Significant New Family Legislation
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 passed all stages in the Oireachtas in March and was then signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins. This is a hugely significant piece of legislation impacting on all families in Ireland.
The legislation addresses issues such as:
- Automatic guardianship rights for unmarried fathers cohabiting with the mother of their child for one year, 3 months of which must be post the birth
- Birth Registrars may facilitate unmarried parents to become joint guardians by agreement at the time of birth registration/re-registration
- Parental rights in relation to Assisted Human Reproduction(AHR) and preserving the child’s identity
- Cohabiting parents, both opposite and same-sex, and their eligibility to apply to adopt
- The right for children to be consulted and ‘given a voice’ in decisions affecting them.
- Courts in making decisions in relation to guardianship, access and custody shall have regard to “the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration”
- The appointment of additional legal guardians for a child, e.g. step-parents and grandparents.
Treoir very much welcomes this legislation and was pleased that although not all our suggested amendments were taken up, following extensive campaigning there were some changes made. Included in the Act is an automatic entitlement to guardianship rights for unmarried fathers who have been cohabiting with the mother for 12 months and 3 of these months must be post birth. Treoir’s belief is that this does not go far enough as it does nothing for all those very involved and committed fathers who do not or may never have cohabited with the mother. An amendment was incorporated empowering Birth Registrars to witness statutory declarations for joint guardianship at the time of registration (or re-registration) or within 14 days. The significance of this is that parents will now be informed at an early stage as to their legal status.
Treoir is very disappointed that our recommendation for the setting up of a Central Register for guardianship agreements was not included although the Minister for Justice has committed to piloting a project to this effect. During the Dail debate the Minister said “Treoir makes the point that we keep records of many things in this country but there are many contracts that we do not keep records of. This is a very important aspect of a child’s and a family’s life. I am suggesting in amendment No. 60 that I would begin the process of moving towards that by having two pilot projects to work with organisations, such as Treoir and Women’s Aid, which have a point of view on this to see how we can put together a policy approach and a recommendation on how to move forward”.
She acknowledged that “It is preferable to have a repository in which non-marital parents could deposit a statutory declaration so they have security in terms of seeking additional copies of the declaration if the original copy were lost or destroyed.” The Minister also said that “ the lessons from the pilot project will inform us on whether to proceed with the establishment of a national repository”.
This new legislation is good news for grandparents who have the primary care of their grandchild for a period of 12 months or more and who will be eligible to apply for legal custody and guardianship.
NOTE: The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 although passed has not yet been commenced. We will be following the progress of this Act closely and will keep our members and clients informed on any commencement dates on Facebook, Treoir website and Newsletters.
Compulsory registration of father’s name on child’s birth cert is now law
It is a child’s fundamental human right to have the names of both parents on his/her birth certificate. Following the passing of The Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014on the 4th December 2014, procedures are being drafted which will, for the first time in Ireland, place a duty on unmarried parents to register the father’s name on the birth certificate of their child.
Where a mother attends to register the birth without the father, the Registrar will ask her for his contact details. The Registrar will then make ‘all reasonable efforts’ to contact the father and invite him to attend the Registrar’s Office within 28 days in order to complete the registration. Only in exceptional cases, where ‘compelling reasons’ are provided, will it be permitted to omit the father’s name. These compelling reasons are where the mother:
(a) does not know the identity of the father of the child, or
(b) does not know the whereabouts of the father of the child, or
(c) believes that providing the information is not in the best
interests of the safety of the child and can show evidence as to why she has that belief.
If parents cannot agree a surname for the child, the birth will be registered but no surname will be assigned to the child until agreement is reached.
Read more in Treoir’s press release.
NOTE: The Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 although passed has not yet been commenced. We will be following the progress of this Act closely and will keep our members and clients informed on any commencement dates on Facebook, Treoir website and Newsletters.
