The Irish Times view on adoption information: the right to know

Elderly women who spent time in Mother and Baby Homes remain dependent on the goodwill

Philomena Lee at an event this week to mark the publication of the Clann Project report ’Ireland’s Unmarried Mothers and their Children: Gathering the Data’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Philomena Lee at an event this week to mark the publication of the Clann Project report ’Ireland’s Unmarried Mothers and their Children: Gathering the Data’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The skewed values of our past continue to be a source of distress for many elderly Irish women and their now ageing children. It is unconscionable that, with all we know today about their treatment in Mother-and-Baby Homes during the last century, elderly women who spent time in those institutions remain dependent on the goodwill of those who ran them, or social workers, when seeking information about that past. It should be theirs as of right.

As unacceptable is the denial to surviving relatives of those who died in the institutions, some possibly buried in unmarked graves, of a right to personal records of the deceased. That too must be rectified. But probably worst is the denial by this State to adopted people of a right to their birth certificates and other relevant information from their pre-adoption childhood. For identity purposes, but particularly for health reasons, it is deeply wrong to withhold such information.

These injustices were highlighted in the Clann Project report ‘Ireland’s Unmarried Mothers and their Children: Gathering the Data’, published this week. It was prepared by the Adoption Rights Alliance, Justice for Magdalenes Research, and law firm Hogan Lovells on a pro-bono basis, as was assistance from many lawyers.

The controversial Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill – currently making its tortuous way through the Oireachtas – has been criticised because, while allowing provision of a birth certificate, it requires an adopted person to sign a non-disclosure agreement not to contact the birth family to comply with its right to privacy.

It may be the case that a now elderly birth mother or father does not want contact with the child. That should be respected but it ought not preclude adopted people from having a right to their own histories as infants and relevant information from their pre-adoptive childhood.

Adopted people are the only citizens of Ireland who do not have such a fundamental human right, one which is already recognised throughout western Europe. It should be a human right in Ireland too.

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