Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)


1:25 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this important legislation, which has been long awaited by many people. It follows years of repeated attempts over decades to legislate for information rights for adopted people, all of which ultimately failed. The critical need for this legislation has been recognised by all political parties, by stakeholder groups and by professionals working in the area. I welcome the work the Minister has done in making progress on this legislation such a key priority of the Government. It is clear to me from the volume of messages, emails and letters I have received from my constituents how important this matter is for many people. That is why it is even more important that we get this right. We need to use this as an opportunity to right the many wrongs of our past.

The Bill will provide the much-needed, long-awaited access to birth and early life information for people who have been adopted or for those who have questions about their origins. Previous iterations of this legislation allowed for information to be withheld or entailed adopted people being forced into arguing for their birth certificates.

This legislation is different. It is different because it guarantees access in all cases. For the first time, legislation will enshrine in law a clear right to a full birth cert and to early life, care and medical information for all those who have questions on their origins.

We have heard the testimonies. We have heard the horror stories. We have heard evidence of Ireland's long and dark history of illegal and forced adoptions - babies being ripped from their mother's arms, children growing up with no knowledge of their origins or their family history. This Bill is about giving people access to that and access to the much needed sense of self that they deserve and treating their birth records with the dignity they deserve. This Bill went through lengthy pre-legislative scrutiny and the committee heard from numerous stakeholders, officials and, most importantly, those with lived experience. I welcome that the Minister has accepted the committee's recommendations around the advisory group, specific terminology, information campaigns, procedures for passing on information and records, among a number of other recommendations made by the committee, and those who have lived through the adoption process. We need to use this as an opportunity to highlight their voices, because it is their voices that matter the most. For some directly affected, they feel the provision of an information session in order to access records is particularly problematic. They feel, be it in person or by phone, it is a step that should not be required. The message I have got from constituents is that is seems like an enforcement of power where no enforcement should be necessary or that it fits awkwardly in a Bill that aims to right the wrongs of the past. I understand why those who seek their birth information may feel this provision reinforces the narrative that those requesting adoption information cannot be trusted or do not deserve access to their history, and that is so far from true. However, I do not believe for one minute that these are the intentions of the Minister or the Department.

As I have said, the Bill went through intense pre-legislative scrutiny and many people sat in their homes, on their computers and phones, taking in every moment of these broad discussions and lengthy debates, which I am sure felt very personal to an awful lot of people. That is why it is vital that we honour as many of the expert recommendations as possible and honour the people at the heart of this legislation, because growing up with unanswered questions about who you are or where you came from is an agony that some people can relate to. On a practical level, this creates a range of difficulties from a medical history and early-life records perspective. We have heard valid criticism from campaigners and survivors of forced and illegal adoptions and we need to listen carefully to those concerns. I ask the Minister to validate these criticisms and address them sufficiently as the Bill goes through various stages before it becomes law.


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