A steady stream of Irish people anxious to start a family are travelling abroad to enter into surrogacy arrangements in spite of continuing uncertainty about the legal status of children born by such arrangements, new figures indicate.
Some 25 couples or single people with an Irish address contracted to pay up to €150,000 to have a surrogate bear a child in the past three years, a survey of international surrogacy providers shows.
According to Families Through Surrogacy (FTS), an Australian not-for-profit group which conducted the survey, about half (12) of the 25 Irish people or couples who organised a surrogacy abroad travelled to Thailand to do so. Seven went to Georgia, five to India and one to the US.
And because the figures are derived from just a fraction of the providers in the market, FTS estimates at least 125 Irish couples have organised offshore surrogacy arrangements in the past three years.
FTS, which received data from 15 of the largest surrogacy providers globally, says eight couples from Ireland signed up for a surrogacy in 2012. Another eight did so in 2013 and nine last year.
"These are small numbers compared to the UK and some other European countries. But what we're seeing is that surrogacy is certainly on the increase generally and becoming a much more common way for people to complete their family," says Paul Gittins of FTS.
Irish experts confirm the rising interest in surrogacy arrangements. Solicitor Marion Campbell, who specialises in the area, says she has seen a "huge increase" in inquiries, with up to five couples, mostly heterosexual, contacting her each month.
Ms Campbell says that in her experience, the US is the most popular destination for making surrogacy arrangements, particularly among “well-heeled” clients who can afford fees of up to $160,000 (€151,000).
The Irish authorities are unaware of many children brought back to Ireland “under the radar” after being born through surrogacy arrangements, she claims. This is because a child born in the US by surrogacy qualifies for a US passport and so can travel freely with its parents.
In contrast, children born by surrogacy in India or other popular destinations do not qualify for local citizenship and require emergency travel documents from the Irish authorities in order to travel back here.
Surrogacy is not illegal in Ireland, but surrogacy contracts are not enforceable here. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has promised to bring in new laws to regulate surrogacy for the first time.