CSO Vital Statistics – Quarter 3 2014
There were 17,197 births in quarter 3 2014. In the same quarter, there were 6,239 births registered as outside marriage/civil partnership accounting for 36.3% of all births. Sixty eight percent of births registered to unmarried parents were to parents giving the same address. The highest percentage of births outside marriage/civil partnership was in Limerick City at 57.4% and the lowest was in Galway County with 25.4%. 4.6% of births outside marriage/civil partnership were registered by teen parents.
One-Parent Family Payment: Carers Allowance
On 2 July 2015 the age limit(of the child) for the One-Parent Family Payment will reduce to 7 years for most claimants. There are exemptions to the age limit for people parenting alone who are getting a Domiciliary Care Allowance, who have been recently bereaved and for people getting a half-rate Carer’s Allowance with their OFP. A new age limit of 16 is proposed for people who are caring and getting a half-rate Carer’s Allowance with their OFP.
The Department of Social Protection (DSP) will send letters to those affected by the changes inviting them to attend an information seminar on other social welfare payments that may be available and to help with applying. It is very important to attend these seminars so that recipients understand their options and are not left without a payment when their OFP ends in July.
Further information and advice can be obtained at your Intreo centre, social welfare local office.
Back to Work Family Dividend Scheme
The Back to Work Family Dividend (BTWFD) scheme, commenced in April 2015. The scheme provides financial support to Jobseekers and One-Parent Family Payment(OFP) recipients with children who end their claim to take up employment, increase hours of employment or take up self-employment. You
may be eligible if you do not claim another primary welfare payment, except FIS and Child Benefit. BTWFD can be paid with FIS and does not impact on the FIS means test.
If you qualify for this scheme you will be entitled to a weekly payment for up to 2 years following the ending of your social welfare claim. This payment will be based on the Qualified Child standard rate of €29.80 up to a maximum payment of €119.20 for 4 children for the first year. The BTWFD will be reduced by half that amount in the second year.
Further information on the BTWFD is available from your Intreo Centre or Local Social Welfare Office on www.welfare.ie
Maintenance Recovery Unit Investigations – 2014
Figures provided by the Department of Social Protection’s maintenance recovery unit (MRU) show that they reviewed 8,063 cases last year — down from 10,709 in 2013. However, estimated savings for this period increased — from €3.29m in 2013 to €3.89m last year. As a result of MRU investigations, savings were made through a combination of direct payments made to the Department, reduced OFP payments and as a result of OFP payments being disallowed.
In cases where the One-parent Family Payment (OFP) is awarded and child maintenance is not being paid, the MRU may seek to trace the other parent or “liable relative” in order to determine whether or not they are in a financial position to contribute towards the cost of the OFP. Of the 8,063 liable relatives contacted last year, 967 were found to be living outside the State or could not be traced, while 558 liable relatives were classified as unknown.
A Department spokesperson said: “The MRU cannot pursue liable relatives who are living outside the Republic of Ireland, or those who cannot be traced based on the information provided by the parent claiming OFP”.
The MRU issued 2,586 determination orders to liable relatives who were found to have an “apparent ability” to pay maintenance for their children. Less than half of those contacted began making payments, or additional payments directly to the other parent (average payment being €48.84 per week)and 69 liable relatives started paying the Department directly (average payment being €60.64 per week).
(Irish Examiner 11/2/2015)
Mother and Baby Homes
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. James Reilly TD, announced in February the appointment of three Commissioners to lead the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters. The Minister confirmed the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy as Commission Chairperson, with international legal expert on child protection and adoption Dr. William Duncan, and historian Professor Mary E. Daly, appointed as Commissioners. The Commission’s powers include the power to direct witnesses to answer questions and produce documents. These powers are to ensure that no information is withheld. The Minister said “this is a significant moment as the Commission can now start the process to ensure that what was once hidden and covered up in these Homes, and in wider society, can be revealed and openly acknowledged. This investigation is an opportunity for Irish society to address the often harrowing manner in which vulnerable women and children were treated in mother and baby homes, how they came to be there in the first place and the circumstances of their departure from the Homes.”
