Fine Gael's recognition of a Foreign Adoptions Bill which had its First Reading in this House on 30 December last has three principal functions, First, the Bill prescribes for the first time the legal rules applicable to the recognition of adoptions completed outside this country. Secondly, it places all children adopted outside Ireland whose adoptions are recognised in this State in a position of legal equality to that of children adopted within Ireland. Thirdly, it empowers the Minister for Health by regulation to designate specific registered adoption societies to become directly involved in making arrangements for inter-country adoptions and imposes a duty on health boards to carry out family assessments and to prepare a home study report when requested to do so for the purpose of an inter-country adoption.
The Adoption Act, 1952, was the first piece of legislation enacted in this State in relation to adoption. That Act, and subsequent amending legislation incorporated in the Adoption Acts of 1964, 1974, 1976 and 1988 makes provision for the making of adoption orders in Ireland by An Bord Uchtála, the Adoption Board.
One of the anomalies of our social legislation is that since the foundation of the State no legislation of any nature whatsoever has been enacted stating the circumstances in which a foreign adoption is recognised within the State. Moreover, there is no detailed reported decision of our courts setting out the circumstances in which a foreign adoption may be recognised. Nevertheless, as the Law Reform Commission state in their report — LRC Report No. 29 May 1989 —"The Recognition of Foreign Adoption Decrees," some statute law proceeds on the assumption that recognition principles exist, that recent examples are sections 3 and 9 of the Status of Children Act, 1987, which make reference to a person adopted abroad whose adoption is "recognised by virtue of the law for the time being in force in the State".
I can recall Sir, that when those sections were being debated in this House and when I sought to ascertain from the then Minister for Justice what adoptions were "recognised by virtue of the law for the time being in force in the State" he was unable to properly respond.
In their report the Law Reform Commission state:
It seems likely the present position is governed by the common law, and that under common law, a foreign adoption is entitled to recognition if the adopting parents were, at the time of the adoption, domiciled in the country where the adoption was effected".
The legal position is not, however, in this regard certain. The need to enact legislation prescribing the circumstances in which we recognise foreign adoptions was first articulated in the report of the Review Committee on Adoption Services published in May 1984.
In their report for the year 1989 the Adoption Board referring to their receiving "a large increase in the number of inquiries from couples wishing to adopt a child from aboard" also stated that "the Board would welcome new legislation to regulate the adoption of children from foreign countries". The increase in inquiries to the Adoption Board about foreign adoption derived from the dramatic reduction in the number of children available for adoption within Ireland.
For example, in the period 1964-84 there was an average of 1,200 adoption orders per annum made by the Adoption Board. Since 1984 there has been a continuing decrease in the number of orders made, a mere 615 such orders being made in 1989 and fewer than 400 of these being made in favour of married couples who were unrelated to the child being adopted. Despite the annual increase in the number of children being born outside marriage, which currently totals approximately 11 per cent of our annual births, the number of children born outside wedlock being made available for adoption has considerably reduced as an increasing number of single mothers have decided to care for their children.
Many adoption societies have closed their doors to new applicants and will not increase the numbers currently on their waiting lists. Many of those on such waiting lists may wait years rather than months before a child is placed with them and some find themselves arbitrarily excluded from adoption by age limitations being imposed on couples in respect of the placement of children which have no basis in statute law.
In an age of greater mobility the adoption by Irish couples of children abroad is not a new thing. Over the years Irish couples residing in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or on the European mainland, the Unites States or Australia and elsewhere, have adopted in their countries of residence. Some couples having lived outside Ireland for employment reasons for a number of years, have then returned to this country and have again set up home. Under our current law adoptions so completed are not recognised.
Some couples living in this State have over the years adopted children from South America, in countries such as Peru, Chile and Ecuador and from other countries such as Lebanon, India and the Philippines. Such adoptions are also not recognised in Ireland, even where all of the proper legal procedures prescribed by the law of the country in which the adoption was completed have been followed. The number of such adoptions over the years has been relatively small. I would be surprised if in the ten years up to December 1989 more than 30 such children had been adopted abroad by couples resident in Ireland. I would expect the number of foreign adoptions in the circumstances earlier referred to of Irish couples residing for some years for employment reasons in a foreign country to be far greater. It has to be emphasised however, that none of these adoptions is recognised under Irish law.
