I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar.
Registration of Wills Bill 2016: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the Minister. The Bill is supported by the Fianna Fáil Party. I have made many efforts to bring forward the Bill, but Dáileanna have collapsed and it is difficult to have Private Members' Bills passed. We now have new politics and I am delighted with the new approach which will bring about results. I received tremendous support from the late Brian Lenihan, the Minister's former constituency colleague, who worked with me on the Bill. Even when he was not in the best of form, he came along to see if he could get it through, but the Government at the time fell. I thank the Leader of the House and the Fianna Fáil Whip who arranged the allocation of time for the Bill.
The Bill provides an opportunity to register one of the most important documents a person can make - a will. Most countries have such a system in place. I believe Malta is the only country which does not. In Ireland there are 10,826 solicitors and 7,807 law firms. A solicitor or a law firm can make a will, as can an individual, but the will is kept in the solicitor's office. In these circumstances, a wills book is held in a secure location in the offices of a legal firm. Some legal firms have difficulties and go out of business. As a result, there is a danger of records being lost.
Brexit is also causing issues because a number of UK based solicitors are registering with the Law Society of Ireland. This means that they can make wills here. People are more transient now than in the past. Someone in Cork could make a will and there may never be anything more about it. Before coming to the House a few hours ago, I received a call from a man in Cork whose father had transferred land to his two brothers and while his mother had left 46 acres of the farm to him, it had been repossessed. A law firm found his mother's will in its office. He is very aggrieved. His problem will not be solved by the will. What would solve it is if records were kept by the General Register Office, which, as it happens, is located in Roscommon.
I am trying to be brief and not make a big speech because I have rehearsed this issue quite a lot over the period and it is better to explain it in straightforward terms. All I want is voluntary registration of a will on an A4 sheet of paper stating when and where it was made, where it is held, who made it and where it is available.
That information cannot be made available to any family member or inquisitive neighbour - the neighbour would not be allowed to see it, number one. If a family member is deceased, the family receives the original death certificate and on production of it, it will be informed by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages that a will was made. That is the kernel of the issue. It is not rocket science. Since the foundation of the State, we have had a register and licences for dogs or a television. We register everything. Roughly 30,000 people die every year and only about 10,000 cases proceed to probate. If a will is found after probate takes place - as there are two very eminent solicitors sitting on either side of me, I am certainly blessed - it is null and void. My colleagues can confirm this, but that is the procedure. We have an excellent probate officer and probate service. It is well organised and a great indication of very sophisticated administration in Ireland. We have a quality Land Registry, probate services and registration of births, deaths and marriages. These services are very important. It is very important that the State can keep records. There are other organisations that try to set up these services, but they come and go.
I am very anxious that this issue be debated in order that an awareness is created. Having this debate in this House makes people aware that they should make a will. It will not kill them to do so. Some felt that if they made a will, they were on their last legs. A will is vital. If even a young couple with an apartment or a house and children were to die intestate, there would be complete confusion about who was entitled to what, where and when. Even the simplest things like family jewellery or cars can present a problem. I must say solicitors have been very helpful. In October they offered a special deal to make a will. That is one advantage in having this debate in this House. Another is the opportunity to go through Committee Stage some time in the new year. I spoke to an eminent senior counsel who was quite satisfied with the general gist of the Bill - the fact that there will be no disclosure or breach of confidentiality and that the making of a will would be a voluntary decision such that there would be no compulsory making of wills. If wills are made on a voluntary basis, there must be a voluntary code of practice, as I think my colleagues said at the beginning of the debate. One cannot bring forward legislation stating that if a solicitor does not register a will, he or she could be prosecuted. That is just not practical. At this point in time, we want awareness. If the Bill becomes law, I would like legal firms to state they will register everything they have at the start through some arrangement such as getting a copy of the books into the offices and registering them. It will put extra work on the Department, an office of which I am delighted to see in Roscommon town. I looked at the probate office which was not that suitable because it did not hold the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The key is holding the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. One can then ensure one will have knowledge of the will being made.
