Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

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


1:55 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

There are many provisions in this Bill but there are also parts of it that need to be amended. The legislation provides a right of access to birth certificates and to birth and early life information to all persons who were adopted or boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth registration or who otherwise have questions about their origins. It also includes provisions for care and medical information for those who have questions about their origins.

The Bill provides that the information session where a parent has expressed a "no contact" preference will no longer be a physical meeting with a social worker. The information session will include recognition of the identity rights of the applicant and their right to access their birth information and birth certificate. Next of kin will be able to avail of the legislation to access information about a family member in specific circumstances.

The Bill also expands the definition of early life information to provide for release of baptismal certificates and entries on the baptismal register, and uses the term "mother" instead of "birth mother". It also establishes a new statutory contact preference register. This offers a means for people to register their preference for contact with family and also a mechanism to lodge communication and contribute medical information which can be shared with family members.

The State's regulator for adoption services and custodian of over 70,000 adoption files and records including all adoption files from 1953 has welcomed the Bill's publication. The Adoption Authority of Ireland said it was correct to give adoptees their original birth certificates, all of their early life and care information and, critically, their medical information. The co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance said she would welcome changes to the legislation but warned that if any sort of mandatory information session remains in the legislation, it would be extremely discriminatory as no other Irish citizen making a similar application would be obliged to go through with an information session with a social worker. Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said that in addition, many of the definitions within the Bill are unnecessary, limiting or extremely vague. These include care and early birth information, which had suggested time limits in a Bill that was published last year. While the Bill is to be welcomed, concerns remain especially around the fact that adopted people would still have to hold an information session with officials by phone where a parent has expressed a "no contact" preference.

Some 83 key recommendations from the report of the Oireachtas joint committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have not been included in the final Bill. The extensive work undertaken by the committee, the hours and hours of testimony from adoptees, mothers, survivors and their advocates, the significant and all-encompassing report and comprehensive consultation all appears to have been in vain.

Most of us grow up knowing everything about ourselves and take for granted those precious details such as our time and place of birth. Compassion demands that adopted people should be entitled to the same sense of their own identity. Unfortunately, adopted people had to engage in a fight they never should have had to engage in in the first place. This was due to the State for years repeatedly failing to vindicate the most fundamental right of adopted people, the right to know their origins.

It is seldom I get to watch TV but I do watch programmes about families who have been separated for whatever reasons getting together decades later. This could be a mother or father with their son or daughter and the joy it brings to all parties. It brings an end to decades of pain and opens up doors to new family members. Maybe it is easy for me to say this but surely so much joy should not be denied to anyone. Yes, questions will need to be answered in all these reconciliations and there is pain in that in some cases but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Watching these programmes I wonder how their adoptive parents feel, something we never really see much about. They are people who have taken a child into their care and shown love and affection to that child as if one of their own and the child is one of their own. They have done so much and sometimes must feel a little hurt in their own right. They have reared and loved the children. They were their parents, their carers. They must now also be protected in some way going forward.

While talking about carers, and it is a different issue, I may add that I got so many calls today from carers and home helps on their omission from the €1,000 recognition payment. It is shocking but it is an issue for another day. They should be treated equally.

Today we must concentrate on this Bill. While it looks like it is one step ahead, it is also two steps back for some people. It has to be amended before it comes into force. Hopefully we can end the pain that has been applied to so many people for decades and at least let them have some peace and happiness. As I said earlier, each and every one of them would love an opportunity to meet their loved one and bring an end to this mess that has been in our society for so long.


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