Dáil Éireann - Volume 472 - 11 December, 1996
Registration of Births Bill, 1996 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages.
Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor) Mervyn Taylor
Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the format of the birth certificate. The Registration of Births and Deaths (Ireland) Act, 1863, introduced a system of civil registration of births. Form A annexed to that Act set out the particulars to be registered. That format continues to be used today.
The format of the birth certificate reflects the social attitudes and mores of the era in which it was designed. It shows the father's address but ignores that of the mother and records the father's occupation but not that of the mother. It also asks for the mother's “maiden name”. The child's surname is not shown, which gives rise to the widespread presumption that the child takes its father's name. This format may have been considered entirely appropriate in 1863 when few women worked outside the home, non-marital births were rare and virtually all women assumed their husband's surname on marriage. However, it is not in keeping with present day society and with the status of women in that society — for example, today many women work outside the home. Many women change their name on marriage, as do some men, but this is by no means a universal practice. It can no longer be assumed a child will be given its father's surname. In some instances the child will be given its mother's surname, while in others a joint surname is preferred.
In today's environment the format of the birth certificate is anachronistic and discriminatory. The contents of the birth certificate have been the subject of mounting criticism in recent years. Many people have conveyed to me their sense of outrage that their child's birth must be registered in this way. Their annoyance is not lessened when they are informed that this is a statutory requirement and that the relevant Act is over 130 years old.
The Second Commission on the Status of Women identified the birth certificate as an area of discrimination against women and recommended that the necessary statutory changes be made to alter its format. Shortly after its creation, my Department assumed responsibility for a comprehensive review of the legislation on the registration of births, deaths and marriages. It was obvious from the outset that, because of the age of much of the legislation concerned and the complexity of the issues involved, this review would take some considerable time to complete. As there was a pressing need for a stillbirths register which  would act as a focus for the grief of bereaved parents, I decided not to have the stillbirths issue await the outcome of the general review but to bring forward the necessary legislation separately. The Stillbirths Registration Act was enacted early in 1994 with all-party support.
The general review of the registration legislation is a complex process which cannot be completed in the short term. As the format of the birth certificate was clearly discriminatory and could be amended in a relatively simple measure, I took the view that this change should also be dealt with in a separate Bill. I am, of course, fully committed to progressing the general review which is likely to result in extensive changes to the registration legislation.
Section 1 and the Schedule are the main elements of this Bill. I will deal with these together as they are closely related. Section 1 provides that a new format of register entry, as set out in the Schedule, will apply to births registered or re-registered after the commencement date. Although the Bill makes no reference to the birth certificate itself, the birth certificate automatically reflects the details of the register entry. The new format set out in the Schedule is similar to the form of the stillbirth certificate. It is gender neutral. The new certificate will show the occupations of both parents and will record the mother's address as well as that of the father. There will no longer be any reference to a “maiden name”. Instead, any former names of both mother and father will be recorded. These will include any changes of name on marriage, by deed-poll or by any other means. Unlike the existing birth certificate, the new certificate will show the child's surname.
The absence of a surname on the existing birth certificate has led to a widespread belief that a child automatically takes the father's surname. This is not the case as surnames are acquired by reputation and usage and there is no legal requirement or presumption that a child must take its father's name. However, in order to nail that myth and in keeping with the recommendation of the Second Commission on the Status of Women, it was decided to include the child's surname in the new format. Under section 1(3) the surname registered for the child can be that of either mother or father or both. However, a different surname can be registered if either parent so requests and if the Registrar General considers that the circumstances so warrant. This facility is intended to cover unusual circumstances where the restriction of the choice of surname would create difficulties. It is not envisaged that this would arise frequently.
Under the new format, it will still be possible to add a forename or forenames after the initial registration. This facility covers names given in baptism as well as the small number of cases where no forename is recorded at the initial registration. The new format will apply to both registrations and re-registrations which are  effected after the commencement date. There are two types of re-registration. Under the Legitimacy Act, 1931, the parents of a child legitimated by those parents' marriage are required to have the child's birth re-registered. The second type of re-registration was introduced by the Status of Children Act, 1987. If the parents of a child are not married to each other and the child's father is not shown in the original register entry, this type of re-registration can be used to add paternity details.
The Bill provides that, in the case of re-registration of a birth which has already been registered in the new format, the surname of the child on re-registration remains unchanged. To avoid unnecessary re-registrations, the requirement to re-register under the Legitimacy Act, 1931, is waived if, as a consequence of the change in format, the new entry would be identical to the previous entry relating to that child.
