Thursday, 5 December 2002
Adjournment Matter. - Adoption Arrangements.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Callely for coming to the House to respond to this matter. I raise the issue of the bilateral agreement between Ireland and Vietnam in relation to foreign adoptions because it has been reported that existing arrangements will cease at the end of the month. Vietnam is changing from a province-based system to a centralised government-based system, with effect from 1 January next. The Vietnam-Irish adoption group, comprised of families who have adopted from Vietnam or who are in the process of doing so, is extremely concerned about the implications for its members during that transition period.
Adopting a child is one of the greatest acts of love anybody can undertake. In an era of changing family values, there is an onus on those of us in public life to do what we can to ensure that people who go down that road are facilitated, encouraged and supported by the institutions of State. A number of countries are in the process of negotiating bilateral agreements and there is uncertainty as to what will happen to families going through the existing process if our bilateral agreement is not put in place. It is clear that only citizens of a country having a bilateral agreement will be allowed to adopt from Vietnam once this new system comes into effect from 1 January. Accordingly, some questions need to be answered directly. Will existing arrangements be allowed to continue until a bilateral agreement is in place for applicants who have already lodged applications before the end of this year or will there be a vacuum in the process from January until a bilateral agreement is put in place?
I note from the Department of Health website in the UK, in relation to a query on the UK bilateral agreement, that the Vietnamese Government has indicated that if a country is willing to express an interest in setting up a bilateral agreement with Vietnam, it may consider continuing adoptions while that agreement is being established. In view of that statement, I believe there is an onus on us to outline clearly the procedures being followed in Ireland and the efforts being made to establish a bilateral agreement. I ask the Minister of State to clarify the current position with regard to the bilateral agreement between Vietnam and Ireland and to seek assurances from the Vietnamese authorities that existing arrangements will be allowed to continue until such an agreement is put in place.
I am aware that the Minister of State's colleague at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, had a meeting with the group today. I was not aware of that when I submitted this matter for consideration and I apologise for any misunderstanding in that regard. Now that that meeting has taken place, I would welcome information regarding the assurances or clarifications the group was given by the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan. This is an emotional issue for families who are perhaps halfway through the process of adoption and who have, as it were, seen a wall appearing in front of them. I thank the Minister of State for his attendance and I hope his reply will bring some clarity to the situation for the families concerned.
I thank Senator Minihan for raising this important matter and I concur with many of his comments on the substantive issue involved.
My colleague, Deputy Brian Lenihan, Minister of State with responsibility for children, has been advised by the Adoption Board that it wrote to the Vietnamese Minister for Justice, who has responsibility for adoption matters, in November 2001, January 2002 and again in September 2002 inquiring if it would be possible to enter into a working arrangement on adoption with Ireland and asking for confirmation on whether adoptions from Vietnam to Ireland will be suspended. Regretfully, the board has not received a response to date but I understand that Vietnam intends suspending all adoptions to countries that do not have a bilateral agreement in place on adoption as from 2 January 2003. The Adoption Board has offered, having regard to the impending restrictions, to fast-track any straightforward adoption applications that are currently on hand for Vietnam.
Due to the absence of a response from the Vietnamese authorities, my colleague, Deputy Lenihan, recently asked the Irish Ambassador to Vietnam to raise Ireland's interest in negotiating a bilateral agreement on adoption and to take the necessary steps to facilitate this process. He also asked the Department and the Adoption Board to assist the Ambassador in the negotiation process. In this respect, I have been advised that the Ambassador met the Vietnamese authorities yesterday and has reported the willingness of the Vietnamese side to enter into negotiations. I can also confirm that the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, is meeting with a number of Vietnamese adoption groups today to discuss this issue. It is intended to monitor progress in this regard and my colleague has asked his officials to keep him informed of developments.
In considering working arrangements with other countries, I know Senator Minihan will agree it is essential to be satisfied that these arrangements uphold the spirit of the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption and that all adoptions take place in the best interests of the children concerned. With regard to the specific questions posed by Senator Minihan, I will respond by letter to him on those matters later today or tomorrow.
The Seanad adjourned at 3.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 December 2002.