That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to allow adopted persons the right to access their birth records.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce the Civil Registration (Right of Adoptees to Information) (Amendment) Bill 2021. Its simple objective is to give every adoptee the right to unfettered access to their birth certificates. This crucial amendment will seek to give adoptees access to their publicly-registered birth certificates and the reality is that all births have been publicly registered since the mid-1800s so there should be no more secrecy.
I was thinking about my own birth certificate as I brought forward this legislation. All of us who are engaged in public life are used to dealing with constituents and we regularly tell them that they might need a copy of their birth certificates for this or that. It is something that many of us, including me, take for granted and yet there are many people living throughout the island who do not have access to this basic human right.
The birth certificate is the first official document that we all receive and it authenticates who we are as citizens. It is a human right for all of us to possess the document. Accessing the document is as simple as contacting the births, deaths and marriages office in one's county. However, this human right is not a right we afford all our citizens. The small but important legislative measure I am introducing today will have an immediate impact for all adoptees and it is crucial that we bear in mind that not only is the right to identity a fundamental right under EU law and the Irish Constitution, but also in cases of unlawful family separation, the human rights violation continues until information is provided to restore a person's family and personal identity. I strongly believe that it is false for the State to continue to argue that natural mothers generally do not wish their adult children to know their own identity and the notion that adopted people may cause harm in some way. There simply is not any proof that is the case. The reality so evident in the stories that have emerged since the publishing of the mother and baby home report clearly shows that mothers were often forced to sign the opposite declaration that they would never seek out their children. It is important to stress that many people were given no other option or choice. It is a fact that adoptions in Ireland during the 20th century were, by and large, forced and, in many cases, illegal.
This must motivate us to do everything we can to rectify matters for adoptees. In recent weeks, the outpouring of grief and distress from survivors of mother and baby institutions has been palpable. They have barely shone a light on the cruel and inhumane treatment they suffered at the hands of church and State. I would hazard a guess that there is no doubt in anyone's mind, except the commission's authors, that the State supported an inhumane regime of forced, illegal adoptions. The cold, hard facts show that the State allowed children to be taken from their mothers and sent away. This was the last time in some cases that either mother or child ever saw each other. While it is true that some people went on to live prosperous lives in new countries with new families, and some went on to have families of their own and had careers and went to university, others did not. It is important that we remember that as well today. For many, it has been extremely difficult. Many survivors have battled with the fall-out of inadequate State supports and suffer to this day.
Despite their different fortunes, they all share one commonality; the desire to have unfettered access to their birth certificate. Time and time again I have listened to survivors recount the impact searching for their information has had on them, even into adulthood. So many of them have been given false information. They were lied to, sent in the completely wrong direction and been made to feel like criminals. The need for this legislation has never been so essential. We cannot continue to keep apologising to women and children who found themselves in these horrible institutions without taking action. We cannot continue to condone the impact of the coercive, closed and secret adoption system that was enabled and continues to be enabled by the State. We must respect the human rights of individuals to manage their own identity and family relationships without further State interference. My Bill seeks to address this great injustice. I have continued the call for survivors to be at the centre of all that we do in this regard. The legislation is survivor-led. I appeal to all Deputies please to support the Bill, which is very simple and straightforward and gives every adopted person the legal right to their birth certificate.