Zappone admits ‘deep concern’ over aspects of adoption bill

Children’s minister seeks legal advice over clause regulating contact with birth parents

Philomena Lee (left) and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs  Katherine Zappone  at the  Exploring Information and Tracing conference. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Philomena Lee (left) and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone at the Exploring Information and Tracing conference. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has said she is seeking legal advice over a controversial clause in the forthcoming adoption Bill.

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 contains a provision that adopted children must sign an undertaking not to contact their birth parents if given their birth certificate unless in certain circumstances.

Ms Zappone admitted the provision is of “deep concern” to many adopted people.

The Bill, which will be introduced at second stage in the Seanad this month, stipulates that adopted children will only use the information contained in their birth certificate to contact a birth parent if that parent has indicated a willingness to contact them. Speaking at the “Exploring Information and Tracing” conference she said some birth parents will want to contact their children but others might not. “I have been contacted by a number of social workers who have concerns in this regard and have been anxious to impress upon me their concerns about these people [birth parents],” she said. “The majority of them are birth mothers who have already dealt with a difficult and sometimes traumatic period in their lives.”

Unfettered access

Ms Zappone said the Bill would include a provision that adopted people who were given their original birth certificates would sign an undertaking not to contact their birth mother without her consent.

This provision has been criticised by a number of people who were adopted as children. Noelle Brown, who was born in the Bessborough mother and baby home in 1965 and then adopted, said it amounted to a “barbaric piece of legislation”.

She said adopted people were entitled to equality and therefore access to their full records. “I want to feel equal to every other citizen in Ireland, and not remain a reminder of our terrible past and one that needs to shut up and get over it,” she said.

“The shaming of me as an adopted person with my bastard status still goes on in 2017.”

Adoption Rights Alliance director Susan Lohan said adopted people were entitled to “unconditional and unfettered access” to their documents.

She said only adopted people understood the “shattered narrative” of adoption. “It is absolutely vital that this information be given to adopted people in a timely efficient and complete manner,” she told the conference which was organised by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. She described the proposed undertaking as “absolutely odious” and asked what penalties would apply if adopted children tried to contact their parents having obtained their birth certificates.

“You can’t ask people to sign an undertaking without knowing the consequences,” she said.

Adoption expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon said the State needed to look at how other jurisdictions balanced the right of a child to know, and the right of birth parents to privacy.

“It needs to be managed. A large part of this can be managed by public services,” he said. “Secrecy and shame work hand in hand. We need the best possible system that enshrines the right to identity.”