The need to enact legislation in this area was dramatically illustrated in the year 1990. The plight of tens of thousands of children living in horrific conditions in orphanages and institutions in Romania touched the hearts of many people throughout this country and in the rest of Europe. It resulted in substantial aid being sent to Romania to improve the conditions in which the children were living and in many couples going to Romania to adopt to provide such children with a new life. At governmental level this country did not respond at all. It was ordinary people who took the initiative.
At one level the response was in the voluntary collection of funds to provide food, medical and clothes aid as well as toys. Throughout Europe lorry-loads of such aid went into Romania based on a naive assumption that if the material things necessary were provided, the plight of these children would immediately considerably improve. Through hard experience those who provided such aid were to discover that the problems faced by these children were not merely a lack of material things but a major attitudinal problem on the part of the staff involved in such institutions. It is now well documented how much of the early aid found its way out of such institutions to be sold on what became a thriving Romanian black market. We heard stories of children being washed and beautifully dressed in new clothes coming from Western Europe only to be found lying naked in their cots the following morning with their clothes, right down to their socks, having been removed by the Romanian staff running the institution for sale on the black market. Aid workers tell stories of essential medicines being brought into such institutions disappearing overnight — again for sale on the black market. Even bars of soap disappeared, so that today bars of soap supplied to such institutions are deliberately scraped with a nail brush or a metal instrument so they look second hand and become unsellable.
Stories are told of the provision of extra cots or beds from Western Europe at the request of voluntary workers distressed to find four, five or six children put sleeping in a single bed or a single cot at night by the Romanian staff in some of these children's institutions. The same voluntary workers recount how days after the delivery of extra bedding took place, the Romanian staff still put large numbers of children in a single bed or a cot at night to minimise their work and reduce the number of wards they had to observe. Stories are also told about children between the ages of one week and three years being confined to their cots and not allowed to develop ordinary walking skills and never stimulated enough to learn to speak, rarely washed and never fed solid food. As a result many children born in Romania with no physical or mental disability at the age of three were designated irrecuperables and locked away in institutions for the handicapped.
It is in this environment that a voluntary organisation "The Romanian Orphanage Appeal Ireland" came into being, and sought, as did many other similar organisations set up in other European countries, to provide help within Romania for some of the children so affected. This group formed by people from both the North of Ireland and the Republic have, without any help from Government, in less than a year raised £900,000. They have become involved in two types of orphanages in Romania and have a longterm commitment to providing a broad range of aid and manpower to these orphanages which includes medical supplies, doctors and nurses. The orphanages they have adopted are Tirgoviste and Videle.
Tirgoviste is an orphanage for normal boys and has approximately 150 children aged between three and 18 years. The boys are generally healthy and are now receiving a proper food diet. The building in which they live, however, is in appalling conditions. The walls and floors are bare concrete, the central heating does not work which causes the building to be cold and damp and the bathrooms and toilets resemble a disused public convenience.
Although these children are able to go to the local school, when they are in the orphanage they have nothing to do. Apart from a football and makeshift goalposts in the courtyard of the orphanage they have no recreational facilities of any nature whatsoever. The Irish organisation have managed to provide proper bed covers and curtains for all the dormitories and have provided all the boys with new shoes, two pairs of pyjamas, a tracksuit and training shoes. They intend to purchase new recreational equipment such as table tennis tables and are instigating a complete refurbishment programme which is to begin in the spring. Because the person in charge of that orphanage is trustworthy there have not been major difficulties with aid supplied going astray.
Videle is an orphanage for handicapped or so-called irrecuperables. It houses about 170 children also aged between the age of three and 18. Medical problems here are enormous. The children are undernourished and many having reached the age of six or seven are still only bottle fed with a mixture which is totally inadequate for normal growth and development. They have also been so deprived of love and human contact that many have become withdrawn and unresponsive to those around them. For the last three months the Irish organisation has had a medical team headed by a Dr. Holmes with five nurses working there every day trying to change the conditions of these children. Major problems have been experienced with the staff of the institution. For example, one child was discovered who had lain in bed with a broken leg for five days without the Romanian staff doing anything to help him. In March two physiotherapists are being brought over to this orphanage and the Irish people working in it are involved in a continuing battle to bring about a change of attitude and approach.
