Civil Registration (Right of Adoptees to Information) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to be able to have this debate today. The mother and baby homes report has reignited a crucial conversation in this country around adoption, illegal adoptions and, in general, adoption practices that date right back to the foundation of the State.

The recent “RTÉ Investigates” programme, "Who Am I?", raised serious questions around how we treat adoptees, how badly adoptees have been treated in the past and how we continue to perpetrate these injustices. It also raised very serious questions around illegal adoptions and the part the State has played in facilitating them.

On that note, we need a full investigation into illegal adoption practices. I understand some work is under way by Dr. Conor O'Mahony in that regard. This is welcome, as we need to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Moreover, any inquiry or investigation carried out must take a different course of action than the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters, in that there must be accountability at the end. People should not be allowed to conduct an investigation and then sail off into the sunset without crucial questions being answered.

The State and its agencies have continued to take a punitive and reprehensible approach to providing adopted people with access to their birth certificates. It can literally come down to who a person gets to speak to on the day. Recent events have begun a crucial conversation on how we afford some in our society access to their birth certificates but others not. Many adopted people have been denied this basic right for far too long. Everyone has the right to know who he or she is, where he or she was born, what name he or she was given at birth, on what date and at what time he or she was born and his or her birth parents' names.

I have stated previously that many of us probably take this for granted. I include myself in that. It is incredible to think that in 2021, some people are still being denied access to this very basic information. Access to this information is a human right and one I have always taken for granted. The impact of the obstacles, legislative or otherwise, used by the State and its agencies to impede attempts by adopted people to access their personal data has been devastating for adopted persons and it must stop now.

I recently spoke to a lady who was adopted. She was born in a regional hospital and then sent to a mother and baby home from where she was adopted out. Her adoptive parents were very open about her adoption and from a very early age she began writing letters looking for information on her birth parents. While this lady later went on to connect with her birth mother, it was in the pursuit of her birth certificate years after this initial meeting that she came up against official Ireland, which was determined to put every obstacle in her way. Social workers retrospectively attempted to build a fortress around her adoptive file and the information it contained.

This was after she had met her mother. Unbeknown to her, unfortunately, her father had already passed away as a relatively young man in his early 40s. This woman, in her late 30s, a mother herself at this stage, sat down at her kitchen table with a social worker who knew she had already met her birth mother and that this was a consensual meeting for both parties. The social worker then set to assessing the lady's suitability to be given her birth certificate. This lady’s privacy was not important in this meeting and her rights were irrelevant.

At this stage, one must ask whose rights are being protected. The lady in question was asked by the social worker how her adoptive parents treated her, what kind of childhood she had, did she get on with her adoptive siblings and what would she do if her half siblings arrived at her door. She was then asked a series of questions about her mental health and how she had coped over the years in the knowledge that she was adopted. These were extremely intrusive and invasive questions. So many times when we speak about this topic, we are told that people want to protect the privacy rights of certain individuals. In this case, the lady had met her birth mother. Her rights and her privacy were out the window. We cannot keep having this sort of a double standard and a different approach for certain individuals.

The social worker knew this lady's birth father had already passed away but she left her house that day without telling her. This is the reality and cruelty that have existed in such cases for many years. I have heard many stories of adopted people being pushed to the point of becoming emotional wrecks in order to obtain simple information about themselves. Anyone who has been adopted in this country and comes up against the State and its agencies talks about hitting successive brick walls, being made to feel like a criminal and a nuisance, being met by indifference and in many cases being outright ignored.

There are some decent people along the way who have helped people. Much has to be said for those individuals but that is not what we should be relying on. The State's agencies should be upholding people's rights and ensuring everybody is treated with a bit of decency and fairness.

The State has continued to perpetrate the myth that mothers were guaranteed secrecy. This falls apart when one considers that the State has never produced any paperwork which would hold up this argument. It is ironic that while the State has not allowed adopted people access to their birth certificates in Ireland, those sent to America were given theirs.

The issue of GDPR continually gets thrown into the mix. One person’s right to privacy cannot trump another person’s right to know who he or she is. Adoption rights advocacy groups have long argued that GDPR does not and should not stop the State providing adoptees access to their birth certificates. While the State has gone to extreme lengths to protect the rights of mothers, it is time it went to extreme lengths to facilitate adoptees' right to know who they are.

I am cognisant that this is a first step and that wider and more comprehensive information and tracing legislation needs to be introduced. While we need to deal with people's access to their wider files, we must also provide their medical information. That is an issue which comes up for people just trying to get basic medical information about various illnesses. We take it for granted when we go to a doctor and are asked about our family background medical history. We just answer those questions, never thinking about it. A whole cohort people, however, have been cut out of this.

In the previous Dáil, an information and tracing Bill was to be introduced. The Minister has said he wants to bring forward his own Bill in that regard. I hope that happens. However, if we pass this Bill today, it can be used as a first step to allow people access to basic documents. Every Member has an important role to fill in this Chamber. Every Member comes from different walks of life and backgrounds. On certain occasions, such as today, we actually have the opportunity to make a really positive difference and change some people's lives.

We really need to take that opportunity and not just pay lip service to it and say that we will not oppose it. I welcome the latter but I want to see the Bill acted upon and not left on a shelf somewhere forever and a day. I ask every Deputy - I believe Members will support this - to ensure that he or she not only says it here today but also fights to ensure that it happens.