Section 2 is a standard provision which allows the Registrar General to prescribe various forms for use for the purposes of this Bill. Section 3 is a technical provision which is necessary to effect a change in the format of the birth certificate. It allows the Registrar General to decide how and when register books are to be surrendered by registrars and new ones supplied. Existing legislation is extremely prescriptive about such matters and does not permit the surrender of incomplete register books. The introduction of a new format of entry in the births register necessarily entails the opening of new register books. Without the flexibility provided for in this section, it would not be possible to alter the format of the birth certificate.
Section 4 repeals the existing form of the entry in the births register — Form A annexed to the Registration of Births and Deaths (Ireland) Act, 1863 sets out the particulars to be registered. Sections 5 and 6 contain various amendments and repeals of forms consequential on the change of format of the birth certificate. Section 7 contains standard provisions about short title, citation, construction and commencement.
This is a short and relatively simple Bill which in essence replaces one set of particulars with another. It is an important Bill because it has the power to affect every future parent in the State. I have already adverted to the criticism of the present format of the birth certificate and I have received letters describing it as “demeaning”, “grossly insulting”, “offensive”, “outmoded”, “discriminatory” and “highly unsatisfactory”. The new format recognises the equal status of mothers and is appropriate to today's society and to the status of women in that society. It brings the birth certificate from the mid-19th century to the present day and it gives effect to one of the recommendations of the Second Commission on the Status of Women.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
 Dr. Woods: I welcome this long overdue Bill and I congratulate the Minister and his officials for updating the 1863 legislation. I am glad that for the first time since 1863 mothers will have equal status on the birth certificate as it was frustrating to treat them differently in this regard. The original legislation was in a different format from that proposed in this Bill. For the first time, the register will record the address and occupation of the mother and father. Until now, women were treated as junior partners and the law treated them as chattels.
We are updating legislation which was enacted on 20 April 1863 during the Victorian period. The Act for the registration of births and deaths in Ireland states:
Whereas it is expedient that a complete System of Registration of Births and Deaths should be established in Ireland, as in other Parts of the United Kingdom: “Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, as follows...
It then gives the format and procedures which have been in operation since that time. This is an interesting historical development for those interested. The form to which the Act refers gives the date and place of birth, the name, if any, the sex, the name and surname and dwelling place of the father, the name and surname and maiden surname of the mother, the rank or profession of the father, the signature, qualification and residence of the informant, the registration date, the signature of the registrar and the baptismal name, if added after registration of birth, and date.
We are proposing a new format which is gender neutral and recognises the equal status of women in society. This Bill deals with the occupation of the father and the mother. The Schedule deals with the particulars to be registered in a register book, which include the number, the date and place of birth, the sex of the child, the forenames and surnames of the child — the surname of the child is a new inclusion — the mother's forename and surname, address and occupation — the surname is also new — any former surnames of the mother, the father's forename and surname, address and occupation, and any former surnames of the father, which is also new. Women and men are now treated equally in this regard.
Why should we include occupation in the particulars to be registered? Is that not also outmoded? The Minister said the current register represents outmoded thinking because times have changed and there are many new circumstances. One of these new circumstances is that occupations have changed. Jobs are no longer for life and many people are unemployed. Must they write “unemployed” in the Register? Is it right to categorise people in such a way? Is this not part  of the 1863 thinking which put people in classes? The 1863 Act refers to the “Rank or Profession of Father”. This highlights the social classes which existed at the time. We have dropped the term “rank” from the Bill and we have included the occupation of both parents, which should make the Minister happy. However, is it right to include occupation for either parent? Will there not be a large numbers of people unemployed for some time? Who wants to acknowledge that at the time the child was born they were unemployed? Are we not all equal citizens? Why should a person be ranked or classified in that way? It is all right for someone who has a profession or working in the Civil Service. One might have a nice profession and be a lawyer, a dentist or even a public representative, although I am not sure if that would be a good classification. I subscribe to the late John F. Kennedy's view that serving in politics is the ultimate in public service and would take issue with anyone who would disagree.
What type of profession has a spouse who works full-time in the home? What would he or she write under the heading “Address and Occupation”? Would the 628,000 women who work full time in the home write “full-time in the home”, “home-maker” or “home person” under that heading? Do the provisions of this Bill recognise the work done in the home or are we creating problems by asking such questions on a birth certificate?
The work environment is much more flexible than in 1863. In the past people were often known by their occupation. As a man from the heart of the country, the Acting Chairman, Deputy Foxe, will be familiar with the term “Pat the post” and many other names by which people were described because of their occupations. That is no longer the case. A person's occupation has less value as a distinguishing characteristic than in 1863 or even 20 or 30 years ago. We remove one type of discrimination by making the legislation gender neutral, but we discriminate in terms of people's occupations. When trying to provide equal treatment for everyone, why are we concerned about the occupations of parents when their children are born? I had different occupations when each child was born in our family, and I am sure the same applies to many other Members. While I welcome the updating of the legislation, I am concerned about that matter.