The timeframe for the completion of the work of the Commission is three years.
A new national strategy for research and innovation
A new partnership was announced in March between the Irish Research Council and The Wheel aimed at engaging community and voluntary organisations in academic research. Under the partnership, the IRC is awarding almost €400,000 to support collaborative projects between community and voluntary groups and researchers. The types of organisations receiving funding will typically be those with limited resources and often those with insufficient in-house capacity to conduct research. Under the new initiative, researchers from higher education institutions throughout Ireland are collaborating with organisations such as Trocaire, Pieta House, GLEN, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Cystic Fibrosis Ireland and the ISPCA.
For more information see www.research.ie
The Power of Positive Parenting
Positive Parenting Programme: Triple Phas been trialled as a universal public health initiative in the Midlands and has been the subject of an independent population study conducted by the UNESCO Child and Family Research of NUI, Galway. The research, carried out over three years in Longford-Westmeath, shows that the number of children with emotional and behavioural problems is significantly reduced in the population as a whole when compared with a similar area where the Triple P programme was not delivered.
(Irish Times 13/1/2015)
Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People
The Know Your Rights project is a public information project of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Children’s Rights Alliance designed to inform people in clear and accessible language about their rights under various key areas of the law in Ireland. Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People was launched on the 28th March 2015 and is the sixth publication in the series and deals with topics such as:
- My right to be treated equally, to be included and to make my own decisions
- My right to education
- My right to health
- My rights in the family
- My rights as a migrant
Packs are available for print and can be downloaded free of charge at www.knowyourrights.ie.
On the 1st of April, the Minster for the Environment Alan Kelly announced details of the social housing targets for local authorities to 2017. This announcement came as part of the Government’s €3.8 billion social housing strategy announced last November to 2020. Over €1.5 billion is to be spent on a combination of building, buying and leasing schemes by local authorities designed to accommodate 25 per cent of the 90,000 households currently on housing waiting lists for social housing. Speaking during a visit to a social housing development site on Lord Edward St in Limerick city, where 83 units are being constructed, Mr Kelly said there was no political bias in the allocation of local authority funding and insisted all decisions were based on need. Local authorities that meet their targets will be given additional resources and those that do not will surrender some of their allocation.
(Irish Times 1/4/2015)
Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC)
MLRC is an independent law centre, registered charity and company limited by guarantee which provides free legal advice and representation to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in the areas of social housing and social welfare law. The Centre also seeks to advocate change in laws and policies.
The Centre provides the following services to persons living in Dublin:
- Free Legal Advice Clinics in homeless hostels and centres for homeless people
- Legal Representation
- Befriending Service
- Legal Support & training to organisations working in the field of Homelessness
- Policy Work.
Cases involving people who live outside Dublin may be undertaken on an exceptional basis.
See www.mercylaw.ie for further information. MLRC can be contacted at
Tel: 01 453 7459.
The lawlessness of the home: Women’s experiences of seeking legal remedies to domestic violence and abuse in the Irish legal system
New research from SAFE Ireland shows that the Irish legal system is not working for women and children living with domestic violence and abuse. This research was launched in March by the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald, TD on behalf of SAFE Ireland, the national representative body for women’s frontline domestic violence services in Ireland. This research is seen as a step towards assessing the efficacy of the Irish legal system’s response to women seeking legal remedies to violence and abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. The research document makes 34 recommendations under eight themes. These have been approved by the National Steering Committee on Violence Against Women and have been submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committeee on Justice and Equality.
Five of the priority recommendations are as follows:
- expand the legal definition of domestic abuse and violence
- put in place a system that will ensure that the application of law is consistent and has cohesion
- introduce a risk assessment toolkit and homicide review structures
- enact the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015
- ensure that there are special measures in place for victims of domestic violence so that barriers to accessing the justice system are removed.