Seanad Éireann - Volume 175 - 11 February, 2004
Civil Registration Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: Before the adjournment of this debate, I was talking about the differentiation between married and unmarried parents and the situation in which the father is not registered. However, he can be registered if there is an agreement between the mother and the father and there is a statutory declaration in the presence of a commissioner of oaths. That is an advance on the previous situation. However, the problem is that this is not recorded as yet. There is no requirement for it to be recorded in any central register. That means there is an obligation on the parents to retain that, which they should do as good caring citizens, but that does not always happen and it can be mislaid, which could create a problem. It would mean they could be in significant trouble.
There is a provision for re-registration of a birth if, for example, the parents subsequently marry or paternity is acknowledged by the mother. That is perfectly right. However, it should be automatic. The appointment of unmarried fathers as guardians is an equally important life event, given the range of rights and duties it encompasses, including the religious, moral, intellectual and social upbringing of the child. It should be placed on an equal basis and it should not be discriminatory.
At present there is considerable confusion about guardianship and the question of recording the father's name on the register. Many people incorrectly believe that putting the father's name on the register automatically makes him a guardian of the children. As the Minister knows this is not so at present. It would be a great help and clear up considerable confusion if the entry of the father's particulars on the register automatically conferred a possible further right of guardianship at a later stage. While this could require an amendment to the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, my advice is it could also be done within the scope of the Bill and the Minister should consider doing so.
In the light of the fact that in holy Catholic Ireland one third of children are now born outside marriage, we are dealing with a very large number of citizens. Many fathers depend on these agreements to acquire the guardianship of the children. If there is a dispute the only record is this document and there should be a method of establishing how it was made. In other words there exists a two-tier discriminatory system as between married parents and, in particular, the biological father of the child in cases where the parents are unmarried, which is wrong. For example, children born to married parents can be registered in hospital immediately. However, unmarried parents are required to go to the register's office, which is discriminatory.
Search engines, indexes, and children born outside marriage in the mother's name or in the chosen surname of the child only make it difficult for the father to trace using his name. Although the Bill is a further improvement and marks an advance, it is still discriminatory in certain areas and I ask the Minister to take these matters into account and see if the changes I have suggested could be incorporated into the Bill.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, a number of organisations have briefed many Senators and I understand that Fine Gael has been charged with tabling the amendments. It would be futile for me to table them. As was pointed out, we do not have a member on the relevant committee and it is appropriate for the Senator involved to table them. We will certainly support the amendments and I ask the Minister to look kindly upon them.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy O'Malley, and the officials from the Department of Social and Family Affairs to the House. I am very pleased to speak here on the Civil Registration Bill 2003, which is the first major reform of civil registration legislation since it was first introduced in Ireland in 1845. This is a comprehensive Bill, which provides for the reorganisation and modernisation of the registration of births, stillbirths, adoptions, marriages and deaths.
I support this important legislation as the existing structures and procedures are cumbersome and almost outdated. The provisions brought before us are well thought out and reflect the changing nature of life in 21st century. The Minister, Deputy Coughlan, and her Department deserve great praise for introducing this legislation, which in business terms will make all civil registrations more customer friendly, which is something all State agencies should attempt to do.
Issues of civil registration touch each of us, our families and friends. It is easy to assume that civil registration only affects us at birth, when someone else did the registration for us, and then at death, when once again, someone else will look after the details on our behalf. However, in the years between birth and death, many aspects of civil registration impact on us. These include the documentation for marriage, enrolling children at school, commencing work and getting passports.
The basic registration procedures have remained static over the years, despite the rapid advancements in technology that we use to our advantage in many other areas of life. We need to embrace these technological advances and utilise them to benefit all our citizens. I am sure substantial benefits will arise from the modernisation programme the Minister has brought before us in this Civil Registration Bill 2003. I wholeheartedly welcome the steps towards the introduction of modern technology to provide for on-line registration, electronic certificate production, and the eventual capturing and storing in electronic format of all paper-based records since 1845.