I am sure that in his work as a Deputy, the Minister has come across issues such as this over the years. When I bring it up, I hear some hard luck stories. A man told me today that the prodigal sons were brought back and that he was thrown out. I do not know if that happened in biblical terms, but he certainly felt very aggrieved. This sparks off contact with people around the country because so many people have been deprived. Is there anything worse than being deprived of a legitimate legacy from a father, an uncle or a brother? We are talking about a simple will that states a person will inherit the property. Would it not be awful if in ten years' time they were to find the will but probate had already taken place? That is the key. Any Member present knows that in old times in rural Ireland, there would have been two or three solicitors' firms in a town. When a person died, the solicitors would go to the funeral and ask the family to come in on the Monday morning as they had some documents for family members at which to look. They would then gather together on the Monday morning, settle up and that was it. Now somebody could die in Galway, with most deaths being broadcast on Shannonside, Midwest Radio or Northern Sound. However, a solicitor is not listening to death notices every day to find out whether one of his or her clients has died. He or she will not hear about it. If one looks at the Law Society Gazette which I think comes out every month, one will find ten requests asking whether someone has knowledge of a will, where it is and whether it can be found. That does help to locate particular wills. I do not want to labour this point because I have gone through it on a few occasions, but at the time there was support across this House. Former Senator Fergal Browne of Fine Gael who was from Carlow took a tremendous interest in it. This was in the period from 2002 to 2007. He took a tremendous interest in the Bill and pushed it very hard. In fact, he brought forward another Bill later that concerned pre-nuptial agreements. I am not sure if it was successful. The Bill aimed to ensure that when one went up with €100, one did not come down with €50.
Or the other way around.
One goes up with €100 and comes down with €200. It works both ways. It is gender balanced in case anyone says there are people who go up with a bit of land and come down with more, but that is another day's work. As Jack Lemmon once said, "death ends a life, not a relationship." Certainly, when there is a will, there are definitely relations. When there is a will, there is certainly a way. The Registration of Wills Bill will provide a clear statutory basis for the registration of wills by extending the civil registration system which will enable the person making the will or his or her solicitor to register the details of the custodian of the will, thus reducing the risk of a will remaining unknown or being found belatedly.
Am I coming to the end of my time?
Do I not have the whole day?
No, I am afraid not.
The Registration of Wills Bill seeks to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 and provide a clear statutory basis for the registration of wills by extending the civil registration service. The register of wills shall be kept in the General Register Office, Government Offices, Convent Road, Roscommon, County Roscommon, further facilitating decentralisation to Roscommon. A study found that 70% of the population did not have a will, another interesting statistic.
We were progressing beautifully with the Bill and Fine Gael and other parties - even the Labour Party - were very supportive of it, but, for whatever reason, the previous Minister for Social Protection was not as enthusiastic about it. I know the background and have some knowledge of what is going on in the General Register Office, although I will not say it publicly. It seems that it is reluctant to look outside the box.
I have faith in the Minister and know that he takes a broad approach. All I want to see is the Bill go through Second Stage today. The Minister can fight every line of it on Committee Stage if he wants to do so and there will be good participation. That is how I like to see a Bill being progressed in this House. I am very committed to the Bill, believe it has merits and I am open to amendments. Certainly, the Government side will express its views. I have tremendous colleagues in the House who will also give their input.
I support Senator Terry Leyden's proposal. I commend him for his persistence with this matter which has spanned 11 years and demonstrates his diligence on the topic. I am a practising solicitor and can see the many merits contained in the Bill. I encourage people to make a will. As Senator Terry Leyden outlined, 70% of people in this country do not make a will. That is a very serious statistic. Having a will means that one is making life easier for one's loved ones when one does pass on. The proposals contained in the Bill will further enhance the easing of this very traumatic and grief-stricken time for families and loved one. I encourage everyone to support the Bill and look forward to having a robust debate on later Stages of the Bill.
