Compromise will be needed in legislation to strike a balance between the right to privacy and the right to identity for people who are adopted, the Minister for Children has said.
Responding to questions about revelations that the births of at least 126 people were incorrectly registered, Katherine Zappone said the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill had to deal with the balancing constitutional rights of privacy of birth parents and the right of those adopted to know who they are.
Ms Zappone said the issues raised about St Patrick’s Guild adoption society “creates an imperative for us to look again at the Bill” but she said “compromises will probably be needed”.
On Wednesday night she told the Seanad that alternatives proposed by Senators to balance those rights had been ruled unconstitutional by the Attorney General’s office and if the Seanad could not accept that “the Bill falls”.
The Bill aims to provide an adopted person with a statutory right to their birth certificate and information about their adoption order.
However, it includes a non-disclosure element, where in return for details of their identity adopted persons would sign a waiver saying they would not contact their birth parents without their consent.
Right to privacy
The Government argued that birth parents might not want to be contacted and had a constitutional right to privacy.
A potential compromise thought to be under consideration, however, is to provide for a structured opt-out system. It would operate on the basis that a birth parent would be open to contact unless they specifically state they did not want such contact.
A number of Senators including Independents Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane raised concerns expressed by organisations including the Adoption Rights Alliance and Irish First Mothers.
During the 2017 Seanad debate Ms Higgins said that “nobody should be asked to choose between identity and information”.
Adoption rights legislation proposed by former Independent Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Averil Power passed all stages in the previous Seanad but never made it to the Dáil.
Ms van Turnhout said on Wednesday that the Minister could still take their legislation on board. The Bill provided that once a person turns 18 they are entitled to information about who they are.
She said many birth mothers did not give informed consent at the time of adoption and many “are yearning to know what happened to their children”.
But she said that the “lobbying not to release this information is intense” and she believed the Government was conflating the right to identity and the right to a relationship. She said they do have the right to their identity but not to a relationship with the birth parent.
Ms van Turnhout also expressed concern that the State is still not operating an open system on birth certificates and that an adopting parent can ask for a “clean birth certificate” which makes no reference to a child being adopted.
The Bill passed the second stage at one Seanad sitting in May 2017 but has not yet been brought to committee stage.
Earlier on Wednesday Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay said there may have been up to 15,000 illegal adoptions in Ireland where adoptive parents were registered as birth parents.
"This was a crime against these people and their mothers. Mothers who were told that their babies had died," Mr Finlay told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
“I suspect every single adoption agency in the country is involved, that’s 150,000 babies, it would be amazing if at least 10 per cent of them were not illegal.”
Mr Finlay said it was an absolute scandal, but it was not a new one and should not come as a surprise.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said it is “highly likely” other adoption agencies were involved in the practice of incorrectly registering children’s adoptive parents as their birth parents.
“I feel the likelihood is other agencies were involved in similar practices but I await the evidence before any conclusive comment can be made,” he said.
“But I would find extraordinary if only one agency was engaged in these practices.”