I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 102 together.
I thank the Deputy for his questions and I know this is a matter upon which he has engaged on previous occasions with the previous Minister and in the course of other debates.
Under our adoption legislation, as the Deputy will be aware, when a child is registered on the register of adoption the child is deemed to be the legal child of the adoptive parent or couple, having exactly the same legal status as any biological child of the couple born to them within their marriage. In effect, once an adoption takes place, all previous links to the birth family are severed and the adopted person is considered part of the adopted family. In the case of step-parent adoptions, it is therefore necessary for the birth mother to adopt her child as part of the adoption process.
I am aware of the anomalies with respect to adoption by step-parents and I know the Deputy has made this point previously. These provisions first originated in the 1952 Adoption Act and were further consolidated in the Adoption Act 2010. My Department is undertaking a review of adoption policy and the operation of the Adoption Act 2010. As part of this review I will examine how to address the anomalies in relation to step-parent adoption, including the requirement for a natural parent to adopt their own child and the creation of a new birth certificate recognising the newly-adoptive parents and possibly removing the recognition of a birth parent. I accept that this is an issue that is causing anxiety, upset and trauma for many parents and people.
It is more than three years since the commencement of the Adoption Act 2010 and I am conscious that in this time several issues, including those in regard to step-parent adoptions, have arisen in relation to the operation of that Act. There are a number of general policy questions around the nature of our adoption regime and I consider it timely to undertake a review of adoption. Given the range and complexity of the many domestic and international legal aspects to adoption, the scoping of this review will involve prioritisation of the areas to be dealt with and the order within which they will be addressed. These anomalies, and in particular the anomaly referred to by the Deputy, are issues that will gain priority on my agenda. I give the Deputy an assurance that this specific issue will be prioritised. It is important that the issues are examined in the overall context of adoption law reform in order to identify potential knock-on implications or interactions with other aspects under contemplation.
When my predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, addressed this matter with the Deputy in October 2013, she referred to work under way in the Department of Justice and Equality in the area of guardianship, which is of potential relevance to some of the family situations where step-parent adoption is among the options being considered. This work led in January this year to the publication by the then Minister for Justice and Equality of the general scheme of the child and family relationship Bill. This scheme outlines the legal provisions by which a non-marital father will automatically be a guardian of his child where he has cohabited with the child's mother for at least a year before the birth of the child.
Other people will also be able to obtain guardianship by agreement and others by court order, such as step-parents. My Department is continuing to liaise with the Department of Justice and Equality on the work under way and to further develop the child and family relationship Bill, which is at draft stage.