Joint Committee Questions to the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs

Question 10 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Can the Minister give his considered view on the recommendations in the Report of the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the General Scheme of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015?

My Department is examining the Report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme and Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015, recently published by the Joint Committee on Health and Children.

I would to thank the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Jerry Buttimer TD, and members of the Committee for their work in producing the Report without delay. I know that a considerable amount of work has gone into this Report and it is being studied in detail as we continue the preparation of the legislation.

The Report has made key recommendations as follows:

  • That the definition of ‘compelling reasons’ be further clarified and more tightly defined in the Bill.
  • In cases where non-disclosure is sought citing ‘compelling reasons’, this should be supported by medical evidence.
  • that consideration should be given to excluding the Statutory Declaration provision from the Bill. This could possibly be replaced by an alternative provision where the applicant is required to attend one preparatory session to discuss and explore the issues concerning privacy and respect, before the Birth Certificate is released.
  • that consideration should be given to reducing the lead-in to a much shorter time period, and to holding a shorter, more intense information / awareness campaign over a six-month period, to include engagement with social media and a wide range of community groups who can help to raise awareness about the new Register.
  • in the case of the illegally adopted, that consideration should be given to establishing a dedicated unit to actively investigate those cases.  
  • that a review of service requirements arising from the Bill is undertaken.   

All the recommendations of the Committee will be fully considered with a view to incorporating the Committee’s views where appropriate and subject to legal advice.

The Committee also recommended that I give consideration to issues highlighted during the pre-legislative scrutiny process in relation to step-parent adoption. I am addressing this matter in the context of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill.

Question 11 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Can the Minister provide an update on the progress by the Child and Family Agency of a national seven day, 24-hour social work service for children and families at risk?

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency provides a range of services aimed at addressing emergency situations in the area of child welfare and protection. In the main, these emergency situations arise out of hours.

I am pleased to inform the Committee Members that Tusla commenced the new Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service last month. The key objective of the service is to co-operate with and support An Garda Síochána in the execution of their duties and responsibilities under the Child Care Act, 1991 and the Refugee Act, 1996.

Prior to this new development Tusla provided, in an emergency situation, for residential and foster care placements for children under Section 12(3) of the Child Care Act, 1991 and placements for children referred under Section 8.5 of the Refugee Act, 1996;

The additional service now available allows the Garda Síochána to contact a national emergency social work out-of-hours phone service for general advice or consultation. This on-call service will be staffed by social workers operating from the Out-of-Hours services in Dublin, supported by on-call social workers in different parts of the country. 

The social workers are currently employed by Tusla in its children’s services.

I welcome this new development. Up to now, under the Emergency Place of Safety Service, An Garda Síochána could access an emergency placement for children found to be at risk out of hours, but they did not have access to a social worker regarding the case or particular circumstances. In these circumstances, a child deemed to be at risk by An Garda Síochana was placed in a family setting until the following working day, when the local social work service would assume responsibility for the case.

Tusla and An Garda Síochána are the key agencies empowered by law to protect and promote the welfare of children and they have separate yet complementary roles. Mutual understanding and cooperation is essential in ensuring that these roles are carried out effectively and in a child-centred manner.

The aim of the Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service is to ensure that the disruption and upset to which children may be exposed in emergency situations is minimised and the rights of parents and guardians are respected. The introduction of the Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service assists in maximising inter-agency co-operation and promoting the safety and welfare of children.

Question 12 (Senator Jillian van Turnhout)

Can the Minister advise if he plans to legislate to vindicate children’s constitutional rights; including enacting legislation to satisfy Article 42A provisions on the best interests of the child, views of the child, and adoption.  And if he plans to carry out an audit of laws, judicial and administrative practices and policies to identify gaps in the implementation of the best interests principle and to address these gaps without delay?

At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department is progressing the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill, in which the best interests of the child are a paramount consideration, for consideration by the Oireachtas.

The Constitutional amendment was the subject of consultation with Government departments to ensure their compliance with the provisions therein. While the amendment has set a standard that must be observed, there is nothing to constrain measures being taken in the public legislative or administrative domain that exceed the standard set. The impact of the amendment, and the willingness of the Government to foster a child-centred approach, are to be seen in provisions relating to the views and best interests of children in certain legislation enacted or introduced since the referendum, such as the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the Children First Act 2015.

The on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles that the Constitutional amendment represents. The implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures is a ‘whole-of-Government’ commitment which is being driven with involvement by non-Governmental interests in the sector.

