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O'Gorman says adopted people will get birth certs and other information under new legislation

The minister has also launched a consultation process for a redress scheme for survivors of Mother And Baby Homes.

Minister Roderic O'Gorman speaking in the Convention Centre today
Minister Roderic O'Gorman speaking in the Convention Centre today
Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Mar 10th 2021, 5:10 PM

CHILDREN’S MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has said the government is committed to changing legislation so that adopted people will have access to their birth certificates and other related documents.

Speaking in the Dáil today, O’Gorman said the heads of a government Bill will be “ready for pre-legislative scrutiny in the coming weeks” and “will constitute an integrated set of necessary proposals providing information including but not restricted to birth certificates”.

“The heads will address a set of long-standing legal arguments that prevent a rite of passage by adoptees in the past,” he stated.

The minister was speaking during a debate on Sinn Féin-proposed legislation that seeks to give adopted people access to their birth certs.

O’Gorman said the government will not be opposing Sinn Féin’s Bill, but has “some concerns regarding the particular legislative approach that is being adopted here”.

He said the government’s own legislation will be comprehensive and deal with birth certs as well as other issues.

O’Gorman also noted that “relevant medical information is another key concern for those affected”.

“I’ve heard from survivors that not having access to this information is not alone very upsetting, but can have practical, sometimes serious, implications for them.”

O’Gorman said the government’s Bill “will address this issue” and will also “provide for a robust and effective tracing service, which is available to adoptees and individuals who are boarded out or the subject of an illegal birth registration”.

Redress

Also today, the minister launched a consultation process on “an ex-gratia Restorative Recognition Scheme” for survivors of Mother And Baby Homes.

The scheme was announced after the publication of the Commission’s final report in January. The consultation process will be open until 31 March.

O’Gorman said the government is committed to establishing the scheme “as soon as possible”, hence the tight deadline.

Written submissions can be emailed to submissions@oakconsulting.ie or posted to OAK Consulting, FREEPOST F5055. People can also apply to attend an online consultation group. More information can be read here.

‘First step’

Sinn Féin earlier called on the government to back the party’s proposal on birth certs – the Civil Registration Amendment Bill 2021, which seeks to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004.

Screenshot 2021-03-09 at 15.02.23 Source: Oireachtas.ie

The Cabinet agreed yesterday that the government would not oppose the Bill, but it is still planning to publish its own legislation on the issue in the coming weeks.

Kathleen Funchion, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on children, said the government could support her party’s proposed legislation and still bring forward wider legislation at a later date.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie ahead of today’s debate, Funchion said Sinn Féin’s Bill is “just the first step” as it would allow adopted people the right to get their birth certs, and that the government’s legislation could allow access to other records related to a person’s early years.

During the debate, Funchion said adopted people are asked “extremely intrusive and invasive questions” when trying to get access to their birth certificate and related information or documents.

She said people often hit “repeated brick walls” when they try to get information and are “treated like a criminal, a nuisance” or sometimes “outright ignored”.

Funchion said the government needs to change this urgently, not further down the line She also called for a full investigation to be carried out into illegal adoptions.

Funchion earlier told TheJournal.ie that she has received wide support for the Bill from other opposition parties, noting that some have proposed similar legislation themselves – a similar Bill was introduced by Labour in the Seanad last Friday.

However, she said TDs in the government have expressed “mixed views” on the legislation debated today.

“This is actually a very easy piece of legislation, it literally amends another piece of legislation so it’s very straightforward. And we think it would be an important first step, first of all, to allow people legal access to their birth certs,” Funchion said.

“Second of all, it would demonstrate that [the government] are serious about dealing with these issues and actually taking action, and not just constantly talking about it or constantly apologising or constantly being shocked, which we always seem to be hearing,” Funchion said of recent developments.

“We’ve heard from the government – not just this government, but previous governments – that they were bringing forward legislation related to tracing and information, but that hasn’t happened,” she added.

