Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

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


1:35 pm

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Some of our citizens have gone to their graves without finding their families or ever receiving from the State the most basic information many of us take for granted, such as knowing the family of our birth, heritage and medical history, which can literally save a life. I am happy to take the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Survivors from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance who contacted me are anxious that all persons are treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to all other citizens.

Access to records, as the Minister knows, is not as straight forward as it might appear. In circumstances where a mother does not wish any contact from her son or daughter, a mandatory information session is triggered whereby the adoptee engages with a third party who explains the mother's request for privacy. Adoptees and boarded out children are adults. Some are parents and some are grandparents. They perceive the State is treating them in a paternalist fashion as it decides how their birth information should be provided. This is a problem and it is not an easy one to solve.

We know from the independent review by Marion Reynolds into incorrect birth registrations that some adoptions were falsely registered - I have seen at first hand some of them - with long-term consequences for those affected. Not only were names changed but birth dates were also changed, making it virtually impossible via documentary evidence, if it were available, to find one's birth family. There seems to be little appreciation by the State of the impact of such illegal adoptions and various explanations that sanitise such practices as incorrect birth registrations do not capture the illegality or the extent of trauma inflicted on the adoptee and their birth family. Therefore, it is necessary to insert the text in the applicable section to read "illegal birth registrations", that is to make things precise and to make them truthful.

One of the first things a consultant asks anyone who presents with a medical condition is about family medical history as there may be a genetic component or predisposition to a disease. This is particularly true of cardiac disease and cancers, both of which are life threatening. As stated earlier, regarding the mandatory session for assessing birth care information, the necessity to engage with a third party, be it a general practitioner or a medic, is not treating the adoptee with the dignity and respect afforded to all other citizens. Survivor groups that I have spoken to are unhappy that information which could literally save their lives is conveyed by a third party or not conveyed at all.

The committee on children chaired by Deputy Funchion presented a detailed report and suggested a total of 83 amendments to the Bill.

One of these involved the insertion of an appeals process or oversight mechanism and appears to have been dismissed. It is important to all of us that those affected have the right and the opportunity to challenge and appeal the decision if they do not agree with it and if they wish to do so. I mentioned previously the children's committee, which submitted no less than 83 amendments. It appears that, in certain instances, these were disregarded. The committee laboured for months and sought expert views and opinion to enable the production of a comprehensive report, which was presented just last month. Adoptees and survivors of institutions are dismayed that their contributions, and those of the experts and the committee, have been discounted. No legislation is better than bad legislation that ends up in judicial review proceedings in the domestic courts or in international courts. Concerns relating to the general data protection regulation and data protection rights have been expressed by advocacy groups involved. It is incumbent on all of us to work to ensure that the legislation enacted is robust and effective. We owe it to those who are central to the process. I urge the Minister and the Department to put human rights at the centre of the legislation. The motto of the Minister's predecessor, Katherine Zappone, was "nothing about us without us". She adopted this motto to ensure that nothing was decided about adoptees' rights, entitlements and truth without the adoptees themselves.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward this legislation. It is not the easiest of Bills to bring forward. It is intricate and adversarial. We need to make amendments to allay the fears of the adoptees and mothers.


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