The policy framework relates to five specified outcomes for children and young people, which include that they will be connected, respected and contributing to their world. A major commitment by my Department in that regard is to greatly enhance the basis, and opportunity, for participation by young people in decisions that impact on them.  To that end, I published the first National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making 2015-2020 which is a constituent strategy of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. The Participation Strategy specifies a number of commitments to be delivered by various public bodies.  In my Department’s case this includes a commitment to bring about a major development by way of the establishment of a Children and Young People’s Participation Hub to become a centre of excellence on children and young people’s participation.  

While an audit of the kind referred to in the question is not planned at this time, emerging developments in the legislative and policy domains indicate that possible change is already underway and more is in prospect.

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).


 

2 July 2015: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Given the new Article 42A of the Constitution of Ireland, will the Minister now conduct a law audit relevant to children to determine where gaps exist in full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and bring in a comprehensive Children’s Rights Bill.

 Article 42A provides an enhanced general visibility for the rights of children under the Constitution.  More generally, the new standard has the capacity to influence the approach to legislation beyond what is required by the letter of the new constitutional provision. The interpretation of the existing statute law is now subject to the new constitutional requirements and this will, no doubt, be reflected in jurisprudence in both public and private law in the years to come.

At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department will proceed with arrangements to submit the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill for consideration by the Oireachtas.

Specifically the amendment sets certain standards relating to determining the views and best interests of children in specified proceedings which both comprehend existing provisions and require that all future legislation must comply in the areas concerned.  The Government has also provided potent examples of this in the inclusion of provisions relating to the views and best interests of the child in the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

My Department has a number of other proposed legislative initiatives in train that aim to promote the rights and welfare of children.  These include the Children First Bill, 2014 to strengthen fundamental aspects of the child protection system which is currently before the Oireachtas; the Child Care Act (Amendment) Bill, to strengthen the legislative provisions for aftercare which is currently being drafted; and   work is continuing on the Heads of Bill for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill.  I also mention in a separate reply to Senator Van Turnhout, that my Department is working on policy proposals for significant statutory reform of provisions relating to Guardians ad litem under the Child Care Act 1991.

I note that there is a major and wide-ranging initiative underway to advance the rights of children on a cross-government basis.  I refer to the on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, which is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These values and principles will continue to guide the implementation and monitoring of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

This universal strategy, covering all aspects of children’s lives, is a challenging and highly-focused whole-of-government undertaking.  Delivery of the 163 commitments set out in the strategy will result in better outcomes for children right across the spectrum of State inter-actions with the child and his or her parents and family. Along with the legislative programme, these are the mechanisms by which the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is being advanced.

A further important underlying process relevant to the question raised concerns the examination of Ireland by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which is scheduled to take place next January.  This provides a basis for engagement between my Department and other Departments of Government, preparatory to the meeting with the Committee, on issues it will raise regarding the State’s discharge of Ireland’s obligations as a party to the Convention.

Newsletter November 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Halloween. I bring you this Newsletter as a mid-term round-up of my work over the last few months:

 

Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014

Budget 2015

Valuation (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014

Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning

Oireachtas Childline Coffee Morning

2014 EESC Civil Society Prize Ceremony, Brussels

 

I hope there is something that will spark your interest and as ever I encourage you to get in touch if you would like to discuss or contribute to any of my work.

 

This week I will have the pleasure to meet a great range of volunteers, firstly I am speaking at the Volunteering Ireland Conference in Dublin Castle and then on Saturday and Sunday respectively I will be speaking the ISPCC Volunteer Conference in Athlone and the Scouting Ireland Conference in Dublin.  Volunteers do such outstanding work both locally and nationally and I always find their commitment so energising and motivating.  A huge thank you to all who volunteer.

Best wishes,

 

Jillian


 

Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014:

On Monday 3 November, myself, Senator Averil Power and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames launched our new Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to allow adopted people over the age of 18 years to access information relating to their birth and adoption, and in particular to obtain their original birth certificate. The natural parent of an adopted person is also permitted to request certain information. The overall aim of the Bill is to vindicate the adopted person’s right to know his or her identity. Due weight is given to the privacy rights of all relevant persons. The Bill is also designed to make it easier for adopted people and their natural parents to make contact with each other.

