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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 1996

Vol. 468 No. 1

Adoption (No. 2) Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome the fact that this Bill is before the House. There has bee need for some time to address the consequences of the judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in the Keegan case to deal with the problems which have arisen with regard to some foreign adoptions. I will direct my initial remarks to the foreign adoption issue.

It came as no surprise to me that the provisions of the 1991 Adoption Act excluded the possibility of the Adoption Board recognising some adoptions effected by Irish people outside the State. When published by me in its original form no such difficulty would have arisen. It was Deputy O'Hanlon who insisted as Minister for Health, in return for the Government accepting its enactment, that certain amendments be made. I warned this would mean some adoptions would not be recognised. On the other hand, if I had not accepted those amendments, the effect would have been that the Government would have defeated the Bill and it would not have been enacted. I am proud to say the Adoption Act, 1991 has resulted in the region of 650 adoptions effected by Irish people outside the State being recognised.

I welcome the provisions in this Bill to change the aspect of the 1991 Act which has given rise to so much difficulty and which should result in the possibility of recognition being extended to adoption orders made in a variety of countries. There is, however, a degree of uncertainty outside the House as to the exact effect it will have.

The Adoption Board made available a list of the countries whose adoptions give rise to difficulties with regard to recognition. It is clear, as no doubt the Minister of State is aware, that in some countries there are two types of adoption process in operation pursuant to the legal system. The difficulty that arises is that under current law we will recognise one and not the other.

To get over this difficulty it would be helpful if the Minister of State would refer to the list of countries formulated by the Adoption Board and advise the House, whether based on the advise available to him, he is satisfied that those countries' adoptions can be recognised. In so far as there are countries whose adoptions still fall outside the net he should put this on the record.

This is a difficult and complex area. The general public is entitled to know not just in general terms that we are amending our laws to facilitate the recognition of foreign adoptions from some countries such as China but to have a clear list of those countries whose adoptions will be recognised in the future. That should not cause a difficulty for the Minister of State.

Anyone in this House who has shown any interest in the adoption issue during the years has been in receipt of correspondence from a small group of parents who have adopted through the ordinary form of adoption in Paraguay. They want to know where they will stand if this Bill is enacted. There are a number of other similar forms of adoption included on the list made available by the Adoption Board.

There are one or two issues on which the Minister of State might enlighten the House. There has been a difficulty in putting in place the workings of an agreement between the Irish and Romanian authorities to facilitate the continuing possibility of Irish people adopting children in Romania. From my knowledge, over two years ago there was a draft agreement in place which was about to be put into operation but I have been told that there are teething problems here. Will the Minister of State tell us whether it is working, what communications are taking place between the Department or the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Adoption Board and the relevant Romanian authorities and whether to date any adoptions have been completed in Romania by Irish persons living in the State under the terms of any such agreement?

The catalyst for this legislation was the desire of a number of Irish people to adopt in China. From the discussions I and others have had with the Chinese Ambassador and other Chinese representatives it is clear the Chinese authorities have no difficulty or objection to properly assessed individuals or couples from Ireland adopting children in ophanages in China who have no real possibility of every returning to a family life with their natural parents. The main concern is that, if Chinese adoptions are to be made in favour of Irish couples, they should be recognised in the State.

It is intended to enter into a formal agreement with the Chinese authorities to be operated under the auspices of the Adoption Board to facilitate couples in Ireland who have been assessed as suitable to adopt outside the State effecting an adoption in China? What timescale does the Minister of State envisage for the enactment of this Bill? How soon will it be possible for arrangements to be operational between this State and China?

I am aware of a number of couples who have the possibility of adopting in China if only the legal difficulties at this end were resolved. They have dealt with this matter by being assessed in Ireland as suitable and have dealt directly with the authorities in China having obtained in China the legal help they require. Will that option still be open to people or will there be a formalised arrangement in place between this State and the Chinese authorities? Is it intended to put formalised arrangements in place between this State and any other state to facilitate Irish couples adopting abroad?

