Thursday, 24 April 1952
Dáil Éireann Debate
General MacEoin: The Minister has amended the Bill in some respects but upon the vital question of short certificates and the power to make regulations under Section 6 I am not satisfied. Speaking here on the Second Reading I said that it was opening up a new situation, that precedents were being established which could lead to very far-reaching effects later on.
The Minister for Justice yesterday announced that it was his intention to introduce another Bill and this Bill, the Vital Statistics Bill, with Section 6, is a forerunner of that particular Bill. For a very long time there has been pressure brought to bear upon various Ministers of the Government of this State for certain alterations in the existing law relating to birth certificates and kindred matters. All I want to say on that point at this moment is that it is a rather significant fact that every Minister for Justice in the State since the State was established did  not proceed with these Bills and there must be very valid reasons. I, for personal reasons, was in favour of the legislation because it affected myself to a certain extent and therefore I was favourably disposed towards that particular type of legislation, but for very valid reasons I found myself in the same position as my predecessors, that abuses and dangers were going to arise that were of far greater import than the ameliorations or improvements that were to be given in any of the proposed Bills.
All I want to say on this stage is that the Minister has given way on this question of short birth certificates. While it is true that he himself may not be moved further in certain directions, it is always possible that another Minister for Health in ten, 15 or 20 years' time may take a completely different view from that held by Deputy Dr. James Ryan, the present Minister for Health. We do know that a Minister for Health under the 1947 Public Health Act had the power to make regulations under that Act without the approval or concent of either Government or Parliament. One Minister could do something under one Bill but another Minister at a future date having a different outlook could move in this direction in a very positive way. I am satisfied that the present Minister for Health will not do anything to outrage the feelings of any section of the community but he is starting on a course which is fraught with grave dangers. I do not want to see this Parliament—I do not care who the Government is—in conflict with any authorities or any important section of the people of this community.
I think that the Bill should not pass and the Minister would be well advised not to press it. I appeal to him not as a member of the Opposition but as a Deputy of this House carefully to reconsider the matter and to take counsel from those whom he should consult. If he looks at the correspondence issued since the Bill was introduced he will see that what he proposes to do under this section does not meet the demand or the requirements of the people who are pressing him. When he has gone this far pressure will come for him to go further and when he takes  the next step pressure will come for him to go still further and the evils visualised will take place. He may not give way to that pressure but a future Minister for Health might give way in a very positive way.
Mr. MacBride: I welcome the passage of this Bill and my only regret is that the Minister did not find it possible to incorporate provisions in it which would render the use of the shortened form of the birth certificate more general. I hope that in the application of the Bill he will bear that in mind. It is important that the shortened form of birth certificate should not become the exception so that the production of the shortened form would itself become the badge of illegitimacy. I feel that the Minister should consider this in the application of the Bill.
Minister for Health (Dr. Ryan): As on many other occasions, I have introduced a Bill which appears not to be left enough for some Deputies and not to be right enough for others. I am taking Deputy MacEoin as an example of a Deputy on the right and Deputy MacBride as a Deputy on the left. For Deputy MacEoin's consolation I would like to say that so far I have only gone as far as the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. In the archdiocese there are two certificates, one long and the other short, and the short certificate if asked for, says: “So-and-so was baptised according to the rites of the Catholic Church on such a date by the Reverend So-and-so” and does not give the name of the parents.
General MacEoin: I did not say the Archbishop of Dublin I would like the Minister not to misquote me. I said the canon law relating to the short certificate, and I did not quote the Archbishop of Dublin or anybody else.
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