Justice Minister Alan Shatter has published the details of an extremely radical and far-reaching reform of family law called the proposed Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014.
A lengthy definition it gives of “the best interests of the child” makes no reference to natural ties or to mothers and fathers.
Therefore, if enacted the bill would mean that the natural ties and the place of both a mother and a father in a child’s life would have hugely diminished importance in the eyes of Irish law.
A child's parents in all cases, including children conceived via egg and sperm donation, will now be assumed to be the birth mother and the birth mother's male or female partner who has consented to becoming a parent. In cases of surrogacy parenthood will have to be legally transferred to the 'commissioning parents'.
The notes on the bill state “It is acknowledged that this could limit the rights of a 'known donor'” - in other words, a biological parent - “who wishes to establish a legal connection with a child. However, there is a balance of rights to be achieved and the best interests of the child are likely to be served by having legal certainty and security in his or her family unit.”
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said: “The draft Bill, published today, seeks to provide legal clarity for all families in terms of their parental rights and responsibilities with a central focus on ‘the best interests of the child’.”
The bill makes no reference to marriage as anything other than one relationship status among many or to having a mother and a father as being in any way advantageous or that the natural ties are of any real importance.
The Bill prohibits commercial surrogacy but allows for commissioning parents to agree to pay “reasonable costs” to the birth mother, which include “any reasonable travel or accommodation costs associated with the pregnancy or birth”, and compensation for unpaid leave taken by the birth mother within two months of the child's birth.
The Bill says nothing about anonymous sperm donation. Minister Shatter said on RTE's Today With Sean O'Rourke that this was a matter for the Department of Health.