Information sesssions for adopted people criticised by Opposition

Dáil debate on the Birth Information and Tracing Bill opened by Minister for Children

Opposition politicians have criticised a requirement for adopted people to take part in information sessions, in cases where their natural parents have said they do not want to be contacted, before they can access records about themselves.

It came as Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman opened a Dáil debate on the Birth Information and Tracing Bill.

He said the proposed law, which will allow people to access full birth certs and other information, represents an opportunity “to finally end a historic injustice and enshrine in law the importance of knowing your identity”.

Adoption rights campaigners have claimed that the information session condition means they do not have unrestricted access to records like birth certificates. They have said that the requirement to be told of the privacy rights of a parent who does not want contact is offensive.

Sinn Féin and Labour TDs questioned why a “no contact” preference cannot be relayed to the person seeking the information by registered post rather than a phone call or meeting as is required under the Bill.

Kathleen Funchion said this had been a recommendation of the Oireachtas committee on children and her party, Sinn Féin, will be seeking an amendment that allows for a registered post alternative.

She gave Mr O’Gorman credit for bringing forward the Bill where predecessors failed but said she has “serious reservations” and there is “potential for very serious mistakes to be made particularly around the mandatory information session”.

Lack of oversight

Labour’s Ivana Bacik also criticised the information sessions which she said are “so contentious”. She said there appears to be a lack of oversight or an appeals mechanism. “What happens if [an] adopted person says I don’t want to partake in a phone call . . . Is there any appeal mechanism?”

Fianna Fáil TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor insisted the Bill is “good legislation” and “We cannot risk the Bill being unconstitutional” – an argument that Mr O’Gorman has made for why the infomation sessions are necessary.

She suggested that some people might prefer a phone call to say that the parent wanted no contact with an offer of counselling over letter they may receive while they are alone at home.

Earlier Mr O’Gorman acknowledged there are “strong views” on the information session but said it had been modified and no longer has to be held in person, unlike a previous version of the Bill.

He said that following a phone call the person will get a “full and complete set of records . . . Nothing will be held back”.

Mr O’Gorman said the information session was needed to balance two sets of competing EU and constitutional rights in a way that does not limit the information that can be provided to somebody using the legislation, while still acknowledging the privacy rights of mothers.

He added: “It is now accepted that mothers often had little or no choice but to place their children for adoption, amongst a culture of shame and stigma. The secrecy has continued throughout some of these mothers’ lives and they may be very concerned about contact being made with them. This is why the information session is an important measure within the Bill to recognise and respect the EU and constitutional privacy rights of these mothers.”