear that it will not be possible to use a clinic abroad in the future, however, and are unsure of the status of the embryos that they have currently stored in the UK clinic. This couple used a traceable donor and have all documentation and consents regarding the donor. The partners both signed consent forms and agreed that one would be the legal parent of any future offspring. Senator Higgins referred to a similar case. Should that which I have outlined prove to be the case, it would mean that one partner would be recognised as the parent of their first child but not of any brothers or sisters. This may have been overlooked in the context of the Bill before the House.
The point was also made that children born using anonymous donors are also being granted retrospective recognition and that there is a three-year window in the future for anonymous sperm to be used. However, there is no window in terms of clinics abroad, even though the embryos were conceived before commencement of the Act. This does not seem consistent with the intention of the legislation. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that point. However, I support the legislation.
I commend the legislation before the House. It is progress that has been long called for and extremely hard fought for.
I attended a public meeting on this issue over a month ago in the company of 50 parents and their children. The meeting was hosted by LGBT Ireland, representatives of which are in the Gallery. In listening to the loving, caring and dutiful parents who spoke, I was struck emotionally by the difficulties they encountered as a result of not being recognised by the State.
There is no other issue I have raised more in this House than that regarding the recognition of same-sex parents and their families. While I do not have children, I cannot comprehend what it must be like for a loving family to feel vulnerable, particularly fearing emergency medical situations, custody scenarios or any of the array of other problems that a lack of recognition holds. I would not have highlighted these issues so much had the Department not consistently missed its own deadlines and, quite frankly, often been evasive on each occasion we sought to hold it to account. These delays do not affect anyone in these Houses who sought answers from the Department but they affected the families that we represent who relied on those commitments, who took solace in those commitments and who, time and again, were left disappointed over the past three years.
For those reasons, I welcome and commend the Minister's comments on the need to hold a round-table of all relevant Ministers and Departments in September in order to work through various matters. The Minister stated that he has committed to providing a detailed update to the Dáil within the coming months on progress regarding the development of the assisted human reproduction Bill and its introduction. I respectfully ask that the Seanad be included in those updates, either through the Leader or through whatever channels the Minister sees fit. I will not dwell on this, but I hope the Minister takes cognisance of the fact that those of all parties and none want to see same-sex parents and their families fully recognised. I hope that will be considered as we progress the assisted human reproduction Bill and attempt to make it fully inclusive.
I also commend the Minister on what he said in the Dáil last Wednesday and here today in respect of the general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017. As previously stated, many LGBT families assumed that these legal rights were bestowed on them following civil marriage equality. There are many families who will conceive with the misunderstanding that they enjoy equal treatment before the law. There is a considerable task in navigating the rights of the child to the genetic identity and facilitating equal parental rights to those who have conceived through home insemination, surrogacy and IVF. In particular, I refer here to retrospective rights. I hope that the Department will prioritise this in its work programme for the autumn.
I cannot stress enough the urgency behind the legislation and the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act.
During my work with families over the past 12 months I heard of an incident in which a car carrying a legal parent and their child was involved in an accident. While the parent was incapacitated the non-biological parent could not give emergency medical consent. The longer these rights are delayed the more incidents like this there will be. It is every parent's worst nightmare. While this legislation will be passed today and will be enacted soon with Parts 2 and 3 being commenced, it is unfortunately not the end of the road for these families. Part 9, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, has yet to be commenced and equal parental status cannot begin until it is commenced. While I appreciate that work is under way to train civil legislation staff in these changes, Part 9 must be commenced urgently. Has the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection communicated with the Department of Health or the Government about when she expects to commence that crucial part of the Act?
In respect of the situation raised by Senators Higgins and Noone regarding embryos held by foreign clinics in case families wish to conceive again or for their child to have a genetic sibling, will those embryos be covered under proposed legislation?
I again commend the work of LGBT Ireland and Dr. Brian Tobin of the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG. Without their constant advocacy and guidance I and other Members probably would not have the awareness and insight that these issues require. I hope the Department engages with these activists and experts, including some of the 50 I mentioned from the public meeting who formed the LGBTQ Families and Allies group as part of the discussion on the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017. Sinn Féin will be supporting this Bill today and commends and thanks those who have brought us to this point, including the Minister for Health.
The Labour Party strongly supports this technical Bill. In 2015 I welcomed the Children and Family Relationships Bill, since enacted. It is a very progressive reform of family law. We said at the time that it was long overdue and was child and family centred, with a contemporary pluralist view recognising the diverse forms of family life in Ireland. We were disappointed at the delay in commencing Parts 2 and 3 of the Act which, as the Minister said, were very significant parts of the original Act but have been held up for all of that time. Once they are commenced not only will children have the right to information on their genetic heritage through the establishment of a national donor-conceived persons register but crucially it will provide clarity and legal certainty on parentage and guardianship for children born through assisted human reproduction.