I wish to share time with Senator Joe O'Reilly.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister and commend Senator Terry Leyden for his perseverance with the Bill. It is worth pointing out that it would not go straight to the next Stage but to the committee. At that stage, the Senator would have the opportunity to have the Law Society of Ireland and other interest groups to make their input. This version of the Registration of Wills Bill has been introduced twice previously by the Senator in 2006 and 2011 and opposed on both occasions. The Bill proposes making a voluntary register of wills which, in itself, is a good idea and one which I support. It is not a depository of wills to be administered by the General Register Office, GRO. The register would contain details of the testator and custodian of the will.
The Bill was considered in detail in 2006 by the then Department of Health and Children. As Senator Terry Leyden outlined, the then Minister of State, Brian Lenihan, met him and went through the legal issues and his reasons for opposing the Bill at the time. While the idea is a very good one in principle, we need to make sure it would be done properly. I am supportive of the Bill proceeding to the next Stage and hope the Minister will be also.
Senator Terry Leyden was not listening when I made the point earlier that the Bill would go to the committee because that must happen. At that stage, the Law Society of Ireland and other interested parties could make their input. There are some legitimate concerns that the Bill, as formulated, would not achieve any certainty on the existence of a valid will. The right of a person to make a subsequent unregistered will or codicil would remain. Registration per se could not be used in evidence and could bring the GRO into disrepute. Moreover, in 2006 the Bill was opposed by the Law Society of Ireland. Furthermore, there are also issues with the parent Department or organisation, costs, staffing, training and systems.
That is of concern. It is worth considering what the Bill, as presented, would achieve. It is intended to address situations where wills are lost, where a person has changed solicitor or families think there is a will but it cannot be located. That is a very good idea. I support the general principle of the Bill.
The new section which was inserted in 2011 was to address the deficiencies brought to attention during the passage of the 2005 Bill through the Seanad. However, it is difficult to see how the new provision would address these concerns. It merely underlines the deficiencies of the Bill.
There would be no evidential basis for a register of wills, as proposed. Registration would not provide assurance that the will registered actually was valid, or that the registered will was the last will of a person, or that it had been revoked, amended or superseded.
The Probate Office deals with wills, once executed, and grants of probate are published in due course. One could argue that any voluntary register should be managed by that office. There would be cost and operational implications for the GRO which we must consider. Perhaps that issue might be considered at the committee. Also, since the proposed scheme, as set out, would be unlikely to have the support of the Law Society of Ireland, it is likely that a relatively small number of wills would be registered if solicitors did not buy into the process. However, the crucial point has to be what the Bill would deliver for citizens. Would it provide certainty where people died, apparently intestate, where the existence of a will was disputed or where wills apparently had been lost? What benefit would it offer where a person could make any number of new wills or codicils without registering their existence? The register would be voluntary but a compulsory registration system would presumably raise other problems about people's rights to dispose of their assets as they see fit. If the Bill were capable of addressing the concerns I have outlined, without doubt I, as a member of a Government party, would consider the best options for establishing such a register, including location, parent Department, funding, staffing and systems.
The idea is a very good one. I admire Senator Terry Leyden's perseverance. Perhaps the Minister might allow the Bill to proceed to the next Stage. I would be supportive in that regard. I commend Senator Terry Leyden and the other Senators for bringing forward the Bill.
I congratulate Senator Terry Leyden on bringing forward this Private Members' legislation.
I thank the Senator.
It is a great personal achievement for him and something of which he should be proud. It is important to contribute to the legislative process from the floor of the House, as well as participating in debates on Bills the Government presents to the House. I say, "Very well done," to Senator Terry Leyden. It does not surprise me that he is similarly proactive in this Chamber, as I have worked closely with him for a number of years at the Council of Europe where he makes a huge input and is very proactive.
As is the Senator.