A child's surname can be that of the mother or the father. The Minister pointed out there are already various ways a child can adopt different names, but it is possible to trace a person by name. However, this may become more difficult as society progresses. People may need to trace their antecedents for medical reasons. That matter should be considered more fully on Committee Stage. We are taking all Stages today, otherwise the Bill would not be passed until some time next year. This is not ideal because analysis of legislation between Second and Committee Stages can lead to many worthwhile suggestions  from Members, with which the Minister can deal on Committee Stage.
Under the Minister's proposals a person could have a double-barrelled name and parents could have two of their children named “Jones” and another two named “Smith”. Tracing the family tree would be complicated under such circumstances. People in Spain and other countries in the EU are allowed carry on the names of their fathers and mothers. While many women here carry on their surnames after marriage, it can lead to complications. The family tree is likely to become a family bush, but modern society is more to blame for that than the Minister. A distant relation of mine who returned from the United States had traced our family tree for more than 180 years. That will be difficult to do in the future.
It might be desirable to cater for the many new forms of associations, partnerships and short-term relationships of, say, five or ten years. For medical reasons, the children of such relationships will need to be able to trace their ancestors. The current system does not cater adequately for such circumstances.
Questions have been raised in the media about the inclusion of a section for Christian names, the heading used is “Forename”. There is a section to include one's baptismal name. The Minister is attempting to cater for range of circumstances and I have no objection to that.
The explanatory and financial memorandum outlines staffing and Exchequer implications. There are no staffing implications so the Minister for Finance and everybody else can be happy about that. The memorandum also states that some additional costs may arise from the preparation of new forms and certificates, but the Exchequer implications will not be significant.
The Bill has been gender-proofed and there is a section which requires the Department to state the implications this has for gender proofing, so it is a valuable development in that regard. What about the family impact statement? There is no such statement here although this legislation has major implications for families. Indeed, the Minister spoke of change, about mothers and the different kinds of families and said the Second Commission on the Status of Women had expressed great concern about the present arrangements. However, there is neither a family impact statement nor a routine outline of the implications for families. That is an important question.
The recent report of the Commission on the Family recommended that all Government papers and decisions should be accompanied by a family impact statement. The commission referred to this being already done in a straightforward way in Australia and Canada, and perhaps in a slightly different way in Canada. This Bill certainly has implications for families and, while the Minister has covered some of them indirectly in his speech, it would have been  helpful if there was a formal family impact statement attached to the Bill. If future social legislation was accompanied by a formal family impact statement, it would be a welcome development.
On the change of “maiden name” to “surname”, the inclusion of the maiden name in the Victorian Act was considered to be offensive and people were upset about it. I congratulate the Minister on removing an inequality that came from an era when it was automatic for the woman's name to change on marriage. I welcome that change.
The Minister has spelled out clearly the reasons for the steps he is taking. One question which came to mind was whether it was possible to merge and consolidate the Stillbirths Registration Bill enacted early in 1994 with all-party support with this Bill subsequent to its enactment. The Minister mentioned the desirability of dealing with stillbirths' registration because of the pressing need for a register which would act as a focus for the grief of bereaved parents and that is why he decided not to await the outcome of the general review. That was the right approach.
I only wish more Ministers would attack problems in that way. There is a totally ridiculous situation at present with regard to charitable lotteries while there is a general review of all lotteries. We know that in the end, either the ceiling will be raised for the charitable lotteries or the cap will be removed altogether. I favour the removal of the cap but in the meantime it would be very desirable to at least raise the ceiling by regulation. Instead, the Government insists on waiting for a review of all the complex issues involved. The Minister did not do that in this case. Instead, he took the practical step of introducing and enacting the Stillbirths Registration Bill. It crossed my mind that it might be desirable at an early date to consolidate the two. Perhaps the Minister might consider it.
The Minister explained the intention behind each section. As he said in reference to section 1(3), it will still be possible under the new format to add a forename or forenames after the initial registration. This facility covers names given in baptism as well as the small number of cases where no forename is recorded at the initial registration. That should address some of the questions which have been raised by people outside the House.
Fianna Fáil is pleased to support this Bill and we will facilitate its speedy enactment. I congratulate the Minister on taking the initiative to provide for the equal treatment for women on the new birth certificate and I invite him to consider the points I have raised.
Ms Keogh Ms Keogh
Ms Keogh: I welcome this Bill. As the Minister said, it is short and relatively simple. Nonetheless, it is important. It attempts to modernise the law relating to the registration of births and, consequently, birth certificates.
