Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When we discuss sexuality, orientation, identity and LGBT rights, we must be mindful that many members of the LGBT community across the globe still put their lives on the line to do as we do today. I refer, in particular, to the LGBT community in Chechnya, which is facing unprecedented levels of persecution, murder and violence. They are not alone and we will be with them always. Those who deny the existence of gay men in Chechnya should know that Ireland condemns their murder and hate, and stands with all those who seek to overcome their violence with solidarity, compassion, actions that, I hope, speak louder than words, truth, and love against a force of evil.

Today presents an opportunity for us to also reflect on the importance of having these conversations in this institution because we must with urgency enable all our communities to see themselves in Leinster House where Senators and Deputies reflect all the cultures and subcultures that speak of, and for, a new Ireland of all genders and none, of all ages, of all sexual orientation and social backgrounds, of all skin colour, and regardless of a disability. Ireland is not one-dimensional and it is time for this institution to catch up because Ireland will be best served by a diversity of imagination. I see an Oireachtas that does not speak to itself, an institution that does not make promises it cannot keep and keeps every commitment that it makes. I see an Oireachtas where political representatives face outward, talk less and listen more. I see an Oireachtas that stands for inclusivity, not a morning prayer. I see an Oireachtas made up of political representatives who alongside their communities are the engine for change in whatever form that community takes. If not, that Government would, therefore, be unsustainable.

It is with great pride that I introduce my second Bill since entering the House last year. I thank the Government and the Minister for Social Protection for their engagement and for providing time for the debate. I thank Independent Senator, David Norris, and Senator Grace O'Sullivan of the Green Party for co-signing the Bill. This is a recognition of goodwill and support across this Chamber.

In two months, we will celebrate the second anniversary of a milestone for transgender rights in Ireland. We are two years into the operation of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 during which hundreds of trans people have shared with their families, neighbours, colleagues and friends the joy, celebration and empowerment that comes from such recognition. It is two years since the Government refused, to its credit, to settle for second best, seeing self-determination as common sense and insisting on Ireland being a global leader for transgender rights.

It is two years since the commencement of the Gender Recognition Act and now is the time to move forward. It is the time for renewed critical thought and to inject positive change to make the lives of trans and LGB young people a little easier because growing up LGBT can be tough. Two years since the commencement of the Act, young trans people continue to live unrecognised by their State while others on reaching the ages of 16 and 17 face a process that is invasive, gruelling and problematic, but we can do better because, although the Act falls short in many ways, there is a vital and intrinsic ambition in it that recognises the right to self-determination. This ambition sets us apart in an international context and says to trans people across the globe that this is what can be achieved, and that when their struggle meets a setback, their spirits are low and inequality weighs heavy on their hearts, there are regions in the world that offer hope and that raise the bar.

Ireland can, and must, act as a beacon of hope for marginalised people everywhere and ensure the core human decency that is common among our people is built on proactively with empathy, inclusion and education around the complexities of the trans lived experience. The 2015 Act is also the result of tireless activism and campaigning by members of the trans community, many of whom join us from TENI and other organisations in the Visitors Gallery. The Seanad salutes their activism and I thank them for it.

We should not underestimate the impact of the civil marriage equality referendum in allowing the previous Government to breathe and to rethink the original, flawed gender recognition proposals. That Government acted when the people said in no uncertain terms that they believe in an equal Ireland, that they favour civil marriage equality and that all citizens should have the same opportunity no matter who we are, what we look like, where we are from or who we love.

Two years on from both of those LGBT milestones - the passing of civil marriage equality and the passing of the Gender Recognition Act - now is our time to act. Let the Seanad be the House that does so. It is imperative that we listen to trans voices. The trans community has spoken. To no surprise, self-determination remains a core demand. That message is consistent, loud and clear. This amendment Bill seeks to extend the right to self-determination to trans people aged 16 and 17 years. For the first time, this legislation will also open a legal pathway, currently unavailable to trans people under the age of 16 years. With this legislation, the State will truly recognise the existence of trans young people, acknowledging that one does not just turn trans on turning 16 years of age. We can facilitate that process through family consent and through the Circuit Family Court. I acknowledge that while medical practitioners can play an important role in transitioning processes for transgender and gendervariant children and their families, I believe and transgender advocates believe that legal gender recognition should not be conditional on medical assent. Legal gender recognition should not be conditional on medical assent. Why would aligning ones legal documents require medical assent? Is that not invasive? Is that not problematic? I believe it is.

The third element of this legislation is focused on the status of non-binary people in the two-year review of the operation of the principal Act in 2015. Passing this legislation will ensure that the Minister specifically considers the possibility of providing a gender recognition certificate to citizens who do not identify as a man or a woman or as male or female. To do so in this legislation does not infringe or prevent the Minister from exploring any additional topics or questions in that review.

When we recognise a person's right to a home, to marriage equality, to gender recognition, to Traveller ethnicity, to live free from direct provision, when we recognise a citizen's right to a universal health service, to decency and democracy at work, when we achieve access to basic rights such as these, we will not only positively empower people but we will enable people to live at peace with their lives and free society from scapegoating and a search for the other. Be sure of this, the type of change that we seek here is possible; progressive change, clear in black and white on the seven pages of this Bill. The trans community has never let this State down. It is surely time for Government and State to step up and fully embrace the valid concerns and aspirations of our trans community because the contribution of that community to the betterment and social integration of this island is truly invaluable. The Oireachtas is nothing without the people. Politics should always face outwards and today the Oireachtas has a chance to act as that engine for change, to say that our response to a fractured world is truly inclusive and that our response includes all the multitudes of voices that together speak of and for a new Ireland.

I hope Senators join with us in recognising and importantly celebrating the existence and visibility of trans young people in law and vote with us in favour of the Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017.

I understand that Senator Norris is seconding the Bill.

I second the Bill.

It is my great honour to do so. I congratulate Senator Warfield on his vision in producing this Bill. It is a very professionally produced Bill and it is very welcome. Somewhat to my surprise, as a result of my experience in Seanad Éireann since Sinn Féin has been elected here, I find it to be a very progressive party of the left, many of whose policies I have no difficulty in supporting whatever. They have been extremely good in the area of sexual reform in particular.

The question of transgender people is to someone of my generation, and I am nearly 73 years, a comparatively new phenomenon. It simply was not mentioned. I do not think the word "transgender" was in our vocabulary, we simply did not know. We certainly did not know the scale of the situation that confronted people in this situation. It is very welcome indeed that we now do so. When the original Gender Recognition Bill was put through the House, it had a clause indicating that there should be a two-year review. I am very glad that Senator Warfield has taken this opportunity to operate this review and to look at the situation to amend the legislation in a way that is progressive and forward-looking. The legislation itself was, at the time, progressive and imaginative, but as the two-year review clause indicated, it was not the final word on the matter.

I come from an older generation that is now fast disappearing, if one reads the obituary columns in the newspapers. For people of our generation, the usual thing to be said about children was that they should be seen and not heard. There was no real conception that children had independent rights of any kind at all. I remember a hell of a battle that I had here to try to introduce the guardian ad litem clause, but we eventually prevailed. If one looks at international views on the position of children, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to respect the right of children to be heard and to duly take into account their views, and that the best interests of the child shall be of primary consideration. That is what should govern all legislation in this area - the rights and well-being of the child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child notes: "the assessment of a child's best interests must include respect for the child's right to express his or her views freely and due weight given to said views on all matters affecting the child". A blanket age restriction on gender recognition does not follow these ideas.

