Seanad debates

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I welcome both the Minister and our guests in the Public Gallery. These are their Houses and they are very welcome here. I welcome also those who are watching the debate from elsewhere.

The apology the Minister made on behalf of the State is welcome. I have no doubt it will have been a difficult moment for many people. It has come on the same day we have learned that no agreement has been reached with the religious orders in regard to contributing towards redress for survivors of mother and baby homes. As my party colleague, Deputy Funchion, pointed out, it is deeply worrying that we cannot compel in law religious orders that so willingly took public funds to run these horrendous institutions to contribute towards redress. Having welcomed our guests to the Public Gallery, I commend those who have shared their stories. I also commend my colleague, Senator Boyhan, on his work in this area and on placing his personal experience into the public domain. Many of those who have shared their stories publicly will have watched the Dáil debates and the committee proceedings as Members and colleagues worked through the legislation. The significance of the matter is not lost on any of us in the Houses and we will continue to work to ensure victims and survivors are heard. As the Minister and Senator Seery Kearney noted, it is well recognised that apologies will carry little weight unless they are backed up by practical responses to remedy the rights violation in question. We have to ensure State apologies are backed up by action.

Despite several attempts to address the issue through legislation, we continue to operate a closed and secretive structure when adopted people seek to access their birth and early life information. Currently, all adoptive files are held at various locations, most notably within Tusla, which is extremely problematic for some survivors.Some are held by the adoption authority, county councils, religious orders, hospitals and various adoption agencies. There is no statutory right for adopted persons to access birth records, adoption files or any records relating to them.

It is important to remember that the right to information and the prospect of a relationship with natural family members are two separate matters. There is no evidence that natural mothers sought privacy from their children. In reality, the opposite is true. However, this myth has permeated adoption services, including State, church and private adoption agencies, with devastating consequences. It is clear there is an urgent need to legislate for the provision of information and tracing in two key areas. All adopted people should have full and unfettered access to their adoption and care arrangement records and any other relevant information. Provision must also be given to the establishment of an independent and central archive or agency to facilitate the efficient and judicious sharing of information. The State has consistently failed adopted people in this country and although the recent mother and baby homes report has brought the matter into sharp focus again, we must remain cognisant that this is a matter affecting all people who have been adopted in this country and any legislation must reflect that.

I commend the members of the children's committee who are here. I served on the committee for four years from 2016. The committee published a comprehensive report in December 2021 in which it made 83 key recommendations on matters such as language and terminology, the mandatory information session and the express need to provide unrestricted access to information and resources, including the creation of a new agency.

Sinn Féin understands that balancing the identity rights of applicants and the privacy rights of birth and natural parents is difficult. I know this topic has generated the most lengthy discussions in the Dáil and in committee. Sinn Féin has pushed the position that despite the legislation making more advances than has been previously attempted - I commend the Minister on that - more must be done to ensure unfettered access of applicants to birth records, adoption files or any records relating to them.

Mandatory information sessions remain in all but name, but the removal of any requirement for an information session is paramount. The Minister has argued that this element must be included to balance the rights of birth and natural mothers' privacy if a no-contact preference has been recorded. I note that the Oireachtas joint committee in its deliberations proposed an alternative in that a registered letter could be sent to applicants outlining their obligations in the case of a preference for no contact to respect the birth or natural mother's expressed wishes. Sinn Féin still holds the view that this should be the position. We are cognisant that changes have been made by the Minister and the Government has made some key concessions with this legislation. However, this extremely contentious mandatory information session remains.

We are pleased the Minister has amended the question around medical information and the Bill now allows family medical information to be released to adopted people and a person's family without the intervention of a GP. We acknowledge these advances but we cannot support the legislation in its current form. Any alternative proposals to legislate in this area must not leave one adopted person behind. This is a human rights matter. Ireland has been in breach of adopted persons' human rights dating right back to the foundation of the State. The Minister indicated in his closing remarks that he looks forward to working with Senators in bringing forward the best possible legislation. We will do that with him in good faith.


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