Mother and baby homes redress proposals to go to Cabinet in October

Term ‘birth mother’ to be dropped from legislation on adoption, says O’Gorman

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the term ‘birth mother’ is set to be dropped from legislation on adoption and tracing working its way through the Oireachtas. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the term ‘birth mother’ is set to be dropped from legislation on adoption and tracing working its way through the Oireachtas. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Proposals on redress for survivors of mother and baby homes will go to Cabinet early in October, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said.

Mr O’Gorman told the Oireachtas children’s committee that he had been in touch with survivors groups in recent days indicating the next steps in the process, and that he would move forward with the scheme once he has Cabinet approval.

The Minister, who was giving evidence during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill, said on Tuesday that Legislation on tracing birth information will bring constitutional rights into conflict.

“There is a constitutional right to privacy recognised in Irish law and a constitutional right to identity information,” he told the Oireachtas children’s committee.

In circumstances where a parent does not want their identity to be disclosed to an adopted person “[A PARENT’S] right to privacy is conflicting with the identity right of the adopted person and our legislation has to find a way of balancing that,” he said.

While such rights can be balanced by the courts, he told Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns that “it has to be seen in the legislation that both sets of rights have been taken into consideration”.

He said in some instances, birth mothers’ information rights under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) would be curtailed in the process of offering adopted people access to their information.

“Certain rights under GDPR will be restricted but they will be set out very clearly in the final version of the Bill that will be brought to the Oireachtas,” he said, adding that his department had sought advice on the compliance of the Bill with GDPR.

‘Birth mother’

During his opening statement, Mr O’Gorman told the committee that the term “birth mother” is set to be dropped from legislation on adoption and tracing working its way through the Oireachtas.

The Green Party Minister said that he has met with a group of mothers to discuss the “deeply sensitive issue of the term”, which is used in the heads of the Bill.

“I am clear that a more suitable term is needed,” he said, although no alternative term has yet been agreed. Mr O’Gorman has met with a group of mothers who feel the term is “reductive and hurtful”.

“Some find the term ‘natural mother’ more appropriate, other prefer the term ‘first mother’,” he told the committee, noting that a survey of adopted people undertaken by the advocacy group Aitheantas finds that there is a preference for the term.

“The differing viewpoints are indicative of the challenge to find a term that is acceptable and works legislatively, albeit that I want to emphasise that I am deeply committed to doing so and that I acknowledge that the term ‘birth mother’ needs to be amended.”

Mr O’Gorman also flagged changes envisaged by the Bill which will see an “information session” take place when an applicant’s birth parent has expressed a wish for no contact with the adopted person. The information session, Mr O’Gorman said, is an important balance to protect the constitutional privacy rights of mothers with the constitutional identity rights of children.

Despite some advocates’ view that the information session is not required and hampers the release of information, he told the committee that it is a “necessary and minimal mechanism” and that he stands behind it as a “fair and compassionate way to communicate with an applicant that a parent has asserted a preference not to be contacted”.

A written statement, he argued, doesn’t fulfil the State’s obligation to convey the mother’s request for no contact and “is not the correct way to communicate this type of information”.

The information session, he said, “at all times guarantees the provision of full access to the information for the adopted person but it ensures the privacy rights of the mother is present in this process”.

Upset

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan said she had spoken to a number of women who were upset with the proposal to change the term “birth mother” to “natural mother” as part of the legislation.

She said this was because as they believed it implied that adopted mothers “could be classed as unnatural . . . there are an awful lot of mothers who really are genuinely upset about this.”

She said “birth mother” has been the general term in use over the last 30 years.

Mr O’Gorman said he has engaged with mothers who feel that the term “birth mother” is reductive.

“It is incredibly difficult. What I was trying to do today is recognise that I am cognizant of the issue,” he said.

“I was really struck in the group that I met about the unanimous opposition to the use of the term birth mother. I am flagging my willingness to engage. We may not reach a word that pleases everyone and that is a risk that we have to be conscious of,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney spoke about the proposed information session that will be put in place where a woman indicates she does not want to be contacted.

She said she was aware that some women were fearful about the impact on their lives if information about them was divulged when they indicated they did not want it to be.

Mr O’Gorman said it was important to note that under the legislation the person would always get the full and unredacted information about themselves. “This legislation has to be seen to have considered the privacy rights of the parent.”

He said for far too long the right to privacy was elevated over the right to identity.