Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

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


3:15 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

The history of access to information for adopted people in Ireland has been fraught over decades with inaction and indecision. This has ultimately resulted in no clear legislative framework for adopted people seeking information about their past and accessing their birth and early life information files. I listened to the Minister's opening remarks last night and it was like a box set of "Reeling in the Years" as he went through the history of the Bill and the failures of previous Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to legislate for adopted people. I commend the Minister on getting it this far.

I am also a member of the Oireachtas joint committee that undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and, again, it is welcome it has come to this Stage. It has, however, been a rushed process from 14 December to now in getting it this far. I also believe it is a failed opportunity. There was a chance to finally put adopted people front and centre in a human rights-based approach. The State has consistent failed adopted people in this country. The recent mother and baby homes report has brought the matter into sharp focus again but we must be cognisant that this issue affects all adopted people and not just people in mother and baby homes. I am very mindful of this but I always go back to the heartbreaking testimonies of some of the people affected by the mother and baby homes. I have said that before in this Chamber to the Minister.

The committee of which I am a part made 83 recommendations to the Minister. I still call myself a relatively new Deputy and it struck me that the process was very collegial, involving all parties and none, including the Acting Chairman. It involved people of all parties and none, the Government parties and the Opposition. I really felt it was not about party politics, which were instead set aside. We came together to make these 83 recommendations and I was disappointed not all of them were taken on board. I acknowledge that some have been taken on board but this is nonetheless a missed opportunity.

This is a missed opportunity to develop a new agency, for example. This could have been done in a way that would not delay the process because we do not need any more delays. We recommended an ombudsman-type body for appeals and oversight of Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland in the meantime. This recommendation was also not taken on board. Given that redress is the next matter we will debate in a few months' time, a new agency would have been appropriate and perhaps it is even necessary.

The question of information sessions has been brought up numerous times and I have been getting constant emails - I am sure the Minister is getting them too - from people affected by the matter. They feel this is offensive to adopted people and the concept of privacy should not have to be explained to any applicant in any proposed format. Basically, the provisions for mandatory information sessions have not been removed, although they have been changed slightly. There is still an information session and it explicitly states in the legislation that part of the reason for it is to explain to the relevant person the importance of the privacy rights of parents.

My colleague, Deputy Funchion, is the Chair of the committee and I commend her on the way she steered us through this highly emotive legislation. The children's committee features legislation heavily and much emotive legislation has gone through it, including this Bill and the burials Bill. The assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill is coming up this term as well. I commend my colleague on steering us through it.

I was listening last night and Deputy Funchion spoke about clarity for Part 4 of the Bill, relating to hierarchy of next of kin. There is a hierarchy in the next of kin, starting with the mother or father and then on to siblings. I will ask the same questions that were asked last night. What happens in a case where somebody has died in care where the parent does not want to get the information but a sibling does? Is he or she entitled to get it or must the parents have passed away? Is there a hierarchy for siblings and are older siblings given more consideration than younger siblings? I genuinely seek clarity on these matters.

I have other areas of concern. The Bill as it stands does not provide unrestricted access to birth certificates, adoption files and early life information. Institutions have been excluded and the definition of personal data is not clear, which leaves the door open to various interpretations. Information can be withheld in certain circumstances and definitions in the Bill are extremely narrow; this must be expanded to include individuals, agencies and institutions involved with forced family separation. The provisions for accessing records are very problematic in the Bill. Rather than whole files being provided, partial files will be issued.

I acknowledge that some advances have been made in the current Bill but I cannot support the legislation in the current form. We had the opportunity to produce a Bill that would not require amendments but now we will have to come back to debate this all again, dragging out the process further by submitting amendments. The Bill has many weaknesses and, crucially, it does not take on most of the recommendations contained in the children's committee report.

Proposals to legislate in this area must not leave any adopted person behind. This is a human rights matter. Successive Governments, in my opinion and that of Sinn Féin, have been in breach of adopted persons' human rights dating back right to the foundation of the State. As I said, we will submit a significant number of amendments to the Bill to ensure no adopted people are left behind.


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