The Bill is a good one in principle. It is a very good idea that when a will is made that it be registered without its contents being in any way revealed. I know that Senator Terry Leyden is not suggesting that, but the fact that there is a will should be registered. That is right because it would prevent the will from being lost and all of the trauma the Senator described of a relative coming across a second will later. The final will and testament of a person, if he or she is of fit mind and testamentary condition, if one likes, is the operative document, but the Bill does not suggest that is not the case.
The purpose of the Bill is for wills to be registered. It is administratively simple and efficacious. It is the right thing to do and will ensure wills do not go missing, avoid trauma and assist everyone. Senator Terry Leyden described the situation very well in terms of births, marriages and deaths. A will could be discovered when death certificates are sought. That would stop much pain and searching, a lot of cumbersome effort, where people did not know which solicitor was involved and they must go to various solicitors, with whom the deceased person had dealings.
The Bill arises from Senator Terry Leyden's vast experience as a public representative and his interaction with people who have had such a difficulty. It is a very intelligent response to that difficulty, on which I congratulate him. It is right to register wills and the right mechanism to do it, with births, marriages and deaths in the General Register Office in order that they will all be under the one roof. When one hears the Bill described and explained, one wonders why it has not been done in the past. It is the right thing to do.
I do not have anything further to contribute to the debate, nor do I have time to so do. I merely congratulate my colleague on his initiative and wish it well. I will participate in the debate on Committee Stage and listen to other views on that Stage when we will all be participating. On Second Stage all that is necessary is to accept or reject the principle and the fundamental idea is a good one.
That is very generous of the Senator, whom I thank.
I commend Senator Terry Leyden for bringing forward the Bill. I recognise that a very important principle has been established and set out therein which I will support on Second Stage. There is strong value in encouraging the registration of wills in ensuring there is a paper trail which is of such importance for families. I concur with Senator Joe O'Reilly that it might be very important to locate wills, with information on births, marriages and deaths. As I understand it, this is simply an arrow that will provide people with a route to know where they might locate a will. It would not compromise in any way the content of the will. Neither is it simply an issue of property because it is an issue of family history also. It is one of the routes by which families in the past were able to trace their records.
Another additional benefit is that it could send a message that registering a will is important. A significant concern was identified by Senator Terry Leyden, namely, that many people do not make a will. In Ireland quite a number of people do not make a will. That brings the making of a will into the mainstream and it will become one of the pieces of paper one is expected to file.
I have some questions about the operation of the system. I would like to hear more about it and debate the issue on Committee Stage. I have the same concerns that others have expressed, in that where there is a last will and testament, circumstances may not allow for another will to be made and appropriately registered such as, for example, in the case of a person who is in the very late stages of an illness. The question of which will takes precedence may be a separate question, but it could be teased out. I am also conscious, as Senator Terry Leyden said, that we have a precedent of having a register of wills in some form in many European countries. I worked at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe with Senator Terry Leyden and I am sure he will be aware of the other models. The Government might constructively consider the models in other European countries with similar registers. I am sure that, as legislators, we can find the very best model for Ireland and that the Senator will be interested in working with people to find the model that will work.
I look forward to Committee Stage of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House and will support it on Second Stage.
I commend Senator Terry Leyden for bringing the Bill before the House today, but he should not get used to it. To be fair to him, he has pursued this particular issue relentlessly. He initiated a Private Members' Bill in 2005, 2011 and again today.
Sinn Féin is supportive of the intentions behind the Bill, as the current system is archaic. The current procedure is too loose, with no fallback when a will is misplaced, lost or, in some cases, destroyed. At least with a register in place, it would be known that a will had been made at some stage. Without a register and knowing whether a will has been made, there are long delays in allowing the intentions of a deceased person to be set out and unnecessary delays for the beneficiaries of a will.