All of us have at times cursed the huge amount of paper work and repetition required to perform certain tasks. I welcome wholeheartedly any change that will see an improvement in service, greater efficiency in the use of resources and reduction in red tape. Until now, the registration and certificate production processes were manual, time consuming and location dependent. I know people who had to travel on numerous occasions all over the country just to get copies of original certificates. This long-term plan will reduce the demand for paper certificates for the purposes of Government services, which I welcome.
Since September 2003, the Department of Social and Family Affairs has implemented a new child benefit system. This is possible due to the fact that all new birth registration data is transferred electronically from the civil registration computer system. As the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, said in her speech earlier, this is a prime example of the e-Government objective of Departments working together to provide more convenient access to services for citizens. The introduction of the new civil registration system as outlined in this Bill, is therefore a flagship initiative in providing life-centred services to customers.
The Bill will provide for the faster production of birth, death and marriage certificates and will also streamline the registration of adoptions. The provisions will end lengthy queues for birth and marriage certificates. I wish the Minister and her Department well with their plans to create a truly customer friendly service throughout the Department.
Mr. McCarthy Mr. McCarthy
Mr. McCarthy: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Malley, to the House and agree with the broad sentiments expressed on both sides. Some of the legislation in this area dates back to 1844. It creates problems for parliamentary draftspersons to attempt to deal effectively with legislation that has been hanging around since 1844. It would be worth considering appointing more personnel to deal specifically with amending legislation to bring it up to modern day standards. The Second Schedule contains a long list of Acts to be repealed. We should consider modernising other legislation also.
The Labour Party believes the Bill is an attempt to modernise the recording of events as one goes through life from birth to death, recognising the events that were not previously pertinent such as annulments and divorces. Statistics are important in the recording of events and information that can be used by Departments to project what may happen in the future. Part of the Bill is to suit bureaucracy and administration as opposed to recognising the rights of people involved. It is important to also recognise the right of guardianship. Senators on all sides were lobbied by the AMEN organisation. Senator Cummins read most of its submission into the record of the House, with which I concur. While there is a genuine attempt to address the issues in this regard, it could go a step further.
It is important to recognise the registration of guardianship. Rights for everyone including young children deserve to be recognised. The Bill brings us from 1844 to the present day which is a huge improvement. The primitive nature of some legislation creates unnecessary difficulties when attempts are made to introduce good legislation in a wide range of areas. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, has pioneered the simplification of language terms within her Department, a policy which should be examined across a spectrum of Departments not only for documents available to the public, but also in the wording of legislation. It should become more reader friendly and more understandable and much of the old archaic expressions should be removed. This should be done to make the services of Departments and legislation in the Oireachtas more reader friendly. Much of the language is antiquated and if it were abolished, it would contribute to more effective legislation.
The longer period to effect registration of various events is significant and welcome. The five day period is like the three month notice under the 1995 Act, whereby one may apply to a judge and the hearing takes place in camera. I am sure there will be some system whereby one can apply to the appropriate registrar because of particular extenuating circumstances. For example, the fact that it might not be possible to postpone a wedding may represent an extenuating circumstance. It would be undesirable if the legislation did not vest in the registrar power to have discretion in such situations.
The system of registration of births, marriages and deaths in Ireland dates back to the early 1800s, as is outlined in the Second Schedule to the Bill. The system has evolved naturally over the years. The Labour Party in Government played its part in reforming this area with the Still Births Registration Act 1994, which provided for the first time a statutory system for the registration of births of stillborn children. This is a sensitive issue and one which is upsetting for people who go through the process of losing loved ones, but the system needs to be examined in a fresh context. People do not think clearly on days on which they have to cope with tragic and unfortunate circumstances and the Act has been comforting for parents of stillborn children. Former Minister Mervyn Taylor piloted that legislation and it is fitting that he is now a member of the commission on human rights.
Another innovative measure introduced by former Minister Taylor was the Registration of Births Act 1996, which for the first time provided a new form of birth certificate which treated mothers and fathers equally. Prior to this, the registration of birth system requested information regarding the father's occupation but not the mother's, which was a huge inequity. This is one of the great achievements of recent years. Everyone can talk about economic progress but that may cloud the progress made on equality legislation, no matter by whom it was introduced. This legislation has examined and confronted societal problems and created opportunities through which people could move forward.
It is almost ten years since the divorce referendum was successfully passed. At that stage there were many opposing views and if new Ireland demonstrates one thing, it is the broad-thinking, reasonable-minded attitude of the vast majority of citizens to deal with problems as they arise. The archaic laws and their application to marital breakdown were a huge problem at the time. The State did not recognise the right of many people to remarry. The introduction of legislation created an opportunity for people to remarry within a legal framework and was one of the more progressive pieces of legislation of the early to mid-1990s. It characterised the distance Ireland has come in terms of the social agenda and social change and speaks volumes about the politicians of the day who successfully tackled the issue.
The Bill has the broad support of the Labour Party but it is not perfect legislation and I look forward to Committee Stage, during which we can table amendments. I hope the Minister will look favourably on them because they will be tabled to improve not just the text, but the effect of the Bill. It is a huge improvement and a step in the right direction. However, we could have taken it an extra length — it has not gone the full nine yards. Nonetheless, I commend the Minister on introducing the Bill and I appeal to her to look favourably upon Opposition amendments to improve it on Committee Stage.
Ms White Ms White
Ms White: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I am pleased to welcome the Civil Registration Bill 2003 to the Seanad. The Bill provides a new legislative framework for civil registration, supports and enables the modernisation of the civil registration service and facilitates the decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon. This topic is not as emotive and is not getting Senators as excited as the debate on decentralisation did earlier. However, we are here to legislate and, although it may not be exciting legislation, it is fundamentally important to the country and the modernisation of the process of civil registration.
The work being carried out jointly between the Departments of Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs is a tremendous compliment to both Departments. The public servants are driving forward this technology to give greater customer satisfaction in this regard. This major undertaking will see the introduction of modern technology to civil registration and the reform of legislation. It is interesting for the young people in the Visitors Gallery that, until now, the registration and certification production processes were manual, time-consuming and location dependent.
The re-design of the child benefit system is the first manifestation of the modernisation of the new service delivery framework. Since September 2003, all new birth registration data is transferred electronically to the Department of Social and Family Affairs from the civil registration computer system. This facilitates the allocation of a personal public service number to a child at registration. It establishes a child's public service identity and the creation of family links on the national central database for all citizens and the initiation of a child benefit claim for first born children and automatic payment for second and subsequent children in a family. In other words, a single interaction with the public service agency, for example, the registration of a birth, not only serves its original purpose, but also triggers a series of related services by another agency — in this case, the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
Part 3 provides for the registration of births and stillbirths. The principal responsibility for registering a birth will remain with the parents, who will be required to register the event within three months of the birth. To facilitate parents in fulfilling this obligation, the current time limit of a meagre 42 days will be extended to three months. In future, births may be registered with any registrar, as opposed to the current system in which the birth can only be registered by the registrar of the district in which the birth occurred. It is not location bound.
One third of births in Ireland are non-marital. When a baby is born to an unmarried mother and the father's name is not registered, up to now, that position was carved in stone and no change could be made to it. However, if there is a change in the circumstances of the relationship the father's name can be added to the certificate. This is fundamentally important and gives a much more equal opportunity to the child of the single parent than the married parent.
The registration system triggers systems in the Department of Social and Family Affairs, thus activating the child benefit system. I compliment the two Departments on the modernisation and computerisation of the birth registration system.
