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Attorney General tells Taoiseach referendum not needed to grant adopted people birth cert access

Survivors have campaigned for access to their personal information for years.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via Rolling News

ATTORNEY GENERAL PAUL Gallagher has told Taoiseach Micheál Martin that a referendum would not be required for survivors of Mother and Baby Homes to gain access to their birth certificates.

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme that a bill will be published shortly on information and tracing legislation.

Adopted people are not entitled to their birth certs or family information under the current law. The situation has been severely criticised by survivors for many years, but previous efforts to grant them access to their information have failed.

In the aftermath of the publication of the judicial commission of investigation report into the network of Mother and Baby Homes earlier this week, survivors said that the State’s apology is hard to accept without access to their personal records.

The commission of investigation acknowledged the right to a birth cert and stated that it should be allowed.

It suggested that a referendum would be required to overcome the problem, basing its stance on legal advice given to then children’s minister Katherine Zappone by then Attorney General Séamus Woulfe.

However, legal experts disagreed with this view. David Kenny, Assistant Professor of Law at Trinity College, wrote in TheJournal.ie that no referendum is needed, and the Oireachtas can legislate for an unqualified right of access to records. 

“The (previous) Attorney General’s concern is based on a valid and important consideration: the privacy rights of birth mothers, some of whom do not wish to have their identities revealed, and may have expected that this would never happen,” Kenny wrote.

But the rights of adopted people to know their identity are similarly important, and this is a situation where rights clash: we cannot defend both at the same time.

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After the report was published, the government steered clear of promising survivors access, amid uncertainty about whether it was legally possible.

Chambers did not provide a timeline for when the legislation will be published when she announced the development today.

About the author:

Ceimin Burke

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