The death of a loved one is a traumatic time for families. Turning houses, solicitors' offices or whatever else upside down while searching for wills that may have been filed for safekeeping adds to the stress. Maintaining the privacy of the contents of a will is imperative to maintaining the integrity of the probate process. Any change to the current process will need to be managed extremely carefully to ensure an effective and accountable process will remain in place. The essential details of a written will need to be kept private and the intentions of the deceased persons secured as it is their wish when they make a will. Centralising the process that proves that a will was made and its location would be a most welcome move for the country once privacy is maintained within the system. Many attempts have been made to set up a central register but all have failed. I again thank Senator Terry Leyden for his tenacity in continually pushing this measure. Ireland is way behind other countries in Europe in putting a register in place.
In the context of Europe and people living abroad who may have made a will, a central European register would make sense. Ireland has been criticised many times for failing to possess the political will to implement a register. The Senator cannot be faulted for this. He has twice brought a Bill before the Seanad and twice a sitting Government has let him down in progressing the Bills. I hope the Minister will make sure of its progress.
Sinn Féin will support the Bill at this stage and look forward to working and making recommendations on amendments on future Stages to ensure it will pass and becomes law. It cannot fail for the third time.
There is a wider problem, namely, that the taking out of wills in Ireland by citizens is not done on a level anywhere near high enough. Making a will is one of the most important and necessary acts that one carries out in one's adult life. A campaign raising awareness or encouraging more people to take out wills on the back of this Bill would be most welcome.
I look forward to working with other Senators to make sure a robust, yet transparent, central register is implemented. Central to our support will, of course, be maintaining the privacy and integrity of the current wills process, but moving it into modern times and away from the dated and inefficient methods being used which have led to many problems and confusion.
Senator Terry Leyden has put forward a very practical proposition, namely, the idea that wills should be registered. Having practised as a solicitor for 16 years in a general practice, I drew up a lot of wills and administered a lot of estates. Bearing that in mind, I feel registering wills should be mandatory because otherwise people will run into difficulties.
People can make wills very simply. Many are anxious about the process, especially older people. People associate the making of wills with the ending of one's life and sometimes younger couples are more prepared to write a will than those who are older. It is a very simple and relatively cheap process. It puts one's affairs in order. Most wills are not complex as they do not require trusts to be established and so on. The making of wills should be encouraged.
There are times when a person attends different solicitors in different towns and makes different wills. One solicitor may register a will but another may not. In order to give effect to the intent of the Bill which is that people should know about wills, it would have to be mandatory to register wills. In order for a will to be formalised, it has to comply with certain legalities. For example, it could be a requirement that wills be registered within a month. Of course, people can make wills on their death beds and there would have to be provision to allow for such a flexibility.
All in all, it is a very good idea and provides a good opportunity to encourage people to make wills. Some 70% of people do not make a will. Sometimes people are scared about going to a solicitor's office and think they will have to spend a lot of money, but that is not always the case. One can ask what the cost will be. From my experience, it is not expensive compared to many other legal services that are provided. It provides peace of mind. Aside from knowing how to deal with one's property, one can set out one's wishes about things that may be in doubt such as where one wants to be buried. One can have a will registered and forget about it.
I hope the kernel of what the Senator is suggesting can be taken on board and that we can move on it. It would be an improvement for probate. People could rest assured that when a person dies another will is not in place and one does not override another.
Some people do not realise that when one gets married, a will is no longer effective. People who get married need to make another will. Those who are remarrying need to make a second will. Many colleagues in the Chamber can also add to my advice.
I am happy to support the tenor of the Bill and look forward to the response of the Minister in terms of what he can do in accommodating the concerns that have been raised about the efficacy of the Bill.
Remember that lovely song "Michelle".
I thank the Minister for coming to the House again. I congratulate Senator Terry Leyden for bringing the Bill to the House. He has worked tirelessly on it for many years. Like other Members, I congratulate him and commend him for his perseverance.
