Friday, 20 December 2013
Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage
I wish Senators a good morning. This Bill addresses the issue of inter-country adoptions, specifically the concerns of some people who have been unable to continue with the process of adopting a child from Russia because of an unexpected amendment to Russian adoption legislation that took effect earlier this year.
The Adoption Act 2010 provides, inter alia, for inter-country adoptions between states that have ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Ireland ratified the Hague Convention on 1 November 2010. While Russia has been a signatory to the convention since 1992, it has not ratified it. During the drafting of the 2010 Act, a considered and detailed transitional measure was put in place to deal with the change from previous adoption legislation. This measure, provided for in section 63 of the Act, allowed those persons who held a valid declaration of eligibility and suitability before the Act's commencement to continue the process of adoption from a non-Hague state for a maximum of three years. It is worth remembering that the majority of Irish people who have adopted during the past ten years have done so from non-Hague countries. Approximately 910 children from Russia were adopted between 2004 and 2010, but signing the Hague Convention immediately led to difficulties with adoptions from non-signatories. Many European countries continue to allow adoptions from non-Hague countries that apply Hague standards. Uniquely, we have introduced strict legislation requiring a bilateral agreement. This led to the dramatic decrease in the number of adoptions despite a high level of demand.
Under the 2010 Act, applicants who held a valid declaration of eligibility and suitability before its commencement were afforded an additional three-year period to complete their adoptions from non-Hague countries. They were required to have completed the process by 31 October 2013. By their very nature, transitional provisions are time limited and three years was considered a reasonable amount of time.
A particular difficulty has arisen with the expiry of the transitional provision provided for in section 63 in so far as a small number of people could not finalise adoptions in Russia before their existing declarations of eligibility and suitability expired. Without a valid declaration, the adoption of a child cannot proceed. This situation arose primarily because of a change in Russian adoption legislation, which itself is undergoing a great deal of change. The Russians are moving towards a position of encouraging internal adoptions. There is a new sensitivity to the situations experienced by children in their institutions. Russia is moving towards promoting foster families in a way that it did not previously. We have held good discussions with the Russians regarding these changes.
Russia amended its legislation, changing the period that a child needed to be on the national adoption database before becoming eligible for inter-country adoption from six months to one year. This is in line with the principle of subsidiarity in adoption legislation, that is, every effort must be made to have the child adopted in his or her own country before being placed on an inter-country database.
Since the amendment to the Russian legislation and the consequences for the number of Irish people involved in adoption processes, approximately 23 families, were brought to my attention, I have pursued extensive diplomatic efforts. I thank the Tánaiste, who has been engaged intensively on the diplomatic front in Russia, and our ambassador in Moscow, who has had meetings with Russia's Department of education and relevant people. I have held meetings with staff from the Russian Embassy in Ireland to resolve the issue diplomatically.
Applicants from other countries have also been affected. It was hoped that some administrative or legislative solution could be found in Russia to deal with the families caught up in this process. Many had already met the children in question and were close to finalising their adoptions. Despite everyone's best efforts, however, it has not been possible to resolve this issue diplomatically or to achieve an administrative solution within Russia. The matter has become urgent for those people whose declarations of eligibility and suitability expired on 31 October and who wish to finalise adoptions in Russia. The adoption of a child in Russia cannot proceed without a valid declaration.
In order to resolve this situation, I propose that an amendment to the 2010 Act be made to extend the period of validity of a declaration of eligibility and suitability to allow those affected by the change in Russian legislation additional time to complete their adoptions. I am confining the amendment to persons who, on 31 October 2013, held declarations of eligibility and suitability that were specific to the Russian Federation.
Many Irish families that have adopted from non-Hague countries, for example, Ethiopia, would like it to be possible to continue such adoptions. Due to our legislation and a lack of bilateral agreements with those countries, however, this is not possible.
We have had a great deal of contact with the Adoption Authority of Ireland and a considerable amount of background work has been done. The amendment may look simple, but one must consider the consequences for other groups and our international obligations under Hague. The Adoption Authority has informed my Department that, on 31 October 2013, 23 prospective adoptive parents held declarations of eligibility and suitability for adoption from the Russian Federation. I propose that the period of validity of those declarations be extended to 31 October 2014. The proposed amendment to the Act is limited to declarations in respect of the Russian Federation. In all circumstances, this is a necessary and appropriate amendment and helps the families involved. No one has a right to adoption, but this amendment is primarily targeted at serving the best interests of the children in question, those being, the chance to family life and a second chance.
Throughout the process of preparing the legislation, my Department and I have been mindful of our international obligations under the Hague Convention and our commitment to adhering to its standards. The Adoption Authority constantly puts adoptions from non-Hague countries through under the transitional arrangements, but it applies the Hague standards, those being, informed consent and subsidiarity. As pointed out in the Dáil yesterday, we must also be conscious that, when considering adoptions in the broader context, we must be sensitive to some of the risks involved. A number of situations arose that were unsatisfactory, where the best interests of the children were not considered primarily and where unscrupulous people became involved. One must be constantly vigilant about standards in adoptions and countries' adherence to same.
The implementation of the 2010 Act is evidence of the State's dedication to those standards. While I reiterate our commitment to the Hague Convention, many children who are in institutions around the world need a second opportunity. Sometimes, their countries do not have central authorities or the types of procedures that allow Ireland to have bilateral agreements with them, yet those children still need families and placements. From a legal perspective, we must determine how to achieve flexibility so that the standards can be maintained while the children still get second chances.
Many of the countries that cannot sign the Hague Convention are those in which children are most in need, including Haiti and Ethiopia. This is an ongoing challenge to the Hague Convention and from a legal perspective. As stated, some countries have taken a more flexible approach to this than Ireland. The implementation of the 2010 Act has meant that Ireland is now significantly better equipped than it was prior to 2010 to deal with the many complex issues that arise in intercountry adoption. As a signatory to the Hague Convention, which is a mechanism for improving standards, we are determined to ensure that child centred adoption is at the core of all the elements of the adoption process.
I will now address the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 provides that a declaration of eligibility and suitability in respect of the Russian Federation that had been issued to a prospective adoptive parent, and which was valid on 31 October 2013, shall be extended from that date for a period of one year and shall expire on 31 October 2014. It further provides that any such declaration extended under this proposed legislation shall not be amended to specify any State other than the Russian Federation as the State to which the declaration applies. Section 2 provides for the Short Title and citation.
I have brought this amending Bill forward as a matter of urgency. I thank Senators for agreeing to take all Stages of the Bill today. I commend it to the House and look forward to hearing the views of the Senators on this proposed legislation.