To date no funds have been provided to this organisation by our Government. I want to use this opportunity to call on the Government to provide this voluntary organisation with financial help in the important work they are doing.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that there are 160,000 children in institutional care in Romania. The conditions suffered by these children challenge many of our attitudes and assumptions. Mere relief work by voluntary agencies cannot resolve their problems but will hopefully in the long term ameliorate their conditions. These are the children of the Ceausescu regime. In the Romania of Ceausescu every married woman was expected to have five children.
Contraception was outlawed and a woman who did not comply with this obligation found herself subject to regular medical examination so as to ensure she was doing nothing to prevent pregnancy taking place. Children in Romania during the Ceausescu years were seen by many of their families not as a blessing but as an unwanted burden. Despite the change of regime attitudes within the population still have not dramatically changed. Subjected for many years to a political propaganda which told women that contraception would endanger their lives, many unwanted children continue to be born and then to be abandoned. The overwhelming majority of children abandoned to these orphanages have no meaningful contact of any nature whatsoever with their parents or their families. They also have no prospect of being fostered or adopted within Romania by Romanian couples.
Learning of the plight of these children many Irish couples anxious to adopt determined during 1990 to go to Romania and to provide such children with the opportunity of a loving home and family life within Ireland. During 1990 approximately 150 Romanian children were adopted by Irish couples in Romania. Currently, three to four couples a week are travelling to Romania.
In order to adopt in Romania each couple had to have a family assessment carried out and a home study report prepared to satisfy the Romanian authorities that they were suitable to adopt. They then had to go through the proper legal procedures prescribed by Romanian law before a Romanian adoption order would be made. It is important to emphasise that adoptions so completed had to properly comply with Romanian law and fulfil it requirements.
Irish couples who go to Romania to adopt face many difficulties. Neither adoption societies in Ireland nor the health boards will currently co-operate in the carrying out of family assessments so that a home study report can be prepared. Currently, reports are prepared either by social workers, who, unknown to their employers, are doing the necessary assessments and furnishing such reports or by other professionals such as psychologists, child psychiatrists and even teachers. I have also heard of instances of English social workers being flown into Ireland to prepare such reports.
In my view the Government have an obligation to ensure that those Irish couples who wish to adopt abroad are suitable to adopt. They also have an obligation to provide the necessary assessment facilities to enable couples who are suitable and who wish to adopt abroad to have a home study report carried out by professional personnel, properly qualified, to prepare such reports. The current situation is entirely unsatisfactory. Instead of this State providing the facilities necessary, it is driving the preparation of such reports underground and creating the possibility that some reports may be prepared by well meaning people who lack the necessary insights and qualifications.
Not alone, however, is the State refusing to facilitate the carrying out of assessments but it is placing specific obstacles in the way of couples already judged suitable for adoption in Ireland. Some couples currently on health board and adoption societies waiting lists who have not as yet had a child placed with them for adoption in Ireland, have asked that the home study report on which they were judged suitable be made available to them so that it can be furnished to the Romanian authorities for the purpose of an adoption in Romania. These couples have been refused access to their own reports.
In what way can it be said that this State has any interest of any nature whatsoever in obstructing Irish couples suitable to adopt in Ireland from adopting a child in Romania? An Irish couple who surmount the domestic obstacles placed in their way are then left to their own resources to find their way through Romanian bureaucracy. For couples going today, it is now somewhat easier than it was for those who originally went due to work done by the Irish Romanian Adoption Group. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the work done by that group on a voluntary basis and the assistance they are giving to so many couple who have adopted in Romania and to so many couples seeking information about the possibility of such adoption. Nevertheless, it is not satisfactory that it is left to a voluntary group to provide the help and the necessary information.
A couple who go to Romania may have to rely on taxi drivers and guides to show them around institutions and to make contact with maternity hospitals to find out what children are available for adoption. Some have to employ their own lawyer in Romania and rely on Romanian doctors to carry out medical checks on the child they are adopting. They have to avoid the middlemen who have attempted to exploit the situation by seeking exorbitant payments from couples to show them around. All of this is entirely unsatisfactory.