I was involved in a learning process on this area. I did not know much about it, but listening to the voices of transgendered people, it is remarkable the very early age at which people identify this situation, I would say much earlier than gay people. I always kind of knew I was gay, or I did not know I was gay but I knew I was me and being gay was part of my personality, but I do not think I actively considered anything like that until I was around 11 years old. People of a very young age identify as transgender.

Among the things in this Bill which we should applaud, is the recognition for the first time of providing a gender recognition certificate to people who do not identify themselves as either male or female. Again, this is a completely new prospect. I remember the interest caused when someone from RTÉ, it may have been a weather person, announced they were gender fluid. I think it is appropriate that we consider these matters.

The requirement for a medical certificate was a complete mistake. It should not be seen primarily as a medical situation.

Legal gender recognition for people under the age of 16 years is a highly significant element of this Bill. According to the explanatory memorandum, this will ensure that the Circuit Family Court is no longer prohibited from making an exemption order under section 12 of the principal Act for the sole reason that the child has not reached the age of 16 years. This is very much to be welcomed. Again, we come to the principle that the most significant element to be considered should be the welfare of the child. In appraising what course of action best serves the interest of a given child, the court should ensure that as far as practicable where a child is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child should be ascertained and given due weight with regard to the age, maturity and evolving capacity of the child.

It is also important in considering these matters to take into account the evidence from TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland. Thanks to Senator Warfield, I have a document on the subject of legal recognition of trans young people. There is evidence that social transition can greatly improve a trans child's emotional well-being, promote better health, improved self-esteem and confidence yet social transition can be very difficult if it is not formally recognised through some type of legal gender recognition process. Young people use these things such as their birth certificate and so on, in enrolling in school or college, for example, and they are looked at and called into question. The current criteria for legal recognition of 16 and 17 year olds is very restrictive and acts as a barrier to young trans people to obtaining legal recognition.

This is partly due to the fact very few medical practitioners are properly qualified in this area. There is reference in the document to a young trans man, who states he was 17 when he received his first letter from a psychiatrist and now he is 21 and he is still waiting for his second letter. It is outrageous to keep somebody holding on like this for four years. I have another document which states it is time to listen to the voices of these young people, and to the voice of Amnesty International, which states the absolute denial of legal gender recognition to individuals under a given age is not consistent with existing international standards regarding the rights of children. Legal gender recognition should be accessible to children on the basis of their best interests and taking into account their evolving capacities.

I will quote a very moving email I received from somebody who lives in rural Ireland:

I live in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, a tiny, little town, and I live openly as a transgender person. It’s no secret. Everybody knows me - and with very, very few exceptions people have been wonderful: very friendly, understanding and accepting. This is the kind of thing that makes a real and positive change in someone's Life. The people of this town are the best in the world and I know that they have no way of measuring what they have done for me. I recall, too, walking in the St. Patrick’s Day parade last year in Longford with the local LGBT group. At various places along the way we were given a round of applause. Then when we got to the end, the MC on the podium introduced us to the crowd there, and they gave us another round of applause.

That is the Ireland of which I am proud to be a citizen and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept this excellent legislation. I have to say I think it is remarkable that a young man such as Senator Warfield, in his first term in the Seanad, should introduce several measures that are so progressive and so necessary, and I hope the Minister will be able to give this legislation a welcome.

On 15 July 2015, the Irish Government passed the Gender Recognition Act, providing the process to enable transgender people to achieve full legal recognition of their preferred gender, and to allow for the acquisition of a new birth certificate to reflect this change. The Gender Recognition Act allows all individuals under the age of 18 to self declare their own gender identity. Young people aged 16 and 17 can also apply to be legally recognised through the process.

In 2017, the European Commissioner for human rights stressed the obligation on states to adopt a system to recognise preferred gender for transgender people. Ireland is the last country in the European Union to allow legal recognition of transgender. This is despite a High Court ruling in 2007 that found the State to be in breach of its positive obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in failing to recognise Dr. Foy in her female gender and provide her with a new birth certificate. This was the first declaration of incompatibility to be made under the European Convention on Human Rights Act. The High Court declaration of incompatibility meant Ireland needed to introduce legislation.

Trans people are among the most vulnerable members of Irish society and experience high levels of stigmatisation and marginalisation. Research shows regular harassment, violence and systematic discrimination are commonplace. The lack of State recognition in other areas of trans identity is a major contributing factor to the marginalisation of trans people and is an urgent health and human rights issue.

Legal gender recognition provides a process for individuals to change their gender marker on their birth certificate and be legally recognised by the State in their true gender. A birth certificate is a fundamental identity document and is often requested for official purposes, such as assessing social welfare, obtaining a personal public service number to work and, in certain cases, when getting married. People may be recognised as being of one gender in certain documents and being of another gender on their birth certificate. This puts the individuals at risk of being outed when they apply for a job or a new passport or on entry to education. It has also led to the denial of services and restrictions on the ability of individuals to travel domestically and internationally. Forced outing may result in harassment, discrimination and even violence.

Despite progress, trans young people fail to be meaningfully included and protected by the Act. I was on the social protection committee as a Deputy from 2011 to 2016. I had my reservations about what was going on with regard to the age limit. Trans young people aged 16 and 17 years must go through a much more complicated and arduous process than people over the age of 18 because they are required to obtain parental consent, two medical opinions and a court order, which can be a lengthy and most prohibitive process. For trans people under the age of 16 years it is even worse. There are no pathways whatsoever to legal recognition, even with parental consent. This causes a number of practical day-to-day difficulties for young people, such as travelling with their passports, opening a bank account or attending school in their true gender. In the meantime, there is a review so we will let the review take place. In 2015 we took a step forward, now let us finish the job.

I congratulate Senator Warfield on introducing the Bill. I was delighted to meet members of TENI yesterday and get the proper lowdown on all of the Senator's hard work. Fianna Fáil supports the Bill, the purpose of which is to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2015 to provide a right to self-determination for persons who reach the age of 16 years, to introduce a right to legal gender recognition for persons under 16 years of age, and to ensure consideration of the status of non-binary persons in Irish law, as has been outlined.

While the Gender Recognition Act 2015 was a watershed moment in Ireland, it nevertheless fell short in that it contains particularly onerous procedures for people aged 16 and 17 to be legally recognised. Furthermore, it made no provision at all for those aged under 16 years, as if trans people under the age of 16 are invisible and do not exist. This can cause a number of practical day-to-day difficulties for young people, such as travelling with their passports and opening bank accounts. I concur with Senator Norris on the onerous condition of having to get a medical report to apply for a gender certificate. Some of the young people I spoke to yesterday told me this stipulation in the Act forces the hand of young people, who perhaps do not want go through medical conversion at that time and just want their gender to be recognised on paper. Perhaps later in life they would be more prepared to do so. They told me this part of the Act was a very regressive step, so I am glad the Bill has been introduced to make it a little more progressive.