I join Senator Warfield in welcoming the visitors in the Gallery. The specific case mentioned by others has also been raised with me. I have passed a query on to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. Without going into the personal circumstances of the individual who contacted us, the question they asked was if embryos created in a clinic abroad before the Act commences lead to a successful birth after commencement of the Act, will parents be able to apply for parentage for that child. It is an issue of retrospection and the Minister addressed some of that in his speech but this is a very specific question concerning clinics abroad. I would be grateful for a response on that.
I appreciate that this is a complex area and that the 2015 Act, despite being very significant and important in so many ways, does not deal with all the legal issues surrounding assisted human reproduction. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he hopes to see the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017 brought forward soon. There are many other issues that are not regulated, such as surrogacy. When I was a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights I was involved in the committee's hearings on assisted human reproduction in 2014. We published a report that year which fed into the Bill. The then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, was leading on what was to be a much more comprehensive Bill on assisted human reproduction and surrogacy. His successor, Deputy Fitzgerald, decided to have a more concise Bill that did not deal with surrogacy and all of assisted human reproduction which became the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. I appreciate that there are great complexities in legislating in this area. That is why the two were separated and why there was a delay in bringing forward the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017. Many families and children need the legal certainty that it will provide.
Some Members heard a very moving story on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" about illegal adoptions and the difficulties of tracing families in the past and the need for children to have access to information about their parents. This short technical Bill will facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 but when will they be implemented in practice? The Minister said he hopes to commence them in the autumn when the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be. When will the register be up and running?
While the 2015 Act, this Bill and the forthcoming assisted human reproduction Bill 2017, provide important practical supports for people in diverse family forms, there is more work to be done to amend the Constitution to change Article 41. I see the Minister nodding in agreement. I am glad to see the Government announcing a referendum to delete the sexist and patriarchal language referring to women's place in the home but work needs to be done to ensure that Article 41 recognises more diverse family forms and not just the family based on marriage. I am glad we have amended the Constitution to broaden the definition of marriage but there is further amendment to be made to bring the Constitution into line with modern society and modern Ireland.
I welcome that the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018 is going through all Stages today. We note that it was guillotined in the Dáil on 11 July 2018. I pledge it my full support. Its purpose is to correct a typographical and technical error in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 which will facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of that Act. This amending Bill does not change any of the substantive provisions on the policy intentions of parts 2 and 3, which recognise donor-assisted human reproduction.
That is a right that people have and ought to have. I welcome the register for information about parentage that was outlined, because it is critically important.
I will not delay. This is not a day for long speeches. This Bill has my support but it is important that we clearly explain a child's right of identity. Parents and anyone involved in this process would want that to happen.
I welcome the people who have taken the time to come to the Visitors Gallery. It is important legislation and many of those here have championed it for a long time and welcome it. I wish the Minister and his departmental officials well with this legislation.
I am not opposing this legislation. I understand that it is a tidying-up exercise arising from issues which have been well debated in the Oireachtas with the Children and Family Relationships Act, which was legislation that I opposed and still oppose. That legislation at the time was partly an attempt to neutralise arguments that could have become central, and to some degree remain central, to the marriage referendum regarding the right of a child, as far as is possible, to be brought into the world and brought up by his or her biological parents or at least by a father and a mother. That is an aspect of the social good. The argument did not hold any water with the Government of the time.
There was an ideological shift with this legislation. I remember the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, suggesting that the Government's approach was that there was no hierarchy of families. That is all well and good in one sense in that every child should be equally cherished by the State and no child should be in any way victimised or suffer from any lack of legal certainty in his or her own rights and the responsibilities of adults. That left open the problem, however, that we have largely embraced a laissez-faire attitude in this area, namely, that whatever the adult wants is where we start from. That is the reality of the recent abortion debate and the Government's stated intentions on abortion legislation, and it is also the Government's approach in issues such as assisted human reproduction and the legislation before us today.
There is a significant subtraction from children's welfare and our responsibility as a society to children. We should be trying to find a way to recognise the diverse manifestations and diverse family arrangements, but always through the lens of how we secure the best for children. The child's best interest are supposed to be paramount, but time and again we see that they only come into it after adult's aspirations have been facilitated by politicians. The pain of childlessness is all too real. It is something that we need to address and approach with great compassion to facilitate people in the very natural desire to have children in their lives to love, cherish and care for. Past problems with adoption and how it operated should not prevent us from looking again in a mature way at the positives that can be in adoption, the generosity that can be there in putting a child up for adoption, where a parent cannot cope, and seeing adoption again as a social good. It is something that needs to be regulated and provided for in a way that looks out for the welfare of children.
What of sperm, egg and embryo donation? Moral questions must be asked. When I say moral, I speak of right and wrong and of justice for children, not something that is necessarily located in a particular religious set of views. There are moral questions about the destruction of human embryos in how artificial human reproduction is often practised. That is not necessarily the case but it is increasingly the practice. We have heard from people such as Joanna Rose in the past who believe they may have hundreds of siblings because of the problem in how embryo and gamete donation has taken place. Far too little attention has been paid to people's suffering and to the need to recognise that people who donate gametes should almost always be required to take some responsibility for the maintenance and upbringing of the children who are their biological children. We never even have a discussion on these things.