I also want to mention a few people I have had the pleasure of dealing with. I have dealt with so many different survivors. I thank all of them, particularly the various women I telephone on a regular basis. They are just incredible. In the week of International Women's Day, I pay tribute to them. I have dealt with Aitheantas, an adoption rights group, the Adoption Rights Alliance, the Clann Project and many individual women and groups. I also had the pleasure of dealing with a group in America comprising some really genuine people who trying to find their roots. I ask every Deputy to ensure that we take this first step in order to get some justice.

I am honoured to be able to speak in support of this Bill that is being introduced by my colleague, Deputy Funchion. I commend the work done by the survivor groups, the adoptee groups and Deputy Funchion in bringing it before the Dáil.

The purpose of this Bill is simple and straightforward, namely, to give every adopted person the right to access his or her birth certificate. The vast majority of Deputies who will be voting on this Bill and on whether to give adoptees access to this most basic of human rights will undoubtedly have always had access to their own birth certificate and many will have taken that for granted throughout their lives. It is so often the case that only when we see the suffering and lack of equality for others that we realise how fortunate many of us have been and we can then start to address where the State has failed so many people.

Access to the most basic of personal information about who you are should be a fundamental right that cannot be denied. For far too long, the survivors of mother and baby homes have been denied this basic personal information. Survivors feel that time and again they have been lied to, tricked and made to feel like criminals for seeking out their most basic personal information. Enough is enough. It is time that the State stands with those who have endured so much and give them the respect they deserve. This Bill is a small but important step on the journey to give survivors that respect and the support they deserve. It is time to listen to survivors and start righting these wrongs. Let us not bury this legislation in the process. I urge all Deputies to support the Bill.

Our birth certificate is the fundamental document that testifies to our arrival into this world. Having automatic access to that fundamental document must be a fundamental and automatic right - a right that is both claimed and fulfilled without obstacle, qualification or hindrance. Quite simply, the days of adoptee apartheid in our civil and public life must be over.

This morning I was contacted by a woman who was adopted in 1961. She is still looking for her birth certificate - imagine 60 years and no trace of it. I commend my comrade, Deputy Funchion, for her work to right this wrong. That we in Sinn Féin have to propose this Bill shows that our work in modernising our State is not over. The work is not done when a person's right to have and to hold his or her birth certificate is dependent on a patronising, patriarchal politics and system of government, one that, when it came to documenting its children, saw some as more equal than others, with greater equality signified by a gold ring on the hand or a papal blessing on the wall. Our national obsession with respectability saw us create a subclass of person who was entitled to less information, less respect, less dignity and fewer rights. No word has done more damage to our society than that of "respectability".

None of this is the Minister's fault. This is my third or fourth time talking to the Minister about this matter. The greatest trick Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael pulled on the Green Party in the negotiations to form a Government was to land the toxic, misogynistic, woman-and-child-hating legacy of their century of patriarchal rule in this State at the Minister's feet.

They have the Minister trying to guard the door to the skeletons in their closet. They are not going back in, yet he is expected to stand here week after week trying to defend the indefensible. It might not be the fault of the Minister but it is his now responsibility to do the right thing. I urge him and all parties in the House to put politics aside and put our people first, the people this State put away and put down. In our postcolonial delirium the respectable always needed a group at which they could point as being less so that they could feel they were more. I ask the Minister to do the truly respectable thing now. Not only should he not oppose the Bill but he should support it and the rights of our adoptees to their birth certificates because they deserve nothing less.

Irish adopted people are uniquely discriminated against in comparison with other Irish citizens because they have no statutory right to their birth certificates or adoption files. Apart from vital information, these files contain early care records, details of illnesses, vaccines and placement with foster families, correspondence from natural mothers or family members and consent forms. Since 1952, the legislation has been amended eight times but none of the Adoption Acts to date has legislated for information rights for adopted people. There have been a number of attempts to legislate in this area. However, instead of repairing the harm done by Ireland’s closed, secret adoption system, the Government’s efforts to legislate for adoption information have compounded the situation even further. This important legislation brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Funchion, will immediately provide access to birth certificates for adopted people in the short term before comprehensive information and tracing legislation is brought forward by the Government.

The Minister is aware that under Irish law, birth registrations have been public records since 1864. Adopted people can have and have been given their birth certificates. They can access them by going to the General Register Office on Werburgh Street and carrying out a search through its books. It is a simple enough process. It costs money for the search and can be time-consuming. Over the past 30 or 40 years, many adopted people have been forced to take this route and have been made to feel they are doing something wrong or even illegal. The only thing wrong is that they are being discriminated against by the State and are forced, because they are adopted, to take this route simply to get a document that is readily available to all other Irish citizens. Why is this? It is because they have no automatic right to their birth certificate. Thousands of adopted people have been forced to go this route to get their birth certificates. They have established where they were born, their original names and their natural mothers' names and, guess what, the sky has not fallen in. It is time to end the discrimination, treat everyone equally under Irish law and provide in legislation the statutory right for adopted people to their own birth certificate.

That the Minister is not opposing this legislation is important and welcome but he needs to act on it and actively support the Bill through all Stages to end the discrimination that Irish adopted citizens face.

I thank Deputy Funchion for introducing this motion and welcome that it will not be opposed. However, as previous speakers stated, we need to go further.