Absent legal recognition for children in the gender in which they identify, and being forced to live and be identified in the wrong gender can make everyday life fraught with the potential for humiliation and embarrassment, driving many into the shadows and making them vulnerable to exclusion and depression, notwithstanding the requirement to get a legal certificate. Research in 2013 by TENI revealed 78% of Irish trans people surveyed had contemplated suicide and 40% had attempted it. The level of self-harm is also notably high at 44%. The research also found 83% of trans people avoid public spaces for fear of being harassed. In addition, and of particular importance when discussing the Bill, the survey showed self-harm and attempted suicide rates plummeted when people were able to transition to their true gender, which is very welcome.

The rationale for Fianna Fáil supporting the Bill is that, in 2013, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, in its advice on the general scheme of the Gender Recognition Bill, noted that it understood the motivation for excluding children to safeguard them from the potentially negative consequences of having their preferred gender recognised when they have not formed a stable view in relation to their gender identity. However, it argued that this must be weighed against the difficulties faced by young people who have gone, or are going, through transition. The advice stated that these concerns are not hypothetical; that they are real and substantial, and that it seems untenable to argue that in order to close off the possibility of granting legal recognition to young people who have not formed a stable view regarding their gender identity, all young people should be denied the opportunity of legal recognition, irrespective of their individual circumstances. The office therefore recommended that the Gender Recognition Bill should make provision for children and young people by removing the criterion relating to minimum age. It argues that refusing to include children represented a disproportionate interference with young people's rights to gender recognition.

In addition, it is essential that our legislation aligns itself with Ireland's international human rights obligations in regard to children. The Office of the Ombudsman for Children also underscores that the UN convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by Ireland in September 1992. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not explicitly address the situation of transgender or intersex young people. However, Article 2 of the convention requires states to respect the rights set out in the convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind. The prohibitive grounds of discrimination contained in the convention include race, colour, sex, birth, or other status. Although gender identity is not included in this list, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has clarified that transgender young people are protected by Article 2. Gender identity can, therefore, be taken to constitute a form of other status within the meaning of the non-discrimination provisions of the convention.

Ireland has been considered very progressive along the lines of countries such as Argentina, Malta, Norway and Denmark in legislating for a self-declaration model for those aged over 18. The passing of the Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017 would be another step forward in creating a more equal and inclusive society in Ireland. I congratulate Senator Warfield on introducing it and I look forward to its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Varadkar to the House. I also extend a very warm welcome to the people in the Gallery. I met many of them yesterday - as did some other Members of the Oireachtas - when they shared their personal stories with us. It was an honour to listen to these people tell their stories and place in context their journeys, vulnerabilities, fears and anxieties but also their hopes. I walked away from that meeting yesterday full of hope for the people who spoke to us because they began to believe and to see that the Oireachtas was seriously committed to supporting them in their particular cause, and, hopefully, the debate today will prove that point.

I particularly thank Senators Fintan Warfield, David Norris and Grace O'Sullivan who took up the ball, put this legislation together, and cosigned and supported it. I know Senator Fintan Warfield drove it from the front and has worked on this for a long time. I acknowledge his enormous contribution to this legislation.

I said in my opening remarks yesterday that it was very clear for me to make up my mind on this legislation because it hinged on two matters. It was about allowing people to be their authentic self. Authenticity is very simple but a very profound and important word. It is about ensuring that people can be authentic and that they can feel free to develop in their own unique way as every person is unique in his or her own way. That is important. Also, it was an issue of equality because this is all about equality at the end of the day.

Yesterday, I was asked three questions, namely, first, would I support amending the Gender Recognition Act to meaningfully include young people under the age of 18? Second, would I seek to enact hate crime legislation to protect Ireland's young and, many times, vulnerable citizens? Third, would I support the allocation of additional funds to the HSE to ensure that appropriate accessible health care and related service is available for trans people? My answer to all three was "Yes".

It is important that we acknowledge in the Houses of the Oireachtas, Dr. Lydia Foy, based in Athy, County Kildare-----

-----and the long, long journey she took. I have had the pleasure of meeting her on a number of occasions over the years. She was a lone person then at a very difficult time when she took up this work-----

And Michael Farrell, her solicitor.

-----and I want to acknowledge her.

I spoke to a number of people in the past few days and I want to quote and share their words because, for me, they have crystallised the issue. I spoke to Susan who said:

The enactment of the Gender Recognition Act allowed me to self-determine my gender. It gave me permission and the respect of my country to be recognised for who I am.

Terry and Paul said:

Gender recognition is important for a great deal of reasons. It is important because it gives us certainty. It protects us from those who may wish to question our gender identity.

Finally, David said:

Whether it is a new job or going to hospital, I am a woman in the eyes of the Lord now and that provides immeasurable comfort. Life is scary enough without feeling the constant need to prove and explain myself and my gender.

That crystallises for me many of the issues.

We know that the passage of the Gender Recognition Act in July 2015 was an important step in the history of gender equality and rights in Ireland. The law provides a transparent process for individuals who are over the age of 18 to self-determine their own gender. However, trans people will face high levels of discrimination, violence and stigmatism in the workplace, schools, in the community, within families and within homes. That is the reality of it. It is important the Government enshrines the rights of all people in law and policy. I am sure our society is a fairer one, a more compassionate one and a more just one. That, surely, is the job of Members of the Oireachtas.

Legal recognition is the cornerstone of identify. A number of people said that to me yesterday and that continues to resonate. I spoke of the right to be authentic. Surely it is everyone's right to be authentic and to be able to live and express themselves, regardless of age or gender.

I want to leave a few thoughts with the Minister. I call on the Government and, effectively, the Minister who has overall responsibility in this area, to act. The Minister should conduct a comprehensive review of the Gender Recognition Act, as stipulated in the two-year clause in conjunction with all the key stakeholders. He should ensure that trans young people are provided with a pathway to legal recognition. The equality legislation should be reviewed to ensure it explicitly protects and provides for protection under the Equal Status Act 2000. Comprehensive hate crime legislation should be introduced to ensure the protection of individuals based on gender identity and gender expression. Trans people are often targeted as the subjects of violence, abuse and harassment as a result of their identity.

It is important the Minister issues clearer guidelines and supports in the education system to addresses and combats homophobic and transphobic bullying in the schools and colleges. We need to allocate additional funding to the HSE to ensure the appropriate delivery of trans health care and transition-related services. We need to support gender inclusive mental health and suicide prevention initiatives, services and campaigns. That is a very important issue. In regard to the Minister for Education and Skills, we need to focus on talking to those in schools about how programmes can be rolled out in terms of educating and supporting people.

This is very important legislation. It has been a struggle for people who, for years, have had to endure this. Last night, I had the opportunity in the self-service canteen of Leinster House to meet a number of people who travelled here yesterday to meet politicians. I could not but be moved by how courageous, brave, committed and determined they were. There have been many setbacks on this issue. A lot hinges on the Minister and on his reforming zeal, his commitment to deliver, and on his track record and commitment to deal with equality issues. I hope he will able to share with us today some good news or bring us some news of the Government's position. Is it going to oppose this legislation? I hope not, but if it is, I would like the Minister to explain why.