 

We need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. Our current system of closed adoptions means there are more than 50,000 adopted people who have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate or early care records, no legal right to relevant medial information, or any legal right to trace information about their identity and genealogy. The impact of this State supported vacuum can only truly be known by the adopted people affected and we cannot ignore their voices or their needs any longer. Surely there is nothing more basic, more necessary, than the right to know who you are?

 

This right is afforded to all persons from the outset, for example the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has both signed (1990) and ratified (1992) expressly recognises the right of the child to preserve (Article 8.1) and know (Article 8.2) his or her identity.

 

We believe the Bill strikes a careful balance between the child’s right to their identity and their birth mother’s right to privacy

 

We look forward to wide consultation on the Bill to make it as robust and supportive to adopted people in Ireland.

 


Bill Photo

Caption Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, Senator Averil Power and Senator Jillian van Turnhout.

 

 

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014:

The Civil Registration Bill recently completed its passage through the Seanad. It will make it compulsory to register the name of the father on all birth certificates. In an attempt to reverse a change made in the Adoption Act 2010, I requested an amendment to the Adoption Act to ensure that the document used by adopted people as a birth certificate must refer to the fact that they are adopted. I was not successful but will continue to pursue this issue.

 

Budget 2015:

Senators were only afforded a short few minutes to respond to Budget 2015, on 14 October, and so my statement was brief to say the least. I do intend to raise some of my concerns when the Social Welfare Bill is debated in December. The main issue I raised in October was the failure to invest in services, such as childcare along the lines of the Scandinavian model we have been promised. You can read my statement here.

 

 

Valuation (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012:

In the Seanad I raised how the Rates can vary greatly for providers of Early Child Care and Education around Ireland. I am working with Minister Simon Harris TD to see if we can find a workable solution to support this essential service. Check out what I said here

 

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014:

Thank you to all who supported Senator David Norris and I in our Bill that hoped to provide a pathway to residency for asylum seekers who have been awaiting a decision on their protection application for 4 years or more. This Bill was not drafted in the belief that it was a panacea for all the shortcomings of the current status determination system and we had hoped to strengthen it further along the legislative journey. Sadly we did not get the support of Sinn Fein or the Government – the Minister was “opposed to the Bill even at a conceptual level”. And so we just missed out on getting the Bill to next stage. I am very disappointed, particularly at the lost opportunity to keep the asylum system and Direct Provision on the legislative agenda of the Seanad, but I will keep fighting for a radically reformed and fair system. See press release from NASC Ireland showing their support.

 


 

Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning:

It was such a pleasure to attend The Irish Hospice Foundation’s Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning, the main annual fundraising event to provide much needed support for local hospice services, which was held in Bewley’s on Grafton Street on 18 September.

 

Insert Photo

Caption Senator Jillian van Turnhout, Deputy Olivia Mitchell and Miriam Donohoe, Head of Communications with the Irish Hospice Foundation

 

Oireachtas ISPCC Childline Coffee Morning:

I was delighted to co-host with Deputy Jerry Buttimer the second annual Oireachtas coffee morning in support of ISPCC Childline on 9 October. Childline has issued an emergency appeal for funds to help save its night-time call service. Thanks to a great turnout and generous contributions from Members and staff we raised an impressive €860, which will go toward Childline answering more calls and messages from vulnerable children and young people day and night. I want to say a massive thank you to all involved: those who donated raffle prizes; the Oireachtas Restaurant for sponsoring the teas and coffees; my assistant Amy for organising the event; and the ISPCC and Childline Volunteers who attended on the morning. I want to specially thank Childline Volunteer Monica Rowe whose short presentation to attendees gave a unique and moving insight into the importance of Childline’s work. I was particularly moved by her description of the three typical calls Volunteers in Childline receive:

 

  1. The silent Call – We don’t know what’s up, but whatever it is, these children stay on the line as we reassure them, telling them that whatever’s bothering them we will not judge them, and they are safe to talk about it or not – the decision is theirs – and that we are always there.

 

  1. The Crying Call – This is where the child on the end of the line cannot talk, they simply cry and cry, and often, after a length of time, simply hang up. These calls are upsetting, they would be for anybody – but we can be reassured that when a child is at their lowest and feeling like there is no other shoulder in the world. We can tell them that whenever they are ready to talk we are there for them 24/7.

