The Civil Registration Act, 2004 represented a significant development in the provisions governing civil registration of life events in Ireland and was a major overhaul of legislation dating back to 1844. The ten years since its enactment have seen significant changes in Irish society. The aim of the Bill is to allow for the further modernisation of the civil registration service so as to better reflect the needs of society today. I propose to offer some general observations on the rationale and general principles informing the content of this amending legislation and will then proceed to summarise the provisions of the Bill.
While there are many amendments contained in the Bill, the four principal amendments that will be provided for in the Bill are as follows. It provides for the compulsory registration of the father's name on the birth certificate. According to the annual report of the General Register Office, there were 69,209 births registered in Ireland in 2013. Of these, 2,675 were non-marital births when no father's name was registered. The legislation does not require the mother or the father to provide the father's details when registering the birth where the parents of a child are not married to each other. The amendment seeks to address the current position by making the provision of such information compulsory, other than in exceptional circumstances. This will underpin the rights of the child under EU legislation to have access to the details of his or her identity. It will be a step towards ensuring full and accurate particulars are registered at the time of birth which will be of significant benefit to the child and future generations.
The issue of marriages of convenience is complex. EU citizens and their families have the right to move and reside freely within the territories of the member states. These rights also apply to non-EU national spouses of EU nationals. Marriage, as an institution, has particular protection under the Constitution. However, these rules are being abused by individuals who are using marriage to gain an automatic right of residency. Our duty under the Constitution is to protect the institution of marriage and we aim to do this by introducing legislation which makes it more difficult to broker a marriage of convenience in the State.
The legislation will introduce records of the deaths of Irish persons normally resident in the State who die while on short-term absences abroad. Many Senators have raised this issue with me from time to time. The death of a loved one is always a tragic and difficult event. The new legislation will allow families to record the deaths of their loved ones in Ireland and, I hope, bring some comfort and closure to them.
I take this opportunity to thank Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who has campaigned for this issue to be addressed in legislation and brought forward a motion in the Seanad in that regard. I also thank Deputy Seán Kyne for his work on a Private Members' Bill on the domestic registration of death records, which helped in the drafting of section 13 of this Bill.
Irish society has been enriched by the choices made by people from other countries and cultures to live, work and raise families here. In certain instances, couples got married or had a civil partnership in their country's embassy in Ireland. Unfortunately, these marriages and civil partnerships are not valid. This Bill will, on a once-off basis, validate those marriages and civil partnerships that have already taken place in Ireland and which are still in existence. The Bill also provides for a significant number of amendments to the 2004 Act, which will streamline the procedures of the civil registration service to provide an improved modern service to the public.
I give notice to the House of my intention to bring forward two amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage. The first relates to the issue of civil partnerships which took place prior to the enactment of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. The amendment will provide for the retrospective regularisation of those civil partnerships. The second amendment relates to the solemnisation of marriages in a public place. It has been clarified that under the current legislation, marriages can be performed outdoors where the venue is open to the public. However, further clarification is required for solemnisers to ensure such venues are appropriate for marriages to take place.
I will now summarise the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 establishes the Short Title and collective citation of the Act. It further stipulates that the Act may come into force on such day or days as the Minister for Social Protection, by commencement order, may determine.
Section 2 provides for the definition of the term "Principal Act" used throughout the Bill as the Civil Registration Act 2004.
Section 3 provides for the amendment of section 2 of the 2004 Act by inserting new definitions that are required for this amending legislation. This section also amends section 2 of the principal Act to make a marriage of convenience and civil partnership of convenience an impediment to marriage and civil partnership, respectively.
Section 4 provides for the amendment of section 17 of the 2004 Act to include that a superintendent registrar may designate a registrar to perform his or her functions where an absence such as extended leave or long-term illness occurs.
Section 5 amends section 19 of the principal Act and provides that a person who is a qualified informant must produce to the registrar any evidence, including documentary evidence, relating to a birth, as requested by the registrar. The section further provides that a superintendent registrar may complete the registration of a birth where, in exceptional circumstances, a qualified informant has not signed the register to allow completion of the registration. In addition, the section provides that a child who has attained the age of 18 years may be considered as a qualified informant in regard to the registration or re-registration of his or her own birth entry.
Section 6 amends section 22 of the principal Act and contains a number of amendments relating to the registration of the father's name where the parents are not married.
Section 7 provides for the re-registration of a birth and contains a number of amendments to section 23 of the principal Act.
Section 8 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by insertion of a new section 23A, which will provide for the re-registration of a birth of a child, on foot of a court order, where the parents were not married on the date of the birth. The section provides that a mother or father or the adult child may apply to re-register a birth on foot of a court order granted under section 35 or 45 of the Status of Children Act 1987.
Section 9 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by insertion of a new section 25A, which provides that where the parents of the child cannot agree on a surname, the registrar may complete the registration by leaving the surname blank or, in cases where a surname is already registered, the existing surname shall remain.