Mr. B. Hayes Mr. B. Hayes
Mr. B. Hayes: Senator McCarthy made a very important point regarding the legislation. Members know the legislation dates back to the 1840s and Senator McCarthy said it was difficult for Parliamentary Counsel to make sense of it and it is very difficult for Senators and Deputies to make head or tail of it, given that to read this Bill one has to have in one's possession all the other Acts relevant to it. This emphasises the need for a consolidated Bill. However, I welcome this Bill as previous changes to the civil registration code have been made as an add on to social welfare Bills — I know this from my time as spokesperson in the Dáil — which was completely unacceptable.
This is a very important Bill. We need to take time to go through it as best we can on the basis that we are setting a standard for the next ten to 15 years and must get it right. There must be quite a pause between Second, Committee and Report Stages, and I encourage the Government to allow for that.
I will not repeat all the points made on the issue of unmarried fathers. It is important to note that substantial changes have occurred in the past 20 years or so. Before the Status of Children Act 1987 an unmarried father could not obtain guardianship of his child, however that Act ensured that with a court order an unmarried father could gain guardianship. Since that there have been further developments in the Children's Act 1997, and a father and a mother can, on agreement, without going to court obtain that. That has been an important development. I agree with Senators Norris, McCarthy, White and others that we have to go further. This Bill gives us the opportunity to give unmarried fathers automatic rights of guardianship which can then be tested. The way to do that is at the initial stage when compiling the information for the birth certificate. The Bill provides an opportunity to make those types of reform. The AMEN group has made a detailed submission on this matter to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, and to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. I ask them to consider it, given the high percentage of births to unmarried men and women — a third of all births are outside wedlock. We have to recognise that, and recognise the rights of fathers, who have been completely ignored up until the last 15 years. I still think we have a great deal more to do in this area.
On that issue, I find it quite strange that the only person who can apply for the child benefit payment is the mother. I know this from personal experience in recent months and one of the reasons I am so fond of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, is the substantial largesse in child benefit before the last election, which benefited me in particular. In this day and age it is quite sexist that very strict guidelines to make application for child benefit should only apply to women and not men. It is ludicrous that a delay of a number of months occurs before the child benefit payment is made. If a child is born on 1 February in the Coombe Hospital in Dublin, by the following month, his or her parents should be able to obtain child benefit. We need reform in this area. There are inbuilt systems failures which do not work in favour of men, in particular young unmarried men. This Bill gives us an opportunity of going through these in greater detail.
I welcome the provisions in sections 28 to 30 on stillbirths, in particular section 28 which extends the period of application from 42 days at present to 12 months, whereby the parents of a stillborn baby can make an application to have the birth registered. As Senator McCarthy said it was the then Minister for Equality and Law Reform, former Deputy Mervyn Taylor, who initially introduced this measure and Deputy Coughlan is extending the registration period to 12 months. This very welcome measure is very sensitive and right, particularly when a first child is stillborn. This is a very traumatic experience for the parents and it is happening more frequently because of the age when people have children. Could we retrospectively change that provision, in other words would it be possible from 1994 onwards to extend the registration period to 12 months, as proposed in the Bill? Many parents, including myself, were not aware that a stillbirth could be registered and it would greatly help the grieving process that follows the tragedy of a stillborn baby if the couple could register it. Will the Minister look at that provision between now and Committee Stage and consider whether it would be possible to retrospectively apply the 12 months from 1994? I am not sure if that is possible, and the Parliamentary Counsel may say it is not possible because of the laws on retrospection. However, I think it would be worthwhile.
I had personal experience some years ago when I had to register the death of a parent. The sensitivity shown to people who have to register a death is exceptional. The person is brought into a private room to fill out the form, where there is no one else looking on. It is a traumatic experience having to register the death of a loved one. I congratulate the offices in the city centre that deal with the registration of deaths. I wonder if it is the same in every county. Are there guidelines in every county so that people are seen on a one to one basis?