 

  1. The engaging call – this is where the child engages with the volunteer – may be for the first time, and many may even be children who have been in one of the other categories and have finally plucked up the courage to disclose what has been happening. Engaging calls can vary from the little 4 year old rang because his babysitter was on the phone and he was packed off to bed his mum had given him the Childline number in case he had no one to talk to. This little fella wasn’t in trouble, but if he or a friend ever is he will know that we are safe to ring and that we are there all the time – The little lassie under the bed, in the middle of the night distraught and shaking – whispering in case her abuser comes back and hears her on the phone. These kids know that whenever they need us we are there for them.

 

2014 EESC Civil Society Prize Ceremony, Brussels:

On 16 October, as a member of the assessment panel, I had the honour of attending the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee) 2014 Civil Society Prize Ceremony in Brussels. This year’s prize was aimed at organisations or individuals who have undertaken outstanding projects to improve the economic and social inclusion of Roma people and communities. ETP Slovakia-Centre for Sustainable Development received first prize for their project A bridge of hope in Slovakia, through which they teach Roma communities in Slovakia how to construct their own houses. In accepting their prize, ETP director Slávka Mačáková said, “We hope that our self-empowering initiative will be a role model for European policy-makers”. IQ Roma servis from the Czech Republic and Reverend Archimandrite Athinagoras Loukataris from Greece shared the 2nd prize.

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.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness on Children’s Rights in Ireland

Thursday, 19th June 2014

“I welcome Judge Catherine McGuinness. It was a joy to listen to her, but her words have provided us with a stark reminder and challenged us in this House for work ahead. I note her work on the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card, and she rightly pointed to the work of Tanya Ward, Maria Corbett and all the team at the Children’s Rights Alliance. She also pointed to work of the member organisations of the Children’s Rights Alliance which come together to provide evidence and put together the Report Card. I am delighted to welcome representatives of many of them to the Gallery. In fact, we could not fit them all in, so there are people in the wings waiting and listening. I could use up all my time listing every organisation, but I want to focus on some current issues. I want also to note the work being done by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, and his annual report. His report and that of the Children’s Rights Alliance provide an invaluable tool for me as a legislator and policymaker. It is good to see that the state supports these initiatives.

The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 set out an ambitious reform agenda for children and family services. Senator Bacik has listed many of the things that have been accomplished since then. Equally, there are areas of concern that impact on the daily lives of children and we need to shine a light on those. As I am sure Ms McGuinness and my colleagues in this House will know, I am strongly committed to pursuing the gamut of children’s rights through my “senatorship”. We have had in this Senate excellent debates on children’s rights, most recently on beauty pageants and protecting childhood. In the autumn, we had a interesting debate on direct provision and valuing youth work. They were really good, informative debates and I pay tribute to my colleagues.

Other speakers have mentioned survivors. When I have met survivors over the years – we were campaigning before the children’s rights referendum became a reality – many said to me that the real testament would be to see children’s rights articulated in the Constitution of Ireland. Chief among the advancements that we have made was the passage of the children’s rights referendum on 10 November 2012. Unfortunately, the enactment of the amendment Bill, the will of Irish people, has been subject to lengthy postponement pending finalisation of the second part of a legal challenge by Mr. Justice McDermott in the High Court before a full appeal can proceed to the Supreme Court. The delay in the legal process is a source of frustration when I think of the body of legislation that has been passed since November 2011 that could have benefited from a constitutionally recognised best interests of the child principle. I also feel sadness when I think of the number of children of married parents, many of whom have spent the vast majority of their childhoods in the care system, who have now turned 18 since we voted as the people of Ireland and are eligible for adoption. Their rights have been expunged. It is my sincere hope that priority is given to the delivery of the judgment in the High Court, that the challenge will be given priority listing in the Supreme Court and that it is ruled upon as expediently as possible.

While Ms McGuinness is before us, I want to address two specific issues that are facing children today and seek her guidance. Chapter 5.4 of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card looks at children in detention. It states that, according to a communication that the alliance received from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 103 young people were detained on remand in 2013 for 138 different periods ranging from one day to several months. We have to bear in mind that a young person may be remanded more than once pending the outcome of proceedings. The number of children detained on remand, particularly the significant percentage of them who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, raises serious concerns about Ireland’s compliance with the international and domestic principles of detention as a last resort for children, which incorporate a presumption against detention of children accused of criminal offences. I want to ask Judge McGuinness’s opinion on the practice of the Children Court of remanding children for assessment despite section 88(13) of the Children’s Act clearly stipulating that the court should not remand a child in detention on the basis solely of care or protection concerns. I want to ask her how the absence of a formal system of bail support and services in Ireland impacts on a child’s ability to meet their bail conditions, with the consequent risk of their receiving a custodial remand for failure to comply.

