Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Commencement of Legislation

I have been in regular contact with families waiting for certain provisions of the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Act 2018 to take effect. The legislation was enacted in July and families are waiting anxiously due to the dilemma they face regarding the registration of their children at birth. They have been waiting now for six months. I have put down questions on the matter regularly only to receive a standard reply from the Minister for Health to the effect that it is going through a process having regard to Parts 2, 3 and 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. The Minister says he intends to have Parts 2 and 3 of the Act commenced as soon as possible. We are waiting for issues relating to Part 9 to be sorted out also. Just last week, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection said the provisions will not be implemented now until some time in 2019. A lot of people are very frustrated by this as they feel it is being put on the long finger and that there is no real will or urgency to bring the legislation over the line. I have received an email from LGBT Ireland to say its representatives had met a senior civil servant from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to discuss the outstanding matter of Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and that the outcome of the said meeting had been disappointing and unexpected with officials advising there were technical errors in the provisions as drafted. It is now proposed to correct these errors by way of amendments on Committee Stage of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. This lengthy process will push the commencement date into 2019.

I have been a Member of the Dáil for seven years and I have seen how there is no problem for the Government when it wants to bring in Bills dealing with technical issues. Given that the errors referred to here are technical, there should be no problem introducing without debate amendments to deal with them by agreement with all parties. That is what I want to hear this evening. Why is there no urgency about this? I ask the Minister of State to explain how technical these issues are and how difficult it will be to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. Many people are interested to know what the status of the legislation is and how quickly the Government wants to proceed with it.

I thank Deputy Joan Collins for raising the matter and acknowledge her special interest in the subject on behalf of her constituents. It is important that she raises these issues. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who is attending the Seanad and cannot take the issue herself.

This is a complex issue. Certain sections of Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 provide for the registration and re-registration the birth of a donor-conceived child and, in particular, make possible the registration of details of "parent" as well as of "mother" and "father" where required, which is something all Members agree with. The current position is that these sections need to be amended to correct technical errors and have yet to be commenced. It is the Minister's intention to make the necessary amendments on Committee Stage of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. Commencement of the provisions is also dependent on commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Health.

The Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Act 2018 was enacted on 24 July 2018. It was introduced to correct typographical and technical errors in and facilitate the subsequent commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. As such, this is a complex matter with issues overlapping where one Act must move with the other. There are important administrative and operational arrangements to be put in place to facilitate the implementation of Parts 2 and 3, including the establishment of a national donor-conceived persons register and the appointment of authorised persons under the Act. The Minister understands it is the intention of the Minister for Health that Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act will be commenced as soon as possible. While I do not have a date to hand, I will be meeting the Minister for Health later and will ask him to communicate directly with Deputy Joan Collins in this regard. In order to progress the commencement of the relevant Parts, officials from the General Register Office, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Health are working together to ensure that the appropriate legislative, regulatory, and operational mechanisms are in put place to allow for the earliest possible commencement of all relevant legislation to facilitate birth registration of donor-conceived children. Collaboration is ongoing between the three bodies.

The Minister is aware of the impact this issue is having on affected families. The Deputy outlined those on behalf of her constituents in Dublin. The Minister acknowledges in particular the position of same-sex female couples wishing to have the second partner registered as "parent" and the pressing need to proceed with commencement as soon as possible. The Deputy has been working on this for some time and I understand where she is coming from on it. I will ensure that both line Ministers are aware of the matters she has raised in the House this evening.

I will read to the Minister of State an email I received from a parent which demonstrates the frustration people feel.

I want to put it on the record of the Dáil because this issue is urgent and needs to be moved along. This parent says that she and her wife have been together since 2003. They married in 2009 under UK legislation. They both made the decision to have their first child in 2013. They both attended appointments. She was there when their daughter was born and through the sleepless nights and first steps. However, per the State, only her wife is a parent. In 2015, she was pregnant during the marriage equality referendum and endured all of the horrible comments about LGBTQ families but she was hopeful that the Children and Families Relationship (Amendment) Act would be progressed. For all that it seemed to be rushed through, in September when her son was born, there was still no movement on the commencement of the Act and once again she and her wife had to deal with the inconvenience, expense and annoyance of swearing an affidavit that he had only one parent to get a birth certificate or passport.

