Only compelling reasons, such as a threat to life, will be allowed to stop birth mothers releasing information to adoptees under sweeping new legal reforms.
Children’s Minister James Reilly said special care had been given to the potentially competing needs of a person’s right to privacy and the adoptee’s need to seek details about their blood relatives.
The statutory right to information about their birth parents will be balanced by responsibilities of those seeking to find details about their mothers, he said.
Mr Reilly said there would be a binding obligation on adoptees to respect the wishes of those parents who do not wish to be contacted.
He said while there would be no specific legal sanction introduced if this commitment was broken, it would be covered by existing laws on the right to privacy.
Mr Reilly confirmed that all adoptions would be covered by the proposed Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, not just legal ones.
The move, which could impact on up to 100,000 adoptions, comes after years of campaigning to change the laws governing the area.
The discovery of some 800 graves at a Tuam baby home last year intensified pressure on the Government to open up the system.
The new laws will allow adoptees’ birth certificates to be issued in all cases, unless the birth mother can provide compelling reasons, such as a possible endangerment to life, that would result from its release. The adoptee would in turn have to sign a statutory declaration to respect the privacy of the birth mother and not to contact them directly or indirectly.
Mr Reilly insisted there were sufficient safeguards in the legislation to protect the constitutional right to privacy, while allowing for a more transparent system.
Some campaign groups expressed concern that the information would not be available until a year-long publicity drive had been launched. Regarding elderly adoptees, campaigners say this could delay their searches unnecessarily.
The awareness campaign will be targeted at mothers who gave up their babies, seeking to get them to register whether they consent to being contacted or not.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, will set up an adoption information register, with details on adoptees, birth parents, and relatives who wish to have contact.
Mr Reilly said he hoped the legislation would be passed into law before the general election.
He said the changes in the information regime were of historic importance. “This marks a major breakthrough in dealing with the complex challenge of providing a statutory entitlement to identity information for adopted persons.
“While this bill is about providing a right to information, it is critical that the birth parents’ constitutional right to privacy is protected. I believe that by allowing the birth parents an opportunity to specify the extent of contact, if any, in addition to the other safeguards to be put into place will ensure that this important right is preserved,” Mr Reilly said.
Tánaiste Joan Burton, who was adopted, welcomed the bill, insisting that it would benefit people searching for their birth mothers and take the system “out of the shadows”.
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