Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

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


2:15 pm

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Yesterday, the Minister laid out the long history of legislative false starts on this issue and the litany of legislation that tried to address this issue in what were often difficult or dangerous ways. Previous legislation proposed criminal penalties for attempting to contact mothers who did not want to be contacted.

This legislation does none of that. It is important to acknowledge that we are taking, as Deputy Jim O'Callaghan said, that unenumerated right to one's identity and placing it on a legislative footing, not trying to fetter it as previous legislation has attempted to do. I acknowledge the work the Minister has done on this sensitive and difficult area, tied up as it is with the history of abuse in the mother and baby homes, kidnapping, forced adoptions, illegal birth registrations and the abuse mothers received in those institutions. I also acknowledge the Minister's widespread engagement with survivors and families, which is essential to the success of any legislation such as this. It is also a mark of his commitment to trying to do his best on this issue for the people who most need this legislation, those whose right to their identity is most vulnerable and most needs to be enshrined in legislation.

We have heard some of the previous speakers say that none of the recommendations of the pre-legislative scrutiny report were taken on. I will talk about those recommendations in a moment, but there has been a lot of talk about the pre-legislative scrutiny report from the committee and a lot of praise for the report and the work of the committee. It is natural with any sort of group project or committee that some people do more work than others. On that note, I thank Deputy Funchion - I see her sitting in the Chamber - as Chair of the committee for herding the cats, marshalling the committee, which is a difficult committee at times, and getting out that robust report.

The Minister has taken on many of the committee's recommendations, including on the use of plain English. A plain English guide and frequently asked questions, FAQ, document have been published alongside the explanatory memorandum. I know the Minister is preparing to propose the establishment of a stakeholder advisory group. These are, therefore, recommendations that have been taken on.

There are recommendations on changing the terminology used in the Bill and on the need to add more institutions. The Minister has acknowledged there is a need to add more institutions than those already scheduled in the Bill. Creating a mechanism to do that, as the Minister has committed to do in the Bill, is really important because it allows us to do so not just now as we pass the Bill but into the future. That flexible approach is positive and to be commended.

There are recommendations in the pre-legislative scrutiny report looking for a wider definition of care information. The new draft of the Bill reflects a wider definition and provides a more open-ended definition. There are recommendations looking for access for more than just parents and immediate relatives. Two new Parts of the Bill were added to provide access to next of kin. There are recommendations in the report on sharing of medical information. Again, the Bill provides greater clarity on how that medical information can be shared and what can be shared, all of which is very important.

As I said, the Bill will put on a legislative footing a clear right of access to a full, unredacted birth certificate. Access to birth certificates is welcome but not enough. We have heard many speakers say that yesterday and today in the debate. We have to acknowledge that the Bill will also provide access to wider information, not just a birth certificate. Baptismal certificates were mentioned yesterday. There is early-life information, care information, medical information and any letters or items left by parents. These will all be made available to people as part of the Bill. As I said, this is taking an unenumerated right, one that has been found by the courts to exist in the Constitution, and making it stronger by putting it on a legislative footing. As Deputy Jim O'Callaghan said, this will likely end up in the courts. I did not hear his full speech so I do not know if he said this, but it will also likely end up being challenged in the court in Luxembourg. We need to do what we can to recognise, vindicate and support that right to one's identity.

I acknowledge that to do this will cost money. I look at what happened in the budget, where the Minister provided money for Tusla and the Adoption Authority in order that this right to one's identity can be facilitated and vindicated, with provision for training, staff and the adequate resources that the committee's report said would be necessary. I hope the Minister will continue that budgetary commitment to ensure that those who seek to vindicate their right to identity are supported, not just in the legislation we hope to pass but also with financial supports to ensure that the services are fit for purpose, well resourced and able to do that. I thank the Minister for his commitment to doing that in the most recent budget and hope he will continue to do it in the next one.


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