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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Feb 1991

Vol. 404 No. 9

Private Members' Business. - Recognition of Foreign Adoptions Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

The Government have always accepted the need to set out in legislation the circumstances in which a foreign adoption order is entitled to recognition in the State. Given the scale on which inter-country adoptions are now taking place, it is clearly desirable that there should be no uncertainty surrounding the status under domestic law of adoption decrees granted in other countries. Indeed, Deputy Shatter referred to the reducing number of children available for adoption in our country and, in many European countries at present, there are more foreign adoptions than domestic adoptions.

Of course it is the Romanian situation that is to the forefront of all our minds. Everyone who has watched the harrowing scenes on television — and who listened to Deputy Shatter outlining some of them tonight — has been deeply moved by the appalling conditions in the Romanian orphanages and the heartrending plight of the children there. When it became known that many of the children were available for adoption, Irish couples began to travel to Romania to adopt and to provide the children with the opportunity of a loving and caring family life here in Ireland.

Having returned with children to Ireland, couples find that their Romanian adoptions are not recognised here and that there are difficulties in adopting the children under existing Irish adoption legislation. The Government appreciate the anxiety of the adoptive parents to have their position regularised under Irish law. Accordingly, I am glad to announce formally to the House that the Government will not be opposing a Second Reading of the Bill proposed by Deputy Shatter. There were two choices open to the Government, to reject the Bill and to bring forward their own Bill in a couple of weeks time or to accept the Bill and allow it to proceed to an all-party committee of the House. We have chosen the latter course because we believe it is appropriate that it should go to an all-party committee; it is a serious social issue, one on which we should like to see consensus and avoid turning it into a political football.

However, the Government have serious reservations about the legality and acceptability of some of the measures included in the Bill. In order to demonstrate a positive and sympathetic approach to this issue we have allowed the Bill to proceed to a special committee where it can be examined in detail and, I hope, amended in a manner which will make it workable and acceptable to all. The Government and I are aware of the many sensitive issues which need to be discussed and agreed and, despite our reservations, we are allowing the Bill to proceed to avoid a divisive political debate.

I am aware of some criticism of the Government for not acting earlier to initiate legislation on foreign adoptions but I assure the House that the Attorney General and I have spared no effort in this respect. Adoption is an extremely complex area of the law and great care must be taken in the preparation of any new legislation in order to ensure that it is in conformity with the Constitution. I should like to remind the House that on three occasions since I came into Government in 1987 we have introduced major child legislation, including the Adoption Act, 1988, child care legislation and an amendment following a Supreme Court decision in 1988. To illustrate the difficulties and complexities associated with adoption law in this country, I should like to remind the House that the Bill — which is now the Adoption Act, 1988 — was referred by the President to the Supreme Court for a ruling as to its constitutionality and on a previous occasion regarding adoption legislation in 1979 the issue was only resolved by holding a referendum. It is essential to ensure that any legislation is in conformity with our obligations under international agreements, for example, the European Convention on the Adoption of Children and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As I have already said, the Government accept the principle of Deputy Shatters Bill but we have serious reservations about some of its provisions. I would like to emphasise that these reservations are not against the overall objective of the Bill but are based on our considered examination of the technical problems arising in the drafting of the legislation.

I have no difficulty in principle with the proposals in the Bill to confer recognition on adoptions effected in countries or jurisdictions where the adoptive parents were either domiciled or habitually resident at the time of the adoption, subject of course to the effect of the foreign adoption being broadly similar to the effect of an Irish adoption. It seems reasonable that adoptions effected in countries where the adoptive parents were either born or were living for a long time should be recognised by the State.

These provisions are, broadly speaking, in line with the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in their report on the recognition of foreign adoption decrees. However, in fairness to people who have adopted in Romania recently, it has to be emphasised that recognition based on domicile or habitual residence would be of no benefit to them or to other people who travelled to a foreign country for the sole purpose of adopting a child.

These cases are the most difficult for which to legislate. I would like to quote briefly from what the Law Reform Commission said about this in their report:

Since the adoptive parents in such cases are neither domiciled nor even resident for any significant period of time in the country of adoption, it is obvious that such adoptions would fail to meet the threshold requirements of any system of recognition of adoption decrees which uses normally acceptable criteria. It is unfortunately the case that adoptive parents in this position will not necessarily be assisted by the proposals in our Report if they are implemented.

It is clear that even if the Government were to implement the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission it would do nothing to assist persons who have recently adopted children from Romania or others who have gone abroad with the sole purpose of adopting children while abroad. It is important that this is clearly made known to counter suggestions made that the implementation of the commission's report would solve all the problems in this area. This is not the case and, as the Law Reform Commission concludes, there does not appear to be any quick or easy solution to this difficult issue.

Deputy Shatter's proposal for dealing with this kind of foreign adoption is to provide for their recognition based solely on the nationality and residence of the child. There are serious constitutional and other objections to this proposal. It would result in a completely open-ended system of recognition which would undermine our own legal adoption system and the important safeguards it contains. It would also contravene a number of international agreements which the State has either ratified or is committed to ratifying.

It is simply not possible to consider the nationality and residence of the adopted child in isolation. Regard must also be had to the eligibility of the child, the consent of the natural parents and the eligibility and suitability of the adoptive parents.

Under the Deputy's proposals the adoption of a child born within marriage would be entitled to recognition. It is not clear whether this is constitutionally permissible. Because of the guarantees to protect the family and to respect the rights and duties of parents contained in Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution, the law here does not permit married parents to voluntarily surrender their children for adoption. Other countries allow parents to do so and I am aware that a significant number of the children adopted in Romania by Irish parents were born within marriage. This is one of the issues we hope to address on Committee Stage and to resolve to the satisfaction of adoptive parents and Members of the House.

Our law only permits the adoption of children born within marriage in the strictly limited circumstances provided for under the Adoption Act, 1988. The authority of the High Court is required in every case. The court will not give this authority unless satisfied, among other matters, that the child's natural parents have failed in their duty towards the child and that this failure constitutes an abandonment of all their parental rights. As to what constitutes "failure" by parents, it is important to note what was said by the Supreme Court when the Bill, which is now the 1988 Act, was referred by the President for a decision as to its constitutionality. The Supreme Court made it clear that failure due to externally originating circumstances such as poverty would not be sufficient to justify the adoption of the child against the wishes of his parents. As I said, that is one of the issues we will be addressing and we will certainly take a sympathetic view of it.

The Bill contains no reference to the consent of the natural parents and that omission is hard to understand. I cannot conceive of a situation in which a foreign adoption could be recognised under Irish law without reference to whether the natural parents gave a proper consent to the adoption or whether their consent was dispensed with by a competent foreign authority. The validity of any adoption order is affected by whether the consent of the natural parent was an informed one and given without pressure or, where the order was made in the absence of consent, whether the grounds for dispensing with the consent were justified.

Under our law, for example, a consent to adoption is invalid if given before the child attains the age of six weeks. The purpose of this restriction is to ensure that the mother's health and psychological balance have been restored following the trauma of childbirth. I should mention that the European Convention on the Adoption of Children prohibits the prescription by law of a shorter period than six weeks. This is another issue which will be studied very carefully and I would say very sympathetically when the Bill is addressed by the Special Committee.

The case law on consent to adoption is considerable. Indeed, Deputy Shatter has appeared before the High Court and the Supreme Court on a number of occasions on behalf of clients involved in disputed adoption cases. He, more than most Deputies, is aware of the importance our courts attach to the circumstances in which the consent of a natural parent to adoption procedures is obtained. He knows that the courts have refused to sanction proposed Irish adoptions on the grounds that the consents had not been properly given. Again, this is an issue which will have to be addressed by the Special Committee and I hope we will be able to agree on a solution to the problem.

A further difficulty with the Bill is that it does not require the eligibility or suitability of the adoptive parents to be taken into consideration. The law here requires joint applicants for an adoption order to be a married couple living together. This renders a couple who are parties to a bigamous marriage ineligible to adopt a child in Ireland. Such a couple who adopted a child abroad would be entitled to have the adoption recognised under this Bill. This would be in contravention of the European Convention on the Adoption of Children, to which the State is a party and which specifically prohibits the adoption of a child by an unmarried couple.

The Bill would also entitle a single person who adopts abroad to have the adoption recognised here, notwithstanding that single persons are, generally speaking, not eligible to adopt a child in the State. This would create an anomaly in our adoption laws. The Government are sympathetically disposed to extending the categories of single persons eligible to adopt in appropriate cases but believe that it should be done for both foreign and domestic adoptions.

Any procedure for the recognition of foreign adoptions must include a proper assessment of the suitability of the adoptive parents. This is particularly important in the case of adoptions granted in countries which do not require the adoptive parents to have had the child in their care for any length of time.

The assessments carried out by the adoption agencies and the Adoption Board in the case of domestic adoptions provide an important safeguard for the welfare of the child. It is vitally important that any child involved in inter-country adoption enjoys the same safeguards. While the primary responsibility for providing these safeguards rests with the authorities in the foreign country, the State also has a duty to protect the welfare of the child. Indeed, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Taoiseach signed last September with a view to it being ratified by the State, includes a special provision in relation to inter-country adoption. It requires states to ensure that the child concerned by inter-country adoption enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption.

Similar reservations about the lack of standards in this Bill are expressed in the January issue of the Irish Law Times. I would like to quote briefly from it:

Adoption in Ireland is child-centred and the law ensures that the child's interests are paramount. In the recognition of foreign adoption orders this should remain so. There should be no reduction in standards. The same level of standards that apply to Irish adoption orders should be made applicable to foreign adoption orders. This is not so clear in the proposed Bill. Without such stringent safeguards it could be possible that a couple who fail assessment in Ireland for adoption for, say, reasons of unstableness, could be successful in adopting a foreign child. This clearly would not be in the interest of the child and would provide an ‘alternative' adoption structure.

I would also point out that the provisions of the Bill are not restricted to Irish citizens or even to people who are resident here. Thus, an adoption order granted in, say, Brazil to an English couple who are domiciled in England would be entitled to recognition here, even though Brazilian adoptions are not recognised in England. Indeed, I am sure Deputy Shatter would not wish to see this country being used as a backdoor by foreign parents seeking to circumvent the adoption procedures in their own countries.

The Bill also proposes to empower the Minister for Health to designate countries and jurisdictions whose adoption orders would be recognised in the State. Again, I have no objection in principle to this idea. The Law Reform Commission recommended the introduction of such a procedure. However, it indicated that this would apply to countries whose legal, social and political structures are similar to our own, such as other members of the European Community. Given the uncertain social and political situation in Romania, it is not clear that such a procedure would be appropriate in the case of adoptions in that country. That is something we want to rectify in this legislation and which we will address very sympathetically in the all-party committee.

The Bill sets out a number of criteria which would be applicable in determining whether a ministerial designation should be made. However, there is one essential condition absent, that is whether the adoption was made with the consent of the natural parents or whether their consent was dispensed with by a competent foreign authority on appropriate grounds. The question also arises as to whether the Minister could designate a country which allows the adoption of children in circumstances that would not be constitutionally permissible here, for example, the voluntary surrender of children by married parents.

The Bill proposes to confine recognition to adoption orders made in respect of persons up to the age of 21 years at the date of the order. I would point out to Deputy Shatter that the Adoption Act, 1988 reduced the upper age limit for adoption from 21 to 18 years. I should also mention that the Law Reform Commission recommended that recognition should be confined to adoption orders made in repect of persons below the age of 18.

The Bill provides for the withholding of recognition where recognition would be contrary to public policy. This means that the recognition of any adoption under any of the procedures contained in the Bill could be set aside at any time by the courts. Thus there would always be a question mark hanging over the validity of foreign adoptions under Irish law. The adoptive parents and the adopted children would never know when their order might be denied recognition. That again, is an issue we want to address and rectify in the legislation.

The Bill would entitle the adoptive parents or the adopted person to apply to the High Court for a declaration that their foreign adoption is valid here. However, no guidance is given to the court as to the criteria by which it is to decide whether an adoption order is entitled to recognition. What is to happen to the child if the court refuses to recognise a foreign adoption order? Again, the Bill provides no guidance on the matter. It is important that the Bill provides guidance in this area for the High Court, in the way the Adoption Act, 1988 does.

The Bill requires health boards to carry out assessments of the suitability of persons wishing to adopt abroad. This is something I am already in the process of arranging administratively. In the context of Romania I am arranging for contact to be made with the Central Committee on Adoptions, set up in Romania last week, to agree with them on the procedures for processing applications from Irish people wishing to adopt in Romania. I would see the health boards having a key role in the implementation of these procedures. Indeed, I would recommend to anybody contemplating going to Romania to adopt a child that they get professional advice before they go so they will know exactly what is required.

Naturally, nobody in this House can tell them what the final legislation will be, although I am sure everybody in the House is sympathetic and anxious to ensure we have the most comprehensive legislation possible for them to take account of the needs of the adopting parents, having regard to the rights of the child and the interest of the natural parent or parents. It is important that people get good professional advice before they go to Romania.

The Bill enables the Minister to designate voluntary adoption societies to deal with inter-country adoptions. This provision, in my view, is misconceived. The voluntary societies are free to carry out functions in relation to inter-country adoptions if they wish to do so. I would also point out that the Adoption Board, not the Minister, is the registering authority for adoption societies. The board are responsible for supervising the activities of the adoption societies and ensuring they maintain satisfactory standards. The board must have a role in any arrangements for the assessment of persons seeking to adopt abroad. I find it strange that the Bill does not envisage such a role for the board.

As I have said, the Government had two choices. We could have rejected this Bill in the House and brought forward our own Bill in three or four weeks time, or accepted the Bill. We have decided to accept the Bill on Second Stage, to see it go to a Committee of the House, an all-party Committee, where we hope there will be consensus and that it will not be debated in the adversarial, across-the-House fashion because of the recognition by all Members and the Government of the importance of this legislation.

There are many children adopted in our country now. I understand there are at least 150 Romanian children in our country, and we are very anxious to have the most comprehensive legislation to ensure that we provide for the needs of the adopting parents having regard to the rights of the child and the interests of the natural parents and, of course, the interests of the adopting parents. The adopting parents will want security. They will not want a situation where in two or three year's time the natural parent may be able to come to this country and claim the child in court.

Against that background adoption legislation is very complex. It is difficult legislation, as has been shown in the past. In regard to the last two pieces of legislation on adoption in this House, the 1988 legislation was referred to the Supreme Court before its enactment and the 1979 legislation necessitated a referendum before it was enacted. Everybody in the House recognises this is not easy legislation but it is important legislation and we are anxious to get it right.

In that regard I might refer to Deputy Shatter's comment about the delay in bringing forward legislation. The Government at one stage examined the situation to see if it was possible that the adopting parents could adopt children under existing law. At the moment there are 30 applications before the Adoption Board being processed for adoption under existing law, so there is provision there which would facilitate a number of parents. However, having considered the matter we discovered existing law would not cater for the needs of all the adopting parents. The Government then decided to bring forward legislation, but it is incumbent on Government to bring forward legislation that will stand up.

I accept Deputy Shatter's point that amendments are accepted. The Child Care Bill is a good example of legislation that went through the House and was examined in Committee; the Committee of Members from all sides worked very hard on that legislation and I believe we have better legislation as a result. I have no doubt that the same will happen in this legislation. The Bill will go before an all-party committee of the House where the necessary amendments will be brought forward to address the issues I have outlined. As I said, the Child Care Bill which passed all stages in this House was considered by such a committee and was greatly improved as a result. While I have outlined the difficulties, we are sympathetic to the problems that exist and we want to resolve those difficulties. I have every confidence that the all-party committee will be as successful as the Committee on the Child Care in effecting the necessary improvements.

I want to put on the record the Labour Party's complete support for this Bill and to compliment Deputy Shatter on introducing it as a Private Members' Bill. There might have been periods of recrimination between Deputy Shatter and the Minister, but it is time we acknowledged that in the country at large there is at last a recognition that this House is functioning as a House of legislation whether initiated by Private Members or by the Government. It is a good sign of democracy that the Minister with the Government have the courage to accept the legislation placed before them by a Private Member and to accept it in the spirit he has done, recognising that it probably needs and will benefit from amendment.

The day he initiated this Bill Deputy Shatter admitted that with the resources available to him — obviously looking at the Bill they are extensive — he was prepared to listen to any arguments that might come forward by way of amendment. It means that the Bill which started with some controversy because of the Government's stated attitude has now become positive legislation. We, in the Labour Party, will participate fully in the Committee of the House to ensure that at the end of the day the amended Bill will be an improvement on the Bill as initiated and will meet the demands being made on all of us by parents who want to ensure that the children they have already adopted will in the future have legal standing and that they will be recognised by the State as being their children by adoption. I hope that some of the difficulties being put in the way of families now in the process of trying to negotiate with the Department of Justice will be overcome. The Minister has stated tonight that he is trying to overcome the administrative problems that have arisen.

In my constituency scenes of joy and happiness were portrayed in the provincial newspapers of large numbers of families in Tipperary who had the courage, in spite of all the difficulties, to go to Romania and to go through the necessary procedure to adopt available children and bring them home. I look forward to the day when those new parents will see their children officially recognised by the State; both parents are Irish and their love for these children will be no less than if the children were Irish. It is appropriate that we in the House respond to that situation by bringing in appropriate legislation.

The Labour Party recognised that there were many social difficulties particularly in regard to Romanian children. There was widespread media coverage about the risks involved, especially the risks to the health of these children. Were it not for the voluntary group known as the Irish Romania Adoptive Parents Group, were it not for the support, assistance and guidance of such people, many parents might not have continued their efforts to obtain Romanian children for adoption and have them become part of their families at home.

Their most recent documentation made available to all of us abates that at present these children have no rights in this country: we are not legally their parents and they are not Irish citizens. This is a very unsatisfactory position. These innocent children are victims of an inadequate law with regard to foreign adoption. Surely they have suffered enough already. They continue to say: we would urge that the law here give full recognition to foreign adoptions, thus giving the adoptive children the same status as those children adopted in Ireland. This would also confirm their Irish citizenship and, with it, all the benefits this State has to offer its citizens.

That voluntary group recognise the importance, first, of children having a nationality and were proud to have an opportunity to confirm their Irish citizenship. All of us recognise how important that is worldwide because of our humanitarian commitment in that and other areas in which we have social obligations. In difficult circumstances prevailing in the past — when other countries ravaged by war has thousands of refugees fleeing from them — the Irish people were to the fore in ensuring that they had a safe haven here: that, at considerable difficulty and expense to many of our people, even as an interim measure, in removing such refugees from the trauma they had experienced in their countries.

We in the Labour Party recognised that it was the responsibility of Government to acknowledge and respond to parents' needs to adopt children — whether they had children of their own or were childless and assist and facilitate them in every way possible. Such Government response was not forthcoming which led to the necessity for this Private Members' Bill on which I have congratulated Deputy Shatter. The Minister having shown the courage he did in supporting this Bill in its Second Reading — that gesture of goodwill on the part of the Minister and Government for which I thank them — means that this Bill will go through the parliamentary procedure faster, will benefit therefrom, will have the power of Government behind its provisions and all the legal advice available to the Minister, through the Attorney General's Office, in the event of any problems arising therewith in the future. Surely that is the appropriate way to go forward?

The Labour Party realise also that childless couples were unable to obtain children through the normal channels of adoption here because of the scarcity of children which meant many had to wait many years. One need only be close to people who adopt children to understand and observe the joy and happiness that the news that a child is available brings to them. If it is possible to say so on the record, perhaps it even surpasses the joy a child of their own brings couples. One observes the real joy of people who. for the first time, experience the happiness of a child being made available to them.

That scarcity of children for adoption at home meant people turned to Romania because of the widespread publicity portraying the deprivation and conditions to which those children were subjected, particularly on the humanitarian level, having seen many of them on television. Probably it is something similar to the effect of such television portrayals of famine in the Sudan or Ethiopia when Ireland always responds. Perhaps we need our consciences to be triggered by visual proof. When these pictures of Romanian children were portrayed on television immediately Irish people responded and went out to Romania at considerable expense to ascertain whether they would be able to remove some of them from that regime back to the haven of Ireland where they could participate in what is recognised to be a privileged society that has such regard for our children and whose Constitution protects them. While we may complain at times that Government and agencies do not pay sufficient attention to children, one must say there is a special regard for children and their rights here.

On those grounds alone the introduction of this Bill was welcome — the fact that children were not available for adoption here and the conditions to which those Romanian children were being subjected in that regime, particularly after the fall of Ceausescu when world attention was drawn to the position obtaining there. We are aware also that, despite the many difficulties obtaining there, many children have already been brought here — the Minister mentioned a figure of approximately 150 children. There are many more awaiting approval by the Department of Justice. I suppose it is appropriate this evening to place on the record our appreciation of the assistance given by the Department of Justice in what was a wholly new area for them. They laid down certain rules, regulations and requests for documentation which, when forthcoming, assisted parents, equipping them with some legal documentation here and rendering it appropriate for them to go to Romania to adopt children or to go through the process of bringing children back here for adoption.

Of course, that led to the difficulty outlined by Deputy Shatter in section 12 of his Bill which refers to the lack of co-operation at present on the part of health boards and agencies when requested to undertake social reports or family assessments for adoption purposes. That is the largest complaint being voiced at present. There are quite a number of genuine applicants now being subjected to negative replies on the part of health agencies to what parents would consider a normal procedure, requesting that their family circumstances be examined and reported. Usually such applicants would not subject themselves to such investigation were they not satisified they met all the requirements of "the home" as defined for this purpose, rendering them eligible and suitable when assessed for that purpose. I was pleased to note that the Minister said he was setting in train such a procedure.

When replying I hope some member of the Government will outline such procedure which would benefit people at present endeavouring to obtain approval to travel to Romania, who have undertaken much research, have already visited Romania once or twice, have seen a child or children and have talked to the relevant agencies there. As I have said, the voluntary adoptive group here have been of tremendous help to parents, in giving them the names of reputable people abroad and reputable health and legal organisations. I know of parents who are awaiting this social report before being approved finally by the Department of Justice.

Nonetheless it is not sufficient for us to rest on our laurels now that this Private Members' Bill has been introduced. As a Legislature we must afford it some degree of urgency. We should proceed, on a weekly basis, to tease out the problems the Minister has identified in its sections, clauses and regulations.

Having read the provisions of the Bill on several occasions I am anxious to hear further from the Minister those areas he considers to be deficient. There was also a comprehensive explanatory memorandum published with the Bill on the basis of all the information available to Deputy Shatter, some reverting back to the Law Reform Commission which addressed this problem some time ago. For the life of me I cannot see some of the difficulties outlined by the Minister. Nonetheless I suppose it is appropriate that all legislation — even that emanating from the Government side — with all the legal advice available to them from the Attorney General — be subjected to the same scrutiny. After all, is not that what this assembly is about — to ensure that the best possible Bill to address any problem is enacted? This House must try to ensure that we have the best possible legislation to deal with this problem. The Minister said there was reference in the Bill to the consent of natural parents. The Minister said that he could not conceive of a situation in which foreign adoptions would be recognised under Irish law without reference to whether the natural parents had given a proper consent to adoption or to whether the consent was dispensed with by a competent foreign authority. Surely we do not have our heads in the sand and we realise that things are different in Romania.

