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Roderic O'Gorman: We hope today's legislation will right decades of wrongs against adopted people

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman reacts to the new Birth Information and Tracing Bill launched today.

Roderic O'Gorman

Updated Wed 2:00 PM

FOR DECADES, ADOPTED people in Ireland have been denied a fundamental right many of us exercise without a second thought.

A court ruling in the late 1990s found that the adopted person’s right to information had to be balanced with their parent’s right to privacy.

In practice, this meant that adopted people who wanted to access their most basic documents – like their birth certificate – could be denied that on the basis it would be an infringement of their parent’s right to privacy.

Previous attempts by successive governments to legislate to change this faltered, and the situation has long since remained the same.

Today’s changes

Today, I believe we are on the cusp of righting this historic wrong. The Birth Information and Tracing Bill, published today, will provide a statutory right to every adopted person in Ireland, those adopted people now living abroad, and others with questions in relation to their origins, to full and complete information about their birth, their early life and their origins.

It will restore to adopted people, information that so many of us take for granted as part of our own, personal stories.

The legislation gives access to a wide range of critical information – including full and un-redacted access to birth certificates and baptismal certificates, something which has de facto been denied to thousands for decades.

As well as resolving the issue of access to personal information, the Bill establishes a national tracing service for the first time.

This will support adopted people, or those who have children who were adopted to others, to find, share information and make contact with family members, where that is the wish of both parties. This service will be used not just by a person who was adopted, boarded out or illegally registered, but also by their parents, grandparents, siblings, and other extended family and friends.

The new tracing service will work in conjunction with a new Contact Preference Register, whereby adopted people, those subject to illegal birth registrations, parents whose children were adopted and others can indicate if they would like to make contact, share information, or not have any contact.

How will this work in practice?

If the legislation is passed by the Dáil and the Seanad and signed into law, we will run a national information campaign, informing adopted people and their parents or siblings that they can register whether they wish to have contact with their relation.

After three months, an adopted person can request their information from Tusla or the Adoption Authority of Ireland. If that person’s parent has registered a no contact preference, the adopted person will receive a phone call informing them of that preference.

In this way, we are balancing those competing EU and constitutional rights of the person and their parent, but doing so in a manner that is fair, and will ensure people can always access their personal information.

The adopted person will then receive their information. While the legislation covers the most basic items of identity like birth certificates and baptism certs, it also covers much more.

It includes information about their early life circumstances, where they lived, if and when they were baptised, how long they spent with their mother and key medical information about themselves and their genetic relatives. It will also encompass any letters or mementoes that a parent may have left for their child.

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Badly needed

Access to these vital records are long overdue for so many people, and I am determined to get this legislation passed as soon as possible. We will be bringing it into the Dáil next week and hope to see it passed and enacted within months.

In publishing this legislation today, it is important to acknowledge that we would not be at this point without the years of perseverance, campaigning and hard work of many thousands of adopted people in Ireland. This is a fight that they never should have had to engage in in the first place.

The State has, over decades, repeatedly failed to vindicate the most fundamental right of adopted people to know their origins. This bill represents a major step towards redressing this issue and finally providing adopted people with their full information.

Roderic O’Gorman is Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth. He is Green Party TD for Dublin West.

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