Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Adoption Records Provision

2:55 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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73. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in view of the state apologies in Australia, Spain and Britain, to children who were the victims of forced and often illegal adoptions; and her views on whether the Irish State should make a similar apology to Irish children who were forcibly adopted and exported from the State. [54123/13]

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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This question relates to the shoddy way in which the Irish State has treated adopted persons. This issue has come to prominence recently with the release of the film "Philomena", and the producers of that film have been inundated with requests from Irish people to seek assistance in getting their identity traced. Appalling crimes of identity theft have been committed against people. Other states have apologised for such behaviour and I wonder whether the Minister would consider something similar.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The issues raised by the Deputy are a matter of concern to me. I note the apology offered by the Australian Prime Minister earlier this year which relates, as I understand, to historic government policies operated in that jurisdiction.

In Ireland, the Adoption Act 1952 provided a legal basis for adoption in Ireland and for the establishment of the Adoption Board. This brought order to what had been the system of ad hoc arrangements in lieu of formal adoption procedures up to this point, so we have had a change from 1952. All adoptions since 1952 in which the Irish State has been involved have been carried out in line with this and subsequent adoption legislation.

However, in reality, the history of adoption in Ireland in the middle decades of the 20th century reflects a complex social history where the influences and pressures of society, communities, individual families and religious institutions, applied in the private realm, resulted in many cases of children being given up for adoption, in some cases through means which were not legal. As a society, we should all be sorry for what transpired. We cannot undo the practices of the past, but I hope that all of us in this House, including me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, can place on the record our regret at the way Irish society treated so many children and mothers, where children's best interests were not respected and those involved facilitated illegal birth registrations or other arrangements which had, and continue to have, consequences for the children.

Historic private arrangements, for obvious reasons and due to social factors of the era, operated in conditions of great secrecy and there were rarely any contemporary written records of these events. Similarly, the issue of illegal adoptions relates to illegal registrations, that is, children who were given at birth to other individuals who registered these children as their own and who are now unable to access personal records and information.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I have met with individuals who have found themselves in these circumstances and I acknowledge and empathise with the situation that these individuals are addressing. Records on adoptions as well as illegal birth registrations are currently held by a number of agencies, including the HSE, the Adoption Authority of Ireland and also by private adoption agencies, maternity hospitals, private individuals and other sources. Information held by the Adoption Authority is primarily about adoptions which took place since the Adoption Act 1952. If no adoption took place the authority would not have an adoption file. Where no adoption took place, if records exist they may be held by a number of sources including hospitals, GPs, mother and baby homes, religious orders and other sources.

The HSE provides an information and tracing service throughout the country to birth mothers, adopted persons and their families. The requirement in the Adoption Act 2010 that agencies providing information and tracing services would gain accreditation resulted in a number of religious orders deciding not to apply for accreditation and transferring files from their mother and baby homes and adoption societies to the HSE. Approximately 25,000 files have been transferred to the HSE regional adoption service in Cork, from the Sacred Heart Adoption Society. The HSE also has records for a number of other adoption societies and mother and baby homes. Furthermore PACT, which is an agency accredited under the Act, has records of various Protestant organisations. A comprehensive list of records and their locations is available on the HSE website.

The national adoption contact register which is operated by the Adoption Authority was established in 2005 to assist adopted people and their natural families to make contact with each other, exchange information or state their contact preferences. I am conscious of recent media coverage of the issue of information and tracing and I would hope that this will encourage more birth mothers in particular to access the national contact preference register and where possible to consent to the release of information.

When the former Adoption Board launched the national adoption contact preference register in 2005, provision was made for persons who were party to the illegal registration of a child to register an interest in the register for possible future contact with another party sometime in the future. Fundamental to the success of the register is that any persons with information in this regard contact the information and tracing unit of the Adoption Authority.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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This is obviously a very important issue, which has devastating consequences on people throughout their lives. There is a certain irony in the fact that we are rushing through legislation later in the week to facilitate intercountry adoptions, since some of the people I am talking about here were the intercountry adoptees of their day, leaving these shores - sometimes in illegal circumstances - and ending up in America, and many of them are still trying to find out who they are.

The Minister has previously refused to conduct an independent investigation into this practice. I ask her to revisit that issue. In certain instances in the not-too-distant past 97% of children born to non-married parents were either given up for adoption or died in mother and baby homes. That is a phenomenal figure. In Australia, because the figure had reached 67%, the state apologised for what the Minister has acknowledged was social practice and policy at the time. She has acknowledged the illegality and expressed regret, but there needs to be much more. I would revisit the idea of an independent investigation.

3:05 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I recognise the Deputy's concern about this issue, on which we have much work to do. The exact route forward is worthy of consideration. As I said, I have met individuals in these circumstances and acknowledge and empathise with the situation they are trying to address. It is appalling to sit in a room and meet people who say the forms were filled in illegally and incorrectly and that they are at a loss in knowing how to trace information on themselves, the scale of which is still open to question. I have previously said that records on adoptions and illegal birth registrations are held by a number of agencies such as the HSE, the Adoption Authority of Ireland, private adoption authorities, maternity hospitals, private individuals and other sources. Information held by the adoption authorities is primarily on adoptions which took place before the Adoption Act 1952. There is the tracing service and we are bringing forward the legislation. I will ask the Joint Committee on Health and Children to discuss the issue of information and tracing. The issue the Deputy mentioned, as to what to do in the case of illegal adoptions, might be an appropriate one to consider in the first discussion.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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The official apologies made to the victims of the Magdalen laundries and industrial schools made a huge difference to the people concerned and this issue will not go away. It meant a huge amount to the people concerned in Australia to have the state officially acknowledged the issue. In 2010 Gordon Brown apologised for Britain's role in some of these activities in disrupting the identity of children and facilitating their abuse and exploitation. We are dealing in many instances with a generation of stolen children who have a right to know who they are and a State apology. Many of them were adopted, while others died - one quarter of all babies born outside marriage in the 1930s died. In some mother and baby homes the mortality rate of children was 50%. Subsequently the State has actively tried to deny and frustrate people's attempts to discover their identities. Even now, with centralised records, people still cannot access them. Until that issue is resolved, they will keep pressing because the adoptees of yesteryear are becoming more organised and demanding their entitlements and rights to an apology and vindication.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has mentioned inter-country adoptions. In the years subsequent to the era she has described we have learned a lot about adoption, parental permission and consent, the concept of subsidiarity and that adoptions be carried out locally. We have seen a dramatic change. That is linked with cultural attitudes. Very few Irish-born children are placed for adoption. This is in total contrast to the situation in the 1940s and 1950s and has to do with social attitudes. Many factors are at play. It is very important that people who are searching make contact with the National Adoption Contact Preference Register, NACPR, which was established in 2005.

There is quite a difference between the numbers of people signing on for that and the actual number of adoptions that took place. Therefore, we need more publicity about the national contact preference register and must ensure best practice is applied when people are trying to get information to which they are entitled. However, as I mentioned previously, there are also constitutional issues in regard to the mother's right to privacy, which is a critical issue.