State to introduce parts of Children and Family Relationships Act

Law on adoption and donor-assisted reproduction overhauled by provisions

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald: removed a section on surrogacy from the Children and Family Relationships Act. Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald: removed a section on surrogacy from the Children and Family Relationships Act. Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

 

The Government is preparing to activate parts of the Children and Family Relationships Act, which overhauls the law on adoption and donor-assisted reproduction.

The Act was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins in April but its provision will not come into force until formal commencement orders are signed. Some parts of the legislation will not be activated for at least a year.

The landmark reform of family law changes guardianship and custody rules and allows same-sex couples to apply to adopt. A section on surrogacy was removed by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald when she succeeded Alan Shatter last year, and the Department of Health plans to incorporate surrogacy into a forthcoming Bill on assisted human reproduction.

Three departments – Justice, Children and Foreign Affairs – must sign separate commencement orders for the Children and Family Relationships Act to come into force. A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which is responsible for most sections of the legislation, said it was “proceeding with preparations” for the commencement of those parts but could not say when it would be done.

Custody

The spokesman said the department was already in discussions with the Courts Service on the rules of court that would be needed to activate the provisions on guardianship, custody, access and maintenance. Ms Fitzgerald has indicated that the provisions in parts two and three of the Act, which deal with donor-assisted human reproduction, will not be activated for at least a year.

No timetable

The Department of Children, which is responsible for commencing the adoption provisions in the Act, said it did not yet have a timetable for bringing them into force. “These provisions cannot be commenced in isolation and are interlinked with other provisions in the Act,” a spokeswoman said. “Before the provisions relating to adoption can be commenced, consideration must be given to the proposed timescale for the commencement of the other provisions in the Act. The department will consult with the Department of Justice and Equality in this regard.”

Responsibility for part 10 of the Act, which concerns passports, falls to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A spokeswoman there said the section had not been commenced yet but that work was under way and it was expected to be commenced later this summer.

Groups campaigning against the same-sex marriage referendum proposal have said a Yes vote would have implications for surrogacy and adoption. However, the chairman of the Referendum Commission yesterday said the referendum was not about either surrogacy or adoption.

Mr Shatter previously criticised the Government for removing surrogacy from the Children and Family Relationships Bill. He has also claimed the legislation, by banning the anonymous donation of genetic material, would bring donor-assisted human reproduction in Ireland to an end.

Ms Fitzgerald has rejected these claims, describing the Act as a comprehensive reform that brings family law up to date with the realities of family life in Ireland.