Adopted people to get access to birth certs irrespective of birth mother’s wishes

Absence of right to information about origins caused many ‘immense hurt’, O’Gorman says

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman:  ‘This is a significant day for the rights of adopted people’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman: ‘This is a significant day for the rights of adopted people’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

Adopted people will be able to access their birth certificates irrespective of the wishes of their birth mothers under a law to be introduced by the Government.

Access to birth certificates is to be facilitated by way of a mechanism where surviving mothers can register their consent or their opposition to being contacted, but cannot veto the process, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said.

In cases where the mother has registered her opposition to being contacted, the person seeking their birth certificate will attend a meeting where the wishes of the parent will be outlined, and the need to respect the mother’s privacy rights will be emphasised, prior to the information being released.

There will be no sanctions for anyone who contacts their birth mother against her stated wishes, the Minister added.

Mr O’Gorman was speaking at the publication of the General Scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill, which will encompass a right of access to birth, early life, care, and medical information.

“This is a significant day for the rights of adopted people and I am conscious too of the profound impact on birth parents across this country, people who in so many cases would have had a child in secrecy, shrouded in a State and church-enforced shame, and have carried that secret with them, often for decades,” he said

Thousands waiting

The Green Party TD added that thousands of people across Ireland and abroad had been waiting for such a law to be introduced.

The scheme will include the establishment of a Contact Preference Register on a statutory basis, and will also take account of people who were the subject of illegal birth registrations. Such people, of which 151 cases have been identified, will be given choices as to what names, their given or their legal birth name, they wish to use in future.

Mr O’Gorman said the legislation had to balance the right to a person’s identity with the right to privacy in a fair and compassionate way, and that he had worked with Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC to find a solution grounded on GDPR, the EU data protection law.

The law will include provisions aimed at safeguarding records and will create offenses for destroying, falsifying, or mutilating records.

Mr O’Gorman said he is to meet with the religious congregations regarding records not yet in State control or to request that they be transferred.

Asking first

Asked if he is contemplating introducing legislation to compel the handing over of the records, he said he was “asking in the first place.”

Mr O’Gorman said he thought it was important that he, as Minister and the Government, should acknowledge that the absence for so long of an adopted person’s right to information about their origins “caused immense hurt, and decades of frustration”.

Once the legislation has passed through the Oireachtas and been signed into law, there will be a three-month period during which the existence of the contact register will be advertised. After that, people can begin seeking their birth information.

Where the parent has not registered a preference, the birth certificate will be released immediately, as will be the case where parents have registered their consent to the certificate being released.

The law will cover items such as photographs and letters that might be contained in a person’s file. Information on matters such as children being boarded out will be released unredacted.

The information to be covered by the law falls into six categories - birth certs; birth information; early life information; care information (being boarded or nursed out); medical information; and mementos.

The quality of the information that is available “varies”, the Minister said.