Government in race to pass new child law ahead of marriage vote
JUSTICE Minister Frances Fitzgerald is today expected to get government clearance for the biggest overhaul of child and parenting law in the State's history.
The Children and Family Relationships Bill is also seen as an effort by the Government to remove the issue of children from the forthcoming same-sex referendum which is expected in mid-May. But already Ms Fitzgerald faces a strong challenge from opponents of the referendum who argue that the issues of children's parentage, adoption, guardianship, custody and access will remain central to the marriage referendum debate.
The minister also faces strong criticisms from opposition TDs who feel the new law, which runs to 156 sections, will not be given appropriate time for debate. While it will clear Cabinet today, it will not be published until Thursday and opposition TDs say they cannot be expected to debate the measure on Friday.
But official sources last night defended the handling of the legislation and also revealed some features of the draft law which had not as yet come to light.
In relation to child guardianship, the bill makes provision for a temporary guardian to be appointed by a parent for his or her child where the parent is suffering from serious illness or injury and prevented from caring for the child.
This process will be done through the courts, and the judge can specify limits on the type of decisions to be taken by the temporary guardian who must comply with the parent's wishes.
In relation to parentage, any child born through assisted human reproduction will be able to trace his/her genetic identity through a national donor register.
Anonymous donations will be prohibited other than some limited exceptions which will be allowed.
The key exception will be where a couple wish to have a sibling for an existing child using either sperm or ova donated before the legislation comes into effect.
Official sources last night defended the legislation saying it has dealt with a wide variety of new family situations in a very innovative and comprehensive way. Among the features in the new law is an effort to recognise the role of grandparents and other relatives.
A grandparent will be able to apply for custody or guardianship within a year in cases where their son or daughter is unable or unwilling to fulfil their role as parent. Foster parents will also be able to apply for guardianship.
Unmarried fathers will also get new rights including automatic guardianship if they have lived with the mother for a year and child for three months. They will also have a say in the child's upbringing.
But already lobby groups representing unmarried fathers have said they fear these changes do not go far enough and they will be lobbying politicians.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said he was concerned the new family law might not do enough to improve the rights of single fathers.
He also accused the Government of not respecting correct procedures in handling the new draft bill.