I will wrap up by saying that as I left a number of people yesterday evening in this House, I was conscious that they were filled with hope and expectation that their time had arrived and that we as legislators were going to deliver for them.

I hope we will not let them down or disappoint them and that they will leave here today with their heads higher than they were when they came in.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is another extraordinarily significant day for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community in our country. I assure Senator Boyhan that the Oireachtas is always serious in bringing about gargantuan change, as it was in 2015. It is important that we pay tribute to the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, and welcome its members who are in the Visitors Gallery. As Leader, I am very happy to facilitate the passage of this Bill and to have it debated this afternoon in the House. This affects people's quality of life. It sends a message and ensures the message is heard not just in the confines of Leinster House but across the Irish community and internationally. Last week, I had the pleasure of travelling through parts of the United States of America with Sam Blanckensee from TENI. The visibility and power of his message could not but resonate with members of different LGBT organisations who were in many ways looking to us for leadership. We have seen extraordinary leadership in TENI. I pay tribute to its former chief executive, Broden, who has gone to new pastures.

To put this debate in context one needs to picture a 14 year old boy wanting to attend an all boys secondary school, with parental support, and not being able to do so. That is happening today in our country and it cannot be allowed to continue. I am fond of quoting Maslow, we must allow people reach their full potential. We all know about the struggle with depression and mental health problems that affects the quality of life of people in the trans community, and this is not just research on paper. We need to lift that veil and become that voice. I know people in my party, such as Claire Farrell, who have brought a new lease of life and understanding through the personal testimony of the lived life. This Bill is personal and the change or review concerns life. It is not a theoretical Ph.D. study. It is the quality of life of many of the people in our gallery and people watching here this afternoon.

This morning Senator Norris,Senator Warfield and I met the Russian ambassador. One could not but be disheartened at his lack of understanding or appreciation, or perhaps he was playing the old KGB spy in just obfuscating and denying, but it was incredible to watch his performance. That is why people like the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, can make change that can send a message internationally, as in 2015, that our country in many different ways is concerned with progress, international good practice and human rights. We can make a difference. We can change rights and bring in entitlements and ensure that all people can live to their full potential. Senator Warfield in his fine speech and Senator Norris in his remarks have touched on many issues that I will not go into. It is important to have an independent review, that we have a panel that reviews the Gender Recognition Act 2015 that includes members of TENI or the transgender community. That is an imperative. I will be asking the Minister to put in place people who come with lived experience and who can speak as a voice for the community.

That is why it is good that this debate is taking place in the Seanad because here there is not that quintessential critical adversarial tone that comes with a Bill like this. We have met people. I am struck that we do not necessarily have figures for the number of people we need to speak to but equally, last week, I was struck by the number of young trans people in the United States who were being forced to leave home with nowhere to go. I have asked myself is it the same here. How do we as a State and society look after, support and work with our trans community? The issue of self-determination for those younger than 16 has been spoken about. Just as early intervention is important in education, this Bill concerns the child identifying in their preferred gender at an early age and being able to live a full and wholesome life, which is important.

This is important legislation. Senator Humphreys was the Minister of State in the previous Government who drove it and did so in a spirit of co-operation with all of us. The TENI briefing document for this Bill should not be just put on a shelf to be admired but we should work to see if we can implement it in its totality. I was struck by the words of a mother at a conference in Waterford organised by Vanessa in TENI who spoke of the heartache and turmoil in their house prior to their daughter making a transition. When the family accepted and was willing to embrace that new life the house was transformed. I have spoken to members of TENI, friends of mine, people whom I have worked with for years and seen the powerful impact of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 on their stories, their lived experience. We saw it in the political parties and the previous Government. We need to see it with the bureaucrats, whether the Civil Service or the Health Service Executive, HSE, who can make a difference and move from denial, obfuscation or confusion to acceptance. I often use that word. There is a need for us to recognise that we have a journey to travel. We have made a huge transition. We have a powerful presence in the world because of our legislation. I hope that we can join with TENI and others in advocating the human rights of all citizens.

I thank the Minister for his willingness to co-operate in this Bill. I commend Senators Warfield and Norris on the Bill. It is an important day. I hope the House will not divide on this. We have started a job and, as Senator Butler said, we must put the roof on the house.

I offer heartfelt thanks to Senator Warfield for taking the initiative and putting the work into this important step towards full equality in gender recognition. His eloquence and dedication in this matter are a testament to himself, his party and the cause. I am most delighted to have been asked to co-sign and second this Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017 with the father of the House, Senator Norris, and its initiator, the youngest Member of the Seanad, Senator Warfield.

As a member of the Green Party and of the civil engagement group, which is supporting me today, it is my duty and privilege to add my voice to those calling for greater freedom. The passing of the Gender Recognition Act 2015, by the previous Government, was a major step forward in the modernisation of Ireland and the creation of a fairer and more pluralistic society. It ended the 22 year struggle of Dr. Lydia Foy to get legal recognition of her true identity and has since made a major contribution to the lives of transgender people in our country. The Act had other practical effects. Legislation can affect the lives of citizens in ways other than administrative or legal ones. It can be an indicator of social change, of acceptance, understanding and new realities.

The best example of this in Ireland was seen in 2015, when a large majority supported marriage equality for all our citizens. I have seen the effects that legal changes such as marriage equality and the Gender Recognition Act 2015 have had on people. I am thinking in particular of young people who always struggle to find their place in the world as they undergo the complex transition to adulthood, which is never easy. Laws can help to change perceptions, validate experiences and reflect changing norms in society. This is not their primary aim, but it is an important side-effect.

Dr. Martin Luther King suggested that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice". As we observe some of the hate spewed by extremist parties across Europe, watch the President of the United States display such pride in his ignorance and see basic human rights continuing to be threatened in many countries, it is sometimes hard to believe the progress we have made in freeing people from cruel and needless oppression is quite fragile. We have been hearing about horrific abuses of gay men in Chechnya, ranging from confinement in camps to Chechen Government calls for families to kills their own sons and brothers in the name of the avoidance of shame. The values of progress, tolerance and acceptance are hard fought for and must be equally robustly defended. We must continue to bend the arc of the moral universe towards progress. That is what we are here to do today.

One of the central principles of this Bill is that those affected by the existing legislation - mainly young transgender people and non-binary people - are best placed to decide what is good for them. This Bill has the support of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, which has assisted in its drafting and advised on its development. It is great to see representatives of the network present in the Gallery today.

I mentioned earlier the complex and constant difficulties of growing up for all people. Some people have raised concerns about allowing young transgender people under the age of 18 to decide their own fate. This ignores the evidence and lived experiences of people like Dylan, who is here today. He was brave enough to talk to the Oireachtas delegation at the briefing for this Bill in the AV room yesterday. I have to commend Dylan's mother, who spoke very powerfully as the mother of a transgender person. Dylan told us about the continuing discomfort caused by the big and small obstacles placed in his way in school and elsewhere as he has sought to become the male person he has always known himself to be. This is not a teenage fad or a whim; this is his life.

