New legislation being drawn up by the Irish Government will see as many as 50,000 adopted people gain the right to their birth certificate.
The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill is the first of its kind and will be discussed at this week’s cabinet meeting. It is expected to operate both retrospectively and for all future adoptions.
Due to legal obstacles, including the constitutional right to privacy on the part of the Irish birth parents, many adoptees are currently unable to access their birth certificates.
Among these 50,000, many adoptees of mothers in Catholic church run mother and baby homes, are 2,000 Americans who were secretly adopted according to the leading adoption rights campaigner Mari Steed. Many of those have never known who their now elderly or deceased Irish birth parents are.
This new bill will further enhance the rights of adopted people, as promised by the Irish Government in recent years. Minister for Children Dr James Reilly said the forthcoming legislation would go “as far as possible” in balancing the rights of all involved.
Under the new law the adoptees would be required to sign a statutory declaration that they will respect the wishes of the birth parents who do not wish to be contacted. This mechanism is a way of striking a balance between the right to privacy of the birth parents and the rights of the adopted people.
It remains unclear what the legal consequences will be for those adoptees who refused to abide by this declaration. Sources told the Irish Times there were, as yet, no specific sanctions for those who breached the terms.
Adoption support groups are likely to request that adoptees have access to the entire adoption files and not just the birth certificates.
According to the new legislation a new adoption information register will be established on a statutory basis and operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Adoptees can then contact the agency and register their contact preferences.
If the bill is enacted a 12-month awareness campaign would be launched, after which the legislation would come into force. The Adoption Authority of Ireland would be charged with collecting, preserving and storing information available and providing it to the new information register.
Last November the Irish Government opposed a similar bill produced by Senator Averil Power. The Senator herself was adopted from a mother-and-baby home. The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Jillian van Turnhout, a children’s rights campaigner, and Fidelma Healy-Eames, an adoptive mother. Their legislation also sought to give adoptees the right to their birth certificates. At the time Reilly told the senators that the government was working on their own legislation.
Philomena Lee, whose search for her adopted son in United States brought worldwide attention and an Oscar-nominated film, supported the senators’ legislation.
She said, “If this legislation had been in place years ago, Anthony [her son] and I would have been reunited with each other before he died.”