Breda O’Brien: Democratic disaster as Government pushes through family Bill

‘The Government has declared that it makes no difference whether your biological parents raise you, or whether two men or two women who may or may not be related to you do so’

We don’t just have a democratic deficit, but a democratic disaster as the Government legislates with indecent speed concerning the conception and rights of children. The Children and Family Relationships Bill has 172 sections.

The Animal Health and Welfare Act has 78 and took 13 months before enactment, as every line was pored over, searching for problems and unforeseen consequences. The Government wants to enact this Bill within weeks.

And the mantra is, "trust us, we have the best interests of children at heart". The credibility of that statement can be gauged, as writer Victoria White said in the Examiner, by the fact that on the day the Children and Family Relationships Bill was introduced, there were "protests outside the Dáil gates by childcare workers on slave wages and lone parents pushed out to work when their children are seven with no childcare provision".

That same day another group was outside the Dáil – Mothers and Fathers Matter. Just a decade ago, that name would have qualified as a glimpse of the blindingly obvious.


Now, though, the Government has declared that it does not make a whit of difference whether your own biological parents raise you, or whether two men or two women who may or may not be related to you do so.

Then came Leo Varadkar to announce that we will have altruistic surrogacy here, but if someone decides to pay a woman in the developing world to carry and then give up a child, we will facilitate that, because, sure, what else could you do?

Best interests

But the Government wants us to trust it, because it “has the best interests of children at heart”. So long as they are not children in childcare or children of lone parents or children who want to be loved and cared for by the man and woman who conceived them, and who gave them one half of their genetic and family history, without also having to cope with motherhood being split several ways.

Most people have no clue what is in the proposed legislation. All they hear about are the guardianship and access provisions, which, by and large, are reasonable.

For example, did you know that the Children and Family Relationships Bill states that a donor “is not the parent of a child born as a result of that procedure and has no parental rights and duties in respect of the child”. The person who gives you half your identity is apparently not your parent just because the Government says so.

We could have learnt from all that hunger to know their origins expressed by adoptive children. At least, in adoption, birth mothers are acknowledged on birth certs. Now, the Government proposes that in the case of egg-and-sperm donation, two mothers can be registered as the only legal parents, effectively eradicating the concept of genetic parent. The child can only access information at 18 about the other half of their identity, but only if it doesn’t affect the wellbeing or safety of the donor.

So, suppose a man threatens to die by suicide if his wife finds out he conceived children with 23 women he never met, because he made his drinking money during his student days by selling his sperm for “reasonable expenses”.

That will presumably trump a child’s right to know anything about the donor except the donor’s place of birth, nationality and date of donation.

To see the consequences for children, check out The Kids of Donor 5114, where a child meets six of his 19 half-siblings.

Not one major political party has the courage to represent the absolutely unexceptional view that being a biological parent is more than being a blood donor. Or that it is possible to have an inclusive and tolerant society which also respects the fact that it takes a man and woman to make a child and that marriage should reflect that reality.

To add to the democratic disaster, bodies that are supposed to provide objective advice to government, such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, are instead issuing statements like this. The commission “believes that the opening out of civil marriage to two persons without distinction as to their sex is a matter of equality and human rights”.

Human rights

The European Court of Human Rights monitors breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet the commission statement managed to completely ignore that, in July 2014, the court, in the case of Hämäläinen vs Finland, reaffirmed that the European Convention on Human Rights cannot be interpreted “as imposing an obligation on contracting states to grant same-sex couples access to marriage”.

The European court said the convention’s article 12 “secures the fundamental right of a man and a woman to marry and to found a family...It enshrines the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman...

“While it is true that some contracting states have extended marriage to same-sex partners, article 12 cannot be construed as imposing an obligation on the contracting states to grant access to marriage to same-sex couples.”

But hey, let’s just trust the Government and all its quangos, because they’ll never let you down.