Zappone’s haste risks further offending adopted people

The Children’s Minister’s failure thus far to consult us about the Adoption Bill, which is being rushed, adds insult to decades of injury, says Claire McGettrick

Zappone’s haste risks further offending adopted people

The Children’s Minister’s failure thus far to consult us about the Adoption Bill, which is being rushed, adds insult to decades of injury, says Claire McGettrick

THIS week, Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, introduced a series of amendments to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016.

While we in Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) welcome the plans to remove some of the deeply offensive elements of the bill, the proposal to contact every natural parent when adopted people seek information about themselves is equally discriminatory, and abhorrent to the people who are supposed to benefit from it. On Wednesday, in the Seanad, Minister Zappone said:

“If we do not get this legislation through before we rise for the summer recess, I am concerned that we will place in jeopardy the time required to allow the people concerned to finally get the rights that are due to them.”

Minister Zappone’s urgency is welcome, though her desire to rush through (in less than a month) a bill that has been rejected by all groups representing adopted people (including the Collaborative Forum convened by the minister) is alarming and a danger to the welfare of adopted people.

In adoption forums and support literature, adoption scholar, Reverend Keith C. Griffith, is often quoted. He says that adoption loss is the only situation “where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful”. The quotation is cited time and again because it resonates so deeply with adopted people.

Claire McGettrick
Claire McGettrick

Adoption is a loss: You lose your natural mother, natural father, and family; you lose the culture of your natural family and birthplace; you lose your original name; you lose who you might have been. Your original identity is obliterated. As an adopted person, you also gain an adoptive family. Many adopted people find it difficult to acknowledge the loss they feel, because they see the feelings of loss as a betrayal of their adoptive family. This is why some adopted people will wait until after their adoptive parents have died before they obtain information.

Adopted people are expected to be grateful: Grateful for the good life they’ve been given; grateful to the State for not putting them in an institution; grateful for scraps of information about themselves; grateful that it all worked out in the end.

And grateful for legislation that offends them; grateful to be consulted by the State. But still not quite good enough to have an equal voice.

Although ARA made multiple submissions to Minister Zappone on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, the last time we had a formal meeting with her was in January 2017.

Moreover, we received no communication from the minister, or her department, that the bill would progress to Seanad committee stage this week.

This is despite the fact that the department emailed its ‘monthly update’ to people affected by adoption just two days after sending a briefing to senators in advance of Seanad committee stage.

Adopted people have to be consulted on what is offensive or discriminatory and what is not. Consultation is crucial, and without it, Minister Zappone’s bill will do more harm than good.

By way of example, for adopted people, the sense of loss can run deep. Sometimes, it’s safer to reject before you are rejected yourself. We are familiar with this phenomenon, as ARA has heard testimony from adopted people for years. And so, when she was a member of the Advisory Group that devised the National Adoption Contact Preference Register, ARA co-founder, Susan Lohan, successfully argued that registrants who chose a ‘no-contact’ preference could also have the option to be notified if another party registered.

This option has proven invaluable, as many people who opted for ‘no contact’ changed their minds about contact when they heard that another party had registered.

Moreover, the State has repeatedly claimed that women whose children were taken from them during the 20th century were assured of secrecy. This is untrue. Over the past two decades, ARA members have heard testimony from a large number of natural mothers. More recently, Dr Maeve O’Rourke and I gathered testimony from 80 natural mothers and adopted people, as part of the Clann Project.

Natural mothers are unambiguous in their account: They were forced to sign consent forms promising to never contact their children, and they were told walk away, get on with their lives, and forget that they had given birth. Natural mothers would have sought confidentiality from Irish society, which judged them harshly, but not from their own children.

Minister Zappone says she is “a woman in a hurry”, reminding senators on Wednesday that it has been 20 years since Mary Hanafin’s adoption bill (which would have criminalised adopted people in breach of a contact veto). In fact, it has been a 66-year wait for adopted people, since the legalisation of adoption, and almost 50 years since the first legally adopted people turned eighteen years of age.

So we fully understand that the minister is ‘in a hurry’. We’ve been waiting quite a while ourselves.

This begs the question: does Katherine Zappone want to be remembered as the minister who rushed through a bill that adopted people abhor, or does she want to be remembered as the minister who engaged in meaningful dialogue with stakeholders?

Or, in the event that efforts to appease the Office of the Attorney General are unsuccessful, Katherine Zappone may also be remembered fondly as the minister who recognised that the time was not right and who did the responsible thing by withdrawing an offensive and discriminatory bill.

Claire McGettrick is an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholar at the School of Sociology in University College Dublin, and is co-founder of Adoption Rights Alliance and Justice for Magdalenes.

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