Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 September 2021

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


8:30 pm

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

I thank all of the contributors to this debate, including my colleague, Deputy Pringle, and those from Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats. I appreciate their support. I also thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for his positive attitude.

I will use the few minutes available to me to try to put this matter into perspective. I fully understand the complexity of the issues involved, particularly in view of my background. No more than Deputy Bacik, I also had the privilege of appearing before the redress board on many occasions. In that context, I will highlight that it is a criminal offence for me to disclose the amounts of money the clients received. Can one imagine that in the 21st century the relevant legislation remains on the books? It is a crime if I disclose to the Minister what one of the clients I was with received from the redress board. We have to look at that and then also look at the detailed speech the Minister made, which I appreciate, except in the context of the issue of trust. I started with trust and I am finishing with trust.

There is a complete lack of trust on my part. If there is a lack of trust on my part, I cannot inculcate trust in the people on the ground. Why do I say this and why is there a lack of trust? The Minister did not mention the report produced by Marion Reynolds. Perhaps I am taking the Minister up short but he is fully aware of the audit by Marion Reynolds. I asked him to address it in his remarks. It identifies the potential irregularities in addition to the irregularities that were found. It is potentially major, with up to 20,000 documents involved. I do not need to exaggerate here. My question is: how come the Minister has not clarified what happened in relation to that? Why did it take almost two years to publish the report? Why is it not clarified what Dr. Reynolds apparently said to thejournal.ie, in that she asked for her name to be redacted because she was unhappy with the redactions made by the Department or the Minister or whomever? Why can this not be clarified now in order that the Minister can restore trust and so that I could have trust in the system?

The collaborative forum was put into being by the Minister's predecessor. The report was never published. There are so many reasons for my lacking trust. I see the Minister as a human being and someone who is interested and authentic. I do not doubt his bona fides, which I have said repeatedly, but I do doubt what is happening in his Department and what it represents. I say again that when we seek to protect mothers, we are deceiving mothers and we are deceiving other people. We are protecting the system. Look at the enormity of what we are discussing. We are talking about a report from the commission of investigation that dealt with 56,000 unmarried mothers - I will come back to that phraseology later - 57,000 children and more than 100,000 people in a sample number of institutions. Can we let our minds range as to how many of our relatives, friends and people that we know were in institutions or are descendants of people who were in institutions. Next, we look at the narrative in that.

The Minister has heard me say that there were good things in the report from the commission of inquiry, but the words the report used are to beware of the evidence given and the limitations of that. This is with regard to the vast majority of people who attended for the confidential committee part of the investigation. These people went to the confidential hearings because it was not clear that they could attend both or they were ever informed that they could attend both. Let us look at what the report says. This report outlines the experience of those who choose to recount their experience and says that "they are not a representative sample" because the number was small. The report says that the commission had:

... concerns about the contamination of some evidence. A number of witnesses gave evidence that was clearly incorrect. This contamination probably occurred because of meetings with other residents and inaccurate media coverage.

Imagine that these words have been put down there as a kind of introduction to the evidence that we are going to look at and that was given to the confidential committee. I have never heard the word "contaminated" except in respect of exhibits. I have heard of credible evidence or evidence that is not credible. Is this telling us that the people who went to the committee were not credible? This is one big problem I have with that.

There is also the issue of the phrase "unmarried mother".The terms of reference, notwithstanding how restrictive and limited they were, never once used the words "unmarried mother". Never once. I asked all Members to look at the terms of reference. Single women are referred to. Yet, the commission decided to repeatedly use the words "unmarried mother".

There is also the constant change of language in the report referring to this witness, that witness or another rape victim. It was a totally insensitive way of dealing with what came before us. That is just the commission and the Minister has heard me on record say how disappointed and shocked I am at the type of language that was used in the executive summary. The introduction of the report states: "The conclusions it reaches may not always accord with the prevailing narrative." I say that, however, it is absolutely in accordance with the narrative - a narrative that said we all did it. We did not do it. I was not part of that narrative and neither were my family or the people that I know. This report, however, actually tells me that this is the narrative I am upset about, the narrative where responsibility of blame was splattered onto everybody, and the refusal to recognise the imbalance of power between those who had it and exercise it in a brutal way over those who had no power.

My passion comes from many things. It comes from my experience. My experience of my family, my experience as a barrister in a privileged life and many other experiences I have had that give me a voice here. I am standing here tonight because I have absolutely no trust that the Minister is going to produce legislation this year that will guarantee unrestricted access to birth certificates, birth details and all relevant information. Again, why do I say this? Deputy Cairns referred to what was reported in the article on thejournal.ie. I thank the thejournal.iefor highlighting these matters. The Minister is not highlighting them here tonight with regard to his Department. The applicants, the men and women, are telling us that when they apply to the Minister's Department they have been told different things such as they cannot have the information under GDPR but that they should try under freedom of information. Some people are told this and some are not. Is the Department making it up as it goes along? Does the Minister feel shocked by this? Does he feel upset by it? Does the Minister feel it is something he should go out and check and make a statement on? They are the kind of answers I would like in here.

I appreciate the complexity of what we are dealing with, but there is no complexity in my mind as to what is needed so that people can discover their identities and begin their life journey of discovering who they are. It takes us a lifetime to find out who we are and we are depriving people of the most basic tools to do that, and for what reason? I believe the reason to be that we have still not grown up. We are still have not faced the fact that we are a republic and that information belongs to all of us. It certainly belongs to the person it is personal to. We have not yet crossed that road. We have not even begun to address what it means to be a republic.

So, we are back here with the Minister's speech of a couple of pages in which he told us about all of the complexities involved while failing to answer any of the questions I asked. I will repeat them. When will the investigation into the leak be completed and published? When will the report of the collaborative forum be published? When are we going to get a redress scheme, or whatever the Minister is calling it? When will we see legislation? Will we see it before Christmas? Can the Minister tell us that? I will certainly work with the Minister because we cannot wait any longer. My oldest child was born in 1997. That was the year Banished Babies was published. It told us quite a lot of facts. Prior to that, in 1984 we had an interdepartmental committee that was fully aware of a number of facts. There is no shortage of information. We have the Marion Reynolds report that quotes Professor Éamon de Valera Jr. I do not wish to personalise this but Dr. Reynolds highlights it in her report. For good reasons apparently, he decided that births should be falsely registered, which was, and still is, a crime.

I am here tonight and all of my colleagues are here. The Minister is also here and saying "Yes, we are doing it." When is it going to happen? Why does it take the Private Member's Bill I have introduced with my colleague and the Sinn Féin and Labour Party Private Members' Bills to elicit a response? I am sure the Social Democrats will also be coming up with legislation in this regard. Why is it taking that much pressure to say that people are entitled to unlimited access to information? As the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has pointed out, there is a difference between unlimited access to information and contact with a birth mother. They are two different things and can be dealt with differently.

The heads of Bill the Minister has produced include some good points but there are many negatives. Institutions are named that are limited, there is an age limit and there are many other issues that are of concern to me, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Clann organisation, among others.

In the two seconds I have left, I thank my colleagues. I thank the Minister for his positivity but I really would like him to come back with a date and time. If the matter is so complex, let us break it down and have a number of pieces of legislation.


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