She says that problems arise when they have to travel to England. They are going over to England to see her grandparents. There is a lot of hassle. All of these families have the same experience. I understand that commencing this Act is complex and involves amending legislation but it could be moved along much more quickly with the parts put in place. Even if a date could be set, we could tell people that this is going to happen by this date or as close as possible to it. People feel a bit lost in the legislative process.

I will give a brief supplementary reply. As the Deputy has rightly pointed out, there are stories of parents in similar situations and this needs to be dealt with. This is complex and there are technical issues involved. It is important to get this right to ensure that there are no problems afterwards, that it is good legislation, and that the technical difficulties, including both parents being recognised not only when they are a father and mother, are dealt with. These are harrowing stories. We know that other couples all over the country have similar stories. By raising this issue in the Chamber this afternoon, the Deputy has highlighted the issue again and has put it on the record of the Dáil. Through my work as Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, I will certainly ensure that the officials from the General Register Office, GRO, my Department, and the Department of Health will ensure that the appropriate legislative, regulatory and operational mechanisms are put into place as quickly as possible. We are at the end of the year now, but I hope this will be done in 2019. I cannot give the Deputy a date but I can emphasise the urgency of the issue raised by her both to Ministers and the GRO. I know where she is coming from.

Immigration Policy

Ar an gcéad dul síos, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing us to raise this issue here this evening. It is my hope that we can discuss this issue without accusations regarding motivation coming into the debate. My colleague, Deputy Fitzmaurice, and I have raised this issue because there is anxiety about the implications for Ireland of becoming a signatory, as I understand we have done, to the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, which was adopted this week at the UN intergovernmental conference which took place in Morocco. In response to a recent parliamentary question, I was told that the compact is "non-binding and respectful of national sovereignty". I was also told that this is happening "against a background where individual States cannot address challenges relating to migration alone. For example, cross-border efforts are essential if human smuggling and trafficking is to be reduced."

However, on foot of a parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, last July, we know that there has not been a single conviction for human trafficking under the provisions of our own Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, despite the fact that there were two prosecutions under the relevant section of the Act in 2016 and four prosecutions in 2017. If we cannot get our own house in order with respect to trafficking and people smuggling, what hope do we have of addressing the world's people trafficking problems? As I said, there are great concerns about this. I am raising this issue in a non-adversarial way because we are concerned. Since 2012, a total of 101 prosecutions have been issued under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. The vast majority of these prosecutions relate to offences under the section of the Act covering child trafficking and pornography, which we also have to cover. While on the one hand it is very encouraging, I cannot fail to be concerned about the fact that only 48 convictions have emerged from the process since 2012.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue matter. Public representatives across the country have been inundated with emails and phone calls from people who are concerned about the compact. There was a ferocious debate between two candidates for the leadership of Angela Merkel's party in Germany. There is concern in other countries. Some of the stuff out there may not be accurate. I do not know. I would have thought, however, that there would have been statements or a debate in the Dáil on such an issue before the Government would sign this compact with other countries. Perhaps I am wrong on the procedure but I would have expected a debate in the Dáil. I would like to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on the matter.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who unfortunately cannot be here. He sends his apologies. I sincerely thank the Deputies for raising this important topical matter. I am happy to provide some background and context to the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration.

As has been said, the Minister has just returned from the intergovernmental signing conference for the compact in Marrakesh, where more than 140 UN member states were represented, most by senior ministers or Heads of State. This debate is an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions about the compact being pushed by some politicians - though thankfully none here - for obvious political ends and, in particular, by users of social media. Ireland has been closely involved in the development of the global compact on migration and, alongside Jordan, Ireland co-facilitated the 2016 New York declaration on refugees and migrants, a direct precursor to the compact.

It is clear that mass migration across the world cannot be managed by one country alone. Migration is a global issue, which requires global co-operation. The global compact on migration, agreed this week by a significant majority of UN member states in Marrakesh, is a legally non-binding document that looks at migration from a global perspective. While non-binding, it provides a framework for co-operation between states. The compact is grounded in values of state sovereignty, responsibility sharing, non-discrimination and human rights, and recognises that a co-operative approach is needed to optimise the overall benefits of migration, while addressing its risks and challenges for individuals and communities in countries of origin, transit and destination. The global compact places state sovereignty at its heart, meaning that it respects the rights of all countries to control their borders and retain control of their migration policy.

Despite the narrative being put forward by opponents of the compact in recent days, agreeing it will not negatively influence Ireland or our migration policy. I will clear up some misconceptions on this issue. The compact will not grant the same rights to migrants as Irish nationals. It will not remove the distinction between legal and illegal migrants; rather it reinforces this distinction. The compact will not make criticising migration a crime, as some have claimed. It simply places an importance on combatting xenophobia and racism. I believe we all agree on the importance of that. The compact will not infringe on Ireland's ability to operate its own migration policy.

While it is regrettable that some countries have decided to not participate at this time, and that the compact has become a kind of cause célèbre for far right parties in some countries, Ireland supports the objective of the compact. It provides a framework for co-operation through which Ireland can work with other countries on ensuring that legal migration, when it does occur, is as safe as possible and beneficial to all.

I accept the apologies of the Minister. I have spoken to him about this. As I said, while on the one hand what the Minister of State said is encouraging, I cannot fail to be concerned about the fact that only 48 convictions have emerged from the process since 2012. I do not want to be alarmist about this and I hope that what I say will not be taken out of context.

It is now clear that the Governments of the United States, Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia have all pulled out of the UN migration pact process. While I have listened to the Minister of State's reassurances, I must ask why those countries have pulled out. I want answers. What do those states see or know that we do not see or know? The most important issue, however, is the total lack of engagement with the people or with this House. Surely such a decision should be debated here.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing us to raise this matter. I thank the Minister of State for the clarity. I look forward to engaging in this process that is ongoing and ensuring that it does what it says on the tin. I am concerned about why those countries pulled out of the process if they were supposed to be happy with it.

I thank the Minister of State for clarifying the position. The CDU had a heated and protracted debate on this issue even though Angela Merkel is very much in favour of supporting migrants. There is a fear about why Austria and many other countries have pulled out of the process. Many politicians, as outlined by the Minister of State, have probably supported this for political gain. The issue of migration would not account for massive political gains for Germany or the CDU, even though many members would be in favour of supporting migrants. There is a concern among journalists, which has been expressed, and among the ordinary people about the impact of what is happening. No one is saying that every country would not play its part in helping migrants but there is a fear particularly among the media that they will be shut down. I welcome the Minister of State's comments.

On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputies for this opportunity to discuss the global migration pact and to set out exactly what the compact involves. I hope I was clear on that. We cannot be responsible for what other countries have decided to do or not to do. That is their business but we have been engaged in this process for quite some time. It does not infringe on our sovereignty in any way. It clarifies certain issues and helps us to work with other countries on this massive global issue. No country can deal with this problem on its own.

We know that countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe are still recovering from the effects of the migration crisis of 2015 and 2016. The lessons we learned then should serve us as a reminder of the need to address migration in a co-operative and comprehensive manner and the dangers we face when we do not. Ireland has a long history of migration. More than 17% of Irish nationals live abroad. In recent years, Ireland has become a country of inward migration and the contribution of migrants from all parts of the world helped drive our economy from our health sector to our growing tech sector and everything in between. The compact recognises the contribution of these people and works to optimise the benefits of migration for countries of origin, countries of destination, for migrants and their families and for the receiving communities.

I stress again the non-legally binding nature of the compact and its valuable role as a framework through which we can better co-operate globally on migration. Migration is an issue that is not going away. It is up to us to define how we respond to and manage it. I would welcome further debate on this issue in the House and at the various committees.

I have taken note of Deputy Mattie McGrath's concern about trafficking, an issue on which I would welcome a debate. I would also welcome Deputies' views on it. I thank the Deputies for raising this issue and I hope I have brought some clarity to the matter. We are available at any time if they have further queries on the issue.