It is a great idea. I am still involved in a solicitors' practice and we often receive e-mails from the Law Society of Ireland or see notices in the gazette looking for wills. It appears as though a lot of mystery is involved when people go to a solicitors' practice. As Senator Michelle Mulherin said, they get a bit scared. The Bill would take away any mystery and make the legal profession a little more open. It would provide a lot of comfort for the public. When people come to my office to make a will, they ask what happens next and I tell them that I keep the will on file. If registration was introduced, an online process may be a little easier for practitioners and less cumbersome than a paper registration. When a loved one dies, it is a time of distress and trauma for families and the registering of a will would ease any burden and difficulty.
It would not disbar the admissibility of wills made at the last minute. It would merely be like another cupboard in which one goes looking for a will. As such, one could collect any information available. I presume many wills would be able to be registered and that the closest in time would ultimately be brought to the Probate Office.
We are all giving our own little piece of legal advice. I note that if anyone is making a will at home, he or she should ensure no one named as a beneficiary witnesses it as that would make it null and void. Ultimately, having many wills will not have that effect. This is a great idea and I hope any small adjustment needed can be made on Committee Stage. I look forward to hearing what the Law Society of Ireland has to state. I have read some of its comments and some of its concerns could be addressed with easy answers. It is not as complex as it is making out. It would merely be a simple register which would allow people to look at wills. It would not, as Senator Catherine Noone said, be a depository of actual wills. The Probate Office would have the ultimate say on the admissibility of a will. I welcome the Bill which I am happy to support.
I thank Senators for giving me the opportunity to consider and discuss this important and interesting topic. As Senator Terry Leyden said, even debating the issue is of value because it gets people thinking about the importance of having a will. It got me thinking, first, about the fact that I did not have one and, second, that I did not know that a will became void if one got married, which was news to me.
Only two thirds.
Also, I did not realise so many Senators were solicitors until the debate commenced today. Having listened to the very short debate we have had, I am a little better disposed to the merits of the idea than I might have been even an hour ago.
I acknowledge the initiative of Senators Terry Leyden, Catherine Ardagh and Lorraine Clifford-Lee in drafting the Bill. I can certainly see why it would be a good idea to provide for a statutory system to register wills. It is important that people make a will as it makes it much more straightforward to administer a deceased person's estate and is simpler and less costly for families. Where a deceased person has no family, it could help to avoid long delays and expense while his or her successors are being identified. On the face of it, having a register of wills would seem to be a good way to locate a person's last will and testament. It might also be a way to establish whether a will was ever made. When one considers the proposal in more detail, however, it appears that registering wills might create as many problems as it would solve. I can imagine that the Senators will want to deal with situations where, for example, wills are lost or a person has changed solicitor or where the family of a deceased person think there is a will but cannot locate it. We all know that matters to do with people's estates can become very divisive, difficult and upsetting for those involved.
We all have the right to settle our affairs as we see fit and, provided we have acted within the law, no one can interfere with this. We are not obliged to publicise the fact that we have made a will, its contents or where it is lodged. I realise the proposal is that registration be voluntary, but the problem is that a voluntary system would not stop people making multiple wills or codicils subsequent to the registration of a will and then not registering the existence of new wills or codicils on the register. As such, the registered will might not actually be the last will and testament of the person concerned. I am certainly not suggesting a compulsory system be introduced and acknowledge that the Senators are not proposing it in the Bill either. I am simply pointing to some of the pitfalls in having a voluntary system. I often say we always debate two laws in this and the other House; the law in front of us and the law of unintended consequences. In that regard, I note that inheritance matters are not dealt with by my Department; as such, I would need to consult the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to obtain further information on the issue. The Bill proposes that a person or his or her solicitor attend before the registrar to say a will has been made. The actual will would not be deposited with the GRO, nor would the registrar see it. There would be no proof that there was a will or that it was valid or that another will or codicil had not superseded it. I acknowledge that the Senators may have considered these matters and have solutions to them.
