20 December 2013
Jillian van Turnhout
Minister both you and colleagues have clearly outlined that the scenario leading up to the need for this legislation. Minister, it is evident that you, your officials and indeed the Tánaiste, have sought resolution through other channels and at every level but that proved impossible. Changes to Russian family court laws have had serious implications in conjunction with existing Irish legislation for prospective adoptive parents. Which brings us to the legislation before the house today.
I believe it is tightly framed with limitations added and will address the calls you have received from approximately 5 prospective adoptive parents. However it also opens up any unused Russian Declarations as of 31 October 2013 which you have clarified is a maximum of 23 prospective adoptive parents.
Anyone who talked or has met the prospective parents appreciates the heartbreak and emotional roller-coaster of the journey that they have had and so I realise that for them today is a good day.
I will not oppose the Bill. I do not want to frustrate the resolution to this particular situation. However, I am duty bound to raise my general concerns and some specific questions about how we approach adoption in Ireland.
Ireland has a very chequered history when it comes to Adoption.
In 2010 we incorporated the Hague Convention into Irish Law. The Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) . It protects children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. This Convention reinforces the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 21) and seeks to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights
Article 21 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child addresses the protection and promotion of children’s rights in the context of adoption. It establishes the paramountcy of children’s best interests in all adoption arrangements and details minimum requirements for adoption procedures.
Yet, let us not forget that while Ireland signed the Hague Convention in 1993 we had to be dragged kicking and screaming to incorporate it into our law. When we brought in the Adoption Act in 2010 we were the last EU country to ratify and over 55 countries had already done so.
I think we need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. I believe our system of closed adoptions is not always in the best interest of the child.
- Closed adoption is the process by where an infant is adopted by another family, and the record of the biological parent(s) is kept sealed.
- Open adoption is a form of adoption in which the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact.
In my experience children can cope and distinguish. It is us adults who tie ourselves in knots.
It is my sense that some people misunderstand the rationale behind adoption is the right of couples who cannot conceive to have a child. It was not. Adoption is about, where needed, finding alternative family arrangements for a child and fundamentally it is about the best interests of the child.
Minister, I am keenly aware that as we stand here today there are approximately 50,000 adopted people in Ireland who have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate, no legal right to their medical information or history, or any legal right to tracing information about their identity.
I believe that we will be able to partly address these issues via legislation but aspects of this issue will need to be addressed at constitutional level. I noted last October when we were discussing the Children’s Referendum Bill that it was a missed opportunity not to address right to identity.
I realise that information and tracing is complex but we have to start moving on where change is possible. There is a clear lack of a legal framework. Is the State collecting and ensuring that it has access to important and vital records in relation to children’s identities? Have, for example, the religious orders handed over records to the State that will help when the necessary legislation is in place?
Specifically on the Bill here today, I say well done to the drafters who have worked hard to produce a clear, tightly constructed Bill.
As I stand here I am thinking that in less than 18 years these children will be adults – will they have access to information on their identity?
We saw the fall of Communism 14 years ago and the rush for adoptions? Will Ireland over the coming years have issues to deal with?
I think of Ireland’s history in relation to adoptions and how many ‘went to America’ or in reality were sold to so called ‘good called families’ for a better life.
I don’t think anyone who went to see the movie Philomena wasn’t touched and conflicted by her story. We don’t want to creating situations today that will be the films of tomorrow.
Are we setting a precedent today? The adage ‘hard cases make bad law’ springs to mind. Will we change the law for other groups of people who are not in line with our law and the Hague Convention? Does this not open the gates for other “one-off” fixes?
We have all heard the understandably emotional calls from the 4 or 5 prospective adoptive parents. But let us remember the law today will extend the period for up to 23 prospective adoptive parents.
When a country ratifies the Hague Convention we have seen again and again how the number of children eligible for adoption dramatically falls. Why? Obviously it is because the children were never legitimately available for adoption and often have fallen foul to criminal activity, including corruption and the sale or trafficking of children.
Can we be assured that in any one or more of these cases that significant money has not and will not change hands?
I ask these questions now because one or more of these children, upon turning 18, may have the same difficult questions for their parents. Will we be able to give answers?
It is critical that a rigorous verification process be put in place for all adoptions.
In ending, may I wish each of the children who are to be adopted and to their prospective parents a really happy and fulfilling life.
Nevertheless lets us not forget that adoption is the right of a child, not of adults, and we must ensure that this is not lost sight of. If anything is to be learnt from the Reports such as Ryan and Murphy, it is how crucial it is to have adequate systems in place to protect vulnerable children.
We urgently need to re-examine our approach to adoption. Let us lead and show that we really have learnt from our chequered past.