Children will have the legal right to know the identity of sperm donor
A SPERM donation register will be established to help children trace their genetic identity under a new law to be approved by Government next week.
The new Children and Family Relations Bill is due to be agreed by Cabinet on Tuesday, and to be cleared by the Dail and Seanad by the end of next month.
It is billed as the biggest change in family law since the State's foundation, taking account of changing family models, and giving new rights to grandparents, single parents, separated fathers and children.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald also hopes that the new legislation, which has been two years in the making, will clear the ground for the same-sex marriage referendum which will be held in mid-May.
Government sources last night argued that the new law will mean children's issues need not be part of the referendum debate - but the referendum opponents strongly contest this.
The law, which was the subject of widespread consultation and scrutiny by the Oireachtas Justice Committee and an input from the Children's Ombudsman, will ban anonymous sperm donations. The section on Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) aims to untangle the complex series of associated issues.
In cases of sperm donation, it aims to clarify the status of the "birth mother", the "social parent" and the sperm "donor". It stipulates that donations must happen in a clinical setting and that the father must give consent to take the status of "donor" - thus allowing the mother's partner to become a recognised parent.
The bill will also make cohabiting couples, who have been living together for three years, eligible to apply to adopt a child. In practice, the law means that same-sex couples can apply for adoption - irrespective of the outcome of the marriage referendum next May.
The law provides for an expert group to be appointed to advise on a child's best interests in cases of custody, guardianship and access. It will give grandparents and other relatives easier access to the courts to establish access to a child in disputed family situations.
Procedures will be simplified for grandparents to take custody or guardianship of a child in a case where the parents are unable or unwilling to carry out their parenting role.
The new law also aims to improve the rights of unmarried fathers to establish guardianship. Procedures will also be put in place to sanction parents who flout court rulings and try to impede access to children by the estranged parent or other relatives in contravention of court orders.
Government sources last night said the bill was drafted in a relatively short time. One source said the general scheme of the draft law was approved less than five months ago, and the full bill was an extremely complex undertaking.
Last night Tanaiste Joan Burton told Labour Party activists that a big campaign is required to ensure the marriage referendum is passed by voters next May. She said they must address people's fears that it will in any way harm societal values respecting marriage.
Ms Burton said the issue will dominate the political news agenda in the coming weeks. She said people of all religious faiths and none respected marriage as a fundamental building block of society.
"I rejoice in the idea that people who happen to be gay want to participate in this vital social institution. It is something that ought to be supported and celebrated," Ms Burton said.
The Labour leader said the referendum was "a radical leap" towards equality.