Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Bill 2016: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 148, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad.

For the convenience of Senators I have arranged for the printing and circulation to them of those amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated a proposed grouping. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Amendment No. 1 to section 1 is a technical amendment to update the citation provisions for the Civil Registration Acts, which are consequent upon the changes being introduced in this Bill.

The combined effect of amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, to the same section is to provide that the commencement order for Part 3, which amends the Civil Registration Act 2004, will be subject to consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The rationale for this is that the Bill is amending legislation for which that Minister has responsibility.

I offer Members the opportunity to speak on these amendments. Otherwise, we will move on to the section 2 amendments, namely, amendments Nos. 5 and 6.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are technical amendments to section 2. The purpose of amendment No. 6 is to clarify that the term "applicant", as used in the context of section 8, means that an applicant is defined in section 4. The term is used in section 4 where an application is being made for a presumption of death order. It is also used in section 8 where a variation order is being sought for the original presumption of death order.

I offer Members the opportunity to speak on these amendments. Otherwise, we will move on to the amendments in sections 4 and 5, which are technical corrections in amendments Nos. 7 to 13, inclusive.

A series of technical amendments are made in sections 4 and 5.

Amendments Nos. 7, 11 and 13 in sections 4 and 5 provide for the deletion of text which was regarded as extraneous. Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, and amendment No. 12 in section 5, merely concern punctuation.

I offer Members the opportunity to speak on these amendments. Otherwise, we will move on to the section 15 amendments, namely, amendments Nos. 14 to 26, inclusive.

Amendment No. 14 to section 15 provides that neither Part 5 nor Part 5A of the 2004 Act shall apply to a presumed death. This amendment also corrects an earlier omission of a reference to Part 5A. Part 5 concerns the registration of deaths in general and Part 5A concerns the keeping of a record of deaths abroad.

The other amendments to section 15 concern the process of the registration of a presumed death. The Bill, as passed by this House, provides that the appropriate registrar shall be provided with a copy of either the presumption of death order or the variation order by the court which made that order and that the appropriate registrar shall register the death or remove the entry from the register as may be appropriate. The appropriate registrar was defined as a registrar in the functional area of the authority in which the death was presumed to have occurred, or if a place of presumed death cannot be determined, the area in which the missing person was normally resident. These amendments were made in the interests of efficient management of the registration process, to allow An tArd-Chláraitheoir the flexibility to perform registrations centrally or to assign the task to a registrar, thus simplifying the registration process by comparison with the process as set out in the Bill as passed earlier by the Seanad. The proposed arrangements also act to provide a single point of contact for the receipt of court orders.

Do any Members wish to come in on that group of amendments?

I welcome the amendments because they put in place proper procedures to make sure a clear and defined process is put in place. The amendments are welcome and I support them.

Does the Minister wish to reply to Senator Colm Burke?

I might make a brief concluding remark.

We will put the question and I will let the Minister in at that point.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I want to acknowledge the importance of this legislation. We have had an interesting debate and I am pleased to see that this worthwhile proposal is in its final steps. I acknowledge the contribution of everybody involved, but in particular I acknowledge the contribution of Senator Colm Burke for bringing the Bill forward in the first place. I am pleased we were able to work together on the Bill and I will now be working with my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, to ensure we can move towards the early implementation of aspects of the Bill.

I also want to say to the Dáil Business Committee, the Seanad and the office of the Leader of the Seanad that I am really grateful that, notwithstanding a tight schedule this week and next, we were in a position to table and list the concluding debate on this legislation. I am grateful for the contribution of everybody involved.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to take on this legislation and I thank all of the officials in the Department who were involved in it from an initial stage when the Bill was published. A large amount of work was done subsequently in bringing forward changes, and in fairness those changes were correct, as were the amendments that were brought through.

I also thank all of the Members of the Dáil who made contributions to the debate and who made contributions to amendments. I thank the members of the Select Committee on Justice and Equality for their work on this Bill. It is also important to acknowledge the Law Reform Commission for its work. It initially began discussions on this matter in 2011 and published a report on it in 2013. It is important to acknowledge that the work and the research it carried out on the matter was extremely important.

We had a relevant incident over the last two years and the current law is that where a body is not recovered, a death certificate cannot be obtained. One has to wait a period of seven years and that kind of situation happened in the last two years where four people died and bodies were recovered in two cases but not in the other two cases. It causes its own problems for families. We have moved on completely to the point of the importance of being able to bring closure. In these cases, everyone knows the person has died but there was no procedure there to deal with it. I know there was a provision under the Coroners Act 1962, whereby the Minister for Justice and Equality could write to a coroner and ask him or her to hold an inquest where a body had not been recovered. In fairness to the former Minister, Frances Fitzgerald MEP, when she was Minister she did that for me in one case. As a result of a debate here in the Seanad in 2016, a family contacted me and asked me to assist them in bringing closure to them in their family tragedy. In fairness to the former Minister, she took action.

As this was a drowning, the Garda also took action by taking DNA samples from the family in case the body might have washed up in other jurisdictions. There was no result from that process. The coroner then held an inquest and a death certificate was issued. That was a long drawn-out procedure that had to be gone through. This approach will be the correct way of dealing with this matter. It has been up and running in Scotland for more than 40 years. I thank the Minister again for all the work he did, for making staff available and, indeed, for all of the work they did in making the changes required and working through this Bill with other Government Departments as well. I thank everyone involved for their contributions on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.