There is an urgent need to establish in this country an adoption agency or a number of such agencies which have a special responsibility in the area of inter-country adoption and which can liaise with the relevant foreign authorities in making arrangements for the adoption by Irish couples of children abroad. The need for such an agency has been well documented and, inded, the Irish association of social workers have frequently stated it. In the context of Romania, direct contacts could be made with the relevant authorities by such an agency and this will be now more readily facilitated by the enactment of new adoption laws in Romania last week.
The couple who finally return to Ireland, having successfully completed the adoption process, discover that under Irish law they are not even regarded as the adoptive parents of their adopted child. I do not believe there is anyone in this State who believes that children properly adopted in Romania, according to Romanian law, or, indeed, properly adopted in any other foreign country, according to the law of that country, should be discriminated against and treated differently in this State to children adopted at home.
The Recognition of Foreign Adoptions Bill, 1990, contains provisions within it to resolve all of the difficulties outlined that relate to foreign adoptions. Whereas the numbers of Irish couples adopting in Romania, the difficulties they are experiencing and the appalling plight of children abandoned to Romanian institutional care, makes the passage of this Bill urgent, I want to emphasise that the provisions of the Bill are not confined to addressing issues that arise from the adoption by Irish couples of Romanian children. The Bill addresses the broad issue of the recognition of foreign adoptions generally and in doing so implements the comprehensive recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in May 1989 concerning this area of our laws, recommendations made at a time prior to the Romanian revolution. I also want to emphasise that substantial and detailed work was undertaken in the preparation of this Bill.
The Law Reform Commission in their introduction to their report stated:
The present law is unsatisfactory. Although it is generally assumed that foreign adoptions may be recognised under existing law, the circumstances in which recognition may be afforded have never been clearly defined either in case law or by statute. Since there are probably a number of people living in this country, both children and adults, who have been adopted abroad, it is a matter of concern that their status under Irish law should remain uncertain.
The commission later states:
It is highly undesirable that the law should remain in its present uncertain state".
The report noted that "Increased mobility within the EC has probably added to the number of people adopted abroad living in Ireland and stated that:
It is important that recognition principles be explicit and clear for a number of reasons. Numerous legal consequences flow from the recognition or non-recognition of an adoption order. Upon the validity of an adoption order may depend such a fundamental matter as entitlement to exercise parental rights. The rights and liabilities of an adopted person in relation to such matters as succession, maintenance and taxation, may also be in issue. In any matter of status the law should seek, insofar as possible, to avoid uncertainty. It ought to be possible for an adopted person to obtain clear legal advice as to his status without the need to mount costly legal proceedings. Equally the law should be framed in such a way that the various administrative officials who are called upon from time to time to determine the status of individuals adopted abroad should be able to do so without too much complication and without the need to state cases to the courts.
The Law Reform Commissions report was published in May 1989. On 29 November 1990 when the Minister for Health was asked in response to a Dáil question whether he was promising legislation would be enacted to implement this report, he stated no such promise was being given. On 11 December 1990 during the Report Stage debate on the Child Care Bill an amendment, proposed by the Fine Gael Party, to impose an obligation on health boards to carry out family assessments and to prepare home study reports for the purposes of foreign adoptions was opposed by the Government and defeated.
On 13 December the First Stage of this Bill was moved by me on behalf of the Fine Gael Party in this House. Conscious of the traditional knee-jerk response of the Government to Private Members' Bills, at the time of moving this measure I asked the Taoiseach to regard it as urgent social legislation and stated that the Fine Gael Party did not regard the Bill as one that should be seen as politically contentious in the party sense. The Taoiseach replied stating that the Government would produce their own Bill apparently unaware that just 14 days earlier the Minister for Health had said that no such legislation was promised. Needless to say no Government Bill was ever published.
To-date any public comment made by the Government in relation to this area indicates that minimal attention and thought has been given to it and that there is substantial confusion as to the difference between enacting domestic adoption laws and providing rules for the recognition of foreign adoptions according to private international law.
I now want to turn to the main provisions in the Bill. Section 2 provides for the recognition in Ireland of foreign adoption decrees of countries where one or both of the adopting parents were domiciled at the time of the making of the adoption decree. It provides expressly that such adoptions shall be deemed always to have been recognised, whether effected before or after the enactment of the Bill.