There have been some changes to the Bill since its original publication by Senator Terry Leyden in 2006. The Registration of Wills Bill 2005 passed all Stages in Seanad Éireann but fell on the dissolution of the Oireachtas for the general election of 2007. The Registration of Wills Bill 2011, again brought forward by Senator Terry Leyden, was similar to the 2005 Bill in that it provided for a voluntary system of registration by the GRO. The Bill before us bears no substantive difference to the 2011 Bill. The Bill was first introduced 11 years ago and, of course, things could have changed in that time.
When the 2005 Bill was introduced, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform sought the views of the Law Society of Ireland which expressed reservations about the legislation on a number of grounds, both in terms of its day-to-day practical implementation and the infringement of certain legal principles. It pointed out that as the proposed registration of wills was to be voluntary, it would have limited effect. Proponents of the register will suggest a number of wills go undiscovered or are destroyed each year, which sometimes results in the wrongful distribution of assets under the intestacy rules or the terms of a prior will. However, there would still be these problems under a voluntary system. In addition, the Law Society suggests the most the Bill's proposed registration system could achieve would be to confirm that a particular will was registered on a particular day. Crucially, it would not be conclusive that the will registered was the last one.
A further concern is that the registration of a will is not proof of its validity. As the Bill stands, it does not appear to require that the will being registered be executed in accordance with statutory requirements and be valid, nor would registration prove that the will was not made without undue influence. The register would also accommodate the registration of DIY wills, a large proportion of which, experience suggests, do not comply with statutory requirements. The Law Society also opined in 2006 that if the issue of the proper execution of wills was not addressed, it could call into question the veracity of the information held on a public register, a concern shared by my Department and an tArd-Cláraitheoir.
The Bill proposes that the GRO have responsibility for the registration of wills. Civil registration was first introduced in 1845 for the registration of non-Catholic marriages and extended in 1864 to births, deaths and Catholic marriages. Registration of adoptions was introduced in 1952 and civil partnerships in January 2011. The date on the register forms a basic, continuous source of information on the population, providing a record of vital events relating to people and satisfying the need for evidence that has a bearing on rights, entitlements, liability, status and nationality. Civil registration is relevant to each of us at important stages in our lives, beginning with the registration of our births and ending with our deaths. Between these events, civil registration affects us directly, as in the case of marriage, and indirectly when certificates are required for many of the services available in society, including enrolling a child in school, obtaining a passport, taking up employment or claiming a social welfare payment.
Each event registered under civil registration legislation has the benefit of an independent evidential basis. Details of births are notified to the registrar independently of the parents, while details of deaths are attested either by way of a certificate provided by a medical practitioner who attended the deceased or a coroner's certificate. Marriages are evidenced by the signatures of the parties to them, the witnesses and the solemnisers on the registration forms, details of which have been recorded by the registrar prior to the event. As a result, the records of the GRO enjoy a very high reputation for integrity and credibility nationally and internationally and certificates of vital events are readily accepted as evidence of the facts recorded without any need for further investigation or inquiry. A register of wills as provided for in the Bill would be significantly different from other registration functions the office already has. As the scheme proposed is voluntary and, therefore, not comprehensive, it would be unable to guarantee that a registered will was the last one and had not been amended, revoked or superseded and that its validity could not be assured. It is difficult to see how the scheme as proposed could achieve its objectives. In addition, I am fearful that the good reputation enjoyed by our system of civil registration could be undermined.
I understand the Bill was drafted against the background of the Council of Europe's Convention on the Establishment of a Scheme of Registration of Wills. The convention provides for the establishment of national registration schemes and contains supplementary rules governing international co-operation between national authorities entrusted with the task of registration. Ireland has not signed or ratified the convention. It is also the case that there has not been enough time to consult the Law Society about the Bill to see if its views have changed in the ten years since it first considered the matter, particularly having regard to the fact that the Bill has been amended, mainly by the addition of a new section 13. As such, it would be useful to consult the Law Society of Ireland on the current Bill to see if its views have altered. It would also be useful to hear from the Ard-Cláraitheoir on his views and experience, as well as from other experts and interested parties, to tease out some of the issues. The best way to achieve this is to support the passage of the Bill on Second Stage to allow it to proceed under the new arrangements to a pre-legislative scrutiny hearing at committee level when we can hear from all of those with an interest and expertise in the area and, perhaps, tease out the legislation further.