There the State intervened in the privacy of marriage forcing people to have children they could not afford to look after. Children were in danger of dying from hunger and the State had already taken these children into institutions. The parents' rights had already been ignored by "the competent authority". The only future for these Romanian children was if another competent state like ours moved into this area. Having regard to the Romanian regime which has disregarded the rights of parents and children, anything we could do will surpass anything in Romania. The Minister's criticism of the Bill was unnecessary, taking all these things into account.

We will participate fully in the committee procedure on this Bill. We will support the Minister in changing sections on the basis of advice available to him. Working together we will have done something to address this problem. Many of our constituents have gone to Romania to try to adopt children but found when they brought them home they had to be subjected to the naturalisation process which was only available as per a reply to a parliamentary question at the end of last year. Deputy Shatter's Bill will encourage people to believe that the children will have future security and Irish citizenship. All sides of the House should support this in the interest of the children. If the interests of the children are looked after, the interests of adoptive parents will be looked after. Everyone will benefit from this House having pursued its legislative role. Tonight, the credit goes to Deputy Shatter for having initiated this Bill. We thank the Minister for accepting this Bill and we should all work together to improve it and to match the challenge the public have given us.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Teachta Shatter as an mBille a chur os ár gcomhair inniu, agus go mórmhór leis an Aire Sláinte, cé go bhfuil sé ag dul i mbun an Bhille agus á chur faoi bhráid coiste speisialta.

The forum of an Oireachtas Joint Committee will actually help this Bill. The Oireachtas Joint Committee that took the Childcare Bill in hand did an excellent job. We worked as a team. We forgot about political football. I hope that will be our aim in this Bill.

I, like my colleagues, have representations from constituents anxious to obtain information in relation to Romanian adoptions. I am aware of people who have been to Romania and of their frustrations when they returned home to find that they were in a legislative limbo. We have all seen the pathetic pictures on television. We have all instinctively wanted to do something about it. The children we saw on television are definitely at risk and in need of urgent remedies. The long term reasonable response to such problems is to help to evolve structural change in Romania. That takes a long time and we have to ask ourselves what we can do in the meantime while these proposals are being advocated.

Many feel that to take children from an undesirable environment and to give them love, care and a good home is the answer. I will not disagree with that but it is a simplistic answer. The issue must be looked at carefully. The committee will do their best to ensure that the best interests of the children, the adoptive parents and the natural parents are considered. Unfortunately, many of the children in real need in Romania will not be adopted. The children in the cots, the children with psychological problems will not be attractive to adopt. I do not say that in a derogatory manner. Those are also children who may be in need of adoption or fostering and perhaps people here could provide that service. Naturally, the better families and the families with perhaps the education to get involved with adoptive agencies will adopt children.

A question arises whether this Bill stemmed from the need to help children who live in undesirable or pathetic environments or from the need to fulfil a desire, or fill a vacuum here where there are not enough children for adoption. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Shatter, that due to social change here there has been a huge reduction in the number of children available for adoption, but that has not reduced the number of people who want to adopt children. I feel for those people who have the ability to be excellent adoptive parents. That need should be looked at. I hope this Bill and the concept of foreign adoptions will help that process. Perhaps this will relieve the anguish of many people who have not been able to adopt and who feel they are being unfairly treated. I hope this Bill will alleviate this problem to a degree and help people who wish to be adoptive parents.

Not to be totally apolitical about the situation, it always takes me by surprise to see that Deputy Shatter is the bastion of all caring legislation in this House.

Fianna Fáil Members in the back benches are just as willing, just as anxious and have been as influential as any with the Minister. The beavers in the back benches are often as good as and even better than Members in Opposition.

Debate adjourned.