Section 3 provides for the recognition in Ireland of foreign adoption decrees of countries where one or both of the adopting parents are habitually resident at the time of the making of the decree. However, in the case of such adoptions recognition of adoption decrees already granted will only take effect as and from the coming into force of the Bill.
Section 4 provides for the recognition of foreign adoption decrees where such decrees are made by the lawfully designated authority of the country in which the adopted person was at the time of the making of the adoption order a national and ordinarily resident or where at such time the adopted person was habitually resident. Recognition under this section will take effect as and from the coming into force of the Bill and under this section adoption orders properly obtained by Irish couples adopting, for example, a Romanian child in Romania, will be recognised.
Sections 2, 3, and 4 follow the general approach of private international law in providing rules for the recognition of foreign adoptions based on there being a real and substantial connection between the country which makes the adoption order and those involved in the adoption process. Sections 2 and 3 require that the real and substantial connection be as between the adopters and the country making the order. Section 4 requires that the connection be as between the child and the country making the adoption order.
Sections 2 and 3 implement specific recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission which provide for the recognition of foreign adoptions based on the fact that the adopters are domiciled or resident in the foreign country in which the adoption is completed. The commission, in their recommendations, did not address what recognition principles should be applied to adoptions where the adopters are neither domiciled or habitually resident in the foreign state but where the child adopted is so resident and is a national of such a State.
The Law Reform Commission left over this issue to be addressed after the Hague Conference on Private International Law to be held in 1993 which is to consider the finalisation of a convention on The Adoption of Children coming from Abroad. Having regard to the large numbers of children now being adopted abroad Fine Gael believe that the enactment of such legislation should not be left until after 1993. There is also no guarantee that this issue will be finalised at the Hague Conference or that the convention ultimately drafted will be widely ratified. In this context it is worth noting that an earlier Hague Convention on the Recognition of Decrees relating to Adoption, drafted in 1964, was only ever ratified by three countries —it was not ratified by Ireland—and that recognition rules in respect of foreign adoptions contained in legislation currently in force in many countries do not reflect many of the provisions contained in that convention.
It is a general rule of private international law that recognition should only be extended to orders and decrees in circumstances where there is a substantial connection between the person or persons affected by such decrees and the country making them. Under our adoption laws an adoption order may be made in respect of a child who is merely resident in the State and in this context the Law Reform Commission note that what our domestic legislation is doing in this context is, "seeking to prevent an adoption of a child whose presence within the State is fleeting". The word "residence" accomplishes this goal. Accordingly, section 4 provides for the recognition of a foreign adoption where the child adopted was at the time of the making of the adoption order a national and ordinarily a resident of the State making such order or was habitually resident in such State.
Section 5 will enable the Minister for Health by regulation to designate countries or jurisdictions whose adoptions are recognised in Ireland without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in sections 2 to 4 of the Bill. This provision implements not only recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission but also a recommendation made by the Review Committee on Adoption Services in 1984.
Section 6 outlines the matters to which the Minister should regard in determining whether to make a designation. It contains provisions designed to resolve difficulties the Minister told the Law Reform Commission he had, difficulties the Law Reform Commission felt did not need to be addressed in legislation but which are deliberately addressed in this Bill so as to ensure that no problem will arise in its implementation.
Section 8 provides that recognition shall not be extended to an adoption order where recognition would be manifestly contrary to public policy. This provision specifically implements another recommendation of the Law Reform Commission. In this context it should be noted that the Review Committee on Adoption Services in 1984 stated that they would be opposed to any measures which would encourage or facilitate trafficking in children from foreign countries for adoption purposes.
Under this section an adoption effected consequent on a payment being made for the child being adopted to the parent of such a child would not be recognised here. Some concern has been expressed that Irish couples desperate to adopt may effectively buy babies abroad in either South America or Romania. A major problem was created in Romania during 1990 by both American and Canadian couples using the Romanian adoption process and offering payments for children. This is not something that can be condoned or supported.
It has been suggested by some in this country that Irish couples adopting in Romania have bought babies and that, as a consequence, the adoption should not be recognised. I have spoken to many of the couples who have gone to Romania to adopt and I have not yet met a couple who have behaved in this way. Indeed, I am aware of some couples who refused to deal with co-called middle-men or intermediaries who sought payments to introduce them to mothers seeking to sell a child for adoption. The new laws enacted in Romania last week are designed to bring this abuse to an end and I believe we should in our legislation ensure that recognition will not be extended to such adoptions.