That this has taken so long probably reflects  the general attitudes towards women over the years. For so long we were prepared to soldier on with outdated, inappropriate legislation and relics of history, not only in this area but also with regard to marriage. As the Minister said, this measure has been brought forward in reaction to the recommendation of the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women and I am glad he has taken it on board. On reading the commission's report it was interesting to put this measure in context, as Deputy Woods did. The report highlights the inequalities that remain in place in regard to birth certificates, in particular, that the mother's occupation is not recorded and it is automatically assumed that in the case of marital children the child will take the father's surname or the joint surname, but that anachronism will no longer exist. It came about because of the relevant statutes and regulations which gave effect to it. As we have heard, the information recorded is in accordance with the format of the register laid down in the annex to the Registration of Births and Deaths (Ireland) Act, 1863, which provides for the recording of the rank or profession of the father, but a similar provision is not made in respect of the mother. On getting a copy of the commission's report, I was surprised to note the legislation is so steeped in history and, as we heard, it dates back to Victorian times. It is amazing that it has taken something like the recommendations of the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women to highlight these anomalies in our legislative system.
I want to refer to the points made by the Second Commission on the Status of Women which are important in regard to one aspect of the Bill. The long birth certificate follows exactly the format of the birth entry while the short birth certificate, an abridged form, does not include details other than the name and surname of the child, the sex, date of birth and the registration district. It does not mention the occupation of either parent. An entry in the register of births contains details of the surname of the mother and the father, if the latter is specified, but it does not record a surname for the child. Similarly an entry in the adopted children's register contains details of the surname or names of the adoptive parent or parents but no surname for the adopted child. The long birth certificate, which is an exact copy of the relevant entry in the register, does not contain any reference to the relevant child's surname. In respect of each entry in the register of births or the adopted children's register a short birth certificate may be issued in accordance with the terms of the short birth certificate regulations of 1953. The format for such a certificate provides for the assignment of a surname to the child and such assignments are effected by the issuing official in accordance with article 8 of the regulations, that is, if the child is a marital child, she or he is assigned the surname of the father and if a non-marital child, she or he is assigned the surname of the mother or, if the birth was  registered jointly, the surname of either the mother or the father as requested. I raise this matter because I wish to refer to the area of adoption later.
The commission recommended revised regulations of a non-discriminatory character should be drawn up and at birth parents should have a choice of registering their child with maternal, paternal or a joint surname. The Minister has accepted that recommendation.
Regarding the long birth certificate, the child's surname should be recorded, the term “maiden surname of mother” should be replaced by the term “surname of mother” and the occupation of the mother should be recorded in addition to the occupation of the father. I am pleased that the Minister has accepted those recommendations as they are extremely important.
The Minister indicated that the Bill was part of the comprehensive review of the legislation governing the registration of births, deaths and marriages, which is incomplete. I agree with Deputy Woods that on completion of the Bill, the legislation on stillbirths and this Bill could be included in one Act, which would make sense. The Minister was right to proceed with the legislation on stillbirths because undoubtedly there was great grief and much concern about that matter. It gave solace to many parents.
I disagree with some of the remarks made by Deputy Woods concerning the recording of occupation as I do not consider that inappropriate. I read through the Official Report of the Seanad on the debate on this legislation and it was interesting to note one of our colleagues in the Seanad referred to the importance of the social impact of the registration of occupation. The Senator said that for health care workers and others it is an interesting statistic. It is interesting information to compile in terms of social history and it may be possible to use it constructively. I do not have any difficulty in that regard, but I have one in regard to the discriminatory nature of the registration between mothers and fathers. From that point of view I have no difficulty with that aspect of the Bill.
Undoubtedly the Minister was right to say that many women saw the format of the birth certificate as demeaning, grossly insulting, offensive, outmoded, discriminatory and highly unsatisfactory, with which I agree. One does not think about a birth certificate unless one needs to apply for a passport or some other document, but one does think about it when one has children. I was amazed at the format of the birth certificate. I should have realised that the legislation governing it dated back to Victorian times. My children are now aged 15 and 17 and the form of the birth registration has changed. That format of birth registration was demeaning to women and needed to be changed.
I chose to retain my family name. My husband has a different surname and sometimes he thinks that is a very good thing. I have been married for  just over 20 years and I remember the amazement of quite a number of people when they heard I retained my name. Immediately following my marriage people were far too polite to say anything and did not rebound in amazement when I told them I was keeping my name, but subsequently I found many of them found it difficult to handle. My two children, who are girls, cannot understand that. They think it is their choice to decide whether to take their husband's name if they marry. The attraction may be in the name and its lyrical sound rather than holding on to a family name. It is a matter of identity and choice.
Women can choose to adopt their husband's name or to retain their birth name, particularly if they are in a separate profession. I do not find anything extraordinary in that. Fortunately, it does not seem to be extraordinary any more, but ten to 15 years ago many women had great difficulty in dealing with it. For example, women did not know if my retaining my name was making a statement about other women. I had to reassure them it was not, that it was making a statement about me. It also created difficulties for many men because I remember acquaintances, even friends of my husband's, giving him a ribbing because I would not take his name.