The second issue that I want to raise is that of direct provision, which Ms McGuinness mentioned. Chapter 6 of the Report Card opens with a piece by Dr. Liam Thornton entitled, “Closing Our Eyes: Irish Society and Direct Provision”. Dr. Thornton has done some excellent work, as have many NGOs such as the Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimní. I put forward a motion on direct provision in this House last October. We were all at one on this issue. Unfortunately, the Minister then was not at one with us, but we will keep pursuing it and we have a very good Seanad cross-party group working on the issue. We know the high number of children who are in the 34 direct provision accommodation centres. Can Ms McGuinness give us advice on what immediate action could provide greater protection to children who are caught in the direct provision system? What could we do in the immediate future? All Senators in this House have agreed that such centres are not places for a child to be accommodated, especially beyond three-month or six-month period. I thank Ms McGuinness again for her address. She has given us many challenges.”

Full debate transcript available here

Mother and Baby Homes: Statements

Wednesday, 11th June 2014

I warmly welcome the Minister to the House. Everyone in the Chamber will agree that the recent revelations are yet another deplorable stain on our collective conscience. In preparing for my statement, my personal shame as a member of the collective that turned a blind eye to the abuse and suffering of women and children, out of fear and deference to the powerful, is as acute as ever before. It is the same shame I felt reading each of the reports – Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne – into the systematic abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children in State and church institutions in Ireland. It is the same shame I felt reading the harrowing testimony from survivors of the Magdalen laundries and symphysiotomy procedures performed by medical professionals in Irish hospitals.

I share the overwhelming sense of shame and compunction over the unthinkable fate suffered by our sisters, cousins, friends and daughters labelled “fallen women” by church and community for becoming pregnant out of marriage and sent to these homes for their sins and rehabilitation. The isolation, hardship and suffering to which these young women were subjected in the name of honour and respectability is almost unthinkable in contemporary Ireland. How many of these young women fell pregnant against their will, by way of rape, incest and familial abuse, and found themselves arbitrarily and extra-judicially detained in these homes? It is the worst injustice imaginable when the victim is punished. It reminds me of punishment by stoning for adultery under Sharia law for women who have been raped.

Due to the time limit, I will limit my main observations to the issue of adoption, including the legality of adoptions prior to the Adoption Act 1952. Although the national adoption contact preference register contains data on only a small number of adoptions, the 2011 Adoption Authority of Ireland audit of the records found 50 cases of illegal adoptions. Given that the vast majority of adoption records are held by the Health Service Executive, HSE, and Child and Family Agency, CFA, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg of illegal adoptions. The area of adoption legality is extremely complex and technical and the commission will need an expert on adoption law to deal with what is likely to be a huge body of work. The Mahon tribunal had two to three experts working together.

So many of the issues thrown up by the mother and baby homes are not just legacies of the past but prevailing issues today, from which an examination of the past can yield lessons for legislation and policy today. Earlier today, I met several survivor groups, and we must ensure any inquiry, and the process to establish it, will hear their voices and involve them. The latest revelations have once again brought to the fore the trauma and suffering of many of the survivors. We must ensure we care for the living. I welcome, so early in the Minister’s new term of office, his speedy and committed response to establish a statutory commission of investigation. We are all waiting to find out the scope of the inquiry and which homes and what period will be included. Will the State take responsibility for collating all the records or will it do the same as in the report into the Magdalen laundries, namely, receive the records and then return them to the church-run institutions?

The inquiry must deal with many inter-related matters. The prevailing issues are adoption, the right to identity, lone parents, the role of women, poverty, social strata, and the rights of unmarried fathers, whose names are still not necessarily recorded on birth certificates. Will the investigation have the resources it needs and the appropriate expertise to deal with the myriad issues I have outlined? We must find a way to prioritise the truths from which there can be learning. We have recently seen the role social historians and archivists have played and can continue to play in investigative teams. Can we learn from the Murphy report experience? Should the inquiry find a way to do its work by sampling to find the appropriate balance between truth, expediency, bearing witness, and establishing and identifying causal and contributing factors, thereby maximising the scope to learn lessons?

Lest we forget, each and every one of these children had a name, and to ensure they get the memorial they deserve, their names must be listed in their honour. They are the children we promised, at the formation of the State, to cherish equally.

