Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Registration of Births

2:30 pm

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the Cathaoirleach for agreeing to the taking of this Commencement matter today. This issue relates to the proposals for the State's response to illegal birth registrations in Ireland. There are many complexities and issues with respect to children in care but this issue is specifically focused on illegal birth registrations in Ireland. We know a report has been compiled by Professor Conor O'Mahony. It has been sitting on the Minister's desk for approximately six weeks.I cannot state for certain that the Minister has read the report but I am aware that he has it. What is worrying about it is that many people sitting in their homes today will not be aware of the finer detail regarding illegal birth registrations in Ireland. We know the sad litany of stories relating to children in care. We also know of some of the journeys these children have taken. I do not want to mention individual organisations, some of which facilitated the illegal registration and transfer of children to other families. Often their motives were well-meaning and I do not want to suggest otherwise but at the end of the day, it was not always a happy experience for those children.

I spoke to a family of seven yesterday, all of whom were placed in care in Dublin in one of the major institutions that dealt with children. All of them were adopted but they have never been able to get to the truth. They have been subjected to denial about their history and their past. Two of them now realise that they were born a month apart but have been celebrating birthdays that are supposedly two years apart. The circumstances are tragic. They have been denied their authenticity, their history and the truth about where they belong and their journey. I speak as someone who grew up in care. I know that we all want to know where we came from. We want to know our past and our journey. One of the big issues is that people have been denied that and the Church and the State have been complicit in it.

What does the report that is with the Minister say? Are we going to continue to fabricate, tell lies and send people on a different journey? How can one square this for the seven people to whom I spoke, all of whom are now adults over 50 years of age? They have been denied access to their information. They have been told that they are ungrateful individuals but they have been told so many lies about their identity, their past and where they belong.

I do not want to keep making this case because I am sick and tired of doing so. It is sad when people have to lay bare their own issues in order to convince people. I do not doubt the commitment of the Minister of State but time is up. We have got to tell the people who were illegally adopted. More importantly, they were provided with false documentation, including false baptismal certificates, and a whole range of false information. I want, more than anything, for this report to be published as quickly as possible. I want the necessary counselling and supports to be given to these people.

I will wrap up by saying that we see the world from where we stand and our experiences in it. We bring the good, the bad and the ugly, everything that shapes and moulds us as children, into the future and we cannot forget it. Indeed, we should not forget it and we should not deny it. I do not expect an elaborate response from the Minister of State. I know that she speaks from the heart. That is her style and she has a reputation for it. I do not want her to stand up and read from a sheet of paper, telling me what the Minister has said. I want the Minister of State to take a message back to the Minister from me. The message is, let us get this report published; let us not leave it for another six weeks on the Minister's desk; and let us engage meaningfully and honestly with the people involved.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this Commencement matter today and I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting it. The Senator has a direct question that quite rightly, deserves a direct response. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and his officials are actively considering the contents of the report in advance of bringing it to Government and publishing it. The Minister intends to engage with individuals affected by illegal birth registrations on the report in due course. The Minister has the report and is actively working on it. He will bring the report to Government in due course.

Out of courtesy to the Minister, I will read the departmental script into the record.I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which falls under the policy remit of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Regrettably, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is unable to attend today, so I am happy to respond to the matter raised on his behalf.

The Minister is conscious of the complexity of issues and emotions that have arisen for individuals because of their illegal birth registration. He is also aware of the many practical issues and questions that have arisen for them. I know he has met with many of the individuals impacted. He listened to their concerns and is committed to bringing about a change that works for them. That is a welcome and refreshing approach from the Minister.

We know that, for some people, it has not been possible to give them access to their birth information without the consent of the parent named on the birth certificate. This is why it is an absolute priority for the Minister and for the Government to bring forward the proposed birth information and tracing legislation. With respect to the report that the Senator refers to, in March 2021, the Minister asked the special rapporteur on child protection to consider the challenges that arise regarding illegal birth registrations and to propose an appropriate course of action. The Minister has now received this report from the special rapporteur entitled, Proposals for a State Response to Illegal Birth Registrations in Ireland.

The Minister and his officials are actively considering the contents of the report in advance of bringing it to the Government and publishing it. In January 2021, the Minister established an interdepartmental group to consider issues arising in regard to the St. Patrick's Guild cases following publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. The purpose of the interdepartmental group was to develop a set of integrated proposals to address the issues arising for those affected by illegal birth registrations, across a range of areas including, in particular, birth registration, identity, parentage and inheritance. These proposals are, in turn, reflected in Part 7 of the general scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill, which was published on 11 May last.

The Minister recently concluded a consultation process with the relevant individuals. The purpose of this consultation was to ensure that the legislative proposals adequately take account of the issues facing them. The consultation was highly productive, with a range of themes emerging from this process helping to inform the drafting of the birth information and tracing legislation. This vitally important draft legislation will, when enacted, provide access to birth certificates and birth information for adoptees, persons whose births were illegally registered and other persons who have questions on their origins. The proposed legislation will also address access to records containing birth and early life information, provide a statutory basis for tracing services, and provide for safeguarding of relevant records.

The general scheme takes account of the specific issues facing people who are the subject of an illegal birth registration regarding their birth registration and identity documents. It also addresses the recognition of parentage in respect of the persons who raised them. I work with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, as a colleague in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. He is fully committed to the process. I have never met a person more intent on ensuring that the truth is laid bare and that people have the right to know. That is the Minister's whole purpose.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for her report. I do not doubt the commitment of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to it, but the time is up. It has gone on for too long. There comes a point when people want the information. It is about their identity and contacts. There are many people at a great age now, who will not be around for much longer, and they need support. The more we tell them about new Bills and legislation, the further away it seems. I understand the Minister of State has a job to do. I too have a job to do. I thank the Minister of State for bringing the report to the House today.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I will articulate everything the Senator has said here today following his meeting with the seven individuals only yesterday. When in opposition, during the previous Government I spoke ad nauseamon illegal births. We cannot shy away from this. What has happened is wrong and now it is time to tell the truth, lay it bare and give people back their identity.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for her contribution and for being here today. I also thank Senator Boyhan for his heartfelt contribution.

Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.