I welcome the fact that this Bill will change the cut-off date in the 1991 Act with regard to adoptions effected by Irish people outside the State who at the time of adoption were resident in Ireland and did not go through the new assessment procedures when the Act became operational. I can well remember telling Deputy O'Hanlon and the officials of the Department of Health that the cut-off date they insisted be included in the Act was far too short and that a number of couples involved in completing foreign adoptions would not have those adoptions recognised. At that time I formed the view that once their plight and the numbers became known it was inevitable that retrospective recognition would be extended to those adoptions in a future adoption Bill. That is being done under this Bill and I welcome it, but this difficulty should not have arisen in the first place. It was created either by bureaucracy or by a lack of insight in 1981 into the timescale for the completion of foreign adoptions. There was an unnecessary harshness about the way the then Government dealt with that aspect of the issue. However, I was very grateful to that Government for ultimately accepting my Bill and for not engaging in what too frequently over the years has been the knee-jerk reaction of automatically rejecting an Opposition Bill. This Bill tidies up some of the difficulties which arose from the amendments the previous Government insisted be made to the 1991 Act. These difficulties should not have arisen in the first place and I thank the Minister for addressing them in this measure.

The second issue with which the Bill is principally concerned is the Keegan case. There is no doubt that the consequences of this case need to be dealt with by way of legislation. My concern in addressing the issue of the natural father's rights — an issue which must be addressed — is that in some instances children may be retained unnecessarily either in fosterage or a residential institution for un unduly lengthy period of time when they would be better off, during the early weeks or months of their lives, being placed with adopters in circumstances where adoption is inevitable. On Committee Stage we can tease out in detail some of the technicalities of the Bill as they relate to the position of natural fathers. I am strongly of the view that the rights of natural fathers and the rights of children to have a relationship with their natural father must also be protected. We need to ensure that we do not erect a barrier which could give rise to difficulties in the adoption process.

I wish to raise a matter which I hope the Minister will consider between now and Committee Stage. Section 7E (3) sets out how the Adoption Board can deal with adoptions in circumstances where a natural father, having been notified, advises that he does not wish to prevent the adoption taking place and what should be done in cases where the natural father clearly wishes to prevent the adoption and brings court proceedings. Will the Minister clarify what will happen if the identifiable natural father who is notified neither says he agrees to an adoption proceeding nor is opposed to it and simply does nothing? Should there not be a cut off date by which such natural fathers cannot impede the process? What is the position of a natural father who is notified and does nothing and a decision is then made to place a child? If the natural father takes a different view six or seven months later before the adoption order is made, will he be able to stop the adoption? The natural father will be in a different position from the natural mother in that he will not be a guardian and will not have the same constitutional rights as her, based on the court's current view of our Constitution. Even though the natural father has done nothing for an extended period of time he could at the very last moment veto the completion of an adoption by the Adoption Board. I hope we will have an opportunity to tease out these matters in more detail on Committee Stage.

My overriding view of the adoption process is that it must operate in the best interests of the children concerned. This is an essential prerequisite. While respecting the rights of parents and of adopters, we must ensure that we do not act in a way which is clearly contrary to the best interests of the children affected by the laws we are enacting.

I wish to refer to the provision which will prevent any further direct placements by a natural mother with third parties for the purposes of having a child adopted other than with third parties who are relatives of the natural mother. Up to now a natural parent could place a child with a person they knew, whether it was a relative or another third party who was not a relative. Concern has been expressed that this provision has been the subject of abuse to some extent in that in some circumstances people who have not been assessed for adoption or who have been assessed as unsuitable can, through personal contact with the natural mother, have a child placed with them in circumstances where such placement should perhaps not take place.

I understand these concerns but I am also concerned about the effect of the proposed blanket prohibition. I wish to deal with the most immediate oddity which arises from this provision. We have seen from the most recent reports of the Adoption Board that the adoption process is becoming dominated by adoption orders made in favour of natural mothers in conjunction with their husbands, that is in favour of the mother who has a child outside marriage, who subsequently marries someone who is not the father of her child and who adopts her child with her husband in order to give him the same parental rights. In 1994 43 per cent of all adoptions — that is 184 adoptions out of a total of 424 — were effected by birth mothers with their husbands. Will the Minister look at the provision dealing with direct placements? Are we proposing to criminalise natural mothers who jointly apply with their husbands to the Adoption Board for an adoption order? Is it being suggested that the natural mother has made some direct placement with her husband in such cases? This is a very serious issue. Will the criminal law become involved in such cases? Will the ludicrous position arise where a health board or an adoption society will have to separately assess the husband to determine whether he is suitable?

The Adoption Board has recommended that there should be different procedures to deal with this type of inter-family adoption. If possible, the Minister should provide for such procedures in the Bill. We certainly should not criminalise husbands in circumstances where adoptions are applied for jointly by them with the natural mother. In these circumstances the husbands will not be a relative of the child. Perhaps they are regarded as a relative of the mother and that solves the problem. Will the Minister clarify this point?

The Adoption Act, 1988, has been the subject of correspondence between me and the Minister's office. This Act allows for the adoption of children who have effectively been abandoned by their parents. The adoption applications are processed before the Adoption Board and the High Court has to make what can be euphemistically described as a freeing order which states that a child is free to be adopted by the people with whom he or she has been placed. In determining whether to make such an order the High Court is required, where appropriate, to have regard to the wishes of the child. For more than 100 years our custody and guardianship laws have provided that the courts may have regard to the child's wishes in cases where there is a dispute about the future upbringing of the child. For decades it has been the practice of judges, where appropriate, to interview children separately on occasion in chambers.

Appalling procedures are being adopted by a number of health boards whereby a child of four, five, six, seven or eight years who is the subject of a High Court application is brought to court and kept hanging around. A legal view has developed that it is necessary for the chid to be in the courts to witness the proceedings or, at the very least, to be outside the door of the court. This is a terrifying experience for a number of young children who have been adopted under the 1988 Act and has given rise to serious concerns about their future security.

The legal advice the Minister of State is getting that this is required under the Act is wrong and I say that in the strongest possible terms and I ask him to convey that to the health boards. The suggestion that because the Supreme Court made a decision about the constitutionality of the 1988 Act means there is an obligation to bring these children to court is a complete and utter nonsense and is not an issue that was ever pronounced upon by that court.

No child, particularly a young child, should be unnecessarily subjected to our court system where custody or adoption cases need to be resolved. This is a serious issue and needs to be addressed. If the Minister cannot address it by legislation, the Attorney General's office or the Adoption Board should ask the High Court by way of case stated to direct whether it is necessary that such children should be automatically brought into court in all such proceedings or whether lawyers acting in cases of this nature should ask a judge if he wishes to interview such a child. Where the judge feels the need to see the child appropriate arrangements can be made that do not involve children hanging around the courts for one, two or three days while a High Court hearing is taking place.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. We regret the Government voted down Deputy Woods's humanitarian and well researched Bill introduced earlier in the year on the grounds that it would be dealing with the Keegan case and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights together. Having read the Bill and listened to the Minister's contribution I am of the opinion that the Keegan case which concerned a particular aspect of adoption should have been the subject of separate legislation. To include it with another matter was a mistake. I would have preferred two things: that the Keegan case would have been dealt with separately in legislation, and, as the Government did not see fit to accept Deputy Woods's Bill, that the Minister would introduce an all embracing adoption Bill providing for adoptions from many of the countries not referred to in Irish law. What we have got is another minimalist Bill dealing with adoption. I accept that we must proceed carefully. The child's interests must be at the core of any legislation, directives or measures adopted. By and large successive Governments have proceeded along those lines.

The Bill is restrictive in regard to adoptions from certain countries and the arrangements. Many parents are concerned that we put in place proper procedures for their adopted children. When a couple decide to adopt, whether or not they have a family, there is usually great emotion in that grouping. I am sure this is a matter of concern to civil servants and the Adoption Board. In a reasonably straightforward Irish adoption the adopting couple know the age, restrictions and the procedures they must go through. The number of children available for adoption in Ireland is decreasing each year. In a general sense that is good. In many instances the natural mother, and sometimes the natural parents, decide to keep the child and rear it. Thankfully, over the years, the stigma of having a child outside the married state has disappeared and there is a greater chance of a child being accepted lovingly within a single relationship. The Minister of State appears to be more concerned about business that will arise later than listening to me.

I am listening to the Deputy.

Since I commenced my contribution the Minister of State has been speaking constantly with his civil servants.

I can do two things at the same time.

I do not think the Minister of State is that wonderful. I have a particular reason for speaking on this Bill. In a legislative Chamber Members' contributions are based on their experiences relating to the subject under discussion. It is not easy for Members to contribute on such subjects. I would have thought that anybody speaking on a subject such as adoption warranted a hearing.

I wish to refer to the Romanian adoptions which were referred to by Deputy Shatter. I was told in reply to a parliamentary question some time ago that the agreements would be signed and that all the necessary procedures between the health boards and the Department of Justice were in place. However, I discovered recently when speaking with a couple who had approached me about this some two years ago, that procedures are not in order and that they are still awaiting the final agreement. It is difficult to understand this given that this couple, and others, were told more than two years ago that matters had been sorted out. When replying perhaps the Minister will give me his views on that issue.

In the course of his speech the Minister of State said he would introduce later statutory arrangements for a voluntary contact register of parents and adopted children — I am pleased to note the use of the word "voluntary". I do not know how the Minister or his Department will express that in law, in a ministerial order or whatever. There was huge interest, curiosity and heart searching surrounding the opening up of adoption files dating back to the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the subsequent follow through in the US of various adoptions and the opening up of correspondence.

I have heard some sad stories about adopted children and their birth mothers when they were reunited. The outcome is not always what is expected. Happy-ever-after endings are rare in such circumstances. A mother who gave up her child for adoption many years ago will have an idealised picture of the child in her mind and vice versa. However, circumstances will have changed, new bonds will have been forged and there may be upset and disappointment when the adopted child meets its natural mother. In some cases there can be a warm exchange between the people concerned and the adopted person may be eased into the family relationship, but it can be a time of personal trauma. Hopes and expectations are often dashed.

I support setting up a contact register. Irrespective of the role adoptive parents play in the life of a child, the bonds of birth are strong and the wishes of adopted persons must be taken into account. The setting up in statutory form of such a register will be a difficult task. During the 12 weeks I spent as Minister of State at the Department of Health I met a deputation led by an assistant secretary in the Department regarding this matter and my concerns have not lessened in the intervening period. The Minister stated he would proceed reasonably festina lente so that proper safeguards are built into the legislation. This is a complex area on which to legislate because we are talking about the raw emotions of birth mother, adoptive mothers and fathers, but the natural father may not be involved. We must tread with great care and circumspection in this area.

There has been too much bureaucratic delay in adopting parents from Romania and elsewhere. It is believed the Eastern Health Board unnecessarily delays adopting procedures. I also note the Minister intends to provide for the ratification of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation of Inter-country Adoption, the primary objective of which is to provide safeguards to prevent the abduction or sale of, or trafficking in, children and to establish a system of co-operation among countries who signed the convention.

I would prefer if the Keegan case were dealt with separately. I have called for this on the Order of Business on several occasions. The Minister stated that children are usually six weeks old when they are placed for adoption, but that is not always the case. He is allowing a period of four weeks for the father to mark his interest in the decision making process. The father and mother are joint begetters of the child and, irrespective of whether the mother decides voluntarily or involuntarily not to enter into a partnership with the father of the child, the father's concerns must be taken into account. Relationships that may have appeared promising may not work out. Irrespective of the circumstances of the relationship, the father should be included in consultations on the adoption process. The human emotions of this process are not always subject to reason, law or directive, but they involve powerful impulses which must be treated with care and compassion.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. I am pleased there is broad support from all sides of the House for the Bill and its objectives.

As I explained at the outset, the Bill addresses two major issues that have emerged since we last legislated for change in this vital area of our social services, namely, the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the Keegan case and certain difficulties that have arisen in the operation of the Adoption Act, 1991.

The important new procedures provided for in the Bill for consulting the fathers of non-marital children proposed for adoption are a necessary legislative response to the European Court judgment. They will bring our domestic adoption laws into line with the European Convention on Human Rights. I reiterate they reflect the important developments in Irish adoption practice since the Keegan case was determined by our courts in 1990.

Human nature being what it is, nobody could give a cast iron guarantee that a child would never again be placed for adoption without the knowledge of a father who had established family ties similar to those established by Mr. Keegan. However, I remain convinced that the enactment of the new provisions will minimise the likelihood of this happening in the future. In this context, I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the new statutory right that a father will have to formally notify the Adoption Board of his wish to be consulted regarding a proposal to have the child adopted. This will help to relieve the burden on adoption agencies and the Adoption Board to ascertain the identity of fathers, particularly in cases where the mother is unable or unwilling to disclose his identity.

I have already acknowledged that the introduction of a consultation process will give rise to delays in the placement of children for adoption. While this is unavoidable in the circumstances, it is in the interests of the child, the parents and the prospective adoptive parents that any question or doubt arising about the availability of the child for adoption should be resolved conclusively before the child is placed for adoption.

I listened with interest to what Deputies, especially Deputy Shatter, said about the prohibition on private placements provided for in section 7 of the Bill. In response — indeed, Deputy Shatter made this point — adoption is first and foremost a service for the benefit of children. The child is the most important person in the process. This fundamental principle is embodied in our adoption laws which require that the welfare of the child is regarded as the first consideration.

Surely it is right and proper that a child available for adoption should be placed with a family whose suitability and capacity to meet his or her long-term needs has been thoroughly assessed beforehand by persons with professional skills and expertise in this area.

As I already indicated, such assessments provide an important safeguard for the welfare of the child, a safeguard which is singularly lacking in private adoption arrangements. I stress that the case of a mother who adopts her own child jointly with her husband is not regarded as a private adoption. I emphasise that, however, because it is fundamental that the interests and welfare of the child should be the paramount consideration. On occasions this is forgotten by couples in their zeal to adopt a child.

I would like to clarify that not only Chinese adoptions will qualify for recognition as a result of the amendments provided for in the Bill. Countries such as Peru and Guatemala operate systems of legal adoption which are compatible with our own system, apart from the fact that adoptions effected in those countries may be terminated in particular circumstances. My understanding of the position is that Peruvian and Guatemalian adoptions will also be entitled to recognition when the Bill is enacted. Responsibility for examining the adoption laws of the various countries and for making such determinations rests with the Adoption Board. In the light of the Bill it will be necessary for the board to again look at the laws of those countries which it had previously considered were not compatible.

A number of Deputies referred to adoptions effected in Paraguay by Irish residents and sought clarification as to whether they will qualify for recognition here in the light of the modifications to the current definition of "foreign adoption" provided for in the Bill. I fully appreciate the anxiety of the adoptive parents concerned to have their adoptions recognised under Irish law. I have sought legal advice as to whether these and similar adoptions effected in other countries can be recognised here.

Paraguayan law provides for two forms of adoption known as "plenary adoption" and "ordinary adoption". Plenary adoptions have a similar legal effect to an Irish adoption and, already qualify for recognition under the 1991 Act. However, ordinary adoptions do not because they do not sever the legal relationship between the child and the birth parents. The rights and duties derived from the blood relationship are not superseded by an ordinary adoption and the child maintains certain legalities to his or her natural family. I am advised that ordinary or simple adoption decrees amount to little more than a custody order.

In view of this, the revised definition of a foreign adoption will obviously not facilitate the recognition of ordinary or simple adoptions. I have been advised it is not possible to provide for the recognition of such adoptions because to do so would be to accord them a legal status beyond that which they have in the countries in which they were granted and, in particular, beyond that which the birth parents would have understood when giving their consent.

There are, however, two possible options. It is open to Irish residents who have been granted a simple adoption decree to make an application to the Adoption Board for an Irish adoption order in respect of the child. This option is available in any case where an adoption effected abroad does not qualify for recognition.

I also understand that a number of countries that operate dual systems of adoption provide in their laws for the conversion of simple adoptions into full adoptions. I suggest that this possibility might be explored by the parents concerned since it might provide the best solution to the difficulties they currently encounter.

I am currently engaged in consultations with the Attorney General regarding the feasibility of providing for the retrospective recognition of simple adoptions which are converted into full adoptions in the countries in which were granted. If this proves possible, I will bring forward an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage.

Deputy Woods proposed that the Minister for Health should be empowered to designate countries whose adoptions would be recognised here. However, that would not resolve the difficulties precluding the recognition of simple adoptions. If such a power were to be vested in the Minister, it would have to be exercised within the parameters of the legal definition of a foreign adoption.

In any event, the Adoption Board, when considering an application to have an adoption effected abroad entered in the register of foreign adoptions, has to examine the adoption laws of the foreign country concerned. Where the board satisfies itself that those laws are compatible for recognition purposes, this facilitates further applications for the recognition of adoptions effected in that country. Thus the board is already discharging a designated function and I do not see how the assignment of a similar function to the Minister for Health would serve any useful purpose. It would lead to an unnecessary duplication of functions and resources.