Adoption Amendment Bill 2013

20 December 2013

Speaking Points

Jillian van Turnhout

Welcome Minister.

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.

Order of Business, 1 February 2012

1st February 2012

I thank the Leader for promising to bring the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to the House next week to discuss the treaty on stability, co-ordination and governance. Like most of us I am in the process of studying it and will form my own view. I look forward to the upcoming discussion.
I will address two matters, the first of which is the universal periodic review. Members are aware that Ireland’s human rights record was subject to its first universal periodic review hearing last October, and the report of the working group on Ireland’s review, also known as the outcome document, will be adopted by the Human Rights Council during its 19th session on 16 March this year. Of the 126 recommendations contained in the outcome document, the Government has examined and accepted 62, and 49 recommendations are currently under consideration by the Government, with responses to be provided before the Human Rights Council session in March. Some 15 recommendations, the majority of which pertain to reproductive rights and combating racism, have been rejected.

The commitments made by the Government during this process and the potential for further commitments to be made before the adoption of the outcome document should yield significant improvements in the area of prison conditions, children’s rights, gender equality, mental health, freedom of expression and combating racism and discrimination. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to the Chamber to advise and debate with Senators as to the status of the 49 recommendations under consideration, and to outline how the relevant Departments plan to build on the exemplary consultation process with non-governmental organisations and civil society in the lead-up to Ireland’s review and the next review of 2016.
There is a second issue, although I will not repeat my requests in detail. On 18 and 25 January I asked that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs be invited to the Seanad to address questions on the proposed children’s referendum, the interim measures for children currently detained in St. Patrick’s institution, the new children and family support agency and the potential to use the Children’s Rights Alliance report card as the basis for this debate. I know there is much talk of referendums in the air but I advise Senators that the children’s referendum needs to take place.

I will give a reason for this. There are 2,000 children in long-term foster care and the referendum would make them eligible for adoption. Once these children turn 18, that right is extinguished, so as the days and months roll on, let us be conscious that as we deliberate, we are potentially denying these children what everybody agrees should be allowed, namely, the security of being part of a family. I repeat my call that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs update this House on the status of the children’s rights referendum. The issue cannot be debated any longer and we must change it. There are 2,000 very good reasons to have that referendum.

Order of Business, 1 February 2012

I thank the Leader for promising to bring the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to the House next week to discuss the treaty on stability, co-ordination and governance. Like most of us I am in the process of studying it and will form my own view. I look forward to the upcoming discussion.

I will address two matters, the first of which is the universal periodic review. Members are aware that Ireland’s human rights record was subject to its first universal periodic review hearing last October, and the report of the working group on Ireland’s review, also known as the outcome document, will be adopted by the Human Rights Council during its 19th session on 16 March this year. Of the 126 recommendations contained in the outcome document, the Government has examined and accepted 62, and 49 recommendations are currently under consideration by the Government, with responses to be provided before the Human Rights Council session in March. Some 15 recommendations, the majority of which pertain to reproductive rights and combating racism, have been rejected.

The commitments made by the Government during this process and the potential for further commitments to be made before the adoption of the outcome document should yield significant improvements in the area of prison conditions, children’s rights, gender equality, mental health, freedom of expression and combating racism and discrimination. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to the Chamber to advise and debate with Senators as to the status of the 49 recommendations under consideration, and to outline how the relevant Departments plan to build on the exemplary consultation process with non-governmental organisations and civil society in the lead-up to Ireland’s review and the next review of 2016.

There is a second issue, although I will not repeat my requests in detail. On 18 and 25 January I asked that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs be invited to the Seanad to address questions on the proposed children’s referendum, the interim measures for children currently detained in St. Patrick’s institution, the new children and family support agency and the potential to use the Children’s Rights Alliance report card as the basis for this debate. I know there is much talk of referendums in the air but I advise Senators that the children’s referendum needs to take place.

I will give a reason for this. There are 2,000 children in long-term foster care and the referendum would make them eligible for adoption. Once these children turn 18, that right is extinguished, so as the days and months roll on, let us be conscious that as we deliberate, we are potentially denying these children what everybody agrees should be allowed, namely, the security of being part of a family. I repeat my call that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs update this House on the status of the children’s rights referendum. The issue cannot be debated any longer and we must change it. There are 2,000 very good reasons to have that referendum.

The Lancet

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