As many as 50,000 adopted people will have the right to their birth certificate for the first time under new legislation being drawn up by the Government.
The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, due to be discussed at this week’s Cabinet meeting, is expected to operate retrospectively and will apply to all future adoptions.
At present many adoptees are unable to access birth certs listing their original parents’ names due to legal obstacles, including a constitutional right to privacy on the part of birth parents.
To help resolve this, adopted people would be required to sign a statutory declaration obliging them to respect the wishes of birth parents in cases where they do not wish to be contacted.
This mechanism is regarded by those involved in drafting the legislation as a way of striking a balance between the right to privacy of birth parents and the identity rights of adopted people.
It is unclear, however, what the legal consequences will be for adoptees who sign the declaration but refuse to abide by its terms. Sources yesterday insisted there would be no specific sanctions for those who breached its terms.
Adoption support groups are also likely to want to ensure they have access to not just a birth cert but their entire adoption files.
Sources familiar with the legislation said yesterday the planned laws would operate on the basis of a presumption in favour of disclosing information to adopted people.
Under the terms of the draft legislation, a new adoption information register would be established on a statutory basis and operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
This is the register adopted people will contact to seek information about their births, and that parents will contact to register their contact preferences.
Sources say it will work on a “proactive” basis to facilitating contact or the exchange of information between adoptees and birth parents, in line with their stated preferences.
There would also be support and guidance for adopted people and birth parents.
If enacted, it is envisaged that a 12-month awareness campaign would be launched, after which the legislation would come into force.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland would be charged with collecting, preserving and storing information available and providing it to the new information register.
The move to enhance the rights of adopted people has been promised by the Government over recent years, but has faced legal obstacles.
Minister for Children Dr James Reilly said he was keen that the forthcoming legislation would go "as far as possible" in balancing the rights of all interested parties.
Last year, the Government opted not to oppose similar Private Members’ legislation produced by Senator Averil Power – who was adopted from a mother-and-baby home – and co-sponsored by Senators Jillian van Turnhout, a children’s rights campaigner, and Fidelma Healy-Eames, an adoptive mother.
Their legislation also sought to provide to give adoptees a right to their birth certs.
Dr Reilly said at the time the department was drawing up its own legislation and that parts of the Senators’ Bill could be incorporated into his legislation.
Philomena Lee, whose search for her adopted son brought worldwide attention and an Oscar-nominated film, threw her support at the time behind the Senators' legislation.
“If this legislation had been in place years ago, Anthony and I would have been reunited with each other before he died,” she said, last November.