When I was thinking about writing this speech I went to the person I know is an expert in this, my wife Angela, who was adopted in Dublin in 1968. These are her words:

I always knew I was adopted. I was told before I really knew what it meant. I couldn't have asked for better parents. I loved them and my sisters dearly and was loved unconditionally by them.

Despite this, I always felt there was something missing! Something I couldn't see, smell or touch but something very tangible all the same. I didn't feel my parent's ancestors were mine. Their family tree didn't feel like my history.

I first approached the adoption board when I was 22 following my father's death. I had felt that requesting my original birth cert would be disloyal to my parents, but following my dad's passing I realised that we all only have one life to live.

I had a meeting with a social worker who gave me three pieces of non identifying information about my birth mother. There was no information on my file about my birth father.

What followed that meeting was years of intermittent contact with the adoption board. I'd try to put my adoption to the back of my mind and all the unanswered questions associated with it. But it kept creeping back into my consciousness.

When pregnant with our first child I was unable to answer background questions asked by the hospital. [That was always very difficult for Angela.]

When our first child was born, it was like I had been granted the greatest wish imaginable. I was acutely aware that Seán was my first biological link with the world.

After several years and several requests, the adoption board agreed to give me my original birth cert.

I have no idea how these decisions are made. Why I was granted my birth cert whilst many adoptees are not.

Seeing my birth mother's name meant so much to me. Knowing I was a member of the O Donnell family allowed me some knowledge of my ancestors and a sense of belonging

I have since made contact with my birth mother and three new sisters, it has been a very positive experience for me. I would not have been able to achieve this without my birth cert.

For me it didn't matter how much I was loved and cherished. I always knew I was adopted and so always felt deep down that someone hadn't wanted me, always felt something was missing. Not knowing your biological history doesn't seem like a big issue to those who have it but those who don't feel its loss.

Being told that you don't have a right to your own information is very difficult to accept.

Children placed for adoption signed no contracts, relinquished no rights, agreed to nothing.

Information on who you are is a very basic need and the absence of it is not without consequences for those affected by it.

I thank Deputy Paul Donnelly for giving his wife's words and reminding us of the stakes at play in respect of this issue. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the extremely important matters involved here and I acknowledge Deputy Funchion for bringing forward the Bill.

Access to birth information has been to the forefront of my agenda since I became a Minister and is a priority for me and for the Government. We have been fully aware of the significance and urgency of the issue of birth and identity information since the Government was formed. Recent developments, such as the final report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes, the recent "RTÉ Investigates" programme and the sampling review on illegal birth registrations, which I published yesterday, all underline the huge importance of this particular issue.

The Government will not be opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, although we have some concerns regarding the particular legislative approach that is being adopted in it. I will deal with why the Government is not opposing the Bill. I will then outline the related legislation I expect to advance in the next number of weeks and how it differs from this Bill.

The chief purpose of the Private Members' Bill is to allow adoptees to apply to the General Registrar's Office for copies of their original birth certificates. The Bill sets aside the restrictions that currently exist in legislation, which cover the index linking the adoption certificate of an individual to the original birth certificate of that individual. Consideration would be needed on how the Bill would impact upon the range of complex legal issues which have been flagged in the past during previous attempts to legislate for a right of access in this area. Nevertheless, the intention behind the Bill would be to grant an adopted individual access to the information in the adoption index held by the General Registrar's Office. This, in turn, would facilitate them to identify their original birth certificate.

This intention is consistent with Government policy in terms of legislating to provide access by adoptees to their birth certificate. This is why the Government is not opposing the Private Members' Bill. At its heart, it is a mechanism to unlock access to one part of birth information for adoptees. I want that, the Government wants that, stakeholder groups want that and, most importantly, adoptees and survivors want that.

However, access to birth certificates for adoptees, as provided for in this Bill, is only part of the solution, albeit a crucial part. The Bill does not cover other important pieces of the jigsaw to ensure full accessibility of identity rights. This Bill will not help adoptees whose birth certificate does not record a father's name, where that name may be on other records. It will not help those whose births were illegally registered or those who were boarded out and whose identities may have been obscured. It will not help those who are seeking medical information about their birth families and it does not address the need to provide for an effective and robust tracing service for all these categories of people.

On foot of the publication of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation, the Government made a commitment to bring forward fresh legislative proposals on information and tracing. This work is well under way and I expect to have heads of Bill ready for pre-legislative scrutiny in the coming weeks. These heads of Bill will be comprehensive and will constitute an integrated set of necessary proposals to provide for access to information, including but not restricted to the birth certificate. The heads will address a set of long-standing legal arguments that have served to prevent a right of access by adoptees in the past. Furthermore, they will provide for a right of access not only to adoptees but also for boarded-out persons and those whose birth was illegally registered, such as those whose cases were addressed in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme.

It is vital that these groups are included in any legislation. For example, I know that some boarded-out people took the name of the family they lived with and got identity documents in that family's name, and they may not have sufficient information to get their birth certificate. What they need is access to their files, access to documents and reports that may indicate birth family history or give reasons why they were boarded out. Other boarded-out people are seeking to trace family members, to have questions answered or to seek reunification.

Tusla and those working in the area of tracing have long known that persons who were boarded out often had particularly difficult experiences. The commission's report details stories of the appalling neglect that some of these people experienced. Their needs must be recognised by including them in any provisions for release of information. Likewise, persons whose births were illegally registered need access to information on files. For illegal birth registrations, the birth certificate does not show their true identity. The only place where correct birth information might be would be on a relevant file.

