Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Adoption (Information) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


7:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The simplest thing is just to look at the explanatory memorandum, which makes it very clear what this very short Bill in my name and the name of my colleague, Deputy Pringle, is about. It states, "The main purpose of the Adoption (Information) Bill 2021 is to provide unconditional access to birth certificates for adopted persons" and goes on to say what needs to be done to ensure that. I do not think anything could be clearer. As I ran from my office, I saw an email coming in appealing to the Government to do the right thing.

I stand here before the House and I have so many documents it is like having a kaleidoscope in my head. I could pick any report I like and go forward. I will start with the simplest. What is the obstacle now? I welcome the fact that the Minister is not opposing the Bill, but I hope he goes further and says he is accepting the Bill. Whatever might be wrong with the Bill can be rectified. Could the Minister confirm tonight that he agrees with the principle that the time has finally come to say that people are entitled to have information on their identity as of right? If the Minister is doing that, then we have reached a turning point and that is good and we will all work with him, but I am not sure if that is what he means when he says he is not opposing the Bill. Is that akin to killing the Bill by another method? I hope I am wrong. I am taking it in a positive light that the Minister is endorsing the principle of the Bill, which is as of right with no conditions.

Why do I say that? Birth certificates have been a matter of public record since 1864 and here we are more than 150 years later with men and women struggling to find out basic information. There is a denial of the most basic of rights, the right to know one's identity and family of origin. I could quote the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Clann and all the organisations that say the time has come but I will look tonight at one particular report that has not been discussed in the Dáil. It is entitled A Shadow Cast Long - Independent Review Report Into Incorrect Birth Registrations, was commissioned by a former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and was carried out by Ms Marion Reynolds. I mention it for a number of reasons. First, the date on the report is May 2019. I could mention many reports such as the commission of inquiry report, which I have to hand, and I will quote from it as well, specifically recommendation 7 concerning knowledge about one's identity being a core human right. I choose the former report tonight because this woman does not put a tooth in it, and she was given a task to do. It might capture the lack of trust on the ground and the many reasons for it. I will take her report and if I have time I will get around to the report of the commission of investigation as well.

This report is dated May 2019. For some reason not explained to date, it was never published until earlier this year. That, in itself, deserves explanation. After it was published, I understand from a report in thejournal.iethat Marion Reynolds asked for her name to be taken off. Perhaps that is wrong and thejournal.ieis incorrect. The Minister might clarify that tonight. It is a factual matter. Did the author of this report ask for her name to be taken off it because she did not like what had been done to the report, in particular regarding the redaction of institutional names? Did that happen? Is that a fact? Why were the names redacted? Why has the report never been discussed in the Dáil? I am using that report and then I will use some of the other reports. To put it into perspective for people who are listening, this was a report commissioned to look at 126 irregularities and illegalities that had been discovered belatedly in St. Patrick's Guild by Tusla. Subsequently, questions arose about many other possible illegalities. This was a scoping exercise by Tusla and the adoption society involved. I am not going to go into it tonight except to highlight a number of points.

There are seven conclusions in the report. She tells us:

For many years prior to 2018 it had been known that there were incorrect birth registrations, this is considered further in section (c) below. Due to the action taken by those responsible for creating incorrect birth records to conceal their actions proving instances of incorrect birth registrations is a complex task.

She points out that it is, was and remains a criminal offence. She also points out a number of other things in her report. On page 10, she stated: "The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in May 2018 said that another 'dark chapter' had been opened in the country's history."

8 o’clock

He went on to say that the people affected had a right to know their identities and their birth stories. He added: "What was done was wrong, what was done robbed children, our fellow citizens, of their identity. It was an historic wrong that we must face up to". Unfortunately, it is not an historic wrong and we are continuing to fail to face up to it.

I am not sure if Marion Reynolds was an adoptee. The Minister might help me in that regard. Dr. Reynolds arrived at a number of very important conclusions - and made recommendations - which she said merited further investigation. She also pointed out that robbing somebody of their own identity had done great harm. She said, "A great wrong has been done to those robbed of their right to identity and family, as the Taoiseach acknowledged". She went on to set out the law, just as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Clann organisation have set it out. Those organisations point out that it is a basic right under the European Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is not specifically stated in our Constitution, but it is an unenumerated right set down by the Supreme Court as far back as 1998 and which has been teased out. Prior to that, in 1984, there was an interdepartmental report that said the right to identity was basic to a human being, although it did not want it to be retrospective. Interestingly, one of the people involved with that interdepartmental report was subsequently one of the members of the commission of investigation.

