Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Can the Minister provide an exact timetable for the progress of the  Government’s Adoption (Tracing and Information) Bill and advise what is hampering the progression of the Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014 into the Dáil, following the completion of all stages in the Seanad on 18 February 2015 with support from all parties.

My Department is developing the Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, and work on the Heads of that Bill is nearing completion. It will set out the information to be provided and circumstances in which it can be provided for past and future adoptions.

Officials in my Department are exploring all options with a view to balancing the needs of all stakeholders in this sensitive and complex and very personal matter. While I want to provide adopted people with as much information as possible about their identity, birth parents’ constitutional right to privacy must also be protected in this legislation.

The Heads will provide access to records for birth parents and adopted persons in so far as is possible in line with legal advices. I am proposing as progressive an approach as is possible within the significant legal and operational complexities which arise in giving effect to this objective.

The proposed legislation will provide for, inter alia,

  • Placing the National Adoption Contact Preference Register on a statutory basis
  • Arranging for the management of Adoption Records
  • Setting out the information to be provided and circumstances in which it can be provided both for retrospective and prospective adoptions.

I know that there are many people affected by adoption who are keen to see this legislation progress at the earliest opportunity, and I share that view. However, I am also concerned that we get it right. This is a complex piece of legislation, which must strike the right balance in respecting the rights of all of those involved. Regular and ongoing contact is maintained between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General in that regard.

It is my intention to have the General Scheme and Heads of Bill finalised as soon as possible and submitted for the consideration of Government, in advance of referral to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

In parallel, I have requested officials to commence an examination of operational arrangements for the preservation of, and access to, adoption records both to secure existing service provision and to make ready for any proposed new legislation.

The Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014, introduced by Senators Power, van Turnhout, and Healy Eames, was passed by the Seanad on 19th November 2014 and that the draft Bill is at second stage in Dáil Éireann.

My Department has considered the draft Bill and notes that there is much to be commended in the draft Bill and, in relation to the areas of concern that it addresses, it is very much in line with the tenor of the draft Bill being prepared in my Department. On this basis I did not oppose the Bill.  However the Private Members Bill differs from that being prepared by my Department in that it does not differentiate between prospective and retrospective adoptions. In that respect, it does not fully address the complex constitutional issues that arise in relation to the provision of identifying information to those, and about those who were adopted in the past.

The Bill has been fully reviewed as part of the ongoing work of the drafting of the proposed Bill on Adoption (Information and Tracing).


 

Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014: Second Stage 19 November 2014

Welcome Minister.

Welcome visitors to the gallery.

I wish to thank Senator Averil Power for her tremendous work initiating the Bill and to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames for joining with us in bringing it forward.

A special thanks to Dr Fergus Ryan, law lecturer who drafted the Bill.

Thank you to so many of my colleagues who have spoken with me over the past two weeks and shared their stories and why they support this Bill.

I feel very strongly about the Bill and it is a real honour to second it in the House today.

There are a number of salient parts to the Bill, which my colleague Senator Power has already outlined and you will also hear shortly from Senator Healy Eames, who brings to the process her experience as an adoptive parent.

My intervention will focus on a critical component which is all too readily brushed aside diminished or dismissed… this is the right to identity.

In 1976, Alex Haley, author of Roots, articulated what so many adopted people in Ireland have described to me over the years, when he said “In all of us, there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from.  Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness.”

The right to know who you are is so fundamental, so necessary and so basic. Its absence can be a source of considerable pain and anguish. Its absence, where the necessary information exists but is being withheld, can leave people with a feeling of deep injury and injustice.

By focusing on the right to identity I in no way wish to undermine or diminish the identity that an adopted person has developed in their life with their adopted parents and families.

There are many adopted people who have no desire whatsoever to access their birth information.

However, there are many for whom the information is a burning need.

I have spoken in this House on several occasions about forced and illegal adoption.  All too often we have cloaked adoption in secrecy and as a society we have been complicit in supressing women, their children and their respective rights.

A startling figure by Claire McGettrick of the Adoptions Rights Alliance that in 1967, a staggering 96.95% of all children born outside marriage were adopted, typifies this.

We cannot allow our shameful past or fear that further shames may be exposed justify the perpetuation of a shameful practice against at least 50,000 people in Ireland. And yet we do?

This is why the Bill is so necessary, so important and indeed so overdue.

We need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. Our current system of closed adoptions, which automatically extinguishes a child’s and then adult’s right to their identity, will ideally be changed to an open system where biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact from the outset.

In the meantime, this Bill will ensure, however retrospectively, the adopted person’s right to identity.

We are here on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  How fitting it will be if we can give life to the Convention’s express recognition of a child’s right to know and preserve his or her identity

This has been the law in Scotland since 1930 and in England and Wales since the mid-70s with no dire consequences or legal wrangling over rights to privacy.

According to the Supreme Court in I’OT v B, an adoptee’s right to their identity is not absolute and is subject, in particular, to the right to privacy of the natural parent. However, it also pointed out that the right to privacy does not automatically trump the right to identity. The court stated that the two rights must be balanced against each other. It is clear from Supreme Court decisions such as Tuohy v Courtney [1994] 3 IR 1 that the precise balance to be struck is a matter for the Oireachtas to determine. This bill achieves that balance in a way that is sensitive to the needs of all parties.

We must let in the light; we must start now in a new era of openness and understanding.  We should not stand in judgement and I believe that this Bill strikes the balance, mooted by the Supreme Court, as longed for by many adopted people, their families and their friends.

Let’s do this. Let’s do this now.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”