I am particularly concerned that those affected can access information about their origins. I know it is shocking to us all that the legal landscape at the moment means that, while they know they are not the person they thought they were, in some cases, due to the current legal constraints, they cannot be told the names of their birth parents. I think we would all agree that this cannot be allowed to continue and that the legislation needed to unlock this information must be a priority. I am committed to ensuring that these people's identity rights are acknowledged in the legislation I will soon be bringing forward.

Persons seeking to know their origins also want their birth father's name. I understand that, in historic adoptions, it was often the case that no father was recorded on the birth certificate. However, the adoption file might note the putative father's name or make reference to him, such as his age or occupation, or note comments that the mother may have made about him. This would be the only information available regarding the putative father and, therefore, access to that type of information is key to any hope of identifying the individual concerned.

The House will know that access to birth relatives' medical information is another key concern for those affected. In this regard, we know that the historical files may not contain much information but I believe that whatever is recorded should be provided. I have heard from survivors that not having access to this information is not alone very upsetting but can have practical and sometimes serious implications for them. My intention is that my legislation will address this issue and will engage with the GDPR issues which apply.

My legislation will also provide for a robust and effective tracing service, which is available to adoptees and individuals who were boarded out or the subject of an illegal birth registration. The statutory basis for the current service is restricted in that it applies only to adopted persons and, as it predates GDPR, there are now significant obstacles to processing and sharing personal data. There is an urgent need for an explicit legal basis to allow other data controllers, such as the religious congregations and Government Departments, to share information with Tusla and the Adoption Authority that would help to identify and locate a person for the purposes of tracing. Baptismal records can be key to unlocking a trace, as these records show the child's name at birth and the mother's maiden name.

I believe the best way of providing for the interlocking issues of the release of the birth certificate, access to birth, early life and medical information on files, a robust statutory basis for tracing and the safeguarding of relevant records is through a single, integrated and comprehensive legislative measure that enables all the issues to be addressed together in a manner which is constitutionally and GDPR compliant.

Deputies have spoken with conviction and empathy on these matters in the past months and it is true there is great understanding of the urgent necessity for comprehensive legislation to be passed and enacted. We know about the shame and stigma which the church and State placed on unmarried mothers, and that women had little choice in the Ireland of the past. One of the legacies of the secrecy that prevailed is the hurt and pain that are deeply felt when people cannot access information related to their origins. A void is created for the individual when he or she cannot piece together his or her identity. I have spoken to many survivors and I listen to them. It is clear in my mind that the most effective thing the Government can do is to implement comprehensive legislation to provide the right of access to all types of information sought and to cover all groups of people impacted by historical practices.

To conclude, I reiterate that this Private Members' Bill is not being opposed. It seeks to deliver on one aspect of the legislation that the Government is committed to progressing. I will bring forward my proposals, which will encompass this element, and I sincerely hope we can put our political differences to one side and work together to bring forward the best possible legislation. This comprehensive legislation is necessary and will acknowledge the wrongs of the past by vindicating the right to identity into the future. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet online a group of approximately 20 survivors, primarily from the United States and some from the United Kingdom. All had been taken from mother and baby homes across the country and adopted by couples in the US and UK and raised there. Each one shared his or her story with me. Some had been able to get information and some were lucky enough to meet the birth mother and, in one case, the birth father as well. However, others shared their stories about the barriers that had been put in place. That meeting, along with many other meetings I have had with survivors, similar to the meetings Deputies have outlined today, show us what we are trying to achieve here and the importance of passing comprehensive legislation in this area.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, molaim mo chomhghleacaí an Teachta Funchion as an mBille seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála. Is leasú simplí é seo ar an Acht um Chlárú Sibhialta, 2004, a thabharfadh cead d’uchtaithe a dteastais bhreithe a fháil nuair atá siad os cionn 18. Leasú simplí atá i gceist ach is leasú fíorthábhachtach é dóibh siúd a bhí uchtaithe.

Céard atá i dteastas breithe? Tugann an teastas seo eolas do dhaoine faoin am a rugadh iad, an lá den tseachtain a rugadh iad agus fiú an meáchan a bhí siad nuair a rugadh iad. Sonraí fíor-bhunúsacha iad seo agus is scannal é nach bhfuil an t-eolas sin le fáil acu siúd a uchtaíodh faoi láthair. Tar éis a foilsíodh an tuairisc faoi na hárais máithreacha agus leanaí bhí go leor caint ag Teachtaí faoin tábhacht atá ann dóibh siúd a tháinig slán as na hárais sin a bheith in ann teacht ar a n-eolas pearsanta féin. Is éard atá sa leasú seo ná an chéad chéim sa phróiseas, ach is céim fíor-suntasach é. Tá sé in am againn stop a chur leis an rúndacht agus an cur chuige teoranta a ghlac an Stát agus é ag déileáil le huchtaithe agus iad ag iarraidh teacht ar a dteastais bhreithe. Is ceart bunúsach daonna é an ceart aitheantas a bheith ag duine, agus tá sé thar am dúinn éisteacht leo siúd a tháinig slán agus an ceart bunúsach seo a thabhairt dóibh.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Funchion, on bringing forward this amendment. It is a simple amendment which will have a profound impact on all those who have been denied access to their personal information for far too long. The State has fallen short in many ways when dealing with adopted people. By withholding birth certificates, the State has withheld a piece of these survivors’ identities. They deserve the basic dignity of accessing their personal information. This is a fundamental human right that can no longer be opposed. These are matters that many of us take for granted, such as information about the day we were born or our birth weight.

