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Executive Decisions

Cabinet approves international surrogacy policy proposals with aim of giving 100s of families a 'route to recognition'

A busy Cabinet session also saw Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien bring draft laws to overhaul Ireland’s planning system.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 13th 2022, 3:34 PM

CABINET  has approved the drafting of a number of amendments that will seek to recognise families which are created through international surrogacy. 

Currently, there are no laws in Ireland to govern either domestic or international surrogacy.

Most surrogacies involving Irish people are commercial arrangements undertaken outside the State.

Families have consistently called for Government to progress with legislation to provide for parental status in Ireland in international surrogacy arrangements. 

Under Irish law, the biological or genetic father of a child born through surrogacy may apply for a declaration of parentage in respect of the child, but the “intending mother” – because she is not the birth mother of the child – is not entitled to apply for the same declaration of parentage.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on International Surrogacy was set up in January of this year and made a total of 32 recommendations.

These included establishing a new legal framework to support families who have children born through international surrogacy, and would see parental orders used to transfer parentage from the surrogate mother to the intended parents.

Following the committee’s report, an an interdepartmental group was established by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and Justice Minister Helen McEntee. 

Donnelly has welcomed the governments approval of the committee’s policy proposals. 

“The policy and draft outline legislative proposals approved by Government today have the potential to provide hundreds of Irish families with a route to formal recognition by the State of the surrogacy arrangements they have undertaken, or will undertake, in other jurisdictions.

 ”We have endeavoured to implement, in so far as possible and appropriate, the proposals of the Special Joint Oireachtas Committee on International Surrogacy and have accepted the majority of the Committee’s recommendations,” he said. 

 

Recognition of parentage

A memo in the name of the three ministers proposed to progress the work carried out by their departments over the past six months.

Cabinet today approved the drafting of a number of amendments to the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022 to provide for: 

  • future international surrogacy arrangements
  • the recognition of parentage in respect of certain past surrogacy arrangements, both domestic and international.

The final drafts of the amendments from the Office for Parliamentary Council are due to be brought back to Government early in 2023 for final approval, with the amendments relating to international surrogacy set to be moved at Committee Stage of the Bill.

The AHR Bill passed second stage in the Dáil last March and has been referred to the Oireachtas Health Committee for third stage. 

Speaking about the legislation previously, McEntee said she knew how important the issue is for many families in Ireland.

Recognising this, she said the timeframe to get the work done in the committee and in  both Houses of the Oireachtas needed to be ambitious. 

new-homes-under-construction-at-kilcarbery-grange-in-dublin-as-housing-minister-darragh-obrien-officially-opens-118-new-cost-rental-homes-in-the-west-dublin-development-some-74-of-the-homes-are-in Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Planning law overhaul

Separately, Cabinet has a number of other pieces of legislation to deal with days before the planned rotation of the Taoiseach. 

The ministers will also consider draft laws aimed at overhauling Ireland’s planning system. 

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has previously said the planning system “has become very unwieldy” and needed to be more efficient.

A review of Ireland’s planning laws has been undertaken over the last year.

Government sources say that the Planning and Development Act, which was passed in 2000, has been amended many times over the past 20 years, and as a result, can be difficult to navigate for the public and practitioners alike. 

The Bill proposes policy changes in a number of areas which could prove controversial, such as barring residents groups from taking High Court actions against planning permissions. 

Other changes include imposing clear timelines in law on all planning decisions and appeals. Where deadlines are not met, fines will be imposed.

Judicial review changes

Timelines will also be included for the various steps in the judicial review process including for pleadings, hearing of cases and delivery of judgements by the court.

Judicial reviews are challenges taken by citizens or groups to the High Court. In recent years they have been used extensively to challenge decisions made by An Bord Pleanála (ABP) in relation to large-scale property developments.

Though the frequent use of judicial reviews has been criticised by Government and construction industry representative groups as slowing down development, an analysis of completed cases shows that a significant majority are decided in favour of the challengers.

Government sources say they want the judicial review changes to be seen in the context of aiming to move to a “plan-led system” to ensure there is a greater consistency of approach with regard to national planning policy including providing for limited grounds for material contravention in planning decisions.

The draft law sets out that An Bord Pleanála or the local authority, will be able to correct an error of fact or law in its planning decision and can also apply for a stay on the determination of judicial review proceedings while doing so.

Residents Associations barred from HC action

It is understood the laws will mean that a case can only be taken against a development by a person associated with the application or by an NGO which meets certain criteria.
Where an organisation, such as a residents association, seeks to take a judicial review, it will have to be taken by an individual or individuals, rather than by the association.

A number of provisions will be made around the organisational structure for An Bord Pleanála arising out of the Action Plan for An Bord Pleanála and the OPR review of the organisation.

The OPR report recommended ABP was in need of “urgent reform”, stating that changes needed to be made in order to restore public confidence in the board and the effectiveness of the overall planning system.

As part of the proposed legislation, it is understood there will be increased capacity for local authorities to utilise Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) in pursuance of their functions. The housing minister has repeatedly stated recently that where tenants are at risk of eviction, the council should step in to purchase the home, if possible.

Architectural heritage is also dealt with, where planning authorities will be allowed to sanction works to enable a residential use in a protected structure where it does not compromise the structure. 

Ukraine supports 

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath will also provide Cabinet today further detail on planned Government expenditure in 2023.

It is understood that €650 million in funding is being provided for the recently launched Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme. Of the €2 billion set aside for Ukraine related costs it is believed that €1.5 billion has now been earmarked with a further €500 million being held in reserve.

Last night, coalition leaders discussed the refugee accommodation crisis as 1,000 refugees from Ukraine and other countries continue to arrive to the country each week.

Separately, Minister McGrath is also seeking approval to publish the report of the review of ethics legislation and to begin drafting legislation to reform the statutory framework for ethics in public office.

The report draws heavily on of the recommendations of various tribunals of inquiry and the Standards in Public Office Commission. In particular it is expected that reforms will provide for consistency in standards applying to both national and local government and place a statutory prohibition on the use of confidential information.

In addition there is expected to be revised disclosure obligations based on the seniority and autonomy of public officials and the inclusion of the judiciary in a consolidated and regime for standards in public life.

An update will also be provided on the review of Freedom of Information (FOI) Ethics legislation.

Over 2,400 responses have been received as part of a public consultation exercise alongside international comparison work and detailed statistical analysis on the operation of the FOI system.

McGrath is expected to tell cabinet that the overriding goal should be for a robust FOI request mechanism but says the aim is to reduce the volume of requests as information is more readily available to citizens. A final report and legislation is planned for 2023.

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