In my former life in Greenpeace, I had the privilege of knowing other transgender people who grew up in a previous generation. They are living full and fruitful lives, but the process of coming out was neither simple nor early for them. Some of them delayed that process for decades because of doubts and anxieties. We also heard yesterday from Sam, who is also here today, a person who does not feel comfortable being assigned entirely to either of the two prevalent genders. Sam described the difficulties faced on a regular basis in airports, workplace environments and elsewhere. We also heard about the consequences that dysphoria has had for Sam's mental health.

This Bill can help to improve the situation by removing some of the practical difficulties faced by Dylan, Sam and others. It is not an end solution; it is part of the process. The Government will be reviewing the operation of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 this September. The amendments provided for in this Bill will enable it to take account of a broader and better view of the needs of the communities. I welcome the indication of Government support we have heard from the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. I also welcome the start of a nationwide public consultation on the needs of young LGBTI people in Ireland in advance of the national strategy later this year. I hope everyone else who contributes to this debate will join the Minister in this spirit of positive engagement as we work to ensure all children of the nation of Ireland are cherished equally.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is great to have him here in his current capacity. Given what his next capacity might be, it is good to have an opportunity to air our opinions with him. I acknowledge the presence of various campaigners, including representatives of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, in the Gallery.

It was interesting to listen to the comments of Senator Butler earlier in this debate. When I was a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection in the last Oireachtas, we were not expecting to be asked to deal with gender recognition legislation. One would imagine that such a Bill would be an equality measure, but it turns out that it is a social protection measure. I think it would be reasonable to suggest that the officials with whom the then Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, and the then Minister of State, Senator Kevin Humphreys, worked on that Bill were not used to working in this sphere on an equality measure that would benefit the lives of so many people in Ireland. At the time, a number of members of the joint committee scratched their heads and asked why they were dealing with this matter. It was a social protection measure because it was about registering one's identity.

It was fascinating to watch the process evolve during that period. Senator Butler might have admitted that he was one of the many people who came from a certain perspective on this issue because they were not used to dealing with it. Indeed, they did not even have the language to deal with it. Much of the language that one must get used to using in this whole area is very sensitive. One can offend somebody gratuitously without realising it. During the period in question, we watched people from different political perspectives come to the conclusion that it was a good and ground-breaking Bill. I think it was one of the first Bills of this kind to be introduced by any Government across Europe. Although we realised that it should probably go further, we went with it and it was passed. We felt at the time that it was a good day's work.

I want to join others in congratulating Senators Warfield and Norris for bringing this Bill before the House. I genuinely think Senator Warfield's speech, in which he set out what this is really all about, will go down in the annals of the history of standing up for LGBT rights in these Houses over the ages.

The Labour Party absolutely supports this Bill. Rather than going over the issues that have already been raised, I would like to take a moment to reflect on how far we have come. Twenty years ago, it would have been almost impossible to imagine that a conversation like this would happen in a political sense, that there would be very little political opposition to this type of measure and, with the best will in the world, that we would all want this type of legislation and the changes in it to be supported.

I would like to raise a few issues with the Minister while he is here, in the first instance by picking up on a point made by Senator Buttimer. While I understand the need for somebody to have recognition of their true identity, I sometimes wonder why we make it even more difficult for people in this situation by having such a gender-conscious society. For example, why are we still obsessed with having boys' and girls' schools? I mention education because it is very much a State-run institution. Maybe we should have a longer conversation on why it is so important to separate children and young people on the basis of gender. It should not be important. In fact, it leads to gender stereotypes. There is no real reason behind it. There is no educational reason behind it. I know that is another discussion for another day, but having to participate in such a gender-orientated education system does not make it easier for a young trans person trying to live in Irish society.

I would like to refer to an issue that I have brought to the Minister's attention previously. I know he is aware of it, but I will raise it again. A young trans man, Noah Halpin, has come to my attention. I am working with this gentleman. He is finding it easier to get gender recognition of himself as a trans man than to get his name changed. It is frustrating for him that he has spent two years waiting for his name to be formally recognised as Noah as opposed to the name he was given as a child. It is particularly difficult for him to go through the process of constantly having to revert to his given name. While we may achieve things in legislation that can make it easier for somebody to change their gender identity in a formal sense, we do not allow them the same ease of transition in changing their names. I think this is something that genuinely needs to be addressed.

I will finish my comments because everything I wanted to say has already been said.

We have made significant advances in this sphere, and Senator Buttimer referred to this. Over the past number of years, the Employment Equality Act has changed the chilling effect for LGBT teachers. In the education sphere we have had the compulsory anti-transphobic and anti-homophobic bullying legislation and the Gender Recognition Act which Senator Humphreys drove through the Oireachtas. The Child and Family Relationships Act has been passed and we have marriage equality.

Sometimes, there is sense that as the focus of public debate moves on to another area, we can become complacent about where we are with LGBT rights and assume that these rights will always be with us and will always be enhanced. It is only when Senators like Senator Warfield stand up and point at the deficiencies in the Bill that we can come back together again. We can never take for granted the rights that have been hard-won by people like Senator Norris. We need to consider what is happening in the United States, and the mentality of the Vice President, Mike Pence, who is a powerful man in America. The situation in Chechnya was mentioned. The meeting with the Russian ambassador today was, I am led to believe, pretty pointless because he had a total disregard for what Senator Buttimer said.

He gave as good as he got.

I am quite sure he was on the receiving end of some very tough talk. The point is that we always assume we are getting more progressive, things will always get better, we will always be more progressive and enlightened and that legislation will always become more liberal. That is not always the case. We have to be very mindful of that. I again congratulate Senator Humphreys and Deputy Joan Burton for driving this issue through the last Dáil.

I congratulate the members of the committee who were willing to have their perspectives on this changed and go with the Bill as it was. I thank Members of the House who were open-minded enough to meet the representatives and organisations and support the Bill. None of us can in any way be complacent about this agenda - I know Senator Warfield is not.

While we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come in such a short space of time, we need to look around the world and realise that while we may perhaps be a guiding light now, there will always be forces trying to bring us back. I again thank Senators Warfield and Norris and the Minister. I wish to repeat that there is a difficulty with changing one's name officially. Our obsession with gender-based education has to be challenged.

The Minister can, at any time if he wishes, make a contribution. I am sure he will indicate when he wishes to do so.

I welcome everyone to the House and congratulate my colleague, Senator Warfield, on bringing the Bill before the House. I also want to thank Independent Senators Norris and Grace O'Sullivan for co-signing the Bill.

This is a human rights issue, but I want to discuss the Bill from the perspective of mental health and well-being on the island, for which I am Sinn Féin spokesperson. I have lengthy experience as a psychiatric nurse in Ireland. The LGBT Ireland study found that LGBTI people are still suffering and struggling with their mental health. While some great work has been done, such as the marriage equality referendum and gender recognition for those aged over 18 years, we are not quite there yet.

As I said earlier, we dedicated a tree of hope in the grounds of Leinster House to those lost to us and struggling with mental health difficulties. We need to recognise the LGBT community and the impact negativity has had on their well-being. Senator Ó Ríordáin has pointed to how well we have done in this country, but that we need to be very mindful of how easy world trends or trends in Ireland can reverse what we would see as a period of enlightenment.