It is appropriate that the names of both parents be recorded on the birth certificate and that a different surname can be registered. Many people are under the impression that, legally, one must take one's father's or husband's name. As the Minister mentioned, that is not the case. It has become the custom during the years. Going back 20 years a friend of mine wished to retain her own name on marriage but was persuaded by a close acquaintance that she would not be allowed back into the country if she did not change her name to that of her husband on her passport. I do not understand the logic behind this but it may have something to do with the fact that if someone was seen to register on their honeymoon abroad in two names, eyebrows would have been raised. That attitude was peculiar to the time. She has since readopted her own name. In Spain and some other European countries it is more usual to take the family name of the woman.
While this is a simple and straightforward Bill, it is of significance to the cause of gender equality. Men and women are equal from birth. It is extraordinary, therefore, that there was inequality in the format of the birth certificate. I am glad this has been rectified.
I have referred to the report and recommendations of the Second Commission on the Status of Women. The right of adopted persons to examine their birth register entry has been a source of contention. There is a balance to be struck between the rights of birth parents and adopted persons. How has this matter been treated in the review to which the Minister referred?
 The Progressive Democrats proposed an amendment to the Adoption (No. 2) Bill to provide for the establishment of a voluntary contact register. Have there been any further discussions and are we any nearer to the establishment of such a register? I hope the problems can be ironed out as the matter will not go away and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. I realise we are facilitating the passage of this Bill by taking all Stages today but I ask the Minister to look at it and expedite the establishment of a voluntary contact register. I considered tabling an amendment.
The Minister outlined the contents of the various sections of the Bill. Section 1 states that the requirement to re-register under the Legitimacy Act, 1931, is waived if, as a consequence of the change in format, the new entry would be identical to the previous entry relating to the child. I welcome this change.
I welcome the Bill. It is remarkable that the existing legislation dates back to Victorian times. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this measure which will modernise the law in this area.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I wish to share time with Deputy Kathleen Lynch.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk) Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I am pleased to have the opportunity of speaking to this minor but significant legislation. It deals with a matter — the registration of births — which has been left unattended for 130 years and which can be dealt with expeditiously. People may not give it priority but it is of tremendous significance to many. This underpins the need for a Minister for Equality and Law Reform.
The existing legislation dates back to 1863. There has been only one change in the format of the birth certificate since then when, on the foundation of the State in 1922, an Irish version was introduced. It is extremely important that it be revised on equity grounds.
The certificate includes the heading “rank or profession of father”. It does not include a similar heading in respect of the mother. That is the most glaring anomaly. The dwelling place of the father but not that of the mother is requested. Her maiden name, however, is sought. This is outdated in the present social climate.
In 1863, when the universal registration of births was first provided for, there was a patriarchal society. Since then the position of women in society has changed enormously. There is now legislation in place underpinning their entitlement to equal treatment in all areas of life. In many instances only the surname of the mother appears on the birth certificate; for a variety of reasons the father's name is missing. This matter needs to be addressed also.
The birth certificate is a valuable source of  information for the immediate family, sociologists, historians and genealogists. As representatives of the State, we must decide the format of the birth certificate and ensure that all the relevant information is included. It is appropriate to gender-proof the certificate and determine the optimum information available on the father, mother and child. Everybody will benefit as a result. At present there is a separate section on the form for the name, surname, dwelling place and rank or profession of the father but there is no reference to the mother in that respect. In the proposed format there is a section for the forename, surname, address and occupation of the mother as well as the father. It is important that there is equality in terms of information on the mother and father.
Section 1(b) states that any such other surname as requested by either the mother or father may be included if an t-árd cláraitheoir — the registrar — is satisfied that the circumstances so warrant. That matter must be seriously considered. There is a question of the rights and entitlements of both parents, but there is also a question of the entitlements of the child. Is the child entitled to information and to what information is he or she entitled? Should the names of both parents be registered in a formal fashion? At present there is no such entitlement or obligation. If one parent requests, and it is agreed that the names of both parents be registered on the form, that may be done even if only one parent intends to rear the child. The question arises whether it should be an entitlement or a requirement to have both names included. A child is entitled to know who its parents are.
Perhaps the Minister will clarify section 1(b). The names of both parents may be included on the birth certificate if the registrar is satisfied that the circumstances so warrant, but prior consideration must be given to the entitlements of the child. For example, should there be an entitlement that the father's name be registered? That is hardly a matter that should be left to the discretion of the registrar; it seems to be a matter for this House to decide. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate further on that issue. As it stands, the Bill adequately covers the requirements of both parents but I am not sure it is satisfactory in terms of the information that would be supplied to the child.
