Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children Robert Troy has welcomed a significant proposed change in law for unmarried fathers.

The Minister for Justice has today published the General Scheme of Children and Family Relationships Bill for consultation.

The provisions of the legislation include extending automatic guardianship to non-marital fathers who cohabit for a specified period with the child’s mother and it would allow step-parents, civil partners and those living with the biological parent for a specified period to obtain guardianship and/or custody.

Deputy Troy said: “I have been calling for enhanced rights for non-married fathers for some time now. This draft legislation is very significant and proposals fundamental change to the legal standing in families. I strongly welcome the provisions outlined by Minister Shatter today and will be hugely beneficial for grandparents as well. Under the draft plan published today it would make it easier for grandparents and relatives to maintain contact with a child in the event of relationship breakdown.

“The extension of automatic guardianship rights to fathers is extremely important in my view. As this legislation is development I want the Government to ensure it is child-centred and ‘children proofed’. The rights and protections for children must be paramount in this legislation and I look forward having it debated in full before the Oireachtas. Fianna Fáil will be engaging fully in this process. I note Minister Shatter has said he would like to see these proposals become law before the end of the year. I fully support this move and I believe is it essential that this legislation is debated in full and the Oireachtas is afforded the necessary time to examine the proposals to ensure this law is a strong as it needs to be to protect all involved.”