Header Item Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages (Continued)
 Header Item Message from Select Sub-Committee
 Header Item Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 869 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] These big companies are advising other Departments and are being paid huge fees for doing so, which is a direct conflict of interest.

I appeal to the Minister to ensure that small vending companies, of which they are many in my constituency, are catered for and not put out of business. We need businesses in rural Ireland. The businesses of which I am speaking are in the main located in the main small villages and towns of rural Ireland. These are reputable businesses which we must ensure are not enormously damaged as a result of the introduction of plain packaging. While the ultimate aim is to protect the health of our citizens account must also be taken of the effect of this measure on small businesses, many of which are family businesses, that provide employment and pay their rates and taxes.

  Question put and agreed to.

Message from Select Sub-Committee

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Select Sub-Committee on Education and Skills has completed its consideration of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 and has made amendments thereto.

Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed I welcome the opportunity to make a relatively short contribution on this lengthy and complicated legislation. The Bill, as published, comprises 106 pages and the explanatory memorandum comprises approximately 32 pages. It has had a lengthy gestation through pre-legislative scrutiny and hearings in committee with interested parties. I hope this inclusive approach to the finer detail of the Bill will continue on Committee Stage because this is extremely complicated legislation. None the less, it is necessary legislation and is, I believe, primarily child-centred legislation. I hope that for this reason there will be no undue rush during the remaining legislative Stages to have it passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In the minds of some people this legislation is inextricably linked with the marriage equality referendum to be held later this year and there is an anxiety to have it out of the way before then. As I said earlier, it is child-centred legislation. We should never lose sight of this. There are people who are using this legislation and, in a way exploiting children, to make political points about the marriage equality referendum. The primary purpose of this legislation is to reflect the changing circumstances in which children find themselves. We would all like it to be the case that a family comprises a mother, a father and their children in a happy home. However, the reality is far different. What is important is that children are in the best possible environment for their development and growth.

Recent census statistics provide a snap-shot of the complexity of family relationships in Ireland. According to the 2011 census, there were 215,315 lone parent households in Ireland; 17,378 lone parents living in multi-family households; 4,042 same-sex couples living together; 66% of the 115,046 divorced or separated women were living with their children and there were 49,005 households of cohabiting couples with children under 15. The number of children living in households headed by cohabiting couples increased by 41% between 2006 and 2011. In 2011, there were 25,190 children born outside of marriage or civil partnership and in 2012 there were 25,344 children born outside of marriage or civil partnership.

The name of one of the groups campaigning against this legislation is Mothers and Fathers Matter. Of course, mothers matter and, of course, fathers matter but it is my view, and I believe the consensus generally, that children are the primary concern of this legislation. When one reflects on the statistics of 25,000 plus children being born outside of marriage and of there being 215,000 plus lone parent households in Ireland the question that needs to be asked of the people who campaign under the banner headline "Mothers and Fathers Matter" is what is the subliminal message they are sending to people who find themselves in lone parent circumstances or in crisis pregnancies. Many of the people who campaign on particular issues reinvent themselves in other circumstances and take up a pro-life position, as was the case in the context of the passage through the Houses of the protection of life during pregnancy legislation. Most people in this House do likewise but grapple with a complex issue. The critical question which these people need to answer is: What is the subliminal message they are sending to girls who find themselves in crisis pregnancies when they say that mothers and fathers matter? I agree that mothers and fathers matter but being a mammy or a daddy is much more complicated than being a biological father or mother because the former reflects commitment.

This legislation is about is putting committed people around children and reflecting the legal complexity and myriad of family relationships in which children currently find themselves. While the majority of children are in loving homes, a substantial minority are not. A substantial minority of children are not living in a unitary family of mother, father and children: they are in single parent families, homes where parents have divorced and, in a significant minority of circumstances, they are being reared by same-sex couples. What is critical is that the interests of the child remain central in any decisions that are made regarding custody, access, guardianship and so on.

For me, the missing chapter in this legislation is address of the maintenance issue. We have made some progress in recent years in terms of the birth certificates of children now having to include the names of the mother and father. In the United States, there is a register of deadbeat dads and deadbeat mothers, namely, people who have children but abscond from their duties financially and otherwise to those children. Perhaps in terms of the progress we are making, including putting in place all of the necessary supports for children in the myriad of circumstances in which they find themselves, we should be more aggressive in pursuing parents who abscond from their financial obligations to their children. In particular, should we be contemplating a register similar to that in the United States of deadbeat fathers and deadbeat mothers? We know the identity of all of these people because on the birth of a baby their details have to be entered on the birth certificate. It is no longer acceptable that in these matters the State should be obliged to pick up the tab.

A provision of this legislation which I particularly welcome is that providing recognition of the extended family, particularly grandparents. All of us know from our own family experiences the absolute joy that grandchildren bring to grandparents. There is no more traumatic circumstance imaginable than a breakdown in a relationship which cuts off access by grandparents to their grandchildren. It is regrettable that under this legislation the only way out of this access issue for grandparents is via the courts.

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