Government report to recommend legal recognition for same-sex parents

Move would also give guardianship rights to step-parents and unmarried fathers

The Government has been advised to extend guardianship rights over children to same-sex couples who become civil partners, according to a report to be published shortly.

The report prepared by the Government's rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, has advised senior policy-makers that the failure to legally recognise same-sex civil partners "ignores reality" and is causing insecurity for children and their parents.

Applications refused
The courts have refused guardianship applications in these kinds of situations in recent years, the report notes.

Under the law as it stands, a parent’s same-sex partner has no parental rights, even if they are civil partners. There are hundreds of children being raised by same-sex partners, according to latest census figures. The majority are female couples.

Children in these circumstances are typically from a previous heterosexual relationship or may have been born through assisted human reproduction.


Dr Shannon is charged with writing an annual report on legal developments and legislative changes needed to protect the wellbeing of young people. His previous reports have prompted legal changes by the Government in areas such as child protection and welfare.

Guardianship rights
In addition to same-sex couples, the report recommends extending special guardianship rights to all civil partners and step-parents, whether of the same or the opposite sex.

It also says automatic guardianship rights should be provided to all unmarried fathers.

“This approach is likely to encourage responsible parenthood by fathers and sends out a signal that all fathers are equally responsible for their children,” the report states.

In the area of human rights, the report proposes:

Raising the age of criminal responsibilty to 12 for all offences

Incorporating the right to health and the right to housing into domestic law, with special emphasis on these rights for children

Examining the possibility of establishing a specialised family courts structure and tackling delays in proceedings

Ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities without delay.

There are also proposals in areas such as child protection and welfare. They include:

Strengthening laws regarding sexual exploitation of children through a specific offence of “knowingly obtaining access to child pornography” via the internet, and an explicit offence of grooming online and offline

Introducing new legislation providing for the view of a child to be heard in any legal proceedings affecting a young person

Extending the powers of the National Educational Welfare Board – which monitors school attendance – to intervene with parents of children under six. This is not legally possible at present for most of the 67,000 children who start primary school at present.

Giving new powers to the National Educational Welfare Board to direct parents to co-operate with plans to make sure their children are educated. Such orders exist in the UK.

The report also recommends new laws setting out the amount of maintenance a parent is expected to pay for the benefit of a dependent child.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent