Tuesday, 10 May 2022
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage
I also acknowledge how you spoke, Acting Chair, about your own experience. Hopefully, that will mean an awful lot to people listening today as well.
This is an historic day. The Birth Information and Tracing Bill means that all adopted children can now access records. As the Minister clearly states, in all cases, any child that was born in Ireland that was sent abroad is included under the legislation. That is crucial. The law that we make today is having such an impact on so many people's lives. I acknowledge the people who are with us today in the Visitors Gallery, and in the Houses of the Oireachtas, but also everyone who is watching the proceedings as well.
We are looking at how we can offer justice for the abuse, stigma and shame that has led to the illegal birth registrations. It begins with an apology from the State. However, we need practical help and support and that is what this Bill begins to do, to provide access. This impact is on women and children mainly. It was women, back in the 1940s and 1950s, who had to endure incredible ignominy and shame that led to them living their lives in shame in society, families and in institutions. Following the Minister's apology, we must stand up now and shine a light. That is what has been done. It has been a very difficult process.
The Minister has visited the mother and baby home in Tuam. He has given time to people. It has been an extremely harrowing process for the people and families involved. So many people have come forward and engaged with the process, but my thoughts are with people who have not yet spoken - older men and women that have never spoken about this. I am very conscious that anyone who is listening would be aware that there are supports provided by the HSE and Connect counselling. Counselling is nearly always the first step to how we engage with the issue and this Bill speaks about counselling.
The purpose of the Bill is to correct the birth register and to have an accurate record, so that there is a tracing service delivered by the State and that genealogical expertise will be available. I very much acknowledge the pre-legislative scrutiny by colleagues in the Seanad and in the Dáil as well. The Minister has taken that into account in the amendments he has introduced in terms of the balance that must be struck with the preference of parents. What is crucial about this Bill in a very practical way is the access to medical information for people who have never had that access.
The Minister refers to next of kin in the Bill, many of whom may be deceased at this stage. Brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces are also mentioned. The Bill ensures that Tusla and the Adoption Authority can request information. I note that the Minister underlined the fact that Departments and religious organisations must share information with them. He also mentioned the Succession Act, to balance inheritance rights between the birth family and the adoptive family.
The O'Mahony report referred to a number of illegal birth registrations, which Tusla flagged as suspicious. I presume a specialised team is probably looking at those files, but could the Minister provide any further comment on the issue? It is the case that so many people are old or have passed away. How are we going to guarantee access to the information? Given the acceleration by the Department, the officials and the teams in their engagement and public consultations that have been happening in recent years, I do not underestimate what has been achieved, but we must ensure that we have something available as quickly as possible for people who need the support right now.
I thank the Minister for his apology. Having read the report, the points that stuck with me were the shockingly high rate of infant mortality in the 1940s and 1950s and the fact that no comfort was given in some of these homes. The Minister's role in representing the Government and all of us as public representatives is to give that comfort to families now.