On Friday 1st September 2017, Dr Lydia Bracken of the School of Law convened a conference on Contemporary Issues in Family Formation. The conference was funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Scheme, Strand 4: Knowledge exchange for impact. Strand 4 of the IRC New Foundations Scheme is designed to enhance the impact internationally of Irish research through knowledge exchange. The conference was held in the Analog Devices Building, University of Limerick.
The conference was designed as a knowledge-exchange event to share perspectives and expertise on issues and challenges facing “non-traditional” families in Ireland and to identify best practice for any future reform of Irish law. It was an inter-disciplinary conference addressing legal issues, social challenges and health and social care considerations. Over 100 people registered to attend the conference. The attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds and included legal practitioners, healthcare professionals, representatives of NGOs, parents and prospective parents, academics, students, and many more.
Following introductions from Professor Ray Friel and Dr Lydia Bracken, the morning session commenced with four papers examining various issues arising in assisted reproduction. In this session, Professor Jonathan Herring, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, presented on the topic of mitochondrial donation and the allocation of parenthood; Professor Deirdre Madden, School of Law, University College Cork, spoke about the regulation of surrogacy and the possibilities for future Irish legislation; Dr Lydia Bracken, School of Law, University of Limerick, examined the assessment of the best interests of the child in assisted reproduction; and Dr Lucy Blake, Faculty of Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University, presented the findings of a study conducted on the experiences of gay father families formed through surrogacy. The afternoon session concentrated on issues relating to LGBT parenting, the Marriage Equality Referendum and non-marital couples in Ireland. Dr Conor O’Mahony, School of Law, University College Cork, examined the arguments made about surrogacy during the Marriage Equality Referendum debates and examined the constitutional validity of such arguments; Moninne Griffith, Executive Director of BeLonGTo spoke about the legal position of LGBT families in Ireland and the remaining challenges facing such families; and Dr Fergus Ryan, Department of Law, Maynooth University, addressed issues concerning non-marital families in contemporary Ireland.
The conference provided much thoughtful debate and discussion on possible future developments in child and family law in Ireland and allowed for networking and connections to be made between a number of interested stakeholders.