Matter of urgency

Speaking about Sinn Féin’s Bill ahead of the debate, adoption rights campaigner Susan Lohan said: “Anything which gives adopted people speedy access to their own birth certs should be welcomed.”

Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said “the beauty” of the Bill is its “simplicity”.

Under the proposed legislation, an adopted person could request access to their birth cert via the General Registrar’s Office.

“Birth certs are public documents and the subject of a particular cert should be accommodated in obtaining it without delay,” Lohan told TheJournal.ie.

She said the government might be planning “shiny, new legislation in April but we don’t yet know if it will be fit for purpose or not”.

“Even if it is fit for purpose, it will take some months to enact, and how many parents and adopted people will die in the interim without ever having had the chance to meet?,” Lohan said.

The government has come under renewed pressure in recent months to enact long-awaited tracing and information legislation, particularly after the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in January.

Campaigners have expressed the need to introduce legislation as a matter of urgency given the age of many survivors.

‘Really ambitious plans’

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said the government “recognises that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive piece of legislation to ensure that all persons seeking their origins can access all necessary records”.

“On publication of the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, the government made a commitment to bring forward fresh legislative proposals on information and tracing. This work is well underway and the minister expects to have Heads of Bill ready for pre-legislative scrutiny in the coming weeks.”

They added that the government proposals “will address a comprehensive range of related issues, including access to birth certs and files containing birth and early life information and to medical information, a robust statutory basis for information and tracing services, and safeguarding of relevant records”.

A government spokesperson confirmed yesterday that it will not be opposing the Sinn Féin Bill, stating that it deserves to have full consideration at Committee Stage. 

However, they highlighted that intensive work has been ongoing as regards the government’s own legislation on the same matter, adding that the proposed Sinn Féin legislation does not address some of the key issues such as early-life information. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie recently, O’Gorman said the heads of a Bill on tracing and information are due to be ready at the end of March, a timeframe he described as “really ambitious“.

“For a major piece of legislation, that is the system moving far quicker than it ever does, and the Attorney General is giving us great support there.”

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O’Gorman said, as part of its response to the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, the government is also “looking to get the redress elements done as quickly as possible as well, but also learning from the mistakes that were made in previous redress schemes”.

“So I’m very conscious of the State having failed survivors in the past, and certainly my focus is to try and get these different resolutions implemented as quickly as possible, particularly because of the age group of many survivors, they need these solutions as quickly as possible,” O’Gorman said.

Illegal adoptions

O’Gorman has also asked the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection to “consider the very significant complexities and challenges, including the deep ethical issues” which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations.

O’Gorman made the request of Professor Conor O’Mahony on foot of the publication of an independent review report into illegal adoptions.

The review found a significant number of files with “suspicious” markers within the sample examined, with the report estimating that between 5,500 and 20,000 files may have similar issues within the wider archives.

However, the review has recommended against an inquiry being held, saying it is unlikely this “would provide clear information”.

O’Gorman yesterday acknowledged that “significant concerns” remain and an inquiry may still happen.

The review was commissioned by the then-Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, following Tusla’s confirmation in early 2018 that it had found evidence of illegal birth registrations in the files of the St Patrick’s Guild adoption society, years after the issue was initially flagged.

As part of this review, Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) separately examined records from more than 30 agencies, under the oversight of an independent reviewer. These agencies included adoption societies, nursing homes and boarded-out records. Between them, both agencies examined a total of 1,496 records.

In a statement released yesterday, O’Gorman said: “Neither AAI nor Tusla was able to identify a unique marker which was suggestive of incorrect birth registration, similar to that found in the St Patrick Guild’s cases.

“While the sampling review of the files did identify some potential markers or wording suggestive of markers, both agencies reported that they were unable to establish clear evidence of incorrect birth registrations.”

However, he added that “significant concerns remain about the practice of illegal birth registrations”.

O’Gorman also noted that, in the opinion of the independent reviewer, “it is unlikely that a more comprehensive review of records would provide clear information relating to the existence of markers or wording suggestive of markers and the degree to which they may potentially be linked to incorrect birth registrations”.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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Órla Ryan

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