This is just a first step on this road but it is a vitally important step. This legislation provides an opportunity to make that impact.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

I thank both my colleague Deputy Funchion for her hard work in bringing the Bill forward and all those people who fought for their natural birth right to access their own birth certificate when set against the cruel backdrop of cover-up and distortion of their personal information. We can bury a lot of things, but we cannot bury the truth.

I watched the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on illegal adoptions entitled, "Who am I?" To say it was disturbing is an understatement. It showed a sickening letter sent back to a couple in America who were asking for their adopted child’s medical file, in which the charity stated that it only dealt with 100% healthy children and if the couple were not satisfied, they could replace him with another one. If this Parliament cannot recognise the cruel, dysfunctional and disorientated people behind this thinking and behind these acts of turning citizens into chattels, then we are no better that the signatoriesof those who signed the illegal adopted papers and all thosewho redacted documents. The time has come to stop hiding behind flawed legislation and the misuse of the instrument of the GDPR to block the right of a person to the knowledge of the very origin of his or her being. The time has come through this Bill to right that wrong. The time has come to give clarity, justice and, above all, the right to a person's natural human instinct to know where he or she belongs and most importantly, to know who delivered him or her into this world.

We cannot bury the truth, norcan we allow this grave injustice to humanity to continue. As a nation we can rectify this wrong. As a Parliament we can rectify this wrong. We must allow the right of adoptees tofull access to their natural birth certificates. I ask that each Member search his or her conscience and heart and do the right thing by fully supporting this Bill and to contribute to restoring people's faith in truth and justice.

I congratulate Deputy Funchion on bringing the Bill forward. I welcome that the Minister is not opposing the Bill but, unfortunately, he is not supporting it either and is sitting on both sides of the fence.

What this Bill does, and why it is so important, is that it would immediately provide access to birth certificates for adopted people in the short term before comprehensive information and tracing legislation is brought forward by the Government. This is so important because the history of adoption in Ireland is fraught with decades of State-initiated interference where it operated a closed, secret system that attempted to erase the identities of thousands of people who were adopted.

Everybody is entitled to their information but here we are in 2021, heading to 2022, and we are still talking about people's rights. One reason this Bill is important is that Tusla still is making it extremely complicated for survivors in this regard. I spoke to some survivors over the past weekend. It is downright cheek on Tusla's part to ring survivors on the phone to tell them it is aware they asked for their information and that while it cannot give it to them, it can summarise that information and give it to them over the phone. This is about doing the right thing but while we have been debating this and the other six or seven reports over the years, it is still ignoring the wishes and the rights of people. I put it to the Minister that it is extremely disingenuous that Tusla is not only making it difficult, it is making it impossible, for survivors to get their rights. I had a little conversation with the Minister outside to make him aware that the most important thing is that illegal adoptions did happen. I want this on the record. We have black and white proof that they did happen. This is why it is so important to get to the bottom of this.

I call on the Government and on all Deputies to support this Bill and to support everything as it goes on to Committee Stage. Those who need our support are the people outside of this House. These people have been absolutely and totally ignored by the State and by the powers that are supposed to help them. The agencies we are talking about here are supposed to be assisting them but are not. It makes me angry that we come in here, week in and week out, month in and month out, trying to do the right thing. These are human rights issues and yet we are still coming up with barriers because we are trying to do the right thing.

I appeal to the Minister to support the Bill when it goes to committee.

I also thank Deputy Funchion for bringing forward this amendment Bill and I acknowledge the involvement of survivors in that effort. The legislation we are seeking to amend is representative of how the ways of the past are slow to change and shows that we cannot rely on the Government's leisurely attitude to address the wrongs of the past.

The history of adoption in this country is similar to the history that has been exposed in the course of the national conversation on the mother and baby homes. It involves interference from that arm of the State that was involved in creating a secretive and closed system that had long-term impacts on any people. Legal adoption, which was first introduced on 1 January 1953, meant that an adopted child passed as the natural offspring of the adoptive parents, with no interference from the natural mothers. Under Irish law, birth registration has been a matter of public record since 1864. The index of the adopted children's register is also a public record yet the practice is very different. In practice, adopted people have no automatic right to their birth certificates or adoption files. Why has that been allowed to continue? It is because there were no explicit statutory rights confirming the right of adopted persons to access those records. This has resulted in ad hoc, unprofessional and often discriminatory practices and policies. The Bill addresses these by inserting a simple one-section amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004 to allow adopted persons over the age of 18 to make an application to obtain significant information in order to obtain their birth certificate.

We must ask why different rules apply to certain people in this country and not to the rest of us. Why are adopted people treated as though they cannot be trusted with their own birth records? It cannot be justified that an adopted person is denied his or her identity because of the perceived right to privacy of the birth mother. The State has never produced any documentation to back up the guarantee of secrecy while adopted people see it as an infringement of their rights. That is the reason an effective Opposition is needed to ensure that is challenged and addressed in the way Sinn Féin is doing today.

I hope the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, will provide regular updates on the work of the special rapporteur on child protection on the registration of illegal births. We need full clarity about the various processes that are under way to resolve the issues of the past. This is just one of them.

