Adopted people will have an automatic legal right to their birth certs for the first time if a bill is accepted by the Government.
Under the proposed legislation, all adopted people will have a right to their birth certs, listing their original names and their natural mother’s — and father’s if available — name.
Natural parents can request information about their adopted sons or daughters. Adoptees and their parents can also choose whether they are happy to have their current contact details released to each other.
The bill was introduced by Senator Averil Power, who is herself adopted, and is co-sponsored by former head of the Children’s Rights Alliance Jillian Van Turnhout and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who is an adoptive parent.
The right to birth records has existed in Scotland since 1930, in England and Wales since 1976, and in the North since 1987.
Adoption tracing and information legislation has been cited as a “priority” by successive governments since 1997. No timeline has been offered for the legislation by the current administration, despite former children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald promising legislation before the end of 2012.
Commenting on the bill, Ms Power said that, for too long, thousands of Irish adoptees had been “robbed” of their identities.
“Thousands of Irish adoptees don’t know their original names, who their parents are or even if there is a serious illness that runs in their family,” she said.
“Not knowing is a source of great pain and anxiety. Our bill is designed to change this. It also puts in place a system through which adoptees and natural parents can exchange contact details if they so wish.”
Law lecturer at Maynooth University Fergus Ryan, who specialises in family law, constitutional law, and human rights, and who drafted the bill, said it offered clear identity rights within the constraints of the 1997 Supreme Court ruling, which found that the natural mother’s right to privacy had to be balanced against the adopted person’s right to identity.
“This legislation establishes a structured and supportive process whereby adoptees and their natural parents may obtain information about each other, subject to various safeguards,” said Dr Ryan. “It vindicates the adoptee’s right to an identity while also respecting the mother’s right to privacy, achieving a balancing of rights as required by the Supreme Court in [the 1998 judgment] I’OT v B.”
Susan Lohan of Adoption Rights Alliance said the bill was “a strong first step” but, as it was drafted within the confines of the Supreme Court ruling, did not go far enough in offering equal rights.
“Successive governments have hidden behind that judgment, falsely claiming that their hands are tied,” said Ms Lohan. “However, the Senators have managed to produce a Bill that grants information rights even within the parameters of this outdated judgment. However, it a strong first step in the right direction, particularly in the absence of any such progress by the current Government.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved