Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

2:30 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, a good evening. In light of the current block on Russian adoptions there is a need for the Minister to give a timeline by which the block can be lifted so adoptions with Russia can recommence. I tabled the adjournment motion three weeks ago and it has taken until now for it to be heard. On that day I received the following information from a family:

Today we went to the Russian ministry of education, having gone there last Monday also. We were turned away, as once again Ireland is blacklisted due to the HSE not doing its job and enforcing the agreement it made with the Russians. [That agreement was to the effect that once a child was adopted into this country from Russia that the Minister and the Health Service Executive agreed to provide post-placement records on the child to the Russian adoption agency. That was a fair agreement and everyone knew where he or she stood.] So once again we are denied a chance to form a family and one less child is removed from institutional care. Does anyone in the government understand this ? Do they care?

Over time, material on the matter has appeared in the newspapers but the HSE denies it has any role. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for children and young people, Deputy Barry Andrews, stated that again in The Irish Times but he is not correct. All prospective adoptive parents seeking to adopt a child from Russia must sign an agreement in advance of being allowed to do so to the effect that they will comply with providing a post-placement report. In other words, the HSE would not process an application and the Adoption Board would not issue a declaration of fitness to adopt without an agreement on a post-placement report being signed. However, the lack of provision of those reports by the Adoption Board and the HSE are blocking adoptions from Russia. Whatever about the legality of the matter, the practical effect is that without the provision of those reports no adoption will be possible. Why is the Adoption Board and the HSE saying to some people that there is no agreement, to others that there is one but it is not binding, and to others still that there is an agreement, which is binding, but it is the parents who are at fault? It is all very confusing.

The agreement was made by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, prior to the establishment of a separate office of Minister for children. Why is she now refusing to take any responsibility whatsoever for the issue? She is still Minister for Health and Children. At a meeting on 13 April officials from the Russian Federal Ministry of Education intimated that they required a post-placement report but that they did not require one from the HSE. They outlined that an independent social worker or an independent organisation such as PACT would be able to provide such reports. The key requirement is that the report would be provided by someone legally competent to supervise inter-country adoption, which includes all social workers. That arrangement could be certified in law or in regulations to the effect that the person so doing would take responsibility for forwarding the post-placement reports to Russia.

In other words, it is possible to create a parallel track to the HSE, which is good news. If the HSE does not wish to provide the reports and the Adoption Board cannot facilitate people then all the Minister has to do is to approve a certified social worker capable of providing a post-placement report. The HSE might well want to do its own reports, although on 13 April in The Irish Times the Minister stated it was the position under Irish law that adopted children were the same as biological ones and that parents did not have to make any reports on them. That made the situation even more confusing. It is disingenuous as prospective adoptive parents must undertake to co-operate with the HSE in doing reports. If the reports are not required, why do prospective parents have to agree to make such reports at a later stage in order to be assessed? It is clear that the Russian authorities expected post-placement reports and we should honour that arrangement. After all, we have had the privilege of adopting their children. I do not understand why there is a total unwillingness to take responsibility for this problem.

In light of the current block on Russian adoptions due to the fact that post-placement reports are not being furnished by the Government or being facilitated to be provided by the Government, will the Minister outline a timeline by which the block can be lifted so adoptions can recommence with Russia?

I am the mother of an adopted child from another country. I also signed such an agreement, although not with Russia. I was very happy for social workers from the former Western Health Board to come to my home to check that I was fulfilling the due care I had promised for the child. All we seek is a simple post-placement report to allow adoptions to re-open with Russia.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to reply to the debate on this Adjournment Matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister of State with special responsibility for children and young people, Deputy Barry Andrews. The Government's objective in regard to adoption is to provide for a regime in which the child will be at the centre of the adoption process, whether it be an inter-country or a domestic adoption, and that adoptions will be effected in a manner that is legal, safe and secure. A key component in achieving this objective is the development of an appropriate legislative regime that will recognise the changed and changing global situation with regard to adoption in the last 20 years. The Adoption Bill which was published on 23 January 2009 provides an assurance for individual children, their families and the State that appropriate procedures have been followed and that the adoption was effected in the best interests of the child. A core principle of both the Adoption Bill and the Hague Convention is that the child's interests must be paramount. The Hague Convention which is given the force of law in the Bill effectively puts in place an agreement between states to regulate the standards that will apply in each jurisdiction. It is to put in place safeguards that acceptable standards are being applied in other countries, over which we have no jurisdiction.

The recent difficulty arose when the Russian Ministry of Education blacklisted regions within more than a dozen countries, including Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. This resulted in the suspension of referrals for adoption. The issue as it pertains to Ireland relates to the alleged non-completion of post-placement reports. When adopting from Russia, adoptive parents agree to complete a series of post-placement reports on the child which are to be lodged with the Russian authorities. It should be noted that this is an administrative arrangement as part of the Russian adoption process and is not an Irish legal requirement. While neither the Adoption Board nor the HSE has a statutory function in the provision of post-placement reports, they facilitate the preparation of same. The key commitment given by adoptive parents in the legal affidavit which is required of all applicants is to co-operate in the provision of such reports. This issue arose previously in 2009 and was resolved to the satisfaction of the Russian authorities. As recently as December 2009, officials from the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs received positive feedback from the Russian authorities on the issue and there was no indication that the Russian Government was about to take the decision to suspend adoptions for Irish applicants.

Following the announcement of the blacklisting, the Russian Embassy was asked to provide details of all outstanding reports. The HSE, in conjunction with the Adoption Board, examined the list and the up-to-date position on the reports was compiled. According to information received from the HSE, more than half of the reports listed by the Russian authorities as outstanding had previously been completed by the adoptive parents and forwarded to the Russian Embassy in Dublin. The majority of the remaining reports have been completed by the HSE and are with the adoptive parents. In a small number of cases adoptive parents have not engaged with the HSE, thus preventing the completion of reports.

Two weeks ago the Minister of State met senior representatives from the Russian Embassy who acknowledged that a significant number of reports had previously been submitted to the Russian Embassy. The embassy representatives are liaising with authorities in Russia in this regard. The Minister of State asked that the embassy officials relay to the Russian Ministry of Education our commitment to assisting Irish parents to furnish post-placement reports in a timely fashion. He further asked whether Ireland could be removed from the blacklist on the basis of the information supplied. The Russian officials said they expected to be in a position to complete their report on the matter within days and would, in turn, send it to government Departments in Moscow.

The Minister of State is deeply aware of the angst and frustration prospective adoptive parents continue to experience as a result of recent events. Parents who have already adopted from Russia are being encouraged by the HSE to provide any outstanding information for the Russian Government in a timely fashion.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Is it correct to say the blacklisting of Ireland by Russia is continuing because some parents are not co-operating?

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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That seems to be the case in some instances. In others, as I said, there may have been a misunderstanding about documents sent. The Russian authorities have accepted that they are available.