Seanad debates

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Acting Chairperson for sharing his own experience and stories so eloquently. I also thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss the Bill with us. I pay tribute to him, and I know it is not something he hears often coming from Opposition politicians, even in the friendlier of the two Houses, namely, the Seanad. It bears saying that the Minister has done important and difficult work in this area and nobody could question his intention around it. It is beyond time to see this matter being progressed.

There is no doubt that the Minister's apology on behalf of the Government is welcome, but we have had apologies before in the Dáil from Governments of the recent past but those apologies should be the beginning and not the end of the work that must be done to compensate for the mistakes made and damage wrought on people's lives. This is not to take away from the Minister's words but it is incumbent on the Taoiseach to offer a full apology and give the opportunity to those directly affected to be in attendance when that happens.

It is only appropriate and right that we would take a moment to thank the people who should never have had to fight as hard and as long as they have, namely, the survivors of the mother and baby homes. I know some of them are here tonight, and I thank them. We stand with them and we will work really hard with the Minister to try to ensure we get this right. I also take a moment to acknowledge and recognise the experience of a former Labour leader and Tánaiste, former Deputy Joan Burton, and her own adoption experience and journey. It took over three decades for Joan to find out her information. She was in her 50s at the time, had graduated, married, given birth and served as a Deputy and Minister before she found the information she sought. She has spoken openly and eloquently many times about her experience, which I recognise today as well.

So much pain and cruelty was visited upon these women, their children and their families, and it was all State-sanctioned. As somebody who was not even born when most of these places were in operation, I feel a deep sadness and, to be very honest, an enormous amount of shame when I stand in a room speaking on this matter. I am aware the decisions made, perhaps in this room or the Lower House, political and governmental decisions, led us to this. It is beholden on all of us as legislators as we go about our work today to consider every decision we make not only within the context of our personal or political beliefs but what our decisions, taken in these rooms, might mean for the lives of every one of our fellow citizens. I doubt many of the Deputies, Senators or decision makers at that time thought that future generations of lawmakers would be here so many decades later unpicking the work they did and trying to provide redress for the pain arising from their role. This Bill is an important reminder that although we cannot future-proof every decision, we must strive to ensure that, in the present, everything we do is grounded in the needs of people, care and compassion for people. Our work must be done in congruence with people's wishes.

I have a couple of questions and observations, although I do not know if the Minister will have the opportunity to respond. Many of us in the Labour Party have spoken with survivors in mother and baby homes and people placed for adoption. A wide spectrum of people have been affected by this. Something that arose was a sense of confusion and sometimes hurt and bewilderment about some of the language used in this Bill. Some people have expressed those feelings about use of terms such as "social parents" and maybe the use of the term "adoptive parent". That is for some people; it is not for everyone. I can only reflect the experience of the people we have spoken with.

There are many questions about the resources that will be given to rolling out the provisions in the Bill, where they will come from and what will be used. The Minister repeatedly referred to the €800 million scheme, but people really want to conceptualise or understand what this will mean for each person. That might be an impossible question to answer but people want to know what it means on an individual basis. The €800 million is a figure and it does not relate to people's lives and experiences. I appreciate the Minister may not be able to give an answer but it is something we must think about. What does this mean and how will this affect people individually? We must highlight that there is a group of older people who have never been able to access any information on their birth.

Following the publication of this Bill, Deputy Bacik, on behalf of the Labour Party, expressed her concerns about some aspects of the legislation. The Minister and the Deputy went through these concerns in the Lower House. Survivors of mother and baby county homes and all adopted persons have been waiting decades for recognition of the right to information on their identity. Campaigners have been crying out for legislation to provide them with access to birth certificates and information about their adoption and origins. This is something many of us in the Labour Party have worked hard to achieve. In early 2021, we published legislation to facilitate information and tracing for adopted persons and challenged the Government to make good on the commitment to make good on the commitment to do the same. I recognise that the Minister has responded positively to those calls.

Deputy Bacik, on behalf of the Labour Party and in conjunction with other Members of the Houses and witnesses, participated extensively in pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislation before us.The Labour Party will be submitting amendments to this legislation. I look forward to engaging with the Minister in good faith on those. When the Bill was going through the other House there were concerns about retention of the controversial information session for those seeking information about their origins. The joint committee had recommended the deletion of any requirement for a meeting or information session so it is disappointing to see that some form of information provision session has been retained in the revised Bill. I echo Senator Warfield's call that full unfettered information be made available and that there be a central archive. I still have not fully got my head around the idea that there are bits and pieces of information still scattered around the place for something so serious that effects so many lives. It is not good enough that this information is still in so many depositories. A central archive would be crucial.

It is vital to listen to those who will be most directly affected by this legislation and the wishes of survivors and adopted persons must be heard. We have an awful lot left to do and unfortunately, in this area, time is not necessarily on our side.I will conclude with the words of my Labour Party colleague, Joan Burton who said:

I will welcome the public apologies and justifiable redress schemes. I will welcome even more the essential law reforms that must come as the true memorial to Ireland’s banished babies.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.