Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA), referenced the proposal in the bill to make adoptees sign an “undertaking” not to contact their natural mothers before information is released relating to their birth.
The undertaking is required where a person adopted prior to the commencement of the legislation is seeking his/her birth certificate. This is required unless the natural parent is dead or indicated that they are willing to have contact.
Ms Lohan said it was “not without irony” that one of the speakers in the room, Philomena Lee, was forced to sign an undertaking to never contact her son when he was adopted in the 1950s and the children of those adoptions were now being forced by the State to do the same thing.
“Rather than being granted any sort of anonymity, mothers were forced to sign this kind of an undertaking never to make contact with their children. So, I think it’s really perverse when you consider that the State now appears to want to punish the children of those mothers by forcing them to sign an undertaking,” she said.
Ms Lohan was speaking at an Adoption Authority of Ireland conference on information and tracing.
She also queried what the consequences were for adopted people who broke the undertaking, noting broad information tracing rights have been granted in other countries for decades and “the sky hasn’t fallen in”.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone confirmed she was seeking legal advice on whether it was possible to avoid the undertaking and would “exhaust all possibilities”.
“I do not want this bill to cause any distress to anyone. I do not wish to re-traumatise people in order to deal with this.
“I appreciate and understand the objections raised and I have given this a lot of thought. I am exploring if there are other options which could deal with the issue more sensitively and I am taking legal advice on those options, trying to find another mechanism how to protect privacy rights for birth parents without having adopted people having to give an undertaking.”
She added: “Subject to legal advice, I hope I will be in a position to bring forward an amendment at committee stage. it’s challenging but I can assure you that I will rule nothing out until I have exhausted all possibilities.”
Chairman of the Adoption Authority, Geoffrey Shannon said with up to a million people in Ireland affected by adoption, it was crucial the legislation in this area was world class. He also welcomed the fact the minister was committed to re-examining the issue of the undertaking. “I think it would be a pity if this golden opportunity to bring forward world class legislation would, I suppose in many respects, receive negative press when there’s much in this legislation that’s clearly welcome.”
He also called on the minister to revisit the decision to abolish the Adoption Authority’s National Contact Preference Register in favour of a brand new register operated by Tusla.