There is no other group of people in Irish society who are discriminated in the way adopted people are. The implications are far-reaching and unnecessary. The wrongs perpetrated on people in the recent history of this State are fresh in our minds. That is why we must strike while the iron is hot and address the injustices immediately. Let us begin that process now by supporting this Bill.

The Labour Party will be supporting the Sinn Féin Bill. It so happens that the Labour Party also has a Bill on this very issue which is winding its way through the Seanad as we speak. The Labour Party Bill, which is very similar to the Sinn Féin Bill, comes with a proposal by the Government to issue its own Bill so, in effect, we will have three Bills on this very issue before long. That speaks volumes about the intent of the Houses of the Oireachtas to legislate for this issue. We would hope that, ultimately, common ground will be found on the three Bills in order that the issue can be properly dealt with.

Our Bill seeks to carry out the expressed wishes of survivors of mother and baby homes and other adopted persons. My colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, has spoken to this very issue in the Seanad. I am using her words when I say there is an urgent need to legislate for robust and effective information and tracing rights for adopted persons. Successive Governments have spent years examining how best to formulate such legislation.

Our short Bill, similar to the Sinn Féin Bill, would enable adopted persons to obtain the information necessary to access their birth certificates. There has never been an absolute ban on providing this information enabling a link to be made between the register of births and the register of adoptions. The adoption authority and the courts have always been entitled to order the production of records that enabled an applicant to trace the link. We are aware of the arguments made about the need to balance the right of adopted persons to access their birth information with the privacy rights of birth mothers but current State policy is skewed towards privacy rights.

Currently, unless a natural mother has indicated her preference for contact, her presumed wish for secrecy overrides the adopted adult's right to know his or her identity. In essence, I think we all wish to legislate for that, hence our supporting the Sinn Féin Bill. We hope for reciprocal support from Sinn Féin and indeed Government support for our Bill as it winds its way through the Seanad. We await the Government's proposal and hope the Minister will make haste on that. I know he is very active on this issue.

The important point to note is that these Bills cater only for validly adopted people who can access the information held in the register. The Minister spoke to that issue. This will do nothing for the recently highlighted cohort of illegally or invalidly adopted people because there are no accessible records in the register or with the Adoption Authority of Ireland relating to them. I want to use my time to speak to that very issue. I listened to the Minister on "Morning Ireland" earlier and I note his intention in respect of the publication of the Independent Review Report into Illegal Birth Registrations and his proposal, as I understand it, that he call on the special rapporteur, Professor Conor O'Mahony, "to consider and propose next steps". The question on our minds is this: what does the Minister envisage this process will yield? The Minister also stated:

Neither AAI nor Tusla was able to identify a unique marker which was suggestive of incorrect birth registration, similar to that found in the St. Patrick Guild's cases. While the sampling review of the files did identify some potential markers or wording suggestive of markers, both agencies reported that they were unable to establish 'clear evidence of incorrect birth registrations'.

If based on a sample taken now or recently the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla were unable to find clear evidence of incorrect birth registrations, what is the point - I am not suggesting there is no point - of moving towards an independent review by the special rapporteur if it yields the same end result?

We welcome the Minister's thinking on this matter because it is important to do it, but I am thinking beyond that now. There is no doubting the bona fides of Professor O'Mahony, let me put that on the record, and we certainly welcome the process. It is to take six months, as I understand it. Beyond that, however, if, at the end of the process, Professor O'Mahony comes to the same conclusions, where will we go from there? I am left thinking that the only solution is a full public inquiry whereby potentially all the files, not just a sample, can be audited. There may be an argument against that. If there is, I certainly would like to hear it. However, in light of the report on the mother and baby homes and in light of a clear wish on the part of the Houses of the Oireachtas to deal with all these issues in an open and transparent way in order that they are not left to be dealt with by future generations of Deputies and Senators, why not have a public inquiry in respect of the independent review into illegal birth registrations and open it all up in a transparent way such that every file is examined in order that everybody can be satisfied and there can be no doubt about the State's reaction to this very important issue?

It is something that has crossed my mind. I am fearful that if Professor O'Mahony comes to the same conclusions as the independent review, it will leave many people extremely disappointed. Time and tide waits for no man or woman and people are getting older. Therefore, should we not now consider the idea of a full public inquiry into this in order that all of the files can be examined fully, not just a sample? I do not profess to have the wisdom of Solomon on this issue, but I fear that it may not be concluded thereafter. Will we end up telling people that there is absolutely no way that the State can interrogate every single illegal adoption and there is no mechanism open to the State to do that but that we should hold a full-scale public inquiry into this issue in order that we can satisfy ourselves, as well as everybody who has been impacted by illegal adoption, that the State has done everything within its wherewithal to examine and interrogate every single issue related to it? I am not calling for it; I am merely suggesting it as a potential course of action. We will await and see the results of the process put in place by the Minister in respect of the appointment of the special rapporteur to consider and propose the next steps. However, it would be good to hear from the Minister as to what those next steps will be. The Minister and his officials will have some view as to what the next steps will be. The Minister will not be whole dependent on the special rapporteur; he will also have his own views on this issue. I suppose that is where we are going with this.

On Sunday night, in Cahir, County Tipperary, a women's history group put up 24 temporary plaques to celebrate the forgotten women of the town. They dedicated one plaque to the banished women of Cahir and placed it at the spot on the square where women and girls were picked up to be sent to mother and baby homes. It reads:

Banished Women

We waited here to be taken to Mother and Baby Homes

The shame was not theirs - it was ours.

