Irish adoption laws are too rigid about maintaining secrecy and control, a TD who was adopted and whose first child was also adopted, has told the Dáil.
Labour TD Anne Ferris said current law “is like a door that slams shut after the adoption”, locked and sealed to prevent access between the child and birth relatives.
“There is not even room to slide a birthday note or a Christmas card under it.”
Speaking about how she only discovered at the age of 17 that she was adopted, Ms Ferris said “the information came to me in a sudden and unmanaged manner from a sibling”.
She told the House: “I cannot begin to explain the destabilising effect of suddenly discovering, on the verge of adulthood, that in many respects that you are suddenly not the person you always thought you were.”
Ms Ferris was speaking as she introduced her Open Adoption Bill which aims to allow access to the natural parents, and other close relatives including grandparents, of a child who is adopted.
The Wicklow TD said between 1952 and 1973 more than 20,000 adoption orders were made.
“Somewhere lost in those statistics is not just me, but also the young son of Philomena [Lee, whose story was made into a film], my own firstborn daughter, who was taken from me in 1972, and, as I have come to realise, many of my colleagues in the House who were themselves adopted or had children or siblings taken from them and placed into adoption.”
The Wicklow TD said that for all those people the door between them and their birth family members was firmly shut until they were 18 years of age. “For many, despite years of pushing against that door, it has never opened.”
Ms Ferris said her own story was one of the lucky ones. “I was reunited with my firstborn daughter after 23 years.”
But she added that many people had been in touch with her, mothers and adult children “desperate to make contact yet prohibited from doing so by a closed adoption system that will not grant them access to their records”.
Ms Ferris said with an open-door policy, throughout childhood and beyond, it would be possible and seen to be natural for an adopted child to have access to their natural family. This open approach was not new in Ireland where in the past children were cared for by grandparents, aunts or uncles.
Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan referred the Bill to the Oireachtas health and children’s committee. He said under current legislation once an adoption is finalised all links between the child and its birth family were severed.
Mr Flanagan, in his first address to the Dáil as a Minister, said he recognised the need for legislation to be updated to reflect both international and domestic developments. “As is often the case with social policy, norms move and change and we as legislators, must respond.”