It was brought to my attention recently that one of the ways that passports can be sold outside this country is through a failure to correlate information on people who have died with the registration of birth and the provision of a birth certificate. I heard of an instance of a criminal element which managed to go into a graveyard and find out the name of a person who had died in her early 20s, then applied for a birth certificate, having found out her address. With a birth certificate they are entitled to get a passport which can then be sold on through another criminal organisation. The new system of a PPS number goes a long way in deterring this type of activity.
Is there a formal procedure through the new tracking system whereby, if someone dies and his or her death certificate is issued, no other birth certificate can automatically be handed out? Has this matter been brought to the attention of other Members? On two separate occasions it has been brought to my attention that, for criminal purposes, birth certificates were issued for people who are deceased. We must also ensure that someone who has entered the State illegally cannot be issued unwittingly with a passport. The Minister should examine that matter.
Fine Gael supports the Bill, which has been a long time in the offing. I hope we can work with the Minister to improve it on Committee Stage, thereby putting civil registration law on a solid footing for the next 20 years.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the Bill, which is important and enlightened legislation. In the future it will certainly help ordinary citizens who will no longer have to seek out, for certain bureaucratic purposes, birth certificates that have been hidden in drawers or other places. It is a big advance that child benefit will follow automatically on the registration of births.
Senator Brian Hayes asked whether child benefit should be payable to the mother. That measure was adopted about 20 years ago as a piece of positive discrimination. It was a social reform because child benefit was not always going where it was most needed. I am not sure whether social conditions have changed sufficiently for that to be no longer necessary, but I would hesitate to change the system too hurriedly.
The importance of registration for tracing family roots has not been referred to a great deal during the debate, but much of the work of the General Register Office is concerned with genealogy. Genealogists have suggested that a death certificate should include the names of the deceased's parents. If someone called John Ryan dies in a place where there are perhaps a dozen other John Ryans, such details would help to identify the particular person concerned. Such a provision should be examined from a genealogical angle.
In her speech, the Minister referred to the formal introduction of registration but informal methods of registration date back to the mid-17th century. I have had occasion to look through the registers in the Bolton Library in Cashel, some of which date back to the 1650s. In 1779, Archbishop Agar, of whom a lengthy biography was launched by the Taoiseach last year, introduced a system for registering births, marriages and deaths in the Church of Ireland community. Complete registers for the various parishes exist from that period, following which the registration system was gradually adopted elsewhere. Such records are very helpful in carrying out genealogical research.
I compliment the Minister and her Department on sorting out a potential problem concerning the explicit requirement for people to state there are no impediments to a marriage taking place. In the Church of Ireland that position was indicated by silence, whereas the legislation seeks a formal affirmation. There was particular concern because a prayer book is currently being printed and, naturally enough, people did not want to have to change it at great expense and bin the old copies. I compliment the Minister and her Department on having solved that problem. Looking through the legislation, I see that certain practical dispositions have had to be taken regarding other denominations in order to satisfy the law.
Although many of us attend weddings, it is relatively rare that we act as principal witnesses on such occasions. My daughter got married last year and my clear impression was that when a married couple go off on honeymoon, the officiating clergyman takes charge of returning the registration form, although I accept that marriages are not always solemnised by a clergyman. I note that the legislation places a responsibility for returning the registration form on the couple themselves but, de facto, it seems that the clergyman often undertakes this task.
There is another problem, which is less pleasing to consider. People who live alone are often found dead some time after their demise but the legislation does not appear to refer to determining the date of death. There is a practice whereby the date of death that is entered on a register is quite often the date on which the deceased person was found. They may have passed away two or three days beforehand, however, and the legislation is not clear on how one is supposed to determine the date of death in such cases.
I note an enlightened piece of modern legislation is contained in the First Schedule which states
The surname of the child to be entered shall, subject to any linguistic modifications [I like that. It is very important in Irish circumstances] be—
(a) that of the parents of the child as stated in the register of births or of either of them, as may be determined by the person who, pursuant to section 19, gives the required particulars of the birth concerned to the registrar . . .