They reminded us that this happened in every town and village. Church and State colluded to incarcerate women for being pregnant at a time without access to contraception, sex education or reproductive rights and sometimes for being pregnant as a result of rape and abuse. More importantly, this plaque reminds us that this is not in the past. The pain, the shame and the injustice is still with us. Survivors, adoptees and their families are living with the pain, suffering and doubt. The actions of the Irish State and church still have a real living impact today. This is not the past, it is the present.

Regrettably, the Government and religious orders are too quick to assign these matters to history, to say it was a different time, to make apologies and wait for the news cycle to move on. Last week’s "RTÉ Investigates" programme on illegal adoptions clearly demonstrated how this is not just in the past. The same system which locked women away, covered up the mass deaths of babies and children and facilitated the illegal adoptions and the falsification of birth certificates. Just as the rights of the mothers were trampled on, the rights of adoptees were ignored from the day they were born. These human rights abuses continue to this day, by virtue of them still being denied access to their identity, that is, access to the most basic and profound information about themselves.

On the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, the people affected explained how their worlds were turned upside down when they were told. Brave adoptees shared their stories with us. They described being refused information about themselves and receiving redacted files. In the words of one of the adoptees, Brian:

It's very simple for somebody to just get a piece of Tippex and white something out, but they don't actually realise that what they're whiting out is vital information for somebody.

This cruel and obstructive response to adoptees needs to end.

My gratitude to Deputy Funchion for bringing forward this Bill is only surpassed by my disgust at the Government for failing to do so for so long and for again failing to give justice to survivors. Since 1864, all birth certificates have been publicly available, except in one case. Adopted people are the only people in Ireland who are denied the ability to retrieve their own birth certificate. Agents of the State continue that discrimination. This is happening today, not just in the past. Institutions and individuals in control of adopted people's files, including Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland, refuse to inform adopted people of their name at birth or provide them with their unredacted adoption-early life file. It is outrageous and a further example of a callous State determined to cover up and deny the rights of survivors.

The continuing refusal to tell adopted people their name at birth and provide them with their publicly registered birth certificate is, in the view of human rights experts, unconstitutional and contrary to the GDPR. Under EU law, which is supreme over any conflicting Irish law, a person's name is his or her personal data. People have the right under Article 15 of the GDPR to access that information. There is no ambiguity. The only way that right can be restricted is by clear legislation that is a necessary and proportionate measure in a democratic society. The withholding from adopted people of their name at birth does not meet that requirement. It is arbitrary, discriminatory, unnecessary and cruel.

Successive Governments and Departments have continued to perpetuate what Claire McGettrick, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, labels adoption myths. These myths attempt to undermine the cases made by adopted persons and even try to pitch adoptees against their biological parents. The most common myth is that adopted persons cannot be provided with their birth certificates because doing so would infringe on their natural mother's privacy. This presumes that it is only adopted people who want their personal information and mothers are fearful that their adult children may try to contact them. It does not recognise that mothers often seek out their adopted children or that some adopted people have no interest in or desire to find out about their natural parents. Only 5% of natural mothers who registered with the National Adoption Contact Preference Register indicated that they wish to have no contact with their daughter or son. The reality is that most natural mothers have not been given the opportunity to express their views on this issue. When Philomena Lee spoke out in 2013, she inspired others to come forward and find the strength to overcome decades of secrecy.

Successive Governments have had no interest in this nuance and some religious orders obstruct mothers who seek out their children. Church and State are still deciding what is best for the people affected, without asking them, and they continue to prevent access to information. A culture of secrecy and shame still surrounds these adoptions. The same secrecy and shame of the 1940s and 1950s continues today. It is seen in the Departments denying access to information, the treatment of adopted people and the lives of the mothers still scarred from abuses decades ago. This is not in the past; it is happening in the present.

There are solutions, if we want to find them. Legal opinion from leading experts in this area, including Dr. Maeve O'Rourke, Máiréad Enright and Professor Conor O'Mahony, outlines potential mechanisms to balance the rights of adopted people and their parents and the right to privacy with the right to access one's information. This is standard practice in other countries and the issues in this regard can no longer be used as an excuse by the State not to act. We need processes that provide personal data access without unnecessary and arbitrary State coercion. We must put adoptees, natural mothers and survivors at the heart of this conversation. The overriding priority of the State should be to pursue justice based on people's lived experiences. Instead, we have the Government paying lip service to survivors but continually ignoring their pleas.

We know adoptee rights groups, survivor groups and their allies are seeking the passing of this legislation. We have all received messages from constituents in support of it. The writer of one such email said:

We have failed adoptees for too long, we need to make it right. This is not about party or politics. This is about doing the right thing by people long denied the most basic of knowledge of themselves.

As this Bill progresses, it must be informed by further engagement with those affected and their advocates. I am confident that Deputy Funchion will pursue that engagement. My colleagues in the Social Democrats and I will continue to work with those groups to do our best to represent them.

The Bill helps to address one injustice arising out of the systematic abuse and illegal treatment of so many Irish people. It is one step to right the wrongs of the past, which have very real impacts in the present. Adoption in Ireland was generally forced and frequently illegal.

This cruel system mistreated the mothers and obliterated the identities of thousands of adopted people.