Section 10 provides for the amendment of section 28 of the principal Act to allow for a stillbirth to be registered later than 12 months after it occurs.
Section 11 provides that the definition of a qualified informant of a death is extended to include a cohabitant, next of kin, personal representative or religious superior of the deceased, so that such an individual may register the death within three months.
Section 12 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 42A, which provides that early neonatal deaths are notified to the superintendent registrar of the area where the death occurred.
Section 13 provides for the amendment of the principal Act by the insertion of a new Part 5A, which provides for a record of deaths of Irish citizens who die abroad and who were ordinarily resident within the State within five years prior to their death.
Section 14 amends section 46 of the principal Act and provides that couples who produce a court order exempting them from giving three months' notice of intention to marry will be required to pay the marriage notification fee. This section also provides that, where one or both of the people giving notice of intent to marry is a foreign national, he or she must provide to a registrar information and documentary evidence regarding his or her immigration status.
Section 15 amends section 46 of the principal Act and provides for new procedures regarding potential marriages of convenience.
Section 16 amends the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 58A, which provides for the validation of certain marriages carried out at foreign embassies in the State.
Section 17 amends section 59B of the principal Act and provides that couples who produce a court order exempting them from giving three months' notice of their intention to enter into a civil partnership will be required to pay the prescribed fee as set out in regulations. Section 17 also provides that where one or both of the people making a notification of their intention to enter into a civil partnership is a foreign national, he or she must provide documents and information regarding his or her immigration status.
Section 18 provides for the amendment of section 59C of the principal Act by amending the validation period of a civil partnership registration form to six months from the date of the intended ceremony specified in the form.
Section 19 provides for the amendment of section 59D of the principal Act by providing that the registrar is no longer required to issue a copy of the civil partnership registration form.
Section 20 amends section 59F of the principal Act and provides for new procedures regarding potential civil partnerships of convenience.
Section 21 amends the principal Act by the insertion of a new section 59I which provides for the validation of certain civil partnerships carried out at foreign embassies in the State.
Section 22 amends section 61 of the principal Act and provides that where a person is required to provide proof of identity to a Government body in the form of a life event certificate, the Minister may prescribe a reduced-cost certificate for these purposes. This section also provides that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, on application to him or her and on payment of any prescribed fee, shall allow a person to search certain historical registers online.
Section 23 amends section 64 of the principal Act and provides that where an entry in the register of births, stillbirths or deaths is based on false and misleading information, the registrar general may direct a registrar to cancel the entry and, if required, register the details under a new entry. The section further provides that where a court order of nullity is provided for reasons other than an impediment, the entry may be cancelled in the register of marriages or civil partnerships, as required.
Section 24 amends section 66 of the principal Act and provides for sharing of information with Departments and agencies under the relevant Acts for specific purposes, so that the information may be used for policy and planning initiatives.
Section 25 amends section 67 of the principal Act and provides that the Minister for Social Protection may set the fee for certificates at a lesser amount if the certificates are required to prove age, civil status or death to another Government Department or required for official purposes. This section also provides that a fee, if any, shall be payable to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in respect of the performance by that Minister of his or her functions under the principal Act. This is in regard to accessing information about births over 100 years ago, marriages over 75 years ago and deaths over 50 years ago. It will be a significant opening up, allowing people to search the registers for genealogical and other purposes.
Section 26 amends section 68 of the principal Act and provides that where the Registrar General has directed that an entry be registered or re-registered without the register being signed by a qualified informant, the details of that entry shall be deemed to be valid. Section 27 amends section 69 of the principal Act by the insertion of a new subsection 5(a), which provides that a person shall be guilty of an offence if they fail to furnish evidence, including documentary evidence, where it is in their power to do so, when requested by a registrar.
Section 28 amends section 70 of the principal Act and provides that the new subsection 69(5A), referred to in section 27, is added to the sections of the Act under which a person is guilty of an offence. Section 29 amends the First Schedule to the principal Act and provides for the deletion of the "age next birthday" of a deceased person in the register of deaths so that more accurate statistical information can be gathered based on the deceased person's actual date of birth.
Section 30 amends the Immigration Act 2003 to include the Civil Registration Act 2004 in section 8 of that Act to allow the Minister for Social Protection to request information from certain information holders, as defined under that Act, for the purposes of the Civil Registration Act 2004.
This Bill provides for some significant changes to the Civil Registration Act 2004 and it puts the registration service more in tune with the Ireland of today. It provides for having fathers' names on birth certificates and the ability to register the death of somebody who died abroad while ordinarily resident in Ireland, having perhaps gone on a holiday and met with a fatal accident. Hopefully, this may be of some comfort. There is also the further opening up of important historical records for genealogy purposes relating, as I said, to births over 100 years ago, marriages over 75 years ago and deaths over 50 years ago. I look forward to an informed debate and to hearing the views of Senators on the measures contained in the Bill.