In the next couple of months I will help to represent a 14-year old transgender person before the Equality Commission. He was refused service in his local shop due to the fact he was not seen as representative of the clientele the shop wanted. He tried to buy a bottle of Lucozade in a normal shop. We still have a long way to go in educating and including some parts of our society.

A lot of work needs to be done to support GPs in the understanding of transgender issues. I encourage the Minister to consider this.

The Bill brings us closer to an island that fosters well-being in its LGBTI community and among us all. The Bill will help to challenge the misconceptions around transgender and non-binary issues that negatively impact on young transgender and non-binary people.

The LGBT Ireland report found that one in three members of the general public do not believe that a young person can know she is LGBTI at the age of 12, yet the most common age for trans people to be aware of their identity was 12 years of age. The Bill would recognise and respect the true experience of transgender and non-binary young people by respecting their knowledge of themselves at an early stage and reflecting this knowledge in documentation.

We know from research that having one's identity accepted by others is a positive factor in LGBT well-being. The Bill extends this recognition to younger people. We also know that progress in the LGBT community creates positive impacts on the well-being of others and, if enacted, the Bill will positively impact on the school and travel experiences of young transgender and non-binary people which, in turn, will have a positive impact on their mental health.

It was not too long ago that gay or transgender people were incarcerated and put through corrective programmes in our psychiatric hospitals. We have come a long way, but that does not make us complacent. We need to continue to stand up for rights in general and, in particular, the rights referred to in the Bill. There is no doubt that if it is enacted it will have a significant positive impact on young transgender people.

I urge every Member of the House to support the Bill. We are going from a situation where it was felt something was an ailment that needed to be cured to one where there is celebration, pride and acceptance, which is necessary to support all of our young transgender people.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and our guests from TENI, in particular Dylan and Kirsty who spoke so movingly and lovingly to us yesterday in the audiovisual room during the briefing on the Bill. I am delighted to support it and commend Senators Warfield, Norris and Grace O'Sullivan for bringing it forward. Senator Grace O'Sullivan is my colleague in the Civil Engagement group.

I know from speaking to young people in recent days that their everyday lives are impeded by a number of practical difficulties. There are issues in terms of obtaining passports and denial and foot dragging from schools, all of which directly affects people's lives. I am aware that the LGBT study launched by former President, Mary McAleese, last year found that when compared with the wider population lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people had twice the level of self-harm, three times the level of attempted suicide and four times the level of severe stress, anxiety and depression than others. If for no other reason, those mental health issues are why today's Bill is so important.

I would like to put on the record some of the correspondence I received on the issue because the words I received from other people speak more powerfully than I ever could. One citizen emailed me to say:

I wish there was a means by which I could express how much Bills like this affect my life. Bills such as this let people like me know there is light at the end of the tunnel and that if we keep reaching, keep trying, we will live in a world where people who accept us are the majority and that we won't be considered weird or ill or crazy. Bills like this mean that one day, when I come out to my parents, even if they don't get it or don't understand it, they will still accept it, accept me, accept that I am their daughter but I am sometimes their son and sometimes their child. Bills like this allow us just to live.

Another person said:

I am a non-binary transgender person marginalised in both general society and in my queer community. This is a state-sponsored and legitimised discrimination because of my utter exclusion from the Gender Recognition Act as it stands. The law is supposed to be for the just morality that a population strives for, a guiding force for progress. This is not how it currently stands. You can help fix that.

We can help fix it today. The calls to fix the law have not only come from young transgender people. Youth leaders like the current President of the Trinity College Student Union, Kieran McNulty, have said that young people in Ireland should not have to wait until they are 18 to declare who they really are. He says we need to give 16 and 17 year olds the opportunity to self-declare and legally declare their gender.

There is no doubt that we have made phenomenal, unimaginable progress on LGBT issues over the last decade but more needs to be done. We should not rest until we have full equality and inclusion for our LGBT brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. Passing this Bill will send a positive, reaffirming message to our young transgender, queer, non-binary or gender fluid citizens. Rejecting it will do the opposite. I ask the Minister to set out in the response the timeline and process for the required review of the Act. It would be useful for us to have a sense of what that is. In conclusion, we must trust and listen in general to young people. We need to empower and enable them to live life to its full promise. For that reason, I urge everyone to support the Bill.

Before calling the next speaker, I welcome the Athleague Active Retirement Group to the Gallery.

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as bheith linn inniu don díospóireacht agus don phlé stairiúil, tábhachtach agus suntasach seo. I thank the Minister for being in the House today for the debate. Sitting here, I have found the discussion insightful, useful and representative of the Seanad at its best. It is at its best in engagements and discussions like this. Hopefully, we can act as a forum for the rest of Ireland to have similar discussions and to learn and hear about the experiences of our transgender and non-binary citizens. It has been a very positive event. Other contributors have already said it should not only be that. We should not be coming to the House merely to pay lip service to the issue. I do not believe anyone is doing that.

In my short time in the Seanad, two of the most positive discussions I have witnessed were this one and the recent debate on the Bill to lower the voting age to 16. While we did not win the day on that occasion, it was a very worthwhile engagement back and forth. I note graciously the remarks of Senator Norris, but both discussions resulted from Senator Fintan Warfield coming to the House. He has been a champion since entering the Chamber of the rights of children, and young people and LGBT people. As a result, he has simply been a champion for the rights of people. If we are not champions for the rights of people in the Seanad, we should consider what our role here is. That has been greatly manifested by Senator Warfield throwing down the challenge and gauntlet to us. Very willingly, we have accepted it on this occasion and are running with it.

Like other Members, I was voting in the Chamber yesterday and was unable to attend what I understand was a very powerful event in the AV room to brief Senators on the issue. I thank the representatives from various organisations in the Gallery or watching online for affording us the opportunity to hear those real lived experiences as we have moved forward with the Bill. I hope we can move forward as my colleague, Senator Kelleher, said without any undue delay or frustration of this important legislation.

Senator Boyhan used a powerful word when he talked about "authenticity" and the purpose of the Bill being about the authentic identity and life of those it is intended to have an impact on. I share the sentiment expressed by Senator Boyhan. The Bill has the opportunity to be transformative. I say that with a deep appreciation of what we can do as legislators in the Seanad and as an Oireachtas. I do not say it to be glib. Like others, I come to this institution to try to be transformative and to live up to the challenge and needs of citizens regardless of who they are. While it has been outlined in a much better and extensive way than I could hope to do it, the experience of transgender and non-binary people out there has not always been positive. We should try to be positive today and to look at the legislation as a transformative way to send a message to those citizens which says they are cherished, appreciated and that we are working with them, thinking of them and trying to improve their quality of life as well as that of their families and other loved ones. That is the purpose of today's debate.

As I came in and as Senator Warfield spoke to our team about the Bill, it appeared to me to be a no-brainer. The Bill had to be moved. The Proclamation is the bedrock of my political ideology and what I do when I enter this institution, when I entered Belfast City Hall in a previous life and when I visit a business or meet with whoever. The Proclamation states clearly:

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally [.]

