Tuesday, 10 May 2022
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage
I warmly welcome the people seated in both of the Galleries of this House because this legislation is about them, their families, their past, their lives and their circumstances. We all need and require our identity and it is very important to each one of us.
As I have told this House before, I am one of seven children and I originally come from the lovely Grangecon, County Wicklow and the borders of Athy, County Kildare. Through no circumstance of either of my parents my siblings and I were all brought up in care. I did not know until I was five or seven years of age that I had brothers and sisters. With the will of my parents, who sought to bring their children up as they thought best, they resisted any stress and pressure to allow us to be adopted. Indeed, my name was Kenneth Boyhan but as there was another boy in care called Kenneth I was called Victor. I am glad of that because I feel that I have stepped into the word, "Victor", and I would not want anybody to take it away from me now. I use that example to explain how strange it can be about one's sense of identity. When I became a Senator and applied for a diplomatic passport, an embassy official contacted me to say that was not the name they had. That simple example shows how important our identity is to us.
I cannot say that I had a sad or bad life. I can say that through efforts, not by social services nor the State but by others, my siblings and I maintained contact. Not a week went by that I did not speak to all of my siblings. So history, origin, heritage and identity are really important to people but it takes strong parents or guardians to fight sometimes to retain contact with their children. The lesson to be learned from all that is that it actually works.
To those who are here today and to all of the other people who are listening in here, I am not going to respond to the apology because it is not my place or experience and, therefore, it would not be right for me to respond in any way other than to thank the Minister for making an apology in the House. The apology will take time. The people who heard it today will have heard it for the first time. Indeed, I assure the people outside of this House that I, and I do not think any other Member of this House, were aware of the content of the apology until the Minister put it on the record here today although we were aware that it would happen today. Language and timing is so important when one talks about ourselves. I thank the people who went on this journey with us over the years. The people who shared their experiences with us had to put into the public domain things they did not really want people to hear and had to tell people about their circumstances. Many of us blend into our community. When you think about it, people do not really know that much about any of us but somehow, all of this has been painful.
I wish to state to the Minister that identity is important and the legality of the actions of others is important too. To suggest that the St. Patrick's Guild was the only institution involved in the illegal registration of births would be foolish and wrong. There were many adoptive arrangements within families, as well as inter-family arrangements. There were many different traditions in this country and different religious organisations were involved. Indeed, I grew up with many people who were adopted and still do not know anything about their past. They cannot get anything about their papers or anything. Consequently, it would be foolish to single out one institution in this State and suggest that it was solely, and wholly, the only institution that did this and there are issues in that regard.
I thank the Minister for engaging with Oireachtas Members and thank the committee for all of the work it did on this legislation. Access to a range of information is critically important to us, and it is important to have this feature in the Bill.
Early life information is an issue that the Minister touched on here today. It has been broadly defined in this Bill as being the place where the person resided and the dates of that residency; where applicable, information relating to his or her baptism or any other ceremony of a religious or spiritual nature; information on medical treatments, procedures or vaccinations administered; information on whether a person, being a parent or other genetic relative of him or her, visited or inquired in relation to him or her. That is quite profound because I know of many instances where birth parents went to institutions, which were run, managed and overseen by this State, yet were denied access to their children. They were told that their children had been adopted and not to stand in the way of a better life and better opportunities for their children. Those parents walked away thinking that that was going to happen. There are a lot of issues related to these matters but it is important that we move forward.
The Bill states that the relevant bodies, including the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla "shall, to the extent that it is practicable to do so", provide early life information to relevant persons of age 18 and over. I have something of an issue with that qualification and may table an amendment. The tracing service is important. I believe that the Minister has been honourable in his dealings here. He has been fiercely committed and a wonderful advocate. However, he has had to learn himself. He has gone on this journey over the last two years and come a long way. I do not doubt his commitment to get this legislation right.
On the face of things, and subject to a few possible amendments, I support this Bill because I believe that it is the right thing to do. This week, I will be 61 years of age. As I came in here today I thought about how I never thought that I would be somewhere like here talking about tracing and legislation. I support this Bill because it is the right thing to do. We owe this legislation to people but the process will be difficult and there will be many bridges to cross. There will be many people hurt and disappointed. In some cases they will not be surprised because much of this has been wrapped in denial, but it is a real journey. This is really important legislation in terms of identity.
In conclusion, I thank the people who shared their personal stories and the hundreds of people who have participated on “Prime Time”.I recognised one lady, from her television appearance more than anything else, and said hello to her. They were brave, courageous people. They had to tell their partners. Sometimes people were married for years and they never talked about their secrets, as they called them. I support the Bill. It is the right thing to do. I acknowledge the importance of the Minister's apology but it is not for any of us to accept that apology. It is for the individuals, and that is going to take time.