Thursday, 20 January 2022
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. I welcome the publication of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022. At the outset I thank the Minister and his officials for progressing this important legislation. It has been discussed many times in this House, has been demanded not only by Members but by the public, has been long-awaited by many and follows decades of attempts to amend the Adoption Act 1952, which in many ways copper-fastened a culture of distrust and secrecy around adoptions in our society.
This legislation will provide a clear and guaranteed legal right: the right to a birth certificate; the right to birth, early life and care information; the right to medical information; and the right to documents like baptismal certificates to everyone who was adopted, boarded out, subject to those illegal adoptions or who resided in a mother and baby or county home, which I hope will also be addressed in time.
I was contacted by a constituent not too long ago who told me a story of where in school, she dreaded every time a baptismal certificate was requested because of the rigmarole she had to go through and of the fear that it instilled in her. In fact, the publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes prompted her to make contact with me to tell of her story and the trauma that it all brought back to her as a child.
The Bill establishes a statutory tracing service, a statutory contact preference register and, importantly, provides for the safeguarding of adoption and related records. The legislation also addresses the issues facing people who are the subject of an illegal birth registration, providing a legal mechanism for the registration of accurate information. I know the Minister has accepted many of the recommendations proposed during the pre-legislative scrutiny process, which is very welcome. There are, however, still a number of points I would like to raise in the time available.
The text and language around “illegal adoptions” is less than satisfactory and I hope the Minister would consider recognising the reality of the situation and strengthening the language. A number of issues have been highlighted, by people who were adopted and representative groups, including around the need for mandatory information sessions before details can be released in circumstances where a birth mother has expressed a no-contact option.
Speakers have noted that the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, provides a right to access to personal information and they have suggested that a legislative framework may be unnecessary. As noted by some speakers, including my party colleague Deputy O’Callaghan, the courts have upheld the right to identity but they have also noted the rights to privacy.
In my view the right to identity is a principal right, particularly the right to medical information. While I accept GDPR may vindicate this right, it also creates a situation where individual data controllers are assessing applications and interpreting rights. I have personal experience of constituents who were adopted being passed from the institutions to Tusla and back to institutions, time and again. This is very frustrating given the ordeal that these people have already had to endure.
There are other cases, such as that of another constituent, Susan Kiernan - I raise her name because it is in the public domain, a Cheann Comhairle - who was illegally adopted. She and her daughter Lisa Kiernan had dreadful difficulty establishing information. Their case has been well-highlighted to date. This situation is completely unsatisfactory and I welcome the standard legislative format established by this Bill.
Speakers from across the House have raised many other important points. In the general spirit of cross-party support for the legalisation I ask the Minister to give these suggestions detailed consideration as this Bill progresses. Gabhaim buíochas.