There is not time to get into the detail of these things but I will conclude with this. What worries me is not so much being in the minority on questions like this but the complete absence of debate about the morality of many of these modern techniques designed to secure and procure children for adults to bring up and the herd-like rush to a right-on, politically correct, slavish obedience to a new set of moral norms. The obedience that is now out there, the closing down of debate, is as bad as anything that existed in the repressive past that we often talk about in these Houses, even while we are talking about Magdalen laundries, the past abuses by adoption services and so on. I hope we can return to a situation where there is a serious interrogation of some of the core questions of human justice that are going on here. Are we really looking out for children's best interests if it is so widely possible and accepted to be bringing children into the world using the donation of gametes in circumstances that do not contemplate any role for the biological parents in those children's lives? If that is the point at which we only begin to discuss children's rights, we are falling far short of any sincere and mature approach to vindicating children's rights in our society.
I do not think there are any speakers who have not spoken so I will call the Minister to conclude.
I thank all the Senators for their contributions to the debate. Deputy Fitzgerald was entirely correct when she said that there is no hierarchy of families in this country. I am confident and pleased that this view has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the Irish people because there is no hierarchy of families.
The families watching this debate who are men loving men and women loving women are no less a family than the family in which I live or that which I hope to create.
I fully agree with Senators Noone and Bacik. I am straying slightly but there is definitely a need to do more in our constitutional understanding of the family. This is an area that needs careful consideration and work, but the idea that a mum or dad bringing up a son or daughter, or a grandmother bringing up three or four grandkids for years, effectively raising them, are not recognised as families because of our Constitution's outdated understanding of what constitutes a family is something that we should examine. Marriage is an important institution, and I am glad that marriage is a much broader and more inclusive institution, but it is not only through marriage that one can establish a family. There are many types of family today that I recognise as families, which unfortunately Bunreacht na hÉireann does not. That is something to which we should return in future.
I thank people for their constructive engagement. It is interesting, when people speak of raising issues and not shutting down debate, but when I rise to respond to their points in the debate, they leave the Chamber. I suppose that is them shutting down the debate.
The hypocrisy of it makes me sick.
Such is democracy. I turn to the substance of the issues. Several Senators raised a specific case and I will be pleased to respond in writing to provide guidance to that family in that situation and to any others. The legislation is quite clear in its understanding of a donor-assisted human reproduction, DAHR, procedure, and the definition scope is confined to procedures carried out in the State consistent with parentage being assigned under section 5 only where the procedure is carried out in the State and the child is born in the State. That is the legal reality. I want to make a point as we advance the assisted human reproduction Bill, the general scheme of which has been published by my Department, brought to Government and is being considered by the Oireachtas committee.
The aim of any assisted human reproduction legislation is to promote and ensure the health and safety of parents, others involved in the process such as donors and surrogates and most important, the children who will be born as a result of AHR. I fully reject any assertion that children now, and into the future, are not very much at the heart of what we all want to achieve as we move to regulate AHR. Consideration of the welfare and best interests of children born through AHR is a key principle underlining the general scheme in our assisted human reproduction Bill. I share the view of colleagues on all sides of this House and I believe that there is a desire on all sides of this House and the other House to attach a priority to the AHR Bill. Considering that desire is there from the Seanad I want to assure Senators it is there from me as well. I will convene a round table of Ministers in September to tease through some of these issues and some of the issues that have been raised by LGBT Ireland who I welcome to the Gallery and I thank them for their constructive leadership and engagement on this stand-alone Bill and future engagement on the AHR Bill. I will take up Senator Warfield's request that we will keep the Seanad and the Dáil informed. In my verbal comments as opposed to my written script I referred to the Oireachtas but we will definitely do that. I acknowledge Senator Warfield's continued determination on this issue and for keeping the focus of these Houses on it over a sustained period of time. I appreciate the work that he did. Today is an important day. I hope it is a happy day. It is too long coming and people have waited far too long for this but I hope we are going to pass a piece of legislation in this House today, we passed it in the other House last week, that in the autumn will enable us to see declarations of parentage. This will not change what is happening behind a family door today where we already have functioning, loving families caring for their children but it will allow a legal certainty and a public legal declaration of that parentage being made in our country and we should not underestimate the significance of that.
In terms of Senator Bacik's question on when the register will be up and running, it is our intention to establish that on commencement of Parts 2 and 3 in the autumn. On Senator Warfield's question regarding Part 9, I have spoken to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and my officials are liaising with her on this. I will send her a transcript of the Senator's remarks and the other relevant parts on Part 9 from the Dáil debate. I will liaise with her on this throughout the summer months as well. I commend this Bill to the House and I hope we can now see its speedy passage.