The best way to achieve this is to allow the Bill to pass through Second Stage and proceed to Committee Stage and, under the new arrangements, to allow for a pre-legislative scrutiny hearing in order that we can hear from all those who have an interest and expertise in this area and perhaps tease it out further.
Other issues that need to be considered are fees to cover the administrative cost of the office, whether the GRO is the appropriate body and not the Probate Office and whether a copy of the will should actually be kept on file in the GRO.
I note Senator Catherine Ardagh's point on the possibility of registration online. Of course, one could potentially scan a will and register it online. Also to be considered is the matter of whether the registered will should take precedence over subsequent wills. A Senator has suggested we examine what is done in other countries to see what systems operate there.
While I will not be opposing the Bill today, I will not be able to support it further unless some of its flaws and some of the issues I have raised today can be corrected. The best way to do this, however, is to allow it to proceed to Committee Stage, on which these issues can be teased out.
I thank the Minister for attending to discuss the Bill in the House. I am well aware of the resistance from the GRO in Roscommon. I have experienced it for a very long time. I hope it does not influence the Minister when he comes to think about this Bill and that he will take a very independent approach. I know that he will and that he will be very progressive in so far as this Bill is concerned. I am quite confident that his senior officials will be the same.
Of course, the Bill is not perfect; it is to initiate something. It is hard to get people to embrace something new. I accept the arguments on the Probate Office and whether it is the type of place to have the proposed register. I will not go into details because we will deal with this issue on Committee Stage.
I thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for co-sponsoring the Bill and Senators Catherine Noone, Joe O'Reilly, Alice-Mary Higgins, Máire Devine, Michelle Mulherin and Catherine Ardagh for their contributions. I also thank Senators Catherine Ardagh and Lorraine Clifford-Lee for their input into the Bill. I will not go through all the points made because this is a very early stage of the process. I am delighted to see so many practitioners present. It is interesting to have their input. The Bill will proceed from the Seanad and be based on the experience of Members who can debate every line of it and may make it a reality.
No information is proposed to be disclosed to anyone on the fact that a person has made a will. That is a matter for oneself. There is no requirement that the will registered must be the final will. If somebody signs a will at the last minute, it is the one that will be probated, albeit ten weeks after registration. That would be straightforward, normal information.
The world has changed, as has Ireland. So many people of all nationalities are coming here and joining the community. They could have made wills that may never be found. Over the years as a Deputy and a Minister of State, it came to my attention that so many people were disadvantaged by the fact that a will could not be found. So many solicitors have got into trouble recently in that regard. Who knows where the books are gone? The register is the book that is held in the office of a particular solicitor. It is a shame if somebody is deprived of a major entitlement. People become very aggrieved when they believe they have been done out of their rights. My Bill is an effort to address this issue and I am not saying it is perfect. This is one of the few countries in the Council of Europe area which does not have a formal registration process. I suppose we will reach the stage at which there will have to be registration covering all of Europe so as to facilitate the bringing forward of information.
I accept that the quality of the registration system at the GRO in Roscommon and Dublin is excellent. The records are excellent. This would be a voluntary scheme. Nevertheless, if the Minister could make a small, simple start, what I propose could grow in time. That is all I seek. If the Probate Office is the correct location, I would have no problem with it, as long as we could move this Bill forward and deal with the issues involved on Committee Stage. If the Minister has an open mind on it, it will be beneficial. I certainly have an open mind on it and no hang-ups at all about it. We could make it successful and see it through. I am absolutely confident that when the Minister has time to study and think about the Bill, having heard the contributions in the Seanad today, he will have a fresh approach. I am very confident that he will see it through. If he decides to see it through, we will do it together.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.