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Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo) Alamy Stock Photo
New Law

Adopted people will no longer have to attend mandatory information session when seeking records

The long-awaited Birth Information and Tracing Bill will be published today.

ADOPTED PEOPLE SEEKING documents about their birth and early life will no longer have to attend an in-person meeting if one or both of their birth parents has registered a no-contact preference.

The Birth Information and Tracing Bill – legislation that aims to enshrine in law a right for adopted people to access their birth certificates and early life information – is set to be published today.

Under a previous iteration of the Bill, adopted people seeking records would have been required to attend a mandatory information session with a social worker if the person’s biological mother or father had opted to not be contacted.

This element of the draft legislation was sharply criticised by adoption campaigners when the Heads of Bill were published last May.

The Journal has confirmed that instead of an in-person meeting, an adopted person will be informed of a parent’s no-contact preference via a phone call.

Other changes to the draft Bill include that information available for adopted people will be expanded to include baptism certs, and the term ‘birth mother’ has been changed to ‘mother’ in the text after some campaigners labelled this former term reductive and insulting.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said the legislation “will create a clear and full right for adopted people to access their birth information”.

The Bill will be launched by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman later this morning, the first anniversary of the publication of the final report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Launching the Heads of Bill in May 2021, O’Gorman described the legislation as “groundbreaking”. Under current legislation, adopted people are not entitled to their birth certificate or to information about their families of origin.

Following the publication of the Commission’s final report on 12 January 2021, the Government published an action plan of how it would respond including this particular legislation.

On 14 December, the Oireachtas Children’s Committee launched its report on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill.

The committee made 83 recommendations, including the removal of the mandatory information session for people seeking their documents, and enhanced rights to files and information for mothers.

Many adopted people and campaigners welcomed these recommendations, having criticised certain elements of the original Bill.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children previously noted that the purpose of the legislation is “to recognise the importance of a person knowing their origins, and to achieve this through the full release of the birth certificate, birth information, early life information, care information and medical information for all persons who were adopted, boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth registration or who otherwise have questions in relation to their origins”.

The Bill will be debated in the Oireachtas in the coming months before a vote.

Information vs privacy

Under the new law, even if a biological parent says they don’t want their child to get their birth cert or related information, the adopted person will still get access – a huge shift in the right to information versus right to privacy debate.

In a similar manner to Subject Access Requests under GDPR, people will be able to apply to the Adoption Authority, Tusla or any designated relevant body that may hold information about them.

In the case of early life and care information, it is expected that the information will be automatically provided on receipt of an application from the adopted person. In terms of medical information, a person will automatically be provided with any medical information which relates to themselves.

Information relating to a birth relative which is relevant to the medical history or health of the applicant, and is necessary for reasons of “substantial public interest”, is expected to be released to the person’s nominated medical practitioner.

In these circumstances, the information “shall not identify the birth parent or relative but only the fact of the medical condition/health issue being something which arises in the applicant’s birth family”.

In a letter to survivors and relatives in mid-December, O’Gorman wrote: “I appreciate the intensive work of the committee on this deeply important legislation and am very grateful to all those who contributed to the process. I have followed the process closely and will now carefully consider the committee’s report and its recommendations.

“The completion of the pre-legislative scrutiny process allows me to move forward with the legislation. To this end, I plan to publish the Birth Information and Tracing Bill in mid-January.”

O’Gorman said he wants this legislation – and the Burials Bill, which would pave the way for the sites of former mother and baby homes to be excavated – to be implemented as soon as possible this year.

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