‘Changes to adoption law have shattered my hopes of becoming a parent’

In 2010 the Republic finally enacted the Hague convention on adoption, which regulates adoptions from abroad. But the law seems almost to have halted them here. Read our reporter’s personal account

Photograph: Stefanie Timmermann/E+/Getty

Photograph: Stefanie Timmermann/E+/Getty

Sat, Mar 8, 2014, 01:00

There are one or two dates in your life that you only later realise had life-changing significance. For me it was November 1st, 2010. That day the Republic finally enacted the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, an international agreement to help ensure that adoptions from abroad take place in the best interests of the children involved.

In the simplest of terms, it now meant that anyone in the State who was trying to adopt a child from abroad, and whose legal permission to adopt was granted after that date, could now do so only from a country that complied with the Hague convention. It wasn’t until a year later that I fully realised the devastating impact of that date on my life and on my lifelong hopes of being a parent.

There is very little domestic adoption here now. People hoping to adopt have to go outside the State, to arrange an “intercountry adoption”. I have been in this system for more than eight years. Adoption in the Republic has become a Kafkaesque process that is almost impossible to explain or to understand. Little ever seems to happen to move it forwards.

The timeline of my adoption process is this: in 2006 I went to a mandatory HSE information meeting; I did paperwork; I waited years to be called for mandatory HSE group preparation classes; I did more paperwork; I was called for weekly preparation classes; I did more paperwork; I waited again. In 2010 I was assigned a social worker, with whom I had several one-to-one assessment sessions; I did more paperwork; I waited months for the HSE to send my file on to the local adoption committee; I waited months for the committee to send my file on to the Adoption Authority of Ireland; I waited months for the authority to issue a declaration of eligibility and suitability. In September 2011 I finally received my declaration, which is the legal document that allows you to adopt a child.

Then I began to understand the consequences, for me and for every other potential adoptive parent, of the Republic’s ratification of the 1993 convention. Despite the astonishing 17 years the Republic took to enact what had been agreed at The Hague, the State seemed to have neglected to plan for what was to happen now.

“Sending countries”
Before November 2010, government agreements meant the principal countries from which Irish people could adopt children were Russia, Ethiopia and Vietnam – known, in bureaucratic jargon, as the Republic’s “sending countries”. Russia and Ethiopia do not comply with the convention, so they are no longer options for anyone with a declaration issued after November 2010, a “post-Hague declaration”. Those countries are also now closed to people who adopted from them with pre-Hague declarations and had hoped to return to adopt another child. Lobby groups have been established for both Russia and Ethiopia, seeking bilateral agreements with the Republic, but so far they have had no success.

Bulgaria complies with the convention, and a number of Irish people have sent their applications there, but since 2010 just one Bulgarian child has been adopted from Ireland by parents with a post-Hague declaration. Nobody could call that an encouraging statistic.

What would seem obvious is that authorities here needed to build relationships with new compliant countries before ratifying the convention (and there are scores of them). But that did not happen, and it is not because there are no longer any children in desperate need of homes.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter recently promised legislation to allow same-sex couples in civil partnerships to adopt, and this is welcome. But nobody appears to have noticed that adoption is nearly impossible for anyone now, whether gay or straight.

There have been other intercountry adoptions here since the enactment of the Hague convention. They continued until last year for people whose declarations were issued before November 2010, as the declarations were valid for three years. There were 446 such adoptions between 2011 and 2013.

But there has been a stark change since the convention was ratified. Only 11 children have been adopted by people with post-Hague declarations: two in 2011, six in 2012, three in 2013. There have been no post-Hague adoptions so far this year. It is hard not to conclude that intercountry adoption has all but stopped here.

Two of the 11 children came from Britain, which is not one of the Republic’s “sending countries”. The Adoption Authority of Ireland says that in the case of Britain “there is usually a pre-existing familial relationship between the adoptive parents and the child, or the recognition of adoptions which have been carried out in the United Kingdom, sometimes stretching back many years”.