Header Item Fishing Industry (Continued)
 Header Item Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 869 No. 1

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Noel Harrington: Information on Noel Harrington Zoom on Noel Harrington] I expect the larger operators will probably be in a better position to take the inevitable loss but some of the smaller ones will not. In this context I again call for a favourable response from the Department, for it to engage with Bord Iascaigh Mhara and at least consider a limited compensation package which identifies those hit hardest. This would be to allow them to get back on their feet. I note what the Minister of State said, that the purpose of the fisheries funds, past and present, is to support new and existing industries. It would be very poor judgment if, in looking at new industries and opportunities in the sea fisheries sector, we allowed existing smaller operators to go out of business. This situation exists through no fault of ours, the Department, the Minister of State or the operators, as they have been hit with this tsunami of natural events. I thank the Minister of State for at least not closing the door on the compensation issue.

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. I understand it is a huge local issue for him and I undertake to speak to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and ask him to refer to the Deputy directly on what plans he has for the compensation scheme. He has not closed the door and I encourage the Deputy to pursue it.

Message from Select Committee

Acting Chairman (Deputy Brian Walsh): Information on Brian Walsh Zoom on Brian Walsh The Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimate for public services for the year ending 31 December 2015: Vote 30 — Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to provide for certain matters relating to donor-assisted human reproduction and the parentage of children born as a result of donor-assisted human reproduction procedures; to provide for the establishment and maintenance of a register to be known as the National Donor-Conceived Person Register; to amend and extend the law relating to the guardianship and custody of, and access to, children and for those purposes to amend the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964; to extend the category of persons who may be liable for the maintenance of children and for that purpose to amend the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976, and for that and other purposes to amend the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010; to provide for the use in certain circumstances of DNA testing to determine parentage and for that and other purposes to amend the Status of Children Act 1987; to amend the Family Law Act 1995; to amend the category of persons who may adopt children and for that and other purposes to amend the Adoption Act 2010; to make consequential amendments to the Succession Act 1965, the Civil Registration Act 2004 and other enactments; and to provide for related matters.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  Today, I am introducing the landmark Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 to the House which, when enacted, will be a watershed in the development of family law. I thank the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, its Chairman, Deputy David Stanton, and the members of the Opposition involved, for undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and for organising public hearings on it last April. I took account of many of the committee's recommendations when revising the general scheme on which the Bill is based.

  I must also register today the pivotal contribution to the reform of family law in Ireland made by my predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, in this House and outside it. The Bill began on his watch, largely driven by his concern about the lack of action in this area, and I am privileged to continue the work, with the necessary changes and additions following the legal and other advices I have received.

  As I stated, when enacted the Bill will be a watershed in the development of family law. It will align our family law with the realities of modern life and family life. It addresses a world where children are reared in married families, in lone parent households, in blended families, in households headed by same-sex couples or by grandparents and other relatives. It recognises that assisted human reproduction has created a new scientific reality where children are daily born to couples using donor gametes. It acknowledges that all of these children have in common the fundamental need for security and stability in their family situations. They are entitled to clarity in the rules on parentage, guardianship and access. They need to know that there is someone who has a legal duty to look after them. Where the relationship between the adults breaks down, a child must have fairness and as much stability as legally possible.

  The Bill, in effect, modernises our law on a range of complex and sensitive areas, such as parentage, custody, access, maintenance and adoption. It adopts a child-centred approach, giving a child essential legal rights on matters that are fundamental to the child's identity and well-being. It takes account of the changing social demographic in Ireland over the past 51 years, since the Guardianship of Infants Act was enacted in 1964. Crucially, it equips us to support families now and in the future.

  I will set out for Members the demographic context which is shaping this legislation. Most children live in marital families with their biological parents, and those families enjoy the unique protection of our Constitution with regard to marriage and the family. However, as Members of the House are also aware from their own life experience and in their day-to-day work with constituents, a significant minority of children live in other family types. The 2011 census indicated that for that year, 215,300 families were headed by lone parents with children, and 44% of these parents had never been married. There were 49,005 households of cohabiting couples with children under 15 recorded in the census. The number of children living in cohabiting households is rapidly increasing, rising by 41% between 2006 and 2011. These numbers indicate to us that a significant number of children live in households other than those headed by married parents.

  In 2010, the Law Reform Commission, in its report on the legal aspects of family relationships, identified the need for a coherent and modern legislative framework which recognises the changing nature of families in Ireland. It recommended, for example, that provision should be made for parental responsibility to be extended to civil partners and step-parents. It also recommended that a child's relatives, persons in loco parentis or those with a bona fide interest in the child should be able to apply for custody. At the time in 2010, the commission also noted the limited legal recognition of the rights and responsibilities of families of donor-conceived children. The commission pointed to the issue as one which would need to be addressed by the Government. The issue has become even more pressing in the past five years.

  Increasingly, it is evident that those who are unable to have children themselves use assisted human reproduction at home and abroad and in a wide diversity of situations, methods and circumstances. Children born into these situations do not have sufficient clarity on their parentage. The Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction recognised this problem in 2005, exactly ten years ago, when it produced a comprehensive report on the issue. No Government until now has taken action on it. The commission noted the "issue of legal parentage in Ireland of children born through donor programmes is complicated by the absence of legislation". It acknowledged that its recommendations would necessitate a change in the law relating to parentage. The commission also recognised that the application of the principle of intent of the parties, for instance the intent that a donor will not have a legal relationship with the resulting child, would necessitate the broadening of traditional family structures.

  Put simply, the availability of assisted human reproduction arrangements has led to the birth of children who need legal certainty in terms of their parentage and guardianship. In the absence of comprehensive legislation, families have to go to the courts to secure the rights of the child. We cannot continue to let children be born into the unregulated environment I have described. We have a responsibility to these children that they should have certainty with regard to their parentage.

  Legislation is also needed for children growing up in family types whose needs are not adequately addressed by current legislation, and the Government believes a legislative response is needed to give clarity to these children. This is why the Government made a commitment in the programme for Government to address the situation by "modernising and reforming outdated elements of family law".

  The Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 before the House today is proposed as the legislative response to many of the issues raised by the changing composition of families.

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