Children and Family Relationships Bill passes in Seanad

Frances Fitzgerald: Rejects criticism saying children’s welfare turns on good parenting

Senator David Norris: disgraceful to claim that the Government was anti-child. There was an “offensive and bullying’’ tone involved in the criticism. Photograph: David Norris

Senator David Norris: disgraceful to claim that the Government was anti-child. There was an “offensive and bullying’’ tone involved in the criticism. Photograph: David Norris

 

Following more than 120 amendments and as many days of debate the Children and a Family Relationship Bill has passed in the Seanad.

Senators, along with Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald, debated aspects of the legislation for more than eight hours on Monday.

The Bill extends guardianship, custody and adoption rights to different family situationsStudies had shown no differences in emotional behaviour problems between donor-conceived children and those conceived naturally, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald told the Seanad. “The key factor is good parenting,’’ she said. “It is not family types.’’

Ms Fitzgerald was speaking during the resumed debate on the Children and Family Relationships Bill. The Bill extends the definition of family and provides guardianship and adoption rights to new categories, including same-sex couples. It also updates the law on the status of children born by donor-assisted methods, and of their parents. The Minister said nothing in the legislation changed the constitutional protection of marriage and children.

Some Senators, she said, were opposed in principle to donor-assisted reproduction, adding the Department of Health would introduce comprehensive legislation on the issue.

Ms Fitzgerald said the legislation before the House was overdue, as had been pointed out by the Commission on Human Reproduction in 2005. “This is an area that needs regulation,’’ she added.

Senator Jim Walsh, who resigned from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last week over his opposition to the Bill, said nature and biology were being consigned to the dustbin. “That creates serious difficulties, I think, for society and for children, as we move forward,’’ he said. Mr Walsh said the donor was being reduced to a mere supplier of biological material.

Bullying tone

Independent David Norris said it was disgraceful to claim that the Government was anti-child. There was an “offensive and bullying’’ tone involved in the criticism, he said.

Independent Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said acting in the best interests of a child was giving them a mother and a father, although she accepted that was not always practicable. “It is not right to say biology does not matter,’’ she said.

Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout said the Bill was very much based on children’s rights, providing a regulated framework. “What we do know from research is that security for the child is essential,’’ she added.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said the legislation meant the State would declare there was no difference between biological parents raising a child and two men or women who might or might not be related to the child.