The format of the birth certificate is in need of updating. Considering the manner in which society has changed, it is incredible that 130 years have passed without changing the format. I was pleased that the Second Commission on the Status of Women strongly recommended a change in format. Present mores are very different from those of the past, particularly in regard to the status of women in society, not only in terms of women keeping their own names after marriage but also in women's rank and profession. In the past 12 months, of the approximately 1,000 jobs created, there was a ratio of 4:1 in favour of women. It is relevant,  therefore, that the woman's profession be recorded on the birth certificate.
The question of rank is another matter. At present the father's rank is requested on the birth certificate. I would like to know the origin of that wording. Does it imply that the person ranked in the upper or lower echelons of society? Presumably on the one hand there are people with professions, those who work in society, while on the other, there are those who do not work in society but are persons of standing. The wording underlines the fact that the certificate is totally out of line with modern times.
The greatest problem with the old form of registration relates to discrimination between the sexes, the fact that there was no gender proofing of the birth certificate, or indeed of death and marriage certificates. The Minister referred to the 1994 legislation on stillbirths and said that he is in the process of working on much more complex legislation dealing with registration, which is welcome. The present birth certificate is an anachronistic document which is inadequate because much of the information requested is not available. With the change from a patriarchal society to egalitarianism, it was necessary to make available more detailed information. Both points are relevant, the assurance that the information society requires is included and that such information reflects the social mores of the day. They fall into two major categories; the content of the legislation passed and the gender proofing.
I congratulate the Minister on producing this excellent, timely legislation. I hope there will not be any problem in expediting it through the House. I ask the Minister to examine section 1(b) more closely in terms of the information that is necessary to be recorded from the baby's point of view as distinct from that of the parents.
Mr. Kenneally Mr. Kenneally
Mr. Kenneally: In common with my colleague, Deputy Woods, I can see little wrong with this measure. Few people can maintain that after 130 years there are not variations or improvements which can be made to the registration system or to the presentation of the traditional style of birth certificate.
I welcome this long overdue measure to tackle an area of inequality which may not seem important but which, to the mothers of the children involved, seems to extend the already lengthy list of areas in which women might be seen to be second class citizens. Like the Minister, I too note that society has changed greatly, and not always for the better. The Minister had a not inconsiderable hand in implementing some of that change and in time the people will not thank him for all the measures.
I take the Minister's point that fewer births are taking place inside marriage. I have strong views on the kind of society we should be fostering and in many respects my vision for the country is not the Ireland of today. I am, however, enough of a realist to accept that we must react to and make provision for that kind of change in Ireland, and  the Minister's modest proposal today merely reflects that.
In the same way as we made assumptions about some of the information which should be entered on a birth certificate in the past, so too did we make many assumptions about life in Ireland over the past century and a quarter. The birth certificate was designed at a time when there was little change, or prospect of change, in the society of the day. I do not suggest that society was better in those days; far from it, the hardships were unspeakable and the public attitudes no better, but we have genuinely improved the lot of people generally, particularly in regard to the quality of their lives. Measures which should and are meant to be a major improvement in reality only prevent us as a society from sinking further into despair. Our society is running faster and faster to stand still.
I was amused to read the Minister's opening statement on Second Stage of the Bill in the Seanad. In speaking about the format of the birth certificate he stated:
This format is an anachronism of the late 20th century. It is ill-suited to the diversity of modern society and to the enhanced status of women within that society.
The Minister may well applaud his efforts, or his perceived achievements, in gaining an improved status for women but for many that new-found status and freedom only allows them to enter the workforce as poorly paid, cruelly exploited second-class workers earning third-class wages because economic circumstances dictate that they must work. The Minister and his socialist colleagues might well turn their attention to that particular inequality and perhaps guarantee in real terms equal pay for equal work and a parity of esteem for the working wife or mother who is not within the recognised professions.
I was equally amused at the speed with which the Minister decided to introduce this legislation. He stated:
Work on the general review of registration legislation is ongoing, but it will be some time before it is complete. As indicated above, the form of the birth certificate is generally acknowledged to be outmoded and discriminatory and has been the subject of increasing criticism in recent years. The measures needed to amend its format are relatively brief and simple. Therefore, I decided that this change should not await finalisation of the general review but should be the subject of a separate Bill.
Could the Minister sense that he and the Government may not be around after the forthcoming election to implement the later general review and is getting through that portion which is ready? Do I sense a little panic setting in across the floor that the future may not be a bed of roses?
 I realise those with responsibility for or who have an interest in the genealogical process will want as much information as possible entered on any new certificate. Without this formal recording of information in the past we would not have such a wealth of information today or the wherewithal to trace ancestors or gain confirmation from entries such as the “Rank or Profession” of the father. Generally, assistance is given to those who wish to trace their ancestry and full records have proved useful for those seeking such information. The Minister now proposes to include on the new style of certificate the occupation of both parents. I agree with the views expressed by Deputy Woods on this subject. The Minister's proposal is all very well but if he is seeking true equality he must eliminate every possibility of there being cause for inequality in years to come.
The Minister is part of a Government which presides over a register of 260,000 unemployed people. Society, wrongly, treats unemployment as a stigma. Will children born to those people have to live with that perceived stigma for the rest of their lives and have it broadcast publicly through their birth certificates? What relevance does it have for today's citizens? The point was made in the Seanad that information concerning what is essentially family background may have relevance from a medical point of view, but can the doctor not ask the patient for such information, a spouse, child or other person who would know, rather than having it noted on the birth certificate?
It is the Minister's opinion that the term “unemployed” may not need to be used in certain cases. For instance, where a person trained in a particular discipline or worked previously in a particular employment, such description could be used even though the person may not have been actually working at the date of birth of the child. Many people have not been fortunate enough to have had a job or to have trained in any trade or profession, and there will be no alternative to entering the description “unemployed” in such cases or, worse still, in respect of both parents. On balance, it is safer to leave it out altogether and I ask the Minister to drop that provision from the new certificate.
I have always been intrigued with the principle of having two separate forms of birth certificate. I know the short from certified only the bare essentials in regard to name, sex, date and place of birth and could be used for non-statutory purposes. As it made no mention of percentage it was a more diplomatic document and saved embarrassment for those who were delicately referred to in the past as “people whose birth certificate was not in order”. Less kind language was often used also and caused much embarrassment to the people who found themselves in that unfortunate position.
Is it the Minister's intention to maintain the two forms of certificate and can he say what purpose it fulfils today or under this new legislation? Traditionally, there was a difference  in the cost of the two certificates. Will the short certificate continue to be cheaper? Will the price of certificates increase significantly as a result of this new legislation? Surely they are expensive enough and the Minister might consider charging only a nominal sum for the issue of a birth certificate. Often the need for such certificates arises at a time when there is already a heavy demand on family finances, such as at examination time or when children are entering third level education. Surely the income from such fees is negligible in the overall context of the State's finances. Public bodies could easily forgo it in favour of the more straitened circumstances of the students' families.
In view of the huge advances in information technology, surely it is time to hold a central record of all births, marriages and deaths. That would hardly be beyond the capacity of a central computer which a local registrar could access. I realise there would be a cost factor, but the benefits would be great, not least in giving a speedy and comprehensive service to the public. If the need to hold registration books were done away with and the information readily available wherever there is a computer terminal, the more remote areas could be serviced through a local health board office. With the current mobility of labour it is often necessary for people to write or, in cases of urgency, travel long distances to the office of registration to obtain this service. This can result in great difficulty for a person whose home county is a hundred miles away and who requires a certificate in a hurry. In any event, the principle of ready availability of information dictates that such certificates should be readily and easily available. I ask the Minister to take this suggestion on board.
I agree with the objective of this Bill. If it makes life easier or more bearable for some people it will be worthwhile.
Mrs. T. Ahearn Mrs. T. Ahearn
Mrs. T. Ahearn: I welcome this Bill. Our own births were registered and we register our children's births, but the vast majority of us are unaware that the format has remained unchanged since 1863. It is unbelievable, given the social, economic and cultural changes that have taken place in that time, that this is the first attempt to change the format of birth registration.
It is only right that we should thank the committee that formed the Second Commission on the Status of Women. It is because of a proposal in their report that we are addressing this issue. Birth certification is an important part of our lives. Much of what we do in later life involves providing our birth certification.
Birth certification is also important for statistical purposes. I do not, therefore, agree with some of the views of Opposition Deputies regarding the registration of the occupation of parents. I welcome the fact that there will be equal recognition of the father and the mother in the new method of registration. It was remiss of us, at a time when many women worked in the  home and did not have an occupation outside the home, that that occupation did not merit mention on their children's birth certificates. I see no problem in women having to state their occupation as that of housewife. The vast majority of women are very proud of that occupation. Many women wish they could be fulltime in the home.
The purpose of this Bill is to eliminate inequalities but, sadly, it leaves the greatest inequality of all; it does nothing to ensure that every child knows who his or her parents are. The greatest human right is to know who one's parents are. There is nothing in this Bill that compels parents to admit parentage, and it is most unfair that any human being should go through life with just one parent registered on the birth certificate. I would like to hear the Minister's views on this.