Sometimes, that is in danger of losing its impact. Sometimes, we repeat it ad nauseam. However, we should never forget the impact and power of those words and what they are about. We are not there yet, but today is, hopefully, about moving us to a position where we get to that realisation and make those words a reality. Those words are not qualified. They do not say we want religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities for particular people, they guarantee them for all. If we are serious about realising those words for people across the board, today is part and parcel of the journey. We are on the right track and have put our best foot forward. We must then put the next foot ahead. With the support of Members and the leadership of the Minister, we can surely do it.

Like others, I must begin with compliments. First, I compliment Senator Fintan Warfield for the long and thoughtful process he has put into bringing the legislation forward. It is part of a very strong commitment by him to looking at how best he can use his time in the Chamber to make a real difference to people's lives. I compliment him and his co-signers, Senators David Norris and, my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, both of whom are extremely committed to the issue also. It is also important to compliment and recognise the work of the former Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, and the former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, in bringing forward the original gender recognition legislation. It was very important and it set a strong and ambitious agenda. I also compliment them on the building in of a review. Building in that two-year review was a recognition that Ireland could move into this area knowing it would evolve and that new issues would emerge, namely, the exact issues identified by Senator Warfield.

I believe there was an element of foresight in that original legislation that gives us the opportunity to so smoothly and cleanly address these issues now. Of course, I compliment the social protection committee members who preceded me. I also compliment the members of TENI, BeLonG To and the many youth and student organisations that have been very active on this issue. I know that the Minister represents in Ireland a great point of encouragement and inspiration for many in the LGBTQI movement and advocacy internationally and for LGBTQI activists around the world who are often operating in situations of great difficulty.

This legislation identifies very well some of the key areas that we need to move towards. I will touch on the three areas very briefly because they are each important. The first is the need to look at the real gap in the legislation whereby between the ages of 16 and 18, young people who wish to have their true gender recognised have to go through what was described by a colleague as an "arduous process". Between the ages of 16 and 18 is a difficult time when people should be looking at their leaving certificate, their studies and all of the other challenges of transitioning to adulthood. Those young people who currently wish to be recognised through their chosen gender have to face in Ireland a huge set of logistical challenges, a set of obstacles and a journey through bureaucracy that nobody of that age should be put through. The lowering of the age to 16 for the receipt of a gender recognition certificate makes infinite sense.

Having sat on the social protection advisory committee and having previously worked with the National Women's Council of Ireland, I recognise how difficult it is for young people who might have graduated early from school to enter the social protection system, to enter employment or to enter college with one gender and then seek to have that recognition of gender changed midway through. People should always be able to enter that chapter of their lives with the identity that is true and authentic to themselves.

In terms of the question of recognition for those who are younger than 16, we need to be absolutely guided by the very wise advice of the Ombudsman for Children. The point was made eloquently by my colleague that young people themselves are the best deciders of the best interests of the child. Not only in terms of our international commitment to the rights of the child, but in terms of the decision we made as a nation to respect the rights of the child, the idea that we would have our children recognised, treated with respect and trusted in how they authentically identify themselves sends a very important signal. It helps them grow into adults who live their lives fully on their own terms. It is something that we can absolutely support.

It is also notable in the proposed legislation that we move to a situation in which children can engage with psychological services or medical services as a matter of support rather than as gatekeepers. We need to ensure that young people guide their own journeys. They must get any supports they wish to access. However, they must not feel that they are being put through any process of judgment or gatekeeping.

Lastly, I wish to focus on the part that I am very interested in. I believe it is one of the most important aspects of the legislation. It is the question of the provision of gender recognition to people who have a preferred gender that is not male or female - those who are non-binary. This is a crucial issue and it is missing piece of the puzzle for many people. To be able to say, "I do not identify as male or female and that is not where my identity sits", is vitally important for those who are non-binary. I want to raise another group for whom that is vitally important and for whom such a certificate or recognition would be vital. There are those who identify in this way as well as those who are intersex and who biologically have features that are both male and female. Currently, they are one of the groups most discriminated against.

As a member of the Council of Europe committee on equality and non-discrimination, we have been working over recent months on a report looking at the experience of intersex people right across Europe and looking at good legal practice in this area. We have heard quite harrowing testimonies from those who have been asked to have one part of their identity disregarded, those who have been forced through medical procedures, for example, which introduced early menopause because they were being pressed into one aspect and having another part of their biological identity repressed, and those who are socially being forced into a binary choice which requires them to deny part of who they are. That could be in terms of identity or biology. On the question of non-binary recognition, the idea that we would allow children, young people and adults to be who they are, live as who they are, not to fit themselves necessarily into a category and to again allow proper access to supports is very important.

I look forward to this Bill progressing. I very much welcome it. The review was mentioned and the request to ensure that the rights of non-binary persons are recognised is included in it. I encourage the Minister to recognise that this is an issue for both those who are non-binary in identity and those who are non-binary biologically. I believe that a certificate and access to recognition in that category would benefit all. I would be very happy to feed anything that may be useful in terms of other European practice into that review.

Ireland has been a leader in this area. It has been out there, pushed forward and shown the way. However, these debates are happening everywhere now. There are proposals in place. For example, there are reviews of legislation around intersex rights in France. There is new legislation in Norway. Australia has moved forward in terms of non-binary recognition. There is a positive wave that Ireland is part of. It is important to acknowledge, as the Leader of the House did, that there is also a regressive backlash from those who want to maintain some of the old categories and hierarchies that exist. It is important that Ireland continues to show that it is a part of the move forward. I welcome the fact that the Minister is here today and that he is seemingly supportive of the legislation. It is a very good opportunity for Ireland to continue leading the way.

I thank the Minister for being here. I will be very brief. I am very proud to be Irish today. I am delighted that I have held on to my dual citizenship in being American and Irish. I can tell the House that this discussion would not be taking place in the United States today because they are going backwards. That we are able to have this discussion on transgender people and on the rights of children is so important.

Let us not ever underestimate children, regardless of what age they are. I was watching a television programme the other night on this issue. What really struck me was that the young transgender girl told her mother when she was three years of age and the mother believed her. She is the most beautiful girl today and is so happy in herself. I was really overcome with emotion when I watched that programme and thought of what she would have gone through. That we in this country of Ireland are able to discuss these issues is a credit to everyone.

I would like to thank the organisations and the transgender people here today. I am so proud of them. I am proud of Ireland and of what we are doing. I am proud of the legislators here as well. When I see the likes of young Fintan - sorry, Senator Fintan Warfield, I am the old guy - and others discussing this in such a very humane and rational manner, I concur with all of the speakers here today. I congratulate everyone involved. I look forward to this legislation progressing.

I want to start by thanking Senator Warfield, Senator Norris - Monsieur Thénardier du Sénat - and Senator Grace O'Sullivan for tabling this Bill on gender recognition. I welcome the opportunity to engage with the House on the issues contained in this important Bill. I join with colleagues in congratulating Senator Warfield on what I believe was a very fine speech on introducing his Bill today.

I join Senators in welcoming all those in the Visitors Gallery who have joined us for the debate.

I acknowledge the real progress made in this area in recent years. It is fair to say Ireland now has one of the most progressive legislative frameworks for affirming the rights of people who want to have their preferred choice of gender recognised. Senator Billy Lawless made a valid contribution in which he reminded us of the extent to which things in most of the world were not what they were here. In many parts of the world, whether in Russia or Turkey, they are even moving backwards.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of Senator Kevin Humphreys who was Minister for State in my Department with responsibility for this legislation, to which he committed an enormous amount of energy during the time he worked in Aras Mhic Diarmada.

