Chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) Dr Geoffrey Shannon said revelations concerning the deaths of infants in Tuam as well as the wider practices in mother and baby homes have brought the need to legislate for information and tracing rights for adopted people and their natural parents sharply into focus.
“When we look at the many stories of abuse and cruelty, there were symptomatic of a tendency towards secrecy and I think that is the broad message that we shouldn’t forget,” he said.
Mr Shannon said any legislation to allow for adopted people to trace their birth history should be as open as possible and hit out at the decades it has taken for legislation to be brought forth in this area.
“It is a measure of any democracy the manner in which the needs of the most vulnerable are considered and met. It is my view that the area of information and tracing is the forgotten part of adoption and for too long. We have become paralysed by attempting to address this issue. But what we forget is that sometimes the practices of the present become the tribunals of the future,” he said.
Mr Shannon said, given the enormous numbers of people affected by adoption here, there was no room for getting the legislation wrong.
“When we look at adoption, we should look at it through the lens of that there are 48,000 adoptions have been granted. That’s a large number of adoptions. If we look at the number of people that are potentially affected by adoption, up to a million of our citizens are likely to be affected,” he said.
The AAI chairman also called for root and branch reform of the adoption system, stating it was “no longer valid” in a continually changing societal landscape.
“Does our adoption system as it is currently constructed, does it meet the lifelong needs of a child? That has to be a fundamental question because adoption has changed radically over the years and the assumptions and characteristics of adoption have also altered,” said Mr Shannon.
The conference also heard from Philomena Lee who was the subject of an Oscar winning film in 2013. Ms Lee spoke of the difficulty she faced when trying to access basic information and the fact that she was never put in touch with her son despite him tracing her at the same time she was looking for him.