I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this important legislation to the House. We live in a changing society that has a more diverse range of family formations than in the relatively recent past. It is important that we reflect this in our laws and how we recognise family units. I fully intend for civil registration legislation to keep pace with the evolving nature of our society and how this diversity is provided for in legislation generally. In that way, we can assure we will treat all citizens equally. In that vein, the Bill will update and improve civil registration legislation and, in particular, address certain issues that have had a serious impact on the lives of a small number of citizens. The civil registration system works well for the vast majority, but for some, that is not the case. I hope that, as a House, we can rectify this. The provisions included in the Bill were either contained in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 or drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and approved by the Government as Committee Stage amendments to that Bill. Although I am mindful that the current legislative programme is increasingly focused on Brexit, I hope that in introducing already drafted provisions the amendments can be progressed quickly with minimal impact on drafting resources.
I have received a number of inquires on the issue from Members of the Oireachtas and appreciate concerns about the negative effect the current law has on same-sex female couples. I have met and spoken to many of the women affected and want to see these concerns resolved as quickly as possible, which is why I wish to see these important, largely technical legislative provisions progressed as a matter of priority. Prioritising the Bill involves making technical amendments to existing legislation that will make possible the registration of births of donor conceived children of same-sex female couples to include particulars of both partners as parents in the register of births. This will allow both partners to have their particulars displayed on birth certificates and affirm their parental rights in matters such as access to passports and school enrolment. Bringing the provisions into operation also depends on the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. As Deputies will be aware, this is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, who is working to ensure the commencement will occur as early as possible following the passing of the legislation. These are complex issues that require the involvement of more than just one Department, but officials from my Department are working with the General Register Office, GRO; the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality to ensure the appropriate legislative, regulatory and operational mechanisms will be in place to allow for the earliest possible commencement of all the relevant legislation that will allow for birth registrations of donor conceived children.
Another key provision in the Bill that I would like to see enacted quickly is to bring civil registration legislation into line with current legislation governing presumption of paternity. It will make it less onerous for a woman to rebut the automatic presumption of paternity of her estranged husband in the birth registration process. In particular, I want to avoid the need for contact with a woman’s husband where the separation may have been acrimonious or even involved incidents of domestic violence. There are other provisions in the Bill about which I intend to speak as I address the individual sections of the Bill.
Section 1 outlines the definitions of certain terms used in the Act.
Section 2 amends the definition of the "Act of 2015" in section 2 of the Act of 2004 which will facilitate the commencement of legislation that will provide for the registration and re-registration of births of donor conceived children.
Section 3 makes technical amendments to section 19A of the Act of 2004 which will facilitate the commencement of legislation that will provide for the registration of births of donor conceived children.
Section 4 brings civil registration legislation into line with current legislation governing presumption of paternity and makes it less onerous for a mother to rebut the automatic presumption of the paternity of her husband in the birth registration process.
Section 5 makes technical amendments to section 23B of the Act of 2004 which will facilitate the commencement of legislation that will provide for the re-registration of births of donor conceived children.
Section 6 provides for the inclusion of a family member as a qualified informant in the registration of a death where a coroner is involved. This will allow the family of the deceased to have a greater role in the registration process and should result in the registration of a more complete set of particulars in certain cases.
Section 7 provides for the inclusion of the forename and birth surname of a parent where a person born following donor assisted human reproduction dies abroad and it is sought to have the death recorded in the record of deaths abroad when it is operationalised. This follows as a consequence of the addition of details of a parent to the required particulars for the registration of a birth.
Section 8 provides that records of births, deaths and marriages may be shared by the GRO with a body under the aegis of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht such as the National Library of Ireland. Bringing these provisions into operation will require extensive consultation between my officials and their colleagues in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Section 9 provides for the application of fees payable to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in respect of any performance by that Minister of functions carried out under the provisions amended by section 8 of the Bill. This is a standard provision in most legislation.
Section 10 provides for the inclusion of details of a parent in the required particulars to register a birth or stillbirth. This will facilitate both partners in a same-sex female relationship to have their particulars registered in the register of births. Registration of particulars of “mother” and “father” will continue to be available, but either parent may choose to be registered as a “parent”, if he or she so wishes. The section also provides that the country of birth and the country of citizenship of a deceased person are to be added to the particulars of a death to be entered in the register of deaths. This provision, as well as providing a richer source of data in the records of deaths held by the GRO, responds to the State’s obligations under the relevant EU regulation governing the provision of statistical data for EUROSTAT by the Central Statistics Office.
Section 11 provides for a technical change to ensure certain amendments in section 6(1) of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 may apply to the registration of births where the birth occurs before the date of commencement of the section and is registered after that date.
Section 12 provides for the Short Title, construction, collective citation and commencement of the Bill.
The amendments are mainly technical in nature, but they will have a profoundly positive impact on the citizens who are affected by them. They are specific, targeted measures that have already been drafted and I intend to fast-track them in a stand-alone vehicle. I am aware that there are other areas of civil registration that need to be addressed and other issues broadly related to provisions contained in the Bill, but they can I hope be dealt with separately at an early future date. I want to progress the measures contained in the Bill with the co-operation of both Houses as quickly as possible. I look forward to hearing Deputies' views and working with all Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann to progress this legislation as quickly as possible.