Thursday, 20 January 2022
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the Bill that has been introduced by the Minister because there is at long last a voice for those who have gone unheard for decades - the voice of a mother or father trying to find a son or daughter and the voice of a child unable to discover his or her birth family, access health information or just get a birth certificate that is accurate. Within this legislation, there will be opportunities to share information, especially for adoptive parents seeking information that would explain something that they were unaware of concerning their children, be it medical issues or otherwise, and allow them to help. I have spoken to many people over the past year who were affected by the outrage that was the mother and baby institutions. It was a shame that people had to tell their stories in public for this legislation to be made a priority and introduced.
I am heartened to see that baptismal information that had once been redacted will now be available and that the details of birth parents and godparents will be visible. Equally, I welcome the support offered to young people in dealing with information that was hidden from them until the present. I welcome that relatives of deceased children will be able to access information on how and when those children died and what was recorded at the time. The legislation could go much further but I welcome what is being proposed.
I have many friends who are adopted. I grew up with them. They were lucky with the families they were adopted by and they have had great a upbringing and great lives but while they view their adoptive parents as their parents, they have always wanted to find out about how they came into this world. I saw the heartache on their faces when they went to find their birth mothers, brothers or sisters. In one case, a man and I spent an hour chatting about his whole life. He was ten miles away from his sister. He had passed her many a time over 40 years without knowing she was his sister. That is heartbreaking.
I am from a family of 11. My mother, God rest her, died when I was young. I wanted to find out about my family tree. I had dealt with people whom I knew could not find out about their family trees. I was able to go back generations through my mother's side - the Devanes, Rycons and Englishes. Recently, I was in Newcastle West when a man sitting across from me at a vehicle testing centre told me that we were related. I had never met him before. He was a Collins. He was related through my mother's first cousin. He was my second cousin. That is why I was investigating our family tree and going through all the different records. When I was sitting down over Christmas and telling my story to people who were in my company, I knew they could not do that, so I was uncomfortable even discussing it with them.
I welcome what the Minister has brought to the table but why did it take people having to tell their life stories before the those in government listened? It was about protecting other agencies and other people and not about protecting the vulnerable people who had been adopted or lost their lives in mother and baby homes.
Yesterday, we spoke about poor Ashling Murphy. It took an outcry over what happened to that girl for things to change in this country and for Members of the Dáil to unite and move forward. Everyone in the Dáil is united on ensuring that we look after the most vulnerable. For decades, there were mistakes as well as cover-ups to protect institutions and people's names and families. Our job is to protect the people of this country. Our job is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We have failed. Previous Governments have failed. This Government needs to fix the wrongs done by previous Governments. Be they female or male, Ministers must be strong in their Departments, dig in and make sure this happens. They should not do it for the sake of populist vote getting. They must do it for the right reasons and for the people of this country whom we represent. There is always political propaganda flowing around this Chamber but there is also the difference between right and wrong. The Bill is a move in the right direction and will help to right a wrong caused by the State.
Nothing should be put in the way of these people getting every support and benefit regardless of who or what institutions we used to try to protect. We must stand up and say we are sorry for what happened and will do our best to fix this without having any political motive for doing so. I feel so sorry for the people who had to tell their life stories and bring up again what happened in their families for this Bill to be introduced.
I look forward to working with the Minister on the Bill, as do many other Deputies. If amendments must be made for the betterment of those who have suffered enough, the Minister should please take into account the information from all parties and none inside and outside the House so that we get matters right this time and these people can look forward and back, put everything together and live into the future.