Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald and Senators debated aspects of the proposed legislation for more than eight hours, concluding their discussions after 10.30pm. The next step is for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to present a copy of the Bill to President Michael D. Higgins to sign and declare it as law. The signed law will then go to the Registrar of the Supreme Court where it is enrolled and kept on record.
Running to over 100 pages, the detailed Bill has over 170 sections. It deals with topics as diverse as guardianship, donor-assisted human reproduction and custody and it amends existing legislation relating to civil partnership Act, adoption, passports and succession.
Among the Bill’s key provisions are:
*The extension of eligibility to adopt a child to civil partners and to cohabiting couples who have lived together for three years. Adoptive leave will be extended to one member of the civil partnered or same-sex cohabiting couple.
* A parent’s husband or civil partner, or a parent’s cohabiting partner will be able to apply for guardianship where he or she has co-parented the child for two years.
*A wider range of unmarried fathers will become guardians of their child, with the extension of automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers who have lived with the mother of their child for 12 months “and played an active role in parenting their child”.
*Children’s views can now be ascertained in court proceedings on guardianship, custody and access. The Bill defines, for the first time, factors that a court can take into account in defining a child’s best interests, such as “meaningful relationships, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being as well as issues such as family violence”.
*The establishment of a national donor-conceived child register means that hospitals and clinics which offer donor assisted human reproduction facilities will be obliged to seek “specified personal information” from the donor to allow for the tracing by their identity and to verify their consent to donate.