In other words, it means that, even where people are married, the child can take the name of its mother or father and, therefore, all the patronymic stuff does not necessarily have to follow any more.
All children have a father, of course, and it is progress, as Senator White said, that it is now possible to have the father's name added to the certification. In principle, it is desirable that both parents' names be recorded and recognised as the parents. I accept this cannot be done coercively and that consent is required. It raised the thought in my mind that when a mother indicates a person as being the father of her child, and if she is not in contact with him, someone else should contact him to see whether he is willing to be so recognised. There is a principle that people should be encouraged to accept responsibility for bringing a child into the world. Clearly, it is not just the mother who brings the child into the world, so fathers have a responsibility in this regard.
During the debate, a point was made about legal guardianship, which is an important issue but I am not sure that it is suitable for the Civil Registration Bill. It is probably something for inclusion in separate legislation, while being cross-referenced to this Bill.
I was an adviser to the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, when he decided to decentralise the General Register Office to Roscommon. To say that it was greeted with universal enthusiasm might be a slight exaggeration, even in comparison to the criteria we were applying to the debate earlier this evening. Even though wheels sometimes move slowly, they do eventually turn and I am glad that it is eventually, if tardily, coming to fruition.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: I thank the Taoiseach, the Minister and others, including Senator Mansergh, for intervening on an issue which the Senator raised a few minutes ago. It was an issue which greatly troubled the Church of Ireland and on which several of us were lobbied and asked to make representations, which we did.
I refer to the Church of Ireland rule whereby people need not make the most positive affirmation that there is a reason they should not be married. This Bill, if it is not amended, might conflict with that, and the Church of Ireland might end up having to jettison its own liturgy in some way. It found itself in a great deal of difficulty as a result of this Bill. I am not certain that the problem has been finally resolved by what we have heard already, but I am told that much has been going on behind the scenes and that the Government is looking very sympathetically on this case. That should be recognised at this stage. Perhaps the Minister might address that again in her summing up. The Church of Ireland ceremony dates from the 12th century, and it has not been found particularly faulty. It would be difficult not just for liturgical reasons but for those that Senator Mansergh——
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: Did the Senator say the 12th century?
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: ——has already mentioned. The issue is money. The Church of Ireland has only just issued a new prayer book, and it would be extremely inconvenient, to say the very least, to have to reprint it. There is an issue of conflict between church and State law here, albeit a small church, and what must be done in a marriage for it to be affirmed. I ask the Minister to look at this very sympathetically, particularly on Committee Stage, and we will come back to it then.
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis na Seanadóirí a bhí páirteach sa díospóireacht seo. I mo thuairim, is Bille an-tábhachtach é seo. Beidh díospóireacht níos faide againn ar Chéim an Choiste, agus b'fhéidir go mbeidh níos mó le rá ag na Seanadóirí ansin.
Many might have felt that this legislation was simple, but it impinges on everyone in this country. Without a doubt, the Lower House indicated to me quite vociferously that, despite the fact that we have had serious consultation with many bodies and parties, it is necessary to examine fully any legislation going through either House, since we have been able to improve it on several occasions and had something of a pre-emptive strike against some of the Senators regarding several of the issues raised in the House. I think that I have ten minutes.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Minister can have as long as she wants.
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: As long as I want? We will be here until morn.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Within reason.
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: Within reason. I will go over one or two points in particular, perhaps giving answers, before returning to the policy issues. There was a question from the genealogists regarding the death certificate and having information on the place and date of birth. I have agreed to this being included in the legislation, so that should assuage their concerns.