I share the concern expressed by Deputy Keogh that prospective adopters should be made aware before they travel abroad that certain adoptions do not qualify for recognition here. The position is that the Adoption Board and the adoption agencies caution couples against adopting in countries whose adoptions are not compatible with ours. A list of such countries has been prepared by the board and has been widely circulated, including, apparently, to most Deputies in the House.

The Minister should get the adoptions recognised in the North of Ireland, then they can be recognised here when we are united.

I look forward to that day.

They are recognised in Britain, but not here.

A list of such countries has been prepared by the board and widely circulated. Support groups for adopting parents, such as the Irish Foreign Adoption Group, also play an important role in advising couples.

There was a reference by Deputies Shatter and O'Rourke to the difficulties in the operation of the Romanian adoption agreements, which was approved by this House in June 1994. It has emerged that a number of adoptions have been effected in favour of Irish residents in Romania outside the terms of the agreement. This has been taken up with the relevant authorities in Romania through normal diplomatic channels. My Department will be meeting the Adoption Board shortly on the matter and it may be necessary to send a delegation to Romania to sort out the difficulties in co-operation with the adoption authorities there. I am pleased to confirm that contact has been made with the Chinese adoption authorities with a view to agreeing procedures to facilitate the adoption of Chinese children by Irish residents. My Department expects to meet representatives of the Chinese Embassy next week to progress the matter further. Deputy O'Rourke referred to powerful emotions in terms of adoptions, particularly in regard to the voluntary contact register. For once, I am in complete agreement with her. She cautioned festina lente and I could not agree more. I have used that phrase on a number of occasions in regard to this matter, particularly in circumstances where powerful emotions compel people towards quick solutions, which are not always best. I have announced that I will introduce a voluntary contact register, with the emphasis on “voluntary”. In order that certain weighty legal and constitutional matters should not hold up the establishment of such a register I am proceeding on an administrative basis to ensure it is set up as quickly as possible.

There are some serious problems with this matter, none more serious than the position where one right clashes with another. The problem here relates to the conflicting rights of the adopted child and the natural parents. On the one hand, the adopted child is anxious to know his or her parents, particularly the birth mother. There is a natural urge in all of us to know who we are and learn of our background. Practical problems arise in terms of medical records in that people are anxious to know as much as possible about the medical record of their parents. On the other hand, the position of the birth mother must be considered, particularly a mother who, in circumstances of trauma a number of years ago, gave up or was forced to give up her child and did so with the strictest assurances of confidentiality.

Birth mothers who contact me are concerned, even on the telephone, about the privacy of the discussion and cover their tracks so that their identity is not revealed. Some of those mothers, who are tearful on occasions, have told me that they do not want their child to turn up on the doorstep because the husband and the child's half brothers and sisters are not aware of the position and that if the child did turn up, they would commit suicide, or words to that effect. That is a matter which someone in my position must take very seriously. That is one example of conflicting rights presenting serious considerations. Perhaps in these circumstances the story of the judgment of Solomon is not inappropriate.

I am very sensitive to the matters raised by Deputy O'Rourke, more sensitive than Deputy Woods gave me credit for in his introductory remarks. I regret the personal nature of some of those remarks.

I referred to the Minister in his ministerial capacity rather than his personal capacity.

I thank Deputies who contributed to the debate. This is an important Bill which represents a significant step forward in the development of our adoption laws. I am heartened by the welcome it has received in this House and outside it and I look forward to progressing it through both Houses.

I would ask the Minister to make available, before Committee Stage, the letter setting out the position of the 20 countries. He referred to the two countries covered by these measures, Peru and Guatemala, where similar termination arrangements operate. I am aware that I am giving him short notice, but I would be glad if he would give a breakdown of the problems that exist in the other countries so that we may consider that matter on Committee Stage.

I am sure this is irregular——

No, it is not.

——but I will endeavour, as always, to be helpful to Deputies. I recognise that the Adoption Board has responsibility in these matters and that board circulated the letter in the Deputy's possession. I will discuss the matter with the Adoption Board which, I am sure, will also endeavour to be helpful.

Question put and agreed to.