Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Questions (22)

Paul Murphy

Question:

22. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department has assessed the impact on the rights and welfare of children of same-sex parents who are not able to accurately record their parents' details on birth certificates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25897/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

I attended a meeting on Sunday of 55 LGBTQ parents and 20 of their children. They are affected by an issue which a majority of people in society are not aware of - and probably a majority in the LGBTQ community are not even aware of - whereby, despite three years having passed since the passing of the Children and Family Relationships Act and the advent of marriage equality, children of same-sex married couples are still unable to have both their parents registered on their birth certificates.

I understand that the commencement of the relevant sections is not the Minister's responsibility and I appreciate her taking the question, which is on the impact this is having on the rights of these children. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of children who are currently affected and as time passes, more and more will be affected and more and more serious issues will be posed.

The ground-breaking Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 reforms and updates family law to address the needs of children living in diverse family types. My colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has responsibility for Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, which make provision for children conceived through the assistance of a donor and provide legal clarity on parental rights and responsibilities. While I understand that officials in the Department of Health have prepared draft regulations to facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, they have identified in the course of that work a small number of technical drafting issues in the legislation. These issues are currently being explored by officials in the Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General. If it transpires that amendment is required through primary legislation, the Minister for Health has undertaken to facilitate same as a matter of urgency in order to lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas the regulations necessary to commence Parts 2 and 3 as soon as possible thereafter. At the same time, the Department of Health is preparing guidance documentation to accompany the regulations when commenced. I understand that the Minister for Health will imminently make an announcement on his plans to resolve the issues which have arisen with the commencement of the Act. As such, I am confident that the outstanding issues relating to these important Parts of the Child and Family Relationships Act will be resolved.

I say to the Minister and, if he is listening, to the Minister for Health that this is an urgent matter and we would like an imminent announcement on it. It is having an impact on people's lives now. Couples are getting pregnant without realising that this is going to be a problem. It is something they realise only during the course of their pregnancies or, in the case of some people to whom I have spoken, only when they have turned up to register the birth of a child. All of sudden, they realise that the form has a space for "mother" and a space for "father" and that one cannot simply cross out "father" and have two mothers. I was contacted by Leanne when she and her partner, Nile, to whom she is married, needed to get a passport for their baby. Eventually, they had no choice but to put just one of the parents' names on the birth certificate. They were not able to register both as parents. That has an ongoing impact and as time goes on, it will present real difficulties. Leanne sent me the following:

Nile and I created our baby together. We went through the process that every couple do with the intent of creating a human. I willingly signed up to love and care for someone for the rest of my life. Is this not what makes a family?

This month we celebrate gay pride. The theme is "We Are Family". How much of a slap in the face is this to all same sex parents out there? Instead of celebrating our first pride as a family, we'll be marching and protesting for our rights. Again.

I hope all my friends and family will join us. I know you all voted for equality 3 years ago and I'm sorry to have to ask you to fight with us once again.

I thank the Deputy again for raising these exceedingly important issues, which are particularly important and significant for me also. I was fully aware of and delighted to hear that the Deputy was at the meeting on Sunday. I spoke to the director of LGBT Ireland on Sunday night to hear how the meeting had gone. I am deeply conscious of the experiences of parents like the couple the Deputy identifies and of the urgency of the matter. Many of these people are my friends and I am concerned as much about those who have been couples with children for years as I am about those who are about to have children. I spoke to a couple only last evening who said to me that their children, who are younger kids, believe they are a family because of the passing of the marriage equality referendum. That is what they know and that is what they understand. The concerns lay in particular with the parents. Those are the concerns I am aware of and I acknowledge the urgency of the regulations, which need to happen soon.

Has any analysis been done on the impact of this on the rights of children? As time passes, parents may separate or the tragic death of one may take place. What would be the impact of that on a child in this situation who has only one of his or her parents registered officially before this situation is resolved?

I welcome the Minister's agreement that this is urgent. I understand that LGBT Inclusion has written to the Minister for Health seeking a meeting to get an update. In response to an answer which offered a briefing from the Department, I have sought to have that take place to get the latest information. Unfortunately, a lot of people out there have been asking questions and been told over a long period that commencement was about to start, albeit some issues were identified. The Minister will therefore forgive a certain scepticism or wariness until we see what the plan is. While I accept there are real technical difficulties, it is vital that the Government takes whatever steps are necessary to put this in place given the passage of three years since elected representatives in the House passed the Act following the endorsement by the people of marriage equality. If possible, that should be done before the summer recess.

I thank the Deputy again. This is a critical issue and I appreciate greatly the Deputy raising it. The Deputy's question about research on the impact on young people reminded me of the first piece of research I had on children expressing what it meant for them to be children of LGBT families but not recognised as such. This was prior to the marriage equality referendum and it was called "The Voices of Children - Report on Initial Research with Children of LGBT Parents", published in 2010 by Marriage Equality, an organisation I helped to found. It is a terrific document still and it describes how children felt at not being acknowledged and recognised as families. Having said that and having consulted with the people to whom the Deputy is also speaking, including those who have written to me and a number of my friends, it may be useful to do some additional research on children's perspectives as the children of LGBT parents and on the impact it has on them. There may be possibilities to do that under the national LGBT strategy, which I am about to launch during the week of Pride.

I appreciate the urgency of this matter and I thank the Deputy again for raising it. It is why I am trying to describe the fact that an announcement will take place soon and that the Department is already preparing regulations to put in place once the legislative issues have been sorted.