Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has acknowledged the “distress” experienced by adopted and illegally adopted people who are being refused access to personal information held by State bodies.
It comes amid increasing anger among the adoption community which claims that Tusla — the largest repository of adoption records in the country — is becoming increasingly restrictive in the information it releases due to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs said Ms Zappone is aware “of the challenges being experienced by Tusla in relation to the release of information”.
“Tusla is obliged to adhere to the GDPR and data protection legislation in relation to the release of information which may identify a third party,” said the statement. “Tusla must assess its own legal responsibilities in this respect and apply this to individual cases.
The minister is aware of and acknowledges the distress that is experienced in situations where information cannot be released and is very conscious of the need for legislation to address these issues.
Last week, therevealed that Tusla sent a victim of the St Patrick’s Guild illegal adoption scandal an almost entirely censored copy of her mother’s death certificate so as “to ensure that it can’t be found” in the General Registration Office (GRO).
This was done despite the fact that the mother and daughter in question had never legally been separated as the birth registration was illegally falsified. All death certificates are public records and can be accessed without redaction in the GRO by the public.
The revelation was made by a member of a Tusla delegation during a meeting with members of the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum last December.
Tusla said the agency assesses the “likelihood of someone being harmed or not harmed” before it decides whether to release personal information to adopted people about their early lives. The agency said the decision was taken because the data referred to a third party, in line with the provisions of GDPR.
It said it has to assess the “harm” that might be caused by releasing personal information to adopted people, even where that person’s natural mother is deceased.
“The issue is that, although a mother may be dead, she may have married subsequently and have other children and there is a potential harm to other members of the family,” said the Tusla representative.
Tusla said where a case involves a deceased person, it carries out a “specific risk assessment” under Article 15 (4) of GDPR which requires it to ensure that the sharing of information “should not adversely affect the rights and freedoms of others (eg other family members)”.
However, Fred Logue, of information law specialists FP Logue, said this section of the GDPR was for extreme exceptions and would require Tusla to show “harm would actually occur”. He also said the fundamental right to access data held by organisations such as Tusla under GDPR exists even if the information is linked to a relative.
Tusla has also, in some cases, refused to release specific personal information to adopted people — namely first name at birth and place of birth.
Tusla has cited the Adoption Act 2010 which “states that the adoption records are not open to the public” as a reason for refusals.