I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the Adoption Bill, on which I have received more personal representations than on any other issue in recent times and about which there has been much anger, sadness and worry. On the positive side, one of my wife's relatives, who was one of the lucky ones, adopted a little boy just before the Christmas before last. I have never seen a child who has brought more joy to more people than has this child. While that is the positive side of adoption, the negative side is represented by one family in particular, which has had a room prepared and furnished for more than 12 months and for which the recent announcement in regard to the curtailment of activity with Vietnam has come as a great blow. The mother concerned asked me why Deputy Barry Andrews did not make this announcement sooner. While I accept issues arose pertaining to the UNICEF ISS report and so on, should some action along the lines agreed recently by the Adoption Board not have been taken last August, when the draft report became available? I refer to the recent agreement by the Adoption Board regarding particular arrangements whereby all couples and individuals who currently possess a declaration of eligibility and suitability for Vietnam may select a new country from which to adopt, subject to the usual submission of a change of country report to the Adoption Board, and also may retain their place in the current Helping Hands Adoption Mediation Agency, HHAMA, list for Vietnam, which is being maintained.
I acknowledge this was a draft report and I accept the Minister's position that sometimes it is dangerous to make decisions on the basis of a draft report. However, clear indications were evident regarding the status of the matter and a statement regarding such an agreement with the Adoption Board should have been issued last August so that people who still hoped that Vietnam would open would not be left in the lurch. The aforementioned woman has suggested that the Minister of State should apologise to those who have been caught in this position. They consider themselves to have lost six months and are putting the blame at the Minister of State's door. I make this point because it is how those who have contacted me feel.
The Labour Party welcomes this Bill and considers the ratification of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoptions to be long overdue. As my colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, pointed out at the outset of the Second Stage debate, Ireland signed the convention in 1996 but will be the last of the receiving states to ratify it. Nevertheless, the Labour Party fully supports the Bill, at the core of which is the safety and welfare of children. While this is exactly as it should be, there are other issues, such as the anguish it causes to families who cannot have children. Anguish grows when prospective parents are obliged to work their way through a difficult and time-consuming adoption system. More sensitivity could have been shown to those who were in the process of having a child adopted from Vietnam. However, that now is in the past.
My first significant involvement in respect of adoption as a public representative related to Romanian adoptions in the early 1990s following the fall of the Ceausescu regime. I remember the joy of those who previously had been experiencing great difficulty in adopting because, as Members are aware, the pattern of availability for adoption of children in Ireland had changed over a long period and the number of children now is small in relative terms. However, bearing in mind the type of representations I have received, the most important issue on which I must focus is the entire area of transitional arrangements as we move from the current position to that envisaged in the Bill. This Bill, which hopefully will be passed soon, will give force to the Hague Convention. Article 41 of the convention states "The Convention shall apply in every case where an application pursuant to article 14 has been received after the Convention has entered into force in the receiving State and the State of origin." In addition, I seek clarification in respect of section 63 which refers to transitional arrangements and which states "If immediately before the establishment day, a foreign adoption described in the Adoption Act 1991 is not yet effected but is still in process as provided for under the Act, the adoption may proceed under this Act as if it were commenced under this Act."
I intend to read out a sample of the representations I have received on this matter and the Minister of State should respond to them at the conclusion of the Second Stage debate. I represent people who have grave concerns and who are living with this issue on a day-to-day basis. Members handle legislation in the Oireachtas and know there are reasons for legislative delays. Obviously, legislation must be scrutinised and so on but such people wake up to and go to bed with this issue every day. The first sample is from a couple who live in my constituency and states:
We are adoptive parents and members of the International Adoption Association. We are currently in the process of adopting a second child from Russia. As you may be aware Irish couples will not be permitted to adopt from Russia when the Adoption Bill is enacted (i.e. until such time as Russia ratifies the Hague Convention). We wish to bring to your attention the totally inadequate transition arrangements in the Bill.
We are likely to receive a referral in the coming weeks [this letter is dated 11 October] and hope to travel to Russia to meet a child before Christmas. If everything works out we are likely to be travelling to Russia to effect the adoption and bring home the child in March/April 2010. If the Bill is enacted in the meantime, i.e. between trips, we will not be permitted to adopt the child and the child will have been denied the opportunity of a family life.
We would he very grateful if you would support ourselves and the International Adoption Association in including some form of transition arrangements whereby couples who have received a referral and who have been approved by the Adoption Board could effect that adoption. We would be grateful if you would raise this matter with the [Minister and in the debate].
These reasonable people are excellent parents who are highly committed to bringing a second child into a family in which it would be given an excellent opportunity in life. They are living this from day to day and they do not know where they stand, particularly if the Bill, as I hope it will, passes into law quickly. Their fear is their second adoption will be prevented.
I received a letter from another couple on 2 November under the heading, "New Adoption Bill/Bi-Lateral Agreement between Ireland and Ethiopia", which states:
We have been approved in Ireland for a second adoption. We already have a little 21/2 year old girl adopted domestically whose birth father is African. We applied to Ethiopia back in April, 2009 and we are currently on the waiting list. We have completed our legal work here and have had our vaccines. We should not be waiting too much longer to be called to Ethiopia to begin our adoption legally in Ethiopia but for the moment waiting on a referral of a baby. There is a new Adoption Bill and will be introduced into the Dail Eireann. The Bill has been already passed by the Seanad and when passed, will finally allow Ireland to ratify the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Convention). Such ratification we strongly agree with but have concerns and wish there be clauses in the Adoption Bill to protect us. The Law is expected early 2010.
