Dáil debates

Friday, 9 May 2014

Open Adoption Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]


11:45 am

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party) | Oireachtas source

I, too, welcome the Bill and was delighted when it was selected. It is great that the House is discussing a positive and proactive proposition on adoption. The Minister noted that he spoke about adoption in his maiden speech several decades ago. That the House is still discussing the issue demonstrates that it has not been taken seriously. We have unnecessarily complicated the issue of adoption. Our approach to the matter is, in many cases, a serious abuse of human rights because it does not reflect the rights of the child or the fundamental principle that everyone has a right to his or her identity.

I appreciate that the Minister's predecessor, the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, discussed this matter on many occasions. Nevertheless, the adoption (tracing and information) Bill, which the Government promised three years ago on taking office, has been repeatedly delayed. I will return to the legislation in a few moments.

This discussion is welcome. It is ironic that the film, "Philomena", has had such a public impact in shining a light on adoption and the practice in the past of separating thousands of young Irish women from their children. These separations were forced, illegal and, according to the Adoption Rights Now group, a form of torture. Everyone who watched "Philomena" will have been struck by the realisation that the mother and son characters were searching for each other and spoke to the same people but were lied to and deceived to prevent their reunion. Even speaking about the case is sickening. It is even more upsetting that this story is representative thousands of other similar stories.

Last year, I spoke about a letter I received from a woman who had a baby in the mother and baby home in Castlepollard in 1966. Her daughter was taken from her without her permission and she spent 30 years searching for her. When she sought information from the Sacred Heart Sisters, she was given misinformation and sent in different directions. At one point, she urgently needed to meet her daughter for medical reasons. However, she did not get anywhere for decades. As I pointed out in the House, within ten days of my office contacting the Adoption Rights Now group, we were able to bring mother and daughter together and it transpired that the daughter had also been searching for her mother. When I told this story Deputies from all sides informed me that they had been contacted in their clinics over the years by people with similar stories. Unfortunately, however, they could not obtain information when they tried to help the individuals in question. That is simply not good enough. If Deputies from all sides cannot change the position, what is the point of Parliament? The issue can be resolved if we show much greater urgency than has been shown to date. The reason information has been held back in many of these cases is that the adoptions were illegal and the placements were organised in mother and baby homes. The 1952 Act and the Adoption Board in many ways facilitated separation and the severance of the link between unmarried mothers and their children. We must also make clear that the practice was based solely on marital status.

Deputy Anne Ferris's Bill is necessary because the 2010 legislation did not address the issue. In 1976, the British Government passed legislation to allow access to birth records to all adopted persons aged 18 years and over and limited access to those aged under 18 years. Why is it taking this State so long to catch up? The reason must be rooted in the illegal nature of the activities that took place in the mother and baby homes. We have only reluctantly come to terms with issues such as the Magdalen laundries, although I do not claim that matter has been fully resolved, and those who were the victims of abuse in residential institutions. The activities that took place in the mother and baby homes form part of that process. At one point 97% of children born to unmarried women were placed for adoption. The number of adoptions subsequently declined to a handful as a result of the introduction of allowances and payments for lone parents, which allowed women to keep their children. Similarly, many women in other countries who currently give up their children for adoption would prefer to keep them.

A couple of weeks ago, the Minister's predecessor informed the House that the adoption (information and tracing) Bill was imminent and the heads of Bill would go to committee. While she was not sure exactly when this would occur, it was hoped it would be this side of the summer recess. Will the Minister advise the House of the current position? His predecessor also hinted that some vague legal complications could delay the process. I do not accept that and would like to see the evidence. The previous Minister stated that Deputies would understand the position better when we saw this evidence. I do not understand the reason we cannot be informed of the nature of these complications. Much of the problem seems to be related to arguments concerning privacy and the I O'T v.B case. Deputies should be cognisant of the fact that this was a highly disputed judgment which related to a fostering case, rather than an adoption case, and that the 1952 Act is open to question in this regard.

Births are a public record and to deny adopted persons access to such records amounts to blatant discrimination. Serious problems persist in the operation of the Adoption Authority of Ireland. The Adoption Rights Alliance claims that the Health Service Executive and private adoption agencies are in possession of up to 60,000 files. The Adoption Authority of Ireland claims that only 11,000 people seeking to trace their loved ones have registered with it. It is not good enough that only 660 cases of reunification have taken place since 2005. This figure is nowhere near as high as the number of people seeking information. An independent investigation is needed into how to improve access to these files. While the former Minister referred to this issue, in practical terms we have not seen much evidence of improvement.

I welcome the decision to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage. It is also positive that Deputies are discussing these issues in the Chamber. I agree with the President's recent statement that it is horrific to deny people basic information about their identity. The Australian Government has gone further and officially apologised to all those in Australia who were illegally adopted. The former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, also apologised for the state's role in illegal adoptions. Similarly, the Irish Government must acknowledge the wrongs that were done to women and their children here and face up to the illegality it facilitated and operated for decades. While this would not undo the damage, it would assist reconciliation and help correct matters for the future. Openness and transparency are important elements of any such resolution.


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