Thursday, 20 January 2022
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 today. I start by making it absolutely clear that this Bill does not provide unrestricted access to birth certificates for adopted people and I, along with many others, see through the narrative that this Government is trying to push that this is a fantastic Bill that gives adopted people exactly the access they want. This Bill does not give adoptees full and unfettered access and any suggestion that it does is wrong and intentionally misleading. As has been said, the devil is in the detail of this Bill and I acknowledge adoptee groups, and in particular Dr. Claire McGettrick, for combing through this legislation and shedding light on the hidden details in this Bill that are very problematic.
I will first address section 17, which is incredibly discriminatory. It states that in a case where a natural parent has lodged a no-contact preference, a birth certificate will only be given after the adopted person has completed an information session. Part of the purpose of this information session is to explain to adoptees the importance of respecting the parents' privacy. We should make it very clear that adopted people do not need assistance in respecting people's privacy. It does seem, however, that this Government needs assistance in respecting adopted people's rights. Birth certificates are public documents and every citizen in this State has a right to them. Under the 2004 Act, all born in this country have a right to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate on application to the chief registrar. To deny adopted people the right to their birth certificate without a mandatory information session is clearly discrimination and there is no dressing it up. This is completely unacceptable and it needs to be addressed immediately. The discrimination against adopted people must end now.
I will also address the issue of the interpretation of "personal data" throughout this legislation. When my colleague, Deputy Catherine Connolly, and I introduced our Adoption (Information) Bill 2021 last year, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, told us his Government would ensure that "full and unredacted birth certificates, access to birth, early life and medical information and a robust statutory basis for tracing and safeguarding of relevant records" would be delivered "through a single, integrated and comprehensive Bill that enables all of these matters to be dealt with in a way that is compliant with GDPR and the Constitution". Despite this, the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 that he has put forward redefines personal information under various different categories such as medical information, care information and early life information.
Some of these categories even have timeframes on them, such as care information. In doing this, the Minister runs the risk of personal data falling through the cracks and this threatens to compromise EU GDPR rights. Under the GDPR, one should have complete and unfettered access to personal data and this Bill is introducing restrictions to that, which I believe to be a serious breach of EU GDPR rights.
The definition of personal data should have been left alone and the fact that the Government sought to redefine what privacy means and what that information comprises is just insulting. The idea that the Government would even consider compromising its citizens' GDPR rights is incredibly concerning.
As Dr. Claire McGettrick continually states, what these people are looking for is "the file, the whole file and nothing but the file". I do not know what is so hard to understand about this. After introducing our Adoption (Information) Bill 2021, we were told by Ministers that our Bill had not considered the many complexities associated with access to records. I do not see what complexities need to be considered or discussed and I cannot understand the lengths to which the Government has gone to make this so complex. I believe it is very simple: give access to the file, the whole file and nothing but the file, as Claire McGettrick has said.
The Government has once again missed the mark on this, just like it has done with the redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes. I wish to point out that it is completely disingenuous for the Government to keep referring to this scheme as the €800 million scheme. Why do the Taoiseach and his Cabinet insist on continuously calling it the €800 million scheme as if this is something to be proud of? It does not matter whether this scheme costs €800 million or 2,000 million euro. The focus should be completely and wholly on the survivors and not on the cost. Every time this scheme is referred to in terms of monetary value and not in terms of human life, one takes away from the survivors and from their experiences. The entire system of forced family separation and the institutionalisation of women and their children in this country is nothing to be proud of. The fact that this redress scheme is necessary in the first place should only be a cause of serious shame to us.
Deputy Connolly and I introduced our Adoption (Information) Bill last March. The Bill would have given adopted people complete, untampered, unredacted and unconditional access to their records. The Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, spoke to the Bill at the time and said that the Government did not oppose it but that it was going to bring forward its own comprehensive legislation that would serve the needs of adoptees and survivors. The legislation was to deal with all of the issues pertaining to this sensitive and complex issue in a robust and comprehensive way. We were led to believe that the Government would bring in legislation that was full and comprehensive but as I read this Bill today, I cannot help but feel disappointed. I am disappointed at the missed opportunity and, most of all, disappointed for the survivors and for the adoptees who have been fighting so hard and waiting so long on this Bill, only to be let down by the State once again.
I acknowledge all of those survivors and adoptees today, because I know it has not been easy. This Government has been dragged kicking and screaming to bring them this legislation. After all that work, I am very sorry that they have been left with this substandard Bill. While we stand here and debate this legislation, we must remember who it affects. Most of us will never understand what it feels like to not have access to our own information. I stand with all the adoptees affected by this legislation and I will continue to fight alongside them until we get this right.
After Deputy Connolly and I introduced our Adoption (Information) Bill, I asked how much longer must we continue to let these people down, how much longer must we continue to deny adoptees rights to their own information and how can we justify continually asking them to fight this fight when they have already been through so much. I put those questions to the Minister yet again today. What exactly will it take for this Government to do the right thing?
This Bill does nothing but give a continuation to the system of forced family separation and the institutionalisation of women and their children in this country. When will it end? What will it take? How many times will we require people to share trauma for the Minister to listen? I ask that the Government would stop putting pressure on these people and on groups to accept this substandard legislation. Adopted people know exactly what they want and what they need. They do not need the Government telling them that this is great legislation or that it should be welcomed. They see this for what it is. They see the Government trying to steer the narrative on this and they see the State, once again, providing far too little far too late. It is not good enough. This legislation will not be shoved down our throats or touted as a win, because it most certainly is not.