A group that represents the families of Irish children born through surrogacy has called comments from the Minister for Health on international surrogacy "shocking" and "upsetting".
Stephen Donnelly made the comments in the Seanad on Wednesday.
The Minister was addressing the Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Bill, which aims to ensure In vitro fertilization (IVF), Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and other areas of fertility research are conducted in a more regulated fashion.
The Committee on International Surrogacy has been set up to consider the inclusion of international surrogacy in the AHR Bill, and it was given a timeframe of 12 weeks to conclude this work.
Mr Donnelly has been criticised by advocacy groups and members of the committee after he appeared to suggest it was delaying the AHR Bill.
“[The AHR bill] has been years in the making, it’s urgently required, regardless of international surrogacy, it’s urgently required for people in Ireland,” said Mr Donnelly.
"We need to regulate this sector domestically. It’s at committee, and it has been paused. I was asked to stop it for several months, I’ve stopped it for several months. But I’m very keen that we get going with the AHR bill quickly.”
He also suggested a separate Bill would be needed for international surrogacy.
Sara Byrne, of Irish Families Through Surrogacy, told BreakingNews.ie that these comments had caused huge distress to families who have had children through surrogacy.
"You name it, obviously disappointment, anger, shock to be honest that so much work has gone into getting to this point. The committee progressing so well, everyone was so shocked that Mr Donnelly made those comments.
"At this stage we've all been given so much hope that finally our children will be recognised as equal citizens here, and will have equal legal rights for both their parents. The thought of that hope being taken away is hugely upsetting. It's been a difficult few days."
Hugely disappointing statements from @DonnellyStephen yesterday in the Seanad. We are appalled at the lack of commitment and urgency to protect our Irish children and legislate appropriately for surrogacy both international and domestic. As our private requests have been ignored pic.twitter.com/6i2KBG7rugAdvertisement
— Irish Families Through Surrogacy (@IrishFamiliesTS) June 2, 2022
She pointed out that Micheál Martin commissioned research into surrogacy as far back as 2001, when he was Minister for Health.
Ms Byrne added that the AHR Bill was first issued in 2017, and that Mr Donnelly's claims that the surrogacy committee was delaying it were "completely disingenuous".
She commended the work of the Senators and TDs on the committee, "we've been so heartened by how committed they've been to getting the work done in the timeframe".
"Then for Minister Donnelly to turn around and basically say it's holding up the whole show is just completely disingenuous, it's not based on fact at all, and it's just a shock as to where it's come from, it seems he's misinformed or confused at where he's coming from."
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore is chairing the surrogacy committee and Ms Byrne said she felt the Department of Health were "dismissive, and basically said there was no place for international surrogacy within the AHR Bill".
Committee members first tried to organise a meeting with Mr Donnelly in March, and received a reply five weeks later.
"When you have a timeframe of 12 weeks to get the work done and when you're getting a reply over a month later it's not very helpful. He hasn't really engaged at all with the committee."
Ms Byrne, whose daughter was born through surrogacy, said it is very distressing for parents who are trying to secure rights for their families.
It's just heartbreaking, it really is.
"Our children are growing up before our eyes and every year that passes you just hope and pray the right thing will be done, but this kind of behaviour, kicking the can down the road it seems, you do start to lose hope. So many families have gone public with their stories, including hugely private and hugely intimate details of their private family stories. They've done that purely because they believe if they speak out a change will happen and the thoughts of all of those people, including myself, that have gone and put themselves out there to feel it's all for nothing, it's just heartbreaking, it really is."
The Assisted Human Reproduction Coalition, which includes IFTS and a number of advocacy groups, has made "four or five" attempts to organise meetings with Mr Donnelly with no reply.
"Nobody goes down the route of surrogacy unless it's the last resort. People have been through awful, gruelling, traumatising times to get there, be that a medical diagnosis or infertility struggles, there are so many different reasons people have to go down the route of surrogacy.
"So many of our members have been waiting maybe to get started because they want to make sure they would be in a better legal position. But in situations like this you lose hope. I'm very lucky I have my daughter with me, at least we have our family as difficult as it is to be recognised, but for people who don't have that yet and are looking on and seeing their Government isn't supporting them, it's very, very difficult.
"You have to believe if he understood where we're coming from, engaged with these normal Irish families, with beautiful children who are Irish citizens that deserve to be recognised, you would have to believe he would support this legislation.
"The committee have been unbelievable, so engaged, eager to learn, and the witnesses they've chosen have been so good, the legislation is there it just needs support from the Department of Health and Minster Donnelly to get it over the line."
BreakingNews.ie has contacted Mr Donnelly for comment.