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Tusla apologises for 'hurt' felt by adoptees seeking access to personal information

An adoptee rights group said that Tusla’s apology is a “long overdue acknowledgement” of adoptees’ pain.

Baby shoes tied to a tree during a Mother and Baby Home protest event at Aras an Uachtarain
Baby shoes tied to a tree during a Mother and Baby Home protest event at Aras an Uachtarain
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Jun 15th 2021, 4:30 PM

TUSLA HAS APOLOGISED to adopted people who were hurt by the agency while looking for information about their identity.

Head of the child and family agency Bernard Gloster appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Children this afternoon, which is hearing submissions on a proposed bill that would expand adoptees’ rights to personal information.

“Notwithstanding the findings of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission on this particular aspect, namely that any state agency would have been in the same position, I recognise that many people were left with hurt and a sense of being let down by the state in their search for answers to the most basic questions,” Gloster said.

“To whatever extent any person attributes to their dealings with Tusla, I offer a sincere apology,” he said.

“Whether limited by law or any other circumstance it would never be our wish that any person would be left with such disappointment in their dealings with the agency.”

An adoptee rights group said that Tusla is “unfit for purpose” ahead the apology from the agency over the experience of adopted people looking for information.

Aitheantas, a group campaigning for adoptee identity rights, said that it wants to see the establishment of a new agency.

“While an apology from Tusla is welcomed as a long overdue acknowledgement of the ‘hurt’ caused to adoptees, in their role as trustees of this personal information, it signals no significant material change in their social work model,” Aitheantas founder Maree Ryan-O’Brien said.

“A model which has failed in their dealings with adoptees, and a model which adoptees no longer trust and cannot be expected to re-engage with,” Ryan-O’Brien said.

Calls for an expansion of the rights afforded to adopted people in Ireland have been reiterated recently in the wake of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes’s report late last year.

“Mr. Gloster reiterates the findings of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes in blaming the law for the behaviour of Tusla,” Ryan O’Brien said.

“However, as we have stated, many times, it was not the restrictions in the law that caused most offence to adoptees, it was the behaviour of many social workers and other Tusla staff which has caused most hurt,” she said.

“In light of this apology, we reiterate our call for a new agency and a new social work model to handle all matters relating to information and tracing, and all matters concerning historical domestic adoption.”

New legislation proposed last month would dramatically change adoptees’ ability to access their birth certificates and early life information.

The Birth Information and Tracing bill, if passed, would allow an adopted person to obtain their birth certificate or related information, even if a birth parent says they do not want the child to have access.

It would also create easier access to medical information and the release of a relevant birth relative’s medical history to a doctor.

The bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny.

Among those speaking before the Oireachtas committee this afternoon was Professor Conor O’Mahony, a professor in University College Cork’s School of Law.

“The enactment of legislation giving adopted persons the right to access their birth certificates and other crucial documentation to allow them to exercise their right to identity is long overdue,” Professor O’Mahony told the committee.

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He pointed to “some issues on the edges of the bill”, including that adoption records would be held at various agencies and locations and that the right to seek information only applies from age 16.

In Tusla’s submission, Gloster said that “given the legislative framework within which Tusla has had to function to date, we are pleased that the minister has brought clarity in the form of this proposed new legislation”.

“The scheme is welcome in many aspects, but specifically for dealing with the core issue of access to birth identity and significant personal information,” he said.

“It would be useful consideration in the view of Tusla to extend the provision of counselling to all people searching for their identity, or early life information, and who may identify such a need for themselves.”

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