Dáil debates

Friday, 9 May 2014

Open Adoption Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]


11:15 am

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle.

I thank the House for the opportunity to debate this legislation. I thank Deputy Anne Ferris, in particular, for the time and effort she has put into developing this Private Members' Bill. I acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in this Department up to this week and wish her well with her responsibilities in the Department of Justice and Equality. I wish to continue and build on her programme as set out under the programme for Government.

It is something of a coincidence that my first ministerial speech is on a Private Members' adoption Bill, as my maiden speech as a Member of this House in April 1987 was, I recall, on a Private Members' adoption motion. I mention that merely to record the coincidence and my interest in this issue.

Deputy Anne Ferris and Members will be aware that the current position in Ireland is that the Adoption Act 2010 provides for closed adoptions - that is, once an adoption is finalised, all links between the child and its natural parent or parents are legally severed. In other jurisdictions open adoptions,where some measure of agreed access is legally maintained, are the norm. Recent research from the United States highlights the benefits of open adoption for the birth mother, the adopted person and the adoptive parents. A recent US Government publication entitled Working with Birth and Adoptive Families to Support Open Adoption outlines the positive benefits for all those involved in open adoptions. These benefits are seen not just to relate to the legal openness of the adoption itself but also to the level of emotional and psychological openness and transparency that it provides in the adoption environment. However, it is acknowledged that research on open adoptions is at a relatively early stage and a more long-term analysis would be beneficial.

While acknowledging that the current legal position in Ireland is that adoptions are closed, practice in domestic adoptions in this country sometimes results in informally agreed arrangements regarding ongoing contact between the child and its natural parent or parents. This is especially true in familiar and step-parent adoptions where the stability and regularisation of the child's living arrangements has to be balanced against the circumstances of its relationship with its birth parent.

I recognise the need for legislation to be updated to reflect both international and domestic developments. As is often the case with social policy, norms move and change and we, as legislators, must respond.

The influence of social media and the Internet also has implications for adoption. The majority of children and teenagers have immediate access to the Internet and know how to use it, and if one knows where to look, there is a great deal of information available on the Internet. This phenomenon is changing the face of privacy and confidentiality, including with regard to adoption. Therefore, the influence of technology on adoption is also an issue that has resulted in a need to reform adoption legislation.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to enact legislation to consolidate and reform the law on adoption. It is within this overall context that it was intended that the provision for open adoption would be taken forward. Two priority issues were identified for address in advance of this wider and comprehensive reform of our adoption law. The constitutional referendum on children incorporated an important provision proposing to amend the Irish Constitution so as to allow for the adoption of children of marriage in Ireland. To coincide with this referendum, the general scheme of a draft adoption (amendment) Bill 2012 was published which showed, using the format of a detailed Bill, the Government's proposals in legislative form in the event that the amendment to change the Constitution was successful. Deputies will be aware that there are outstanding proceedings in the courts currently that prevent the finalisation of the constitutional amendment. It is my intention to introduce the Adoption (Amendment) Bill to provide for the adoption of children of marriage as soon as these constitutional matters are completed. They are currently before the High Court and it could be the case that the Supreme Court passes judgment on them before we are in a position to introduce the appropriate legislative measures.

The other priority in the area of adoption being addressed by my Department relates to adoption information and tracing. The Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is on record as saying she wished that as much information as possible about their identity would be available to persons affected by adoption. I too acknowledge that there is a need to provide those involved in adoption with as much information as possible about their identity, medical issues and the circumstances of their birth. Recent focus on this matter has been heightened by the efforts of Philomena Lee and the life story she recounted about the search for her son.

Proposals in the form of legislation are being finalised in my Department with regard to adoption information and tracing in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General. As soon as this work is concluded I intend to seek the approval of Government for the referral of the general scheme of the adoption (information and tracing) Bill to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for the purpose of its consideration. I am conscious that this Bill in the name of Deputy Anne Ferris seeks to legislate for some of the matters I intend to address in some way by way of this adoption (information and tracing) Bill.

The enactment of adoption legislation consequent on the children's referendum and provision for information and tracing is a priority in my Department. However, in line with the commitment in the programme for Government, it is timely that a review of adoption law in more general terms would take place with a view to updating and modernising it. I hope this review, my own consideration of the Act, submissions received from stakeholders and the contents of the Bill proposed by Deputy Anne Ferris can all inform the reform process for adoption legislation in our jurisdiction. Consideration of Deputy Anne Ferris's Bill by the Joint Committee on Health and Children will greatly facilitate debate on progress on this very important component of the modernisation of our adoption law.

While I acknowledge the benefits of open adoptions, and strongly support open adoption in principle, it should be noted that all of the implications of the Bill must be given full and detailed consideration. Review to date has identified areas that may require fuller and detailed consideration. These include issues related to its retrospective application, having regard to the legal basis of existing adoptions and the constitutional and legal rights of those involved; the possible implications for inter-country adoption; and greater consideration of sensitive situations where it may not be in the best interests of the child to be the subject of an open adoption. I have no doubt that the work and deliberations of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children and liaison between my Department and the Deputy will assist in this matter.

I express my gratitude to Deputy Anne Ferris for the way in which she has approached this issue. I said open adoptions promoted transparency in the adoption process. I believe the personal experience recounted by the Deputy will add to the positive and constructive debate on this matter, because, as she rightly said, behind every statistic is a real person, of whom she is one.

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I want to ensure the best outcomes for children and that the laws governing their welfare are framed in their best interests. I would be very pleased to work constructively with Deputy Anne Ferris and other Deputies on her proposals for the introduction of open adoption. I, therefore, ask that the Joint Committee on Health and Children examine the Bill on open adoption proposed by the Deputy and that my Department, the Deputy and all Deputies have the benefit of this consideration.


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