The Gender Recognition Act 2015 introduced a self-declaration model for applicants aged over 18 years. It also provided a route to recognition for 16 and 17-year olds with parental consent, supported by medical opinions. Applications for gender recognition certificates can be made to my Department. Where a gender recognition certificate is issued, the person's preferred gender is formally and legally recognised for all purposes, including in all dealings with the State, public bodies and commerce. To give an indication of the level of uptake, the number of certificates granted since the provisions of the Act took effect in September 2015 amounts to 230. Of this figure, 221 were granted to applicants over the age of 18 years and nine to applicants aged 16 or 17 years. A review of the operation of the Act will commence later this year and I am pleased to inform the House that officials in my Department are making arrangements to initiate the review as soon as possible.

The current system provides for a person to change his or her preferred gender from male to female or female to male. A gender recognition certificate can currently only be issued with a gender of male or female. I am well aware that there are people who do not identify as either male or female. Section 2 of the Bill seeks to ensure the possibility of providing legal gender recognition for non-binary persons will be considered in the review of the Act. This is a complex issue which will have to be considered fully. It is fair to say it is uncharted waters for us, legislatively; therefore, we cannot say what the legal and other implications might be, but it was agreed that the issue would be dealt with as part of the review. When the Gender Recognition Bill passed through the Houses, Senator Kevin Humphreys, in his role as Minister of State, gave a commitment that it would be considered as part of the review. I am happy to restate his commitment.

Section 3 of the Bill provides for the age at which someone may apply for a gender recognition certificate, by way of self-determination, to be reduced from 18 years to 16. Currently, only those aged 18 years and over can apply. Those aged 16 and 17 years must apply through the courts with supporting medical opinions, although it does not require medical treatment per se. There is currently no provision in the Act for those aged under 16 years.

Section 4 of the Bill will allow applications to the court for a gender recognition certificate in the case of children aged under 16 years and no lower age limit is specified. The section further provides that such applications will not need to be accompanied by supporting statements from the child's treating medical practitioner and-or an independent medical practitioner. I am aware that there are a range of issues to consider in this area; therefore, we should proceed with caution. The current legislative provisions relating to age were carefully considered. They apply significant safeguards that seek to balance the rights of children with the need to protect their interests at a vulnerable age. Research in this area is evolving and I consider it appropriate that the matter be explored in further depth in the upcoming review of the Act. Given the child welfare issues involved, I must be guided by my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. As Senators may know, following passage of the 2015 Act I wrote to her requesting that her Department undertake research in the area of gender recognition for children to help us to inform future policy. She has replied and is engaging in a consultation process with relevant NGOs and young children on the issue. I look forward to the outcome of the consultations.

As I mentioned, my Department will undertake a review of the Gender Recognition Act this year as provided for in section 7 of the Act. The review will commence by September and officials of my Department are undertaking preparatory work. We expect the findings and conclusions of the review to be presented to the Oireachtas not later than September 2018. I again confirm that the position of persons who are non-binary will be considered as part of the review, as will that of 16 and 17-year olds and younger children.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members for their contributions. I again recognise Senators Fintan Warfield, David Norris and Grace O'Sullivan for introducing the Bill. I look forward to examining the issues set out in it as we advance the review in the coming months. Consequently, the Government will not oppose the passage of the Bill on Second Stage.

I thank the Minister for his statement.

I thank the 13 other Senators who spoke. They were Senators David Norris, Ray Butler, Catherine Ardagh, Victor Boyhan, Jerry Buttimer, Grace O'Sullivan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Máire Devine, Colette Kelleher, Niall Ó Donghaile, Alice-Mary Higgins and Billy Lawless.

I apologise to the members of the trans community who came to observe the debate but could not be facilitated in the Visitors Gallery, which is a shame. I can see that the Press Gallery is empty. Members of the press do not really cover the proceedings of this House. It would be good, therefore, if we could amend the rules to allow us use the space available in the Press Gallery for guests.

Hear, hear.

My guests are sitting in my party's room.

I thank Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh for bringing forward legislation in Private Members' time. I also thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, who, as a Senator, also brought forward legislation in Private Members' time. I join Senators in acknowledging the former Minister of State, Senator Kevin Humphreys, and Deputy Joan Burton who played their part in progressing this legislation.

I note that Senator Gerard P. Craughwell was unable to be here today. He was deeply disappointed that he was unable to co-sign the Bill, although I had committed to work with Senator David Norris and also Senator Grace O'Sullivan of the Green Party.

Senator David Norris has mentioned that trans people and young LGB people between the ages of seven and 12 years come to terms with their identity and sexuality. We know, however, that the majority come out closer to 21 years of age. That means that there is a gap of up to 14 years which young people spend in silence. This legislation will go some way towards aiding them.

Senator Jerry Buttimer mentioned statistics and the public space the referendum on civil marriage equality occupied in comparison with the issue of gender recognition on which many of the people seated in the Visitors Gallery lobbied in silence. The statistics - I guess they are the latest available figures - show that there have been around 500 civil marriage registrations compared and that only 150 gender recognition certificates have been issued.

I listened to Senator Grace O'Sullivan talk about how laws could help to change perceptions. Senator Jerry Buttimer mentioned this morning that, with Senator David Norris and I, he had met the Russian ambassador who seemed entirely ignorant of the ability of laws to change perceptions in society. Senator Grace O'Sullivan also mentioned how this was not a fad for young people but their life. It was a real pleasure and privilege to listen to Kirsty and Dylan at the briefing yesterday. I thank them for coming both yesterday and today. After the briefing I mentioned to Dylan that I had come out publicly at a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis when I was 16 years old. I said I had done so because I had felt there was a political imperative to do so. I do not think there is a political imperative to do so any more. I believe that by speaking out someone like Dylan will ensure another trans young person will not have to do so in the future, just like Dr. Lydia Foy did previously.

By speaking out, someone like Dylan will ensure that another young person who is transgender will not have to do what Lydia Foy did earlier. Today LGBT rights moves forward. It has moved forward because people took a stand and risked their lives to say enough was enough. It moved forward because of the actions of those who overcame criminalisation in some cases and who overcame transgender phobia. It moved forward because of people such as Lydia Foy, a well known transgender woman whose 22-year struggle in the public interest led essentially to where we stand today.

It struck me that the political imperative that Dylan felt to speak out at yesterday's briefing and to be present today will no longer be felt by young transgender people in the coming months and years. In my opening speech I said that the transgender community has never let the State down. It is with significant pride that I listened to all of the contributions from Senators today. I thank the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and the Government which did not let down transgender people today.

I thank all the Senators for their support and for their good wishes.

I thank Senator Warfield.

On a point of order, some Senators present in the Chamber were supporting Senator Warfield but may not have spoken.

I agree with Senator O'Donnell.

Before we conclude let me welcome the pupils and teachers from St. Kieran's national school in Fuerty, County Roscommon, who are guests of Senator Leyden. They are very welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 16 May 2017.
Sitting suspended at 3.45 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.