Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the position of a central registrar to maintain a record of statutory declarations of guardianship in Ireland can be created; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24795/18]
547. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration has been given to the establishment of a central register here to maintain a record of statutory declarations of guardianships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25615/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 491 and 547 together.
There are provisions in place to facilitate non-marital fathers who have an ongoing relationship with their children to become guardians of their children. Section 2(4A) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 (as inserted by section 43(c) of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015) provides for joint guardianship for a father who is not married to the mother of the child and has cohabited with the mother for not less than 12 consecutive months. This 12 month period must include a period, occurring at any time after the birth of the child, of not less than three months during which both the mother and father have lived with the child. This provision came into operation on 18 January 2016.
In addition, a father who is not married to the child's mother and does not satisfy the cohabitation requirements may become a guardian if the parents jointly make a statutory declaration appointing him as a guardian. It is also open to the father at any stage to make an application to court for guardianship of the child under section 6A of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964.
During the passage of the Children and Family Relationships Bill through the Oireachtas, my predecessor gave consideration to the establishment of a Central Register for Statutory Declarations of guardianship. While considering that such a centralised repository may have some value, she was concerned that it should not become or be perceived as a necessary step in the acquisition of guardianship. She considered that the existing statutory declaration mechanism to make certain parents guardians was readily accessible, cheap and straightforward, and the introduction of guardianship for fathers who satisfy the cohabitation requirement would widen the cohort of fathers who would have joint guardianship.
The Deputy will appreciate that there are issues concerning security, data protection, data management and the financial implications of creating a new registration system which would need to be addressed before such a centralised register could be established.
Another issue that would require careful consideration is that if a system is created whereby failure to register a statutory declaration could mean that a person would not be a guardian, this could have the entirely unintended consequence of making guardianship more difficult to obtain than it is at present.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has responsibility for the Civil Registration Acts. The Deputy may be aware that section 17 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 provides for the appointment of registrars in each registration area to carry out functions under that Act such as the registration of births and deaths. The creation of a new post of a Central Registrar to maintain a record of statutory declarations of guardianship would require specific provision in primary legislation. The creation of such a post would seem unnecessary in view of Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which provides for a number of amendments to the Civil Registration Act 2004, including providing for the taking and receiving of statutory declarations in relation to guardianship. Section 27A of the Civil Registration Act 2004 (as inserted by section 97 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015) provides that a registrar may, during the period of 14 days immediately following the date on which the birth of a child is registered or re-registered, take and receive a statutory declaration of guardianship made under section 2(4)(e) or 6B(4)(c) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 in respect of a child.
No provision of Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 has yet been commenced. Some sections cannot be commenced until Parts 2 and 3 relating to donor assisted human reproduction (DAHR) are brought into operation by the Minister for Health. For example, statutory declarations cannot be made under section 6B(4)(c) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 in respect of children born as a result of DAHR until the provisions of the 2015 Act relating to DAHR have been commenced by the Minister for Health. The commencement of other sections of Part 9 is dependent on provisions of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 being commenced. My Department is liaising with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in relation to scheduling the commencement of these sections.