It is appropriate in the context of this provision to also say something about the constitutional situation. Comments made about this Bill from some quarters, in particular, the Minister, seem to suggest that there is a constitutional difficulty in its implementation and that for foreign adoptions to be recognised here, the adoptions must fully comply with our domestic legal provisions in relation to adoption orders made by the Adoption Board. Such comments made by the Minister for Health, and others, have caused confusion. In this context I again refer to the Law Reform Commission who in their report stated:
The implications of the constitutional principles in a recognition context may be different from those which arise in purely domestic cases. Apart from the question of whether Irish constitutional principles should be applicable to persons having no connection with Ireland, some weight has to be attached to the problems created by limping adoptions (i.e. in this context, adoptions which are generally recognised abroad but not in Ireland)....
It should also be noted that recognition cases quite often arise many years after a foreign adoption has been effected and at a time when the application of constitutional principles may serve little practical purpose. We, therefore, believe it would be wrong to lay day the general principle in legislation explicitly mandating non-recognition of foreign adoptions on constitutional grounds and it should be possible for judges within the context of a general principle allowing nonrecognition for reasons of public policy to distinguish between cases where the application of constitutional principles is appropriate from where it is not.
In referring to the restrictive circumstances in which a child born to a married couple can be adopted in Irish law the commission stated:
... the fact that the Oireachtais may be precluded by the provisions of Articles 40, 41 and 42 of the Constitution from enacting legislation which permitted the adoption of legitimate children other than in the exceptional circumstances envisaged by Article 42.5 does not necessarily mean that a conflict of law rule, which has as its consequence the recognition of such an adoption decree by another jurisdiction, would be inconsistent with the Constitution. In the area of divorce, where similar problems of status and public policy in the context of private international law arise, the Irish courts have been at pains to distinguish between the effects of public policy underlying the Constitution which prohibits the positive enforcement in this jurisdiction of laws which offend that public policy and the more passive recognition of the status which those laws bring about as a matter of private international law.
It is clear from the public comments made by the Minister on this Bill that there is some considerable confusion in the mind of the Minister with regard to the difference between domestic adoption laws and laws relating to the rcognition of foreign adoptions in the context of the constitutional provisions referred to.
Section 9 of the Bill empowers the High Court to grant declarations as to the validity of foreign adoption decrees and is similar to a provision contained in the Status of Children Act, 1987, which provides for the making of declarations of parentage. The production of a High Court declaration would not be a precondition to the recognition of foreign adoptions by an administrative authority. This provision merely provides a mechanism to obtain such a declaration where issues of recognition are particularly complex.
Section 11 states the effect in Irish law of recognition being extended to foreign adoption orders. Under it, once a foreign adoption is recognised, the child adopted in the foreign country is placed in exactly the same legal position under Irish law as the child adopted in Ireland.
Section 12 is particularly important in the context of adoptions abroad for people living in Ireland. At present neither health boards nor adoption societies co-operate in the carrying out the family assessments for the purpose of preparing a home study report to enable a foreign adoption to be completed. Moreover, provisions contained in the Adoption Act, 1952, prohibit the payment of moneys to any person who facilitates the making of an arrangement for adoption. This provision was originally designed to prevent people receiving payments in Ireland for arranging the adoption of a child in Ireland.
It has now been interpreted by the Adoption Board as applying to any payment that might be made to a social worker or child psychiatrist for the carrying out of an assessment and the preparation of a home study report to be furnished to a foreign authority for the purpose of a foreign adoption. As a consequence, those who wish to adopt in Romania and who are anxious to establish their suitability cannot have assessments and reports prepared by the relevant State agencies and are breaking the law if they pay a suitably qualified professional person to carry out the necessary assessments and prepare such reports.
Health boards and adoption societies who carry out assessments for the purpose of Irish domestic adoptions are the appropriate agencies to assess Irish couples living here who wish to adopt abroad. Section 12 of the Bill confers an obligation on a health board requested to prepare such a report to carry out the necessary assessment without unreasonable delay and to furnish such report when completed both to the prospective adopters and to the foreign authority to whom they are applying to adopt. This section also empowers the Minister for Health to designate by way of regulation an existing adoption society or societies to undertake functions in relation to the making of arrangements for inter-country adoptions. This would ensure that proper arrangements were put in place to effect such adoptions and that all of the preliminary contacts necessary were undertaken by a responsible body in this country on behalf of the adopters rather than adopters being left on their own to find their way through foreign bureaucracy. It would also avoid the possibility of Irish couples being exploited or their unwittingly adopting a child in a foreign country in circumstances where such adoption may not be appropriate. Such an agency could also ensure that the adopters knew as much as is possible about the health of the child being adopted by them.
I now want to conclude by turning to the context in which the Bill is published and to the politics involved. In September of last year the Taoiseach and other world leaders attended the United Nations for the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 21 of the Convention recognises that "inter-country adoption may be considered as an alternative means of child care, if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child's country of origin". The same article requires the signatory States to "ensure that the child concerned by inter-country adoptions enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption and to promote where appropriate the objectives of this article by concluding bilateral or multinational arrangements or agreements" with regard to inter-country adoption.
It is clear that in the context of Romania inter-country adoption offers to many children currently in institutions the only real hope for the future. For us to comply with the provisions in the article which require that we ensure that the child adopted abroad enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption, it is clear that those children when adopted by Irish couples must be placed in the same legal position as a child adopted in Ireland. To comply with the provisions of this convention it is clear that legislation such as that proposed in the Fine Gael Bill should be supported.
It is an unfortunate part of our political system that whenever a Private Members' Bill is published by an Opposition party, the Government of the day feel it incumbent to oppose the measure. Within a competitive political environment legislation coming from the Opposition side of the House is seen as a threat to a Minister's authority rather than as a constructive legislative contribution to addressing a problem that the Government, due to the many demands made upon them, may not have had the time or the resources to tackle, or the insight to deal with.
This Bill was brought forward by the Fine Gael Party not in order to embarrass the Minister for Health or either of the parties that compose this Government. It was brought forward to address a specific area of our social legislation which had for far too long been ignored and which could no longer be ignored, and that due to new problems needed to be urgently addressed. Ninety per cent of the contents of this Bill implements recommendations of the Law Reform Commission and in one particular instance addresses an issue that the commission thought need not be contained in legislation but about which the Minister for Health had expressed some anxiety.
For the past two months I have argued that in a mature political environment it would be accepted that it is desirable that Members of Parliament act as legislators and for a Bill such as this to be welcomed by the Government of the day. I reiterated that in so far as there are any provisions in the Bill about which the Government may have a genuine concern, and so that appropriate amendments could be incorporated in this Bill on Committee Stage.
While it is the view of the Fine Gael Party that the Bill fully and properly addresses the issues to which it relates, we do, of course, acknowledge that it is a rare event for any Bill to be published which is not amended in some ways as it moves through the legislative process. If the fact that a Bill might have to be amended at some stage during the course of its passage through the Oireachtas was a reason for not supporting a Bill at Second Stage, no legislation would ever be enacted in this House. For example, the Minister's own Child Care Bill must have had over 60 amendments made to it during its passage through this House from Second Stage to Report Stage.
Until this afternoon it seemed from the Minister's many public remarks that the Bill was going to be opposed by the Government. The Minister constantly went on record criticising the Bill and its provisions, promising his own Bill and stating that this Bill has a variety of defects, based simply on the Minister's lack of understanding of the issues involved. I welcome the Minister's and the Government's change of approach to this issue, which I heard of on radio at 5 p.m. today. I welcome the Government's agreement to the Bill now passing Second Stage and proceeding to Committee Stage. The acceptance by the Government of this Bill will not be seen to be a defeat for the Government but as a growing maturity in our political process. It will be seen as the Government finally recognising the desirability of Members of this House to play a role as real legislators and not as mere rubber stamps for legislation drafted by the Attorney General's Office or civil servants in other Government Departments. I welcome the Governments recognition of the need to urgently enact this legislation and I welcome their change of mind.
I hope that following the completion of this debate Committee Stage can be speedily taken and that this vitally important measure can be rapidly enacted into law so that Irish couples who wish to adopt in Romania are assisted, and so that all children properly adopted in accordance with the laws of a foreign country are granted in this State the same rights as we confer on children adopted within Ireland.