Senator Mansergh spoke about the fact that the clergyman or woman would normally facilitate the registration. We are not saying that cannot happen, but it is the responsibility of the married couple to ensure it does happen. They can still allow the clergyman or woman to forward that registration form. Several issues arose surrounding people going away on their honeymoons and forgetting to send in their registration forms. Once they say “I do”, they are married. Thereafter they have a certain period to register, after which a reminder is issued. In the heat of the moment, people forget about some of the practicalities involved in getting married, and an automatic reminder goes out to the couple to come to the registrar and send in their form. That is very important as undoubtedly we are reflecting not only the modernisation of a system but a modern society. We also appreciate that people often forget, and have not been given enough time to participate in many important life events, so we have facilitated that by the extension of the time within which people can register. In the main, there has been a fair amount of support for this legislation, and I very much welcome that. There are several issues of particular concern to a number of people, and we will be taking them into consideration.
One issue particular to the Church of Ireland has been raised. It came to our notice very recently following the Committee Stage of the legislation. I thank Senator Mansergh and my officials in the Department, who were more than forthcoming in supporting the issues and concerns raised by the Church of Ireland. It is now intended that the new ceremony include the substantive requirements for a valid marriage but accommodate the liturgical requirements of the different religious denominations. The marriage registration form must be completed by all parties to the marriage immediately after the ceremony. We will be addressing the liturgical issues.
Following consultations with the Church of Ireland on the matter, it has been proposed that the form of ceremony to be approved by an tArd-Chláraitheoir will include a declaration before witnesses before the commencement of the liturgy. That meets the needs of the churches, and legal advice has been taken to ensure that it also meets the requirement of section 51(3) of the Bill as drafted. I believe that we will be able to give a conclusive answer to the Church of Ireland very quickly. I thank it most sincerely, not only for bringing it to our attention but equally for facilitating the agreement that will move forward the issues brought to my attention.
We may have a greater opportunity to discuss the registration of a father's particulars on Committee Stage. Many Members have raised that matter. Several of the concerns raised have touched on the practicalities of life, and I certainly agree with them. The provisions in the Bill allow for registration with an extended period of three months. That may in some way address some of the pressurised concerns expressed by Members. Furthermore, there are facilities for registration immediately after the birth of the child in the major hospitals. This is progressive and will certainly facilitate parents. The emphasis of sections 22 and 23 of the legislation is to facilitate and encourage fathers to register. That is what we would like to see happening.
We also provide within the legislative framework of the Bill for application to be made by either parent acting alone and supported by a court order to name the father in the Register of Births. However, I advise Senators of a matter of which I had to educate myself before this legislation. There is no presumption in law that a man other than the husband of a married woman is the father of her child. There would be practical and legal difficulties for a registrar in requiring a man to register the birth of a child without paternity being conclusively established. That said, Members will see that we speak of a “person” in the legislation and then of the “father”. Perhaps I am pre-empting an amendment from the Opposition. It indicates that one is a person until such time as it has been determined that one is the father. That creates difficulties in itself.
However, I know from the statistics made available by an tArd-Chláraitheoir that we have a high percentage of fathers participating in the registration initially. Moreover, we have quite a number of applications — I believe 1,500 — to reregister births, indicating that there has been a discussion within the family and a decision made to have the name on the register. We would all like to encourage people to register, but it is also very important that we do not institute any compulsion. There are issues — I am sure every Member has encountered them in his or her constituency — where there are serious difficulties pertaining to people putting a name on the register and consequential distressing emotional difficulties. Therefore, in appreciating the importance of the registration of a child and the complexities attached to people's relationships, the aim under section 22 is to facilitate, as much as possible, the registration by the father.
Another issue raised by a number of Members was the mother's marital status on the birth certificate. Part 1 of the First Schedule to the Bill sets out the required particulars to be entered in the register of birth. The civil registration service is required under the Vital Statistics Act 1952 to collect the marital status of the child's mother when registering a birth. It is also used to determine if the presumption of paternity of the husband applies and also determines whether section 22 of the Bill applies, that is, where parents are not married. The marital status does not appear on the birth certificate and it is used for statistical purposes as are many other pieces of information which are garnered but not used on the certificate. In the interests of equality, I have included the marital status of the man in the Schedule following debate in the other House.
