Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Select Committee on Children and Youth Affairs

Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Committee Stage

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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A number of points were made by Deputies Pringle, Funchion and Cairns. Deputy Funchion was making points on a good-faith gesture regarding the acceptance of amendments. We have made significant changes between the publication of the pre-legislative scrutiny report and the final Bill. I have already indicated that I will ask officials to review some of the points Deputies made where I feel they are legitimate. I have made proposals that I feel, particularly in terms of illegal birth registration, respond to issues Deputies have raised. Others have asked whether their list of amendments cannot just be accepted if we are all trying to cover what is roughly the same material. The definitions we have in the Bill have been carefully fine tuned in accordance with engagement with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General. Every word has been considered and thought through, and we have examined previous legislation that did not get passed. The provisions have been expanded to make sure they are as inclusive as possible. The definitions of "birth information", "early life information" and "medical information" have all been planned and designed in a very specific way to work across all the various sections of the legislation.

I accept the point Deputy Pringle was making on the dissatisfaction of adopted people and others in seeking access to information previously, and that is why this legislation is being considered. I have two points on the question of whether people can have confidence in Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland. First, my Department is leading the implementation group. It is being led by Ms Laura McGarrigle, the assistant secretary in this area. It brings together our Department, Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland with a view to changing the culture in organisations in the sense of making it very clear that the presumption is one of the release of information. I accept that has not happened in the past. This legislation is to give very clear legal grounding for always releasing information but there has to be a culture change. My Department is leading that through the implementation body. I have discussed the required change to organisational culture in the past three weeks with the chief executive of Tusla, Mr. Bernard Gloster, who firmly believes in it. Whenever he was before this committee, he was very clear on it. I have also discussed the matter with the chairperson of the Adoption Authority of Ireland. Irrespective of whether the change of culture is clear, the Minister has the power, under various sections of this legislation, to issue specific guidelines on how the release of information can be understood by the relevant bodies. The cultural changes we are trying to achieve in the agencies and the specific guideline-writing power give us an opportunity to continue to ensure the categories we already argue are very broad can continue to be interpreted in an expansive way.