On a recent visit to Stockholm on behalf of the Select Committee on Social Affairs where we met organisations and government representatives to discuss the question of child care, I was interested in their method of registering the birth of children. They insist that every child has a basic right to know the identity of his or her mother and father. Except in exceptional circumstances where parenthood cannot be proved people can receive no social welfare payments until such time as the birth and parentage of the child are acknowledged. This is something we should seriously consider here, given that so many children are born outside marriage and that it is a basic human right to know who one's parents are. It is too easy for parents to abscond, to deny parentage and to ignore the fact that a child of theirs was born. We should not allow that to continue. We should investigate ways whereby parentage must be acknowledged. Because we do not do this, single parent families are left to fend for themselves with no support other than from the State. I also strongly believe that anybody who has the means to support their children should be obliged to do so. There should be no means of escape from that responsibility. I would welcome changes in this area not only from the point of view of providing support for children but also from the point of view of the child's basic human right to know the identity of his parents.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing this Bill before the House. I am glad also that he proceeded to make provision for the registration of stillbirths before the review was carried out. Parents who have had the traumatic experience of stillbirth felt sad that there was no acknowledgement that their baby was born and the emotions caused by that lack of acknowledgement added to their despair at a very sad time of their lives. I acknowledge the tremendous work of the parents who formed a group and sought this change. Although it is just a piece of paper, for the parents it is an important and treasured memory of the fact that a child was born to them who unfortunately did not live.
The changes being brought about by the Bill  are welcome. Acknowledging the occupation of the mother provides the equality that is needed. To date people's social status was judged on the occupation of their father — that was the only occupation that was acknowledged. I would like to acknowledge the manner and efficiency with which workers in our maternity hospitals ensure that every child is registered. The difficulties that would emerge if births were not registered would be frightening. They do the job exceptionally well.
The previous speaker referred to the cost of obtaining a birth certificate and I accept there are administrative costs involved. Everybody needs a birth certificate at some time and many people find it a great expense. In many cases a copy will not suffice and the original is required. Reducing the cost of a birth certificate should be examined. For example, a large number of children in a family may all apply for jobs or State examinations for which they need birth certificates and there is a consequent expense on the family. The cost should be kept to a minimum.
The Bill provides for changes to birth certificates already registered. This applies particularly to cases in which the name of the father had not been included. I have had representations in the past on this matter.
Many people come to this country from abroad to have their children born here. In many cases the birth takes place here for purposes we might not admire — they may wish the child to obtain an Irish birth certificate and, subsequently, an Irish passport. Has the Minister any proposals to deal with this practice?
The Bill is overdue. Its need was brought to attention by the Second Commission on the Status of Women. It eliminates some inequalities but it does not deal with the greatest inequality of all. A means should be found to make it compulsory for the child's mother and father to be named on the birth certificate. It is a basic human right and we must do something to achieve it because the children cannot. It thank the Minister for publishing this Bill so speedily given that a review was necessary in relation to it.
Mr. Ring Mr. Ring
Mr. Ring: I wish to give two minutes of my time to Deputy Nealon.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Ring Mr. Ring
Mr. Ring: I compliment the Minister on this Bill. I hope there will be more Bills designed to simplify bureaucracy. No change has been made to the registration provisions since 1863. I received a representation recently from people who deal with the registration of births, marriages and deaths and the Minister should examine the level of their income. They get 68p, which is taxable, to do the job. It is time they were paid a decent amount. Since the new family law  legislation came into force this year those dealing with marriages now have to send three letters — one each to the people being married and one to the priest. A great deal of work is involved.
I am glad the Bill recognises the rights of women. They do an excellent job and it is right that they should be recognised. I am always amazed at why Departments and other bodies require a woman's maiden name and so much other information on forms. If we continue in this way there will not be enough buildings to hold all the paperwork. I am aware that bureaucracy may keep people employed, however, I hope that even more bureaucratic procedures will be simplified.
People generally need birth certificates for specific purposes or occasions. In the past in rural areas births were often not registered for many months which led to many problems.
We were told for many years that simplification of the process of motor registration was not possible. However, it has been done successfully and cars are now registered by the year, a county code and a number. I am glad the Minister has simplified the registration of births in this Bill.
Mr. Nealon Mr. Nealon
Mr. Nealon: This Bill brings up to date an archaic format which has outlived its time. Indeed, some of the terminology in use is offensive. Will the Minister give an assurance that this legislation will not limit the value or the use of birth certificates for genealogical research, which is growing in popularity. It has become an industry involving people in Ireland and many people of Irish origin from all over the world. New technology has been introduced in the research and the Churches are due credit for making records available.
There is a possibility that the introduction of the option as to the use of the maiden name may limit the value of birth certificates for use by future generations. The matter needs careful examination to ensure the birth certificate remains as vital an instrument as in the past. I am not sure if there is a loophole or a difficulty with this matter but it should be examined.
With regard to space on the certificate, the inclusion of the names of previous spouses may necessitate greater space in the future. I compliment the Minister on the legislation. I hope continued use will be made of up to date technology to improve access to records.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
Dáil Éireann 472 Registration of Births Bill, 1996 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages.