Gender Recognition Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages 15 July 2015

As always, the Minister of State is welcome to the House. I thank the Tánaiste for her commitment to the issue of gender recognition and thank the Minister of State for the energetic and robust debates we have had here in the Chamber and outside. I join other Members in welcoming the distinguished guests who have joined us here today, in particular Dr Lydia Foy and Michael Farrell. As I look at each face in the Visitors’ Gallery and think of the journey I have been on, I note that I did not know the majority of these people a few years ago, but now I feel I know them as friends. They have had to share their life stories with me for me to understand what we are debating here today and see the importance of today. That says a great deal. I have met some really amazing and brilliant people.

As the Minister of State knows, I have met many parents and children directly affected by this issue. While I am really happy today and recognise that is a great day, it is a bittersweet moment for me. It brings me back to my childhood when teams were being picked. There is a team getting on the human rights bus that is going. They are the adults and they are going to get it but the children did not get picked. That feeling of children being left out in the cold…yet again… makes it very difficult for me again today that we did not do anything for children, even though we had that opportunity. As we meet today, young people organised by TENI are meeting on the issue. BelongTo has a group of children meeting on this very issue. It is not that these children do not exist; they do. The Minister of State and I have met the parents and we know the real issues they face.

I will not go back over and rehearse every issue, but there have been developments since we debated the issue in the House in February. The calls I have made were informed and very much supported by organisations such as TENI and BeLonG To but also by the ISPCC, Children’s Rights Alliance, NYCI, SpunOut, Epic, Amnesty and the USI, just to name a few. Indeed, at its parliamentary assembly, the Council of Europe issued a resolution on discrimination against transgender people in Europe and said we needed to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all decisions concerning children. This is on transgender people; I am not picking something out of place. Indeed, since we have been debating the matter, Malta has passed gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics legislation which ensures that children are free to live as they wish and are only required at the age of 14 to provide a gender for their birth certificate. In Norway, the Government has proposed legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny, not some independent Senator, to look at gender recognition from age seven. I welcome the commitment the Minister of State made in February to have the roundtable among education partners and I welcome the fact that one meeting has happened, but it is only one meeting. No education partners have been contacted on the issue of transgender children. We will face September again and there will be children who cannot live as they wish and go to the schools they wish to attend because they are being actively blocked.

Much has been made of the marriage equality referendum, which was a joyous and tremendous day, but there was also the children’s referendum which took two years for the Supreme Court to clear. That is the lens we also need to be looking at. We need to ensure that our legislation is also looking at that lens. The Government’s national policy framework for children and young people, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, is a whole-of-government document, not just one relating to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It very clearly sets out that the development of laws, policies and services should take into account the needs, rights and best interests of children and young people. It says that efforts should be made to involve children and young people in policy and decision-making processes. While that is Government policy, we saw in this process that children were excluded from the debate at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I have gone over my notes to confirm that. There was no good reason for it. I have gone back over the e-mails and the Acting Clerk of the Dáil has confirmed that they should have been allowed to give testimony at those committee hearings, but were not. We did not allow their voices to be heard, and we should not have done that. Other committees allow children to appear before them.
As I said, the best interests of the child should be our paramount consideration, taking account of the views of the child and the evolving capacity of the child. I proposed an interim gender recognition certificate where everybody is ad idem, that is, the parents, the child and an independent person, be that the Minister, a general practitioner or a court. Obviously, that was not successful. It was brought forward again in the Dáil. That led me to read the debates in the Dáil on Second and Report Stages, in particular. It was noticeable that Members of all parties and none raised the issue of children and the importance of including children in the Gender Recognition Bill. There was one exception, the Labour Party. Its Members did not, so perhaps it is Labour Party policy. I do not understand. I have read through all of the transcripts and no Member from the Labour Party raised this issue. I am still at a loss. The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association gave really compelling testimony before the 29th Human Rights Council. Obviously, it welcomed what we are doing in Ireland but also noted that there was no process for legal recognition of minors under 16 years of age. These children exist and they deserve protection. A parent of a six year old trans girl said: “I just want to keep this child alive. I have a happy child now, why end up with a dead child? It’s important that she gets documents that reflect her gender.”

The difficulty for me, to which I have not received a satisfactory answer, is relevant to the court case S. v. An Bord Uchtála in 2009.  The case involved an intersex child born abroad, who had been registered as female at birth. The judge made an order to allow an amendment of the register of foreign adoptions so that the child’s paperwork would reflect his gender of rearing as a boy and enable him to be enrolled in the local boy’s school. The difficulty is that because this Bill excludes children, are we saying to the courts that we do not want them to interfere or do anything on children? We are closing the door on this. As a legislator, I believe we are sending a clear message to children that we will not talk about gender recognition. That is a problem for me. I am also worried about one of the amendments from the Dáil regarding passports. Again, I have dealt with some cases where children have got their gender changed, not on their birth certificate but on their passport. This amendment will not allow that to happen. Even more children have been squeezed out of this. There are four to five children a year who will not now be able to get a passport in the gender they wish because we have tightened the knot again and really made sure that children are firmly outside the room when it comes to gender recognition.

In conclusion, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs wrote to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection and proposed written amendments. I appreciate that she did not feel she was in a position to accept those amendments. Is the Minister saying that this is now under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs? If it is, I will table amendments to the Children First Bill. This must be made clear because I do not wish to be told when we debate the Children First Bill that it should have been done in the Gender Recognition Bill or that it should be done by the Minister for Social Protection. Will the Minister clearly state whether this is in the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs? When will the meeting with the education partners take place? I am not asking for an exact date, but a timeframe for when it will take place.

One of the proposals sent by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs was that we would explicitly state that children and young people would be included in the strategic review. Will the Minister give a firm commitment on that? I do not wish to be told two years hence: “Children are not in the Bill so how can one strategically review children if they are not in the Bill?” I wish to be told clearly that this issue will not be left behind. It is a joyous day for adults, but there are children whom I have met and to whom we have said: “Go sit in the corner; we are not ready to deal with this yet.” In fact, we have slammed the door.

 

2 July 2015: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Given the new Article 42A of the Constitution of Ireland, will the Minister now conduct a law audit relevant to children to determine where gaps exist in full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and bring in a comprehensive Children’s Rights Bill.

 Article 42A provides an enhanced general visibility for the rights of children under the Constitution.  More generally, the new standard has the capacity to influence the approach to legislation beyond what is required by the letter of the new constitutional provision. The interpretation of the existing statute law is now subject to the new constitutional requirements and this will, no doubt, be reflected in jurisprudence in both public and private law in the years to come.

At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department will proceed with arrangements to submit the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill for consideration by the Oireachtas.

Specifically the amendment sets certain standards relating to determining the views and best interests of children in specified proceedings which both comprehend existing provisions and require that all future legislation must comply in the areas concerned.  The Government has also provided potent examples of this in the inclusion of provisions relating to the views and best interests of the child in the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

My Department has a number of other proposed legislative initiatives in train that aim to promote the rights and welfare of children.  These include the Children First Bill, 2014 to strengthen fundamental aspects of the child protection system which is currently before the Oireachtas; the Child Care Act (Amendment) Bill, to strengthen the legislative provisions for aftercare which is currently being drafted; and   work is continuing on the Heads of Bill for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill.  I also mention in a separate reply to Senator Van Turnhout, that my Department is working on policy proposals for significant statutory reform of provisions relating to Guardians ad litem under the Child Care Act 1991.

I note that there is a major and wide-ranging initiative underway to advance the rights of children on a cross-government basis.  I refer to the on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, which is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These values and principles will continue to guide the implementation and monitoring of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

This universal strategy, covering all aspects of children’s lives, is a challenging and highly-focused whole-of-government undertaking.  Delivery of the 163 commitments set out in the strategy will result in better outcomes for children right across the spectrum of State inter-actions with the child and his or her parents and family. Along with the legislative programme, these are the mechanisms by which the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is being advanced.

A further important underlying process relevant to the question raised concerns the examination of Ireland by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which is scheduled to take place next January.  This provides a basis for engagement between my Department and other Departments of Government, preparatory to the meeting with the Committee, on issues it will raise regarding the State’s discharge of Ireland’s obligations as a party to the Convention.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”