The issues raised by the Deputy are a matter of concern to me. I note the apology offered by the Australian Prime Minister earlier this year which relates, as I understand, to historical government policies operated in that jurisdiction.
In Ireland, the Adoption Act 1952 provided a legal basis for adoption in Ireland and for the establishment of the Adoption Board. This brought order to what had been the system of ad hoc arrangements in lieu of formal adoption procedures up to this point, so we have had a change from 1952. All adoptions since 1952 in which the Irish State has been involved have been carried out in line with this and subsequent adoption legislation.
However, in reality, the history of adoption in Ireland in the middle decades of the 20th century reflects a complex social history where the influences and pressures of society, communities, individual families and religious institutions, applied in the private realm, resulted in many cases of children being given up for adoption, in some cases through means which were not legal. As a society, we should all be sorry for what transpired. We cannot undo the practices of the past, but I hope that all of us in this House, including me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, can place on the record our regret at the way Irish society treated so many children and mothers, where children's best interests were not respected and those involved facilitated illegal birth registrations or other arrangements which had, and continue to have, consequences for the children.
Historical private arrangements, for obvious reasons and due to social factors of the era, operated in conditions of great secrecy and there were rarely any contemporary written records of these events. Similarly, the issue of illegal adoptions relates to illegal registrations, that is, children who were given at birth to other individuals who registered these children as their own and who are now unable to access personal records and information.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
I have met individuals who have found themselves in these circumstances and I acknowledge and empathise with the situation that these individuals are addressing. Records on adoptions as well as illegal birth registrations are currently held by a number of agencies, including the HSE, the Adoption Authority of Ireland and also by private adoption agencies, maternity hospitals, private individuals and other sources. Information held by the Adoption Authority is primarily about adoptions which took place since the Adoption Act 1952. If no adoption took place the authority would not have an adoption file. Where no adoption took place, if records exist they may be held by a number of sources including hospitals, GPs, mother and baby homes, religious orders and other sources.
The HSE provides an information and tracing service throughout the country to birth mothers, adopted persons and their families. The requirement in the Adoption Act 2010 that agencies providing information and tracing services would gain accreditation resulted in a number of religious orders deciding not to apply for accreditation and transferring files from their mother and baby homes and adoption societies to the HSE. Approximately 25,000 files have been transferred to the HSE regional adoption service in Cork, from the Sacred Heart Adoption Society. The HSE also has records for a number of other adoption societies and mother and baby homes. Furthermore PACT, which is an agency accredited under the Act, has records of various Protestant organisations. A comprehensive list of records and their locations is available on the HSE website.
The national adoption contact register which is operated by the Adoption Authority was established in 2005 to assist adopted people and their natural families to make contact with each other, exchange information or state their contact preferences. I am conscious of recent media coverage of the issue of information and tracing and I would hope that this will encourage more birth mothers in particular to access the national contact preference register and where possible to consent to the release of information.
When the former Adoption Board launched the national adoption contact preference register in 2005, provision was made for persons who were party to the illegal registration of a child to register an interest in the register for possible future contact with another party sometime in the future. Fundamental to the success of the register is that any persons with information in this regard contact the information and tracing unit of the Adoption Authority.