Reference was made during the debate to the re-registering of a birth following the marriage of the parents. I accepted an amendment to facilitate this and it will resolve the issue of the child's surname. In cases of remarriage of a widow, the birth entry of any child of the new marriage will include any former surname or surnames of the parent or parents to facilitate those particular and pertinent situations.
On the registration of guardianship, I am glad Members appreciate it is not, in itself, a life event and that its role within registration would be dubious. It was raised on a number of occasions on Second and Committee Stages in the other House. The Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 provides for a declaration by the mother and father in regard to the guardianship of the child. Such declarations may be made before a peace commissioner, a commissioner for oaths or a notary public. The 1964 Act made no provision for the registration of such declarations and the schedule to the statutory declaration contains a warning that a declaration is an important document and should be kept in a safe place. A father may also be appointed as a guardian by order of the court. The tArd-Chláraitheoir has no function in the registration of guardianship orders granted by the courts or in regard to the registration of statutory declarations of guardianship nor would it be appropriate that he or she would have that function.
However, following the debate in the other House, I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to bring to his attention the issues raised by Members concerning guardianship within the legislation. As Members know, an interdepartmental committee is looking at the issue of marriage. Equated to that, many issues may arise which would have legislative impacts. Arising from the debates which have taken place, I have advised the Minister of the views of Members of the other House which were emulated in this House.
Questions were asked about the number of life events registered in 2002. For the information of Members, I will briefly outline the level of activity in regard to life event registration which takes place annually. Some 60,000 births, 400 stillbirths, 250 Irish adoptions, 336 foreign adoptions, 20,000 marriages and 30,000 deaths were registered. There were 1,500 re-registrations of births, 1,500 late registrations and 4,000 amendments. Some 500,000 certificates were produced and there were 1.2 million searches. A considerable amount of work was carried out in 2002.
I compliment the tArd-Chláraitheoir and the staff who have moved to Roscommon. I believe there are only 15 staff members left to go to Roscommon. They have decentralised despite the legislation and they have done tremendous work to ensure all those records are made available electronically. Without a doubt, this legislation is proactive and modern and it emulates many of the concerns expressed by Members. It will bring a better public service to many.
On the registration of deaths, I said we would facilitate the place of birth. An issue was raised by Senator Mansergh in regard to the date of death and often the place of death in particular circumstances.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: Also, whether to include the parents.
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: That would be a matter for the coroner. He or she determines the time and place of death and then advises the tArd-Chláraitheoir of those statistics. As the Senator knows, there is much consideration of a new coroner's Bill. We would not have any role in regard to the place and date of death and would be advised accordingly.
Mr. B. Hayes Mr. B. Hayes
Mr. B. Hayes: Where a death certificate is issued, is it automatic that entry——
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: That entry will now be cross tabulated; heretofore, it was not. As a consequence, we have created a number of savings in the health services. A number of dead people were kept well by eminent members of the medical profession who did not advise us that their patients had died. That has created a number of savings within the GMS.
Mr. B. Hayes Mr. B. Hayes
Mr. B. Hayes: And passports for people who are dead.
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: Yes. It will also facilitate my Department in regard to pensions and pensions policy. As a consequence, it will become a control measure.
As this is a great equal opportunities Department, child benefit is paid to the primary carer, whether male or female.
Mr. B. Hayes Mr. B. Hayes
Mr. B. Hayes: The case I raised concerned a man who was raising the children, but he could not get the child benefit because she continued to hold on to it. I reported it.
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: That is a matter for my Department which would make a determination. It has created much concern, but the primary carer is the rule we use. If a woman or a man is the primary carer, he or she is entitled to child benefit.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for facilitating this debate. We have listened to many of the concerns expressed, many of which have been addressed in the revised legislation before us. I look forward to ensuring we have an excellent, modernised public service civil registration system which reflects the fact that this nation has moved well beyond 1844.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 17 February 2004.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Ms Cox Ms Cox
Ms Cox: Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.
Seanad Éireann 175 Civil Registration Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).