We would like there to be a Bi-Lateral Agreement set up between Ireland and Ethiopia. We would like there to be two clauses in the Bill. Transition/Interim Clause & Grandfather Clause.
At the moment it is legal for us to adopt a baby in Ethiopia and return to Ireland, however the legal process can take 8 weeks and more in Ethiopia to complete, we may be out in Ethiopia when the law here changes and this leaves our new adopted baby in limbo when we return. We want to be able to complete our adoption. We want to be protected by the Grandfather Clause that in time we would be allowed to adopt another baby in Ethiopia under the grandfather clause.
Mr. Brian Lenihan T.D., then Minister for Children clearly indicated that there would be a grandfather clause" in the Adoption Bill. In it's 2005 Annual Report, the Adoption Board also reported that there would be such a clause. The lack of a grandfather clause is not in the best interests of our existing children. This can be done by re-introduce the grandfather clause, and this can be accomplished by deleting section 81(1)c.
It is unethical to have let us apply to Ethiopia and use another country's resources be strained further in dealing with our application if we were never going to be allowed to legally complete our adoption. It was not in the best interest of our daughter to be given a life vaccine for yellow fever in the belief she was coming to Ethiopia and enjoy the adoption process of her brother or sister if the law here was going to change and stop us from completing our adoption. We have already completed our legal work here in Ireland which we need to send to Ethiopia.
No fee is charged by Ethiopia for adoption either by the State route or by Sr. Luthgarda's children's home the only two children's homes we have our names on the list for. Therefore there is no room for corruption and babies are genuinely in need of loving families and it is in the "best interest of the child". We have all the love in our hearts to love a child from Ethiopia and celebrate Africian culture. We are supported by our extended family and community.
We want to know what information the Minister Mr. Barry Andrews received that made him change his mind from when it was legal for us to apply to Ethiopia for adoption to this turn around to make it no longer legal for us to continue and proceed with our adoption if the Bill is passed by the Dail and written into law in early 2010. We want to know How the "Best Interest of the Child" has changed.
The final letter I would like to put on record states:
The Adoption Bill, in its current format will mean that Irish people will hot be able to adopt from Countries who have not signed the Hague Convention. The majority of these countries do currently Operate to Hague Standards, which is the current criterion for international adoptions; to be affected here. Barry Andrews has made us believe that this Is essential as it is a requirement of the Hague Convention.
However we found out the Annual Conference of the IAA in the Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport that this is not so. Jennifer Degeling, Secretary to the Permanent Bureau of The Hague Conference on Private and International Law gave a presentation and explained that there was nothing in the Hague Convention which prohibits a Hague Signatory from adopting from a Non Hague Country. . .
Barry Andrews and his department have taken it upon themselves to insert extra conditions in the Bill which are totally unnecessary. These conditions will prevent people from adopting from countries which have yet to sign to the Hague Convention even though the highest standards of practise are in place in the past few years. In excess of 2/3 of adoptions to Ireland have been from Non Hague Countries. These countries will be closed to adoptions if the draft bill is not changed to allow adoptions to place from countries which operate to Hague standards.
Barry Andrews said earlier this year that there would be a transitional period to allow people in the process of adopting from Non Hague countries to complete the adoption once the Adoption Bill is brought into law. He did a U-turn on this fact last week when he said that there would be no transitional period whatsoever. This is unbelievable when you consider the ridiculous amount of time that the process takes in this country. If transitional periods are not put in place it will not be possible for us to complete the adoption process with our chosen country, this is despite the fact that we were issued a license (Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability) to adopt from this county. The standards in our new chosen country are exemplary and meet Hague Standards, but this country is not a Hague Signatory.
In his speech on Saturday 10th October in the Carlton Hotel he [the Minister of State] said that "Adoption has always been a fluid process" and that "Countries have always opened and closed". In short I felt he was telling us "Countries open, countries close . . . get over it". I found this utterly reprehensible that "The Minister for Children", would have such little regard for children. The countries he plans on closing are extremely poor and are more focused on feeding their people than signing the Hague Convention; he plans on consigning these children to a childhood in institutional care despite the fact that adoptions from these countries are as safe as any other country.
The credo of the Adoption Board (and rightfully so) is that "Adoption is a service for children", I believe in this credo 100%. How will the Adoption Bill help children in institutions in poor countries whom have yet to sign the Hague Convention, but do operate to Hague standards.
In his opening contribution the Minister of State said he had asked the Adoption Board to examine the adoption codes of Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand with a view to commencing discussions to put in place administrative arrangements that would facilitate inter-country adoptions with Ireland, which is welcome. Could he not have done the same in regard to Russia, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan?
To bring the matter up to date, what role will Ireland play with regard to the children orphaned in Haiti? Can the Minister and the Adoption Board take urgent action so those parents who want to adopt will have the option of taking children out of this terrible disaster area which has just been discussed in the House in another context?
I look forward to the Minister of State's response at the conclusion of Second Stage. Does he believe the issues raised by my constituents and which I have presented to him can be accommodated in present legislation? If the legislation cannot accommodate them what measures will he put in place and what amendments or changes will he make to the legislation to accommodate the very fair case that people have made with regard to completing adoptions in train and to continue adopting from countries from where they already adopted under the process as it stands?