Thursday, 16 September 2021
Adoption (Information) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
I commend Deputies Connolly and Pringle on bringing forward this Bill. Sinn Féin will support it. I feel a sense of déjà vubecause we have had this discussion on many occasions over the past year and a half both in this Chamber and in the convention centre. As Deputy Harkin said, it is important we continue to have this debate until we get the situation resolved. I am always surprised, as are people you speak to who are not involved in this area, to hear there are people who still do not have a legal entitlement to their birth certificates, something so many of us take for granted. It is a document you wonder every now again where you have left it, but you always know you can get a copy of it. It is something we take for granted - a lot of us do anyway.
In March, I introduced a Bill similar to this Bill. In fairness, the Government also did not oppose it. However, we are still in the situation whereby we do not have access to birth certificates for people who are adopted in Ireland. I am the chairperson of the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth, and I am well aware that there is legislation going through that committee. A number of the members of the committee are here this evening. The committee is working through the pre-legislative stage of that legislation. It is important the committee hears from as many people as possible on this issue and it is doing that. I welcome that legislation. However, I do not see, as I did not see with the Bill introduced in March, what the difficulty is in our passing legislation that would give access to birth certificates now. If there is other legislation that strengthens that, that is great, but why can we not do this now? We seem to be always waiting for something.
People have been so let down by this State over the years that there is, unfortunately, mistrust. We need to call that out. It is difficult to convince people the State is on their side on this issue because they have been let down time and time again. Deputy Connolly gave a good analysis of that in terms of the report, the leaking of it, people not being able to get physical copies of documents and people of a particular age group being directed online. There were so many different issues with the report, it seems like we are constantly failing people who have either been through the mother and baby system or were adopted in this country. There is an obligation on all of us to respect the human rights of individuals to manage their own identity and family relationships without further State interference. This Bill and the Bill I introduced last March seek to address this huge injustice. We cannot continue to condone the impact of the coercive closed and secretive adoption system that was enabled and continues to be enabled by the State. If it is true this issue was again thrust into the public discourse on foot of the publication of the mother and baby home report but is wider than just survivors of these inhumane institutions, it cuts to the nucleus of how little regard adoptees have been given in this country to date.
I reiterate Sinn Féin's support for the Bill. As I said, the committee is working through the legislation, which is a positive, but I do think we can do this now. If nothing else, it would demonstrate we are serious about this and we finally want to see the right thing done by so many survivors. Since we debated this issue last October, women have passed away having never had access to information and they did not get to see the report published. The longer this takes, the more people will die without ever getting justice. As I said earlier, a birth certificate is something so many of us take for granted. We should ensure there is access to birth certs for everybody.
Moving to a different topic, I have dealt with the subject access requests, SARs, system recently on behalf of a number of people in my constituency. It has been a positive experience for them. I know there are mixed views on it and that everybody will have a different story, but I want to put that on record. We have to criticise when necessary, but we also have to give credit where it is due. I wanted to make the point while the Minister is here that it has been a positive for the people I have been dealing with. However, we still need to see access to birth certs as a right.