Deputy Desmond can congratulate herself on having won from the Minister the undertaking to deal with the problem which she has covered in the first part of her proposal for the amendment of the Constitution Bill, the security of parents who have adopted children and who were obviously disturbed by the Court ruling that children, for reasons of defect in the law, might be taken away from them. I must accept the Minister's assurance in that regard. That is certainly an advance. But it is a peculiar criticism of our legislation that that should have taken 26 years from the time of the introduction of legislation in regard to adoption. We are trying to get it right this time.
I share completely the Deputy's view on the second question of legitimacy and I will not attempt to add anything to what she said. She made a very compelling case and I hope the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to it. The idea that an innocent child should be discriminated against simply because of his or her birth seems to me unthinkable, a throback to the old days of the stoning of the lady caught in sin and visiting the guilt on the unfortunate child. I hope the Minister will accept that this anomaly in the law should be removed.
The question of parental rights is the most interesting and difficult question of all. Clause 1 of Part II of the Schedule states:
Children shall enjoy special protection, by law and other means, to enable them to develop physically, mentally, morally and spiritually to their fullest potential and in conditions of freedom and dignity.
Clause 3 of Part II states:
...Where, however, the welfare of the child requires it, whether by reason of the death of the parents, or by reason of their unwillingness, neglect or inability to discharge their parental duties, the State shall supply the place of the parents by appropriate means, which may include the enactment of laws....
This is very interesting and possibly it is a point on which a number of us might differ to varying degrees because it comes back to the case I made last night of the difficulties in attempting to arrive at a just decision, a judgment of Solomon, in relation to the right of the unfortunate girl who has had the child and who decides that she cannot rear the child. Undoubtedly this imposes considerable emotional stress on her. All the States who have adoption laws have the problem of deciding how long is long enough before the prior right of the child comes into force. In our case that period is six months and after that time the State must intervene. The child can be taken into adoption and held permanently by the adoptive parents. That seems to be clear and to be accepted by all and I hope the Minister will provide security for that position.
In relation to the anomalous position of the child whose parents die, perhaps they may be killed in an accident, and who cannot be adopted, I cannot think of any argument against giving to this child the right to adoption and to the security of a loving home and upbringing. I accept that without question.
However, I am not quite so sure about the provision in Clause 3 which refers to unwillingness, neglect or inability of parents to discharge their parental duties. I have seen a lot of this neglect, as one would in medical practice particularly on the psychiatric side, and it appears to me that this brings us into very deep water, this attempt by outsiders to decide on the effect that an insecure home background is having or is likely to have on the child. During the years I have seen many children taken into care; fortunately it is not as prevalent as it was in the past where we had enormous orphanages filled with small children.
We must consider the general principle of outsiders such as social workers, psychiatrists like myself, doctors and the various appointees of the State trying to assess the relationship between a child and one or both parents whereprima facie the general impression is that there is a broken home because of drink or some other factor that the parents might not be able to control, the insecurity of unemployment, temporary desertion and, the case I met most frequently, the mental distress of somebody who is isolated for a long period in hospital. Where do we draw the line in such a situation? How will we make a decision that the marriage has irrevocably broken down, particularly when we do not have divorce? In the case of the unmarried girl we decide that six months is enough but I should not think that would be enough in the case of the disturbed home. What is enough? Is it one, two or three years? People can come together. They can give up drink, they can get good jobs. Their economic circumstances can change and the home could become a stable home. I should like to know Deputy Desmond's conclusions in relation to attempting to deal with that problem.
Clause 3 refers to the inability of parents to discharge their parental duties and this is an even more complicated question. During the years we have taken up a position in relation to people who would be unable to discharge their parental duties, deciding not simply on affluence or the absence of poverty, quarrelling parents, desertion or alcoholism but on the suitability of parents in respect of their religious and political beliefs. I had an old friend, a lady whose husband died tragically during the War of Independence and as a result of the appalling stress she suffered she changed her attitude completely. After the death of her husband she went what was then thought "way out". She gave up her religion and became a Marxist and Communist and all that kind of thing. It was the decision at that time that she should not be allowed to rear her children. That is an extraordinary case, but it illustrates the possibilities in this sort of situation.
There is also the position of parents having different religions. I have had this experience myself; after my own children were reared my wife and I agreed that we would like to adopt a child and it was decided that we were not suitable because we had different religions. That is another situation in which the State might decide that because of a norm—political or religious—that they had established the parents could not in their view discharge their parental duties, that is bring up a child to be a good Catholic, Protestant, Communist or whatever it might be. This provision in Deputy Desmond's Bill opens up a very wide opportunity for parents. This situation is less likely to occur than it was in years gone by, but when there were intense differences and the level of political and religious bigotry was more perfervid than it is at present these were real issues, and this kind of thing can happen again.
I agree completely with the first part of her Bill and I am glad that the Minister is going to do something about it. I hope he will also do something about the second part. It seems such a self-evident plea for a remedy that I hope he will take her suggestion. In relation to the third and last part, I have had young children in my care, psychopathic and terribly disturbed youngsters who had lost their parents in car accidents and who ended up in institutions instead of being allowed healing of the terrible emotional wounds of the sudden loss of their parents and who became terribly socially disturbed. Every kind of protest, conscious and unconscious, that they could make they made. I ask the Minister to consider seriously the child who has lost parents in an accident or by death and to bring this into the ambit of the magnificent provisions of adoption, because the adopted child is the wanted and usually loved child. It is probably the best emotional ambiance for any child in society because the adoptive parents go out of their way and put themselves to trouble in order to adopt the child and to give him a happy home background, to which every child should have access. In relation to the State deciding that a family is bad or unsuitable or that here is a broken home or a neglected child, I share the Minister's fears about trying to legislate there.