Children's charities say family law Bill will bring better equality

Minister for Justice denies legislation is being rushed through Oireachtas

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald speaking to media on the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Photograph: Collins

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald speaking to media on the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Photograph: Collins


The Children and Family Relationships Bill will lead to greater equality for children in the eyes of the law no matter who is bringing them up, the children’s charity Barnardos has said.

Fergus Finlay, the charity’s chief executive, said the Bill was welcome and long overdue. “Every child needs love, security, stability and safety if he or she is to grow, and this Bill is an important step in that direction,” he said.

“This legislation is simply catching up with the reality of thousands of children living in non-traditional family settings, providing greater legal security for their relationships with those loving them and bringing them up.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance also welcomed Cabinet’s approval of the Bill. Tanya Ward, chief executive of the group, said it placed children at the heart of family law reform.

“Children are cared for and protected in a range of family types and yet the law doesn’t recognise this. This Bill will ensure that the courts have much greater flexibility to grant guardianship. And the fact that these decisions will be subject to judicial scrutiny will ensure that people’s rights aren’t trampled on,” she said.

‘Radically amended’

“This perspective is based on adults’ wishes and not on the best interests of the child, including its fundamental relationship with its genetic parents,” he said. Prof Kinsella also said he feared TDs would be whipped to support the Bill even if they did not agree with it.

The group, which has been established to oppose the proposed legislation, has a website with a “donate” button and a means of sending electronic postcards to local politicians.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute is among the members of the group’s advisory committee. The group argues that the Bill “in effect commodifies children” and undermines the status of marriage in the Constitution.

“Common sense, as well as our Constitution, acknowledges the place of mothers and fathers in conceiving, nurturing and raising children,” Prof Kinsella said. “We should not be legislating to subvert this most basic entitlement of a child.”

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the Bill would recognise the reality of “diverse” family types in Ireland.

Wide-ranging reform

She said the legislation covered a broad range of issues, and highlighted guardianship, access, custody, maintenance and the rights of unmarried fathers.

“It makes sure that questions in relation to the identity of a child conceived through assisted human reproduction is guaranteed. In this legislation there are very clear provisions in relation to that for the first time ever.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the Bill allowed for access for a broad group of people to adoption, including same-sex partners and heterosexual couples who are cohabiting.

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings, she said there would be plenty of time for the Oireachtas to discuss the planned law.

Asked to comment on concerns that the Government was attempting to rush the legislation through the Houses in order to separate it from the same-sex marriage referendum, she said: “There’s no question of rushing this legislation. This is important legislation.”

Ms Fitzgerald said she had already briefed the Opposition on the details of the Bill and they had expressed “very strong support” for it.