That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the regularisation of the legal status of persons informally adopted in the State; and to provide for connected matters.
Adoption was first introduced to Ireland and regulated by the Adoption Act 1952. There was no lawful adoption in Ireland before 1952. For a period after that date, there was a widespread practice of informal adoption. Sometimes that took place within the wider family and sometimes under the aegis of a church or voluntary agencies such as St. Patrick's Guild.
In May 2018, 126 cases of illegal registrations were finally confirmed by Tusla following an analysis of files from St Patrick's Guild. In those cases, the adoptive parents were incorrectly registered as the birth parents on the birth certificates between 1946 and 1969. Instead of applying under the Act and registering with the Adoption Authority, infant children were simply transferred directly into the hands of their new adoptive parents. The information provided to register the births was falsified and the children involved were given false birth certificates and listed as being the children of the adoptive parents. That is where the illegal registration occurred. That generation of children are now adults in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s. They are without the benefit of a valid adoption order and their status within their families is legally uncertain.
There is an unknown number of informal adoption arrangements, and some may not be documented at all. The people identified to date are in limbo or a no man's land as regards certainty of status. We are informed that a scoping exercise is under way. We know already that a further 748 adoption cases are of concern, all of which relate to adoptions by St. Patrick's Guild, which is one adoption society out of many. To date, the Minister has not indicated what legislative action will be taken to address the illegal registrations and to provide legal certainty to those affected.
It is important to note that a birth certificate is not an identity document, nor does a birth certificate amount to proof of the family relationship that it asserts that is admissible in court. The Bill seeks to address this uncertain status. It defines the process of informal adoption as involving the placing of a child into the care of a married couple, neither of whom was the parent of the child concerned, with a view to the child being held out and considered for all purposes to be the child of that couple, born to them in wedlock, or to be their adopted child, without any regard to the need for an adoption order; and the furnishing of information in connection with registering the child's birth purporting to show the couple to be the natural parents of the child.
Under this legislation, where documentation is available and an individual desires a valid adoption, a person who was informally adopted could apply to the Circuit Court for a declaration of adoption. If satisfied with the evidence presented, the court may make a declaration that the applicant is deemed to have been validly adopted on a particular date. The Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths will then cancel the false birth certificate while the Adoption Authority of Ireland will issue a valid adoption certificate.
The second remedy deals with individuals who may have been told and had believed that they were indeed the natural children of those who reared them as their parents. They had no reason to believe they were adopted, regularly or irregularly. There may be no surviving records to enable them to trace the original parties to this informal arrangement. The Bill will change the rules of evidence to protect those who wish to preserve what they had considered to be the status quo. It incorporates into civil law a rule that has been applied in criminal law since 1992, namely, that a document purporting to be a birth certificate is evidence, admissible in court, of the family relationship that it indicates. Evidence contradicting a birth certificate proffered in court will be inadmissible where the person whose birth certificate it is has consistently been treated, with regard to the rights and duties of parents and children in relation to each other, as the child of the persons named on the certificate as his or her parents. This new rule would not apply where someone fraudulently procured their own birth certificate. The purpose of this is to allow people who have now been thrown into no man's land to have this very irregular situation addressed.
The Minister is offering social workers to people in their 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s so that they can pursue the issue. These people do not need social workers. They need a fairly simple court process to regularise their status. It is the children of today who are homeless who need the attention and support of social workers.