Adoption bill ‘aims to prevent access’ to files

The “unstated and hidden objective” of the Government’s planned legislation to grant adopted people basic information and tracing rights is to “prevent access” to personal records.

That’s according to the unpublished report of the Collaborative Forum on Mother and Baby Homes, a copy of which has been obtained by the Irish Examiner.

The forum was set up by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and is comprised of former residents of the institutions and advocates and includes adopted people and natural parents.

It began its work in July of last year and presented a 90-page report to the minister in December.

However, in April, Ms Zappone controversially declined to publish the full report, citing the advice of the Attorney General. Instead, she only released the forum’s recommendations.

The report calls for the scrapping of the Adoption Information and Tracing Bill and outlines the view of forum members that the legislation was designed to prevent access to personal information, “not just to the identity and personal records of those legally or illegally adopted post 1952, but also to the records of the unaccompanied children, boarded-out and fostered children, who are defined euphemistically as being ‘subject to an informal care arrangement’.”

Ms Zappone has defended the bill, and recent amendments, as striking the correct balance between the right to privacy and the right to identity. She said she is hopeful the bill will pass all stages of the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

The forum report is also scathing of the Government’s plans to transfer information and tracing responsibility solely to Tusla, labelling the move “astonishing, regressive, and a measure of unbelievable crassness and insensitivity”.

“Without exception, all representative groups, sampled by our sub-committee, have called for the immediate removal of Tusla from their involvement in providing information services. The levels of anger, frustration, and discontent with Tusla, amongst service users, have escalated to record numbers...Plans to continue and actually extend such arrangements with Tusla are wrong. They will not succeed,” says the report.

The report also said that the natural mothers and adopted people it engaged with described the culture within Tusla, relating to release of their personal information, “as one of secrecy, opaqueness, and authoritarianism”.

In response, Tusla acknowledged the issues raised by the forum and said it understood people’s frustration in trying to access information. However, it said it was “restricted as to the amount of information we can provide, as this relates to the current legislative environment”.

Tusla said it faced a number of challenges when deciding to release information, including having to take into account data-protection legislation. Tusla said an applicant is entitled to information that relates to them, but not to information about other individuals — namely natural parents.

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