Ireland is to allow thousands of adopted people access to their records for the first time in new legislation proposed by Irish Children’s Minister James Reilly.
Under international law, adopted people have the right to establish their identity but until now, people adopted in Ireland, including those sent for adoption in secret or illegally through an Irish Catholic institution, have had no automatic right to their birth records or access to services that will allow them to trace their family history.
The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors (CMBHS) have welcomed the new adoption bill, stating that Minister Reilly “goes the distance”.
Adoption tracing bill published by @DrJamesReilly is significant step forward. Will give more rights to people who, like me, are adopted.— Joan Burton (@joanburton) July 27, 2015
Meeting with the Minister earlier this week, the survivor community were happy to welcome the equal status awarded to those adopted illegally or informally believing it to be “a red line matter for the community.”
“Minister Reilly clearly spelled out the comprehensive sea change in attitude in Government circles that has brought Ireland into line with best international practice and while comparisons with other countries are often misleading, Ireland has caught up with, and even passed many countries today,” the group said.
“The Government will not just release birth certs but information from adoption files and even basic medical information and history. The clear thrust of the legislation is towards openness and a new beginning.”
Paul Redmond, chairperson of the CMBHS continued to say, "It's a breakthrough day at last and adoption secrecy has finally been rejected in favor of full adoption equality.
“We've been waiting generations for this day of equality. This is a great victory for all the campaigning groups and a new era has dawned in Ireland for openness and cooperation between the Government and the survivor community.”
Redmond also commended the work of Minister Reilly in making this Bill possible stating, “While we have often feared the worst, James Reilly has in most cases surpassed our expectations."
At the publication of the General Scheme and Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015 in Gov. Blds. pic.twitter.com/0p43R06JI5— Dr James Reilly TD (@DrJamesReilly) July 27, 2015
There have been concerns raised, however, over certain aspects of the legislation, which faces a race to be voted through parliament before the general election next year.
In particular, some feel that barriers are still placed on those who were adopted in secret and certain advocacy groups claim that, as it stands, the legislation will still deny some adopted people their identities.
Barriers have previously been placed on those adopted through the Mother and Baby Homes or similar Catholic institutions as a result of the 1998 Supreme Court ruling which prevented access to adoption and birth records in order to protect the privacy of the mother.
The Children’s Minister has denied that this will continue to be the case stating that all adopted people will have the right to apply for their records.
In order to protect the privacy of the parents, and allow the adopted person their right to their identity, however, a restriction will be put in place, meaning that it will require consent from the parents in order for an adopted person to view their birth records.
If the parents do not give consent, the adopted person may still view their records on the condition that they sign a statutory declaration agreeing not to contact their birth parents. This option will only come into play one year after the legislation has been introduced.
In contrast to this, any adoptions effected after the introduction of this legislation will allow shared access to all this information paving the way for easier family tracing in the future.
Some adoption advocacy groups such as Ireland's Adoption Rights Alliance believe that, despite the new legislation, tracing birth parents will still be extremely difficult as birth certificates are often inaccurate or incomplete.
Adoption Rights Alliance co-founder Susan Lohan told Reuters, "When it comes to older adoptions, a birth cert might be next to useless, it is just a slither of the picture. Adopted people want our file and nothing but the file".
Due to budget cuts, there are also fears that there will be significant delays in processing requests from as many as 100,000 adopted people.
"When you think how many natural mothers are dying and that adopted people are now dying due to old age, it is not a great cause for celebration when we could be looking at years down the road before anybody sees results," Lohan continued.
CMBHS Chairperson Redmond raised this issue with the Minister in their briefing stating that the community were an aging one and delays in action would mean that some could lose the chance to meet with their families. If the legislation is passed then there may be a one-year lead-in to its enactment, leaving another year for the community to wait.
Minister Reilly, however, informed Redmond that no decision was final on the implementation of the Bill and problems such as these could be fixed during the pre-legislative consultation process chaired by Jerry Buttimer
Redmond remains positive that these problems can be rectified: “We will continue to work constructively with Minister Reilly and his staff and the Minister has earned enormous goodwill from the survivor community for his genuine and good-hearted efforts since he assumed office.”