In addition, Marion Reynolds said it is very important that the State learns from the experiences of those denied their identity and from the irregularities noted by Tusla and so on, and she also referred to the serious concerns about other irregularities. She said, and, again, níor chuir sí fiacail ann: "Harm has been caused to children, their parents and family relationships as a consequence of falsifying or obliterating children’s identity." She also talks about records being "memories in lieu". She actually sets out that the records held by various organisations, including Tusla, are memories in lieu. Can anyone imagine that? That is what people are left with and they cannot even get that.

I am here tonight to ask the Minister to finally grasp the nettle. I realise there are complexities in other aspects like tracing but I see no complexity in the basic right to have basic information about your identity. I can see no problem with that. When we talk about protecting mothers, I get nauseous because we are not protecting mothers. We are protecting a system that does not want anything to come out about what has happened. I hope we are past that stage now and that we are going to agree on this basic right.

Interestingly, the title of the report in question is A Shadow Cast Long, and it still continues. If we look at the background, the mother and baby homes commission goes back and arises from Catherine Corless from my own county - she is from the east, in Tuam - and the sterling work that she did. Arising from that, we got the mother and baby homes commission. The terms of reference were extremely limited, notwithstanding that it was set up and it was good. It took right up to October of last year to get the report, an extraordinarily long time, with lots of interim reports. I have asked the Minister for all of the correspondence between any Minister who was there, any Department and the commission of inquiry. That should be given as a matter of course and we should not have to resort to freedom of information.

The report was not published until January, and that was done by way of a leak. We were promised an investigation into the leak and it never happened. We learned from replies yesterday from the Taoiseach that it has gone into the never-never land in the context of a bigger investigation. It is a very simple thing to do find out who leaked the story. It would seem the Taoiseach, although I do not know what role he played in it, was in the interview as part of the story that was leaked. Again, trust is really important. It was said to us that that would be investigated and brought to a conclusion but it never has been.

Then, of course, the survivors and those involved were never given the report. Subsequently, we had the debacle over evidence being destroyed that was not destroyed. I had the privilege last week of spending hours with a person, although I will not say if it is a man or woman for fear of identifying them. In that person's presence, I read for the first time the letter that person got from the commission of inquiry. I can tell the Minister categorically that nowhere did it state that the evidence taken on a video would be destroyed. It said that with their permission, and as an aid, an audio would be used, but in no way did it say it would be destroyed. We had all of that and then we had the magical reappearance of that evidence, which was good.

We then had a failure by the commissioners to launch the report, which was their choice, but it was a wrong choice, in my opinion, and most unfortunate that there was no press release or press occasion. Subsequently, we had the extraordinary behaviour of one of the commissioners in taking part in a seminar in Oxford. Quite clearly, the person was more comfortable in the surroundings of a seminar at Oxford than they were launching a report of such huge significance.

To move back to identity, that report has good points, and let me say that. I have been very critical of this report, mostly in regard to the executive summary and the narrative. The actual body of the work is quite good, and I am saying that, I have said it openly and I am placing it on the record. The narrative of the executive summary, which is quite a substantial document of over 300 pages, is not acceptable to me. However, even they, in their recommendation 7 state:

Adopted people should have a right to their birth certificates and associated birth information. A person’s right to his or her identity is an important human right and should only be denied in very exceptional circumstances.

They go on to say that, in very exceptional circumstances, there might be a procedure in the Circuit Court. I do not agree with that but it is important, to be fair to them, that there might be a Circuit Court procedure where it could be teased out. However, they do acknowledge the basic right.

We have waited and waited and, more importantly, survivors have waited and waited for basic legislation. I acknowledge the Minister has published the heads of the Bill, but the heads of a Bill are what they are. I acknowledge that the Minister has started a process in regard to consultation for a redress scheme but, unfortunately, we are dealing with people who are extremely vulnerable, not because they are vulnerable people, but they have been made vulnerable by a system that has misused its power and its control over them, and we are running out of time to rectify that imbalance of power. If the Minister can do so, he should clarify tonight when the redress scheme will be up and running.

There are many other points I could make but I am not going to because I intend to leave five minutes to my colleague. I cannot emphasise enough that we need to leave out the patronising attitude and leave out the word “protection” because grown men and women do not need our protection. What they need is a rights-based system in regard to access to information, restoring the wrong and bringing in a proper redress system. We have to stop the infantalising of women by a patriarchy. It is totally unacceptable. People can speak for themselves - the men and women who have lived and survived through the institutions, or watched their mothers or fathers suffer.

Let tonight be a turning point. The Minister should please stand up and tell me by not opposing this basic and very simple Bill. I acknowledge other parties have similar Bills, perhaps even better than mine. I am the first to put my hands up. Sinn Féin has tabled a short Bill and I understand the Labour Party has tabled a Bill. It is testimony to the pressure we are coming under both from ourselves, because we have thought about it and read about it, and also from the people on the ground. Let us stop the pretence, let us stop the delay and let us bring in legislation now.


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