The Government and church leaders are eager to tell us we have moved on and that circumstances are different. Unfortunately, the treatment of survivors and adoptees in recent months tells a different story. The Irish State is obliged to remedy these abuses rather than continue to unjustifiably and unlawfully deny adopted people their identity.

With regard to the “RTÉ Investigates” programme, it is important to note that although the stories echo those of so many adopted people in Ireland, this legislation does not apply to those adoptees. The falsification of birth certificates is a separate issue. As the individuals were not legally adopted, there is no possible argument that the law prevents them from being given their files. There is no need for legislation to give these people their files.

The Minister's announcement yesterday is nothing more than an unnecessary delaying tactic, something of which we have seen enough. People do not need someone to examine the issues arising and propose the next steps. The adoptees in question do not have birth certificates, only false ones. It is not complicated; these are crimes and the records need to go to the Garda and courts so as to engage an inquiry immediately. There should be no more delays. People need their full records now. After they receive them, there can be an inquiry.

The Minister is saying the Government will not be voting down the Sinn Féin Bill today but quite likely will not be acting to proceed with it quickly. We saw this last week with the Social Democrats' motion to extend the life of the commission. Playing politics with issues is cynical and people do not appreciate it at all. Particularly with an issue such as this, we need to put politics aside. The Government is playing with people's lives when it plays politics. Cynically not voting the Bill down but then doing nothing about it just adds further insult to injury. It is completely unnecessary, particularly regarding issues like this.

I am sharing time with Deputy Barry.

I thank Deputy Funchion for introducing this important Bill, which I obviously fully support. It should be acted on immediately. I am very conscious of how important this Bill is, particularly because as an adoptee, I am lucky that I did not have to wade my way through all the barriers and difficulties that many adoptees have faced in trying to secure access to their history, identity and the basic facts of who they are. In my case, my mother actually came and found me although she encountered extraordinary difficulties and closed doors in a process completely mediated by the church, which decided what information one could have. Institutions of the State essentially shut the door and said my mother was not entitled to the information she was seeking but, luckily for me, she managed to wade her way through all the barriers. I cannot imagine what it is like for people who seek out their identity to have such barriers and difficulties put in their way and, even worse, for those who had their identities and histories criminally stolen from them. This is shocking beyond belief. What was revealed in the “RTÉ Investigates” programme about the role of Mr. de Valera’s son in Holles Street was stunning beyond belief. It involved the faking of pregnancies and the taking of children from individuals, in most cases from less well-off sections of society, in order to give them to respectable families. This was done in a criminal way involving the stealing of people's history and identity from them and, potentially, blotting that out forever.

On the sampling review, 260 out of 1,500 in the sample had the markers which suggested the possibility, at least, of illegal adoptions. That is approximately 16% of that small sample of people. We could be talking about 20,000 with those markers. There has to be an investigation and a forensic examination of all of that in order to uncover the criminal actions that were perpetrated and discover, to the best degree possible, the culprits involved and the mechanisms and so on by means of which those actions were perpetrated. Beyond that, as others have stated, it is not just about birth certificates and so on, it is about all the information, everything about people's history and identity, the circumstances surrounding their adoption, etc. People have to have access to all of that. For adoptees and for mothers whose children were taken from them by the twisted morality of church and State, there is no doubt that the legacy of that continues to block people individually and society as a whole from getting to the truth we deserve in terms of that history for the individuals involved and for our society. This is a basic thing.

The fact we need comprehensive legislation, as the Minister indicated, in respect of a range of matters should not be a block to processing this measure, which will at least give people basic access to their birth certificates. Too often, what we are going to do in the future becomes the excuse for not doing what we could do right now.

We are discussing a Bill which would give the right of all persons to a birth certificate, which would mean that adopted persons in this State would have the right to their birth certificates. That is clear, straightforward and reverses an injustice that has been visited upon people for many years. This legislation should be passed, and we will vote wholeheartedly in support of it.

The other issue at stake today is being discussed by the Cabinet. It is the question of an inquiry into illegal adoptions in this State. There are indications that there may have been as many as 20,000 illegal adoptions in this country. We are not for delaying an inquiry for six months, as the Minister suggests. We are for that being agreed today. We are for it being done with sensitivity to survivors but we think that inquiry should get the green light today. In his book, Banished Babies, Mike Milotte says that in the 1950s Ireland was a centre for illegal baby trafficking. He quotes a civil servant who talks about Ireland being a hunting ground with people coming into the country looking for babies to adopt. The Irish Times ran an article in 1951 in which it was stated that in the previous year almost 500 babies had been flown out from Shannon Airport for adoption. A German newspaper at the time said that the price being paid for these babies was $3,000, approximately €24,000 in today's money. There was outrage about this article among sections of Ireland's diplomatic corps and contact was made with the Department to raise the idea of legal action against the newspaper.

The diplomats were very firmly told there would not be a basis for the legal action because what the German newspaper had printed was largely true. It is reckoned that approximately 15% of these illegal adoptions were organised from mother and baby homes. The commission of inquiry said there was no proof as to whether this was or was not the case. This is a matter on which we need more information.

An inquiry needs to shine a spotlight on what happened, on what was known at the highest political levels in society and on the idea that the State, the Government and Ministers of the day were unaware of illegal adoption practices when hundreds of babies were being flown out of Shannon Airport and when the son of a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, who later became President, was at the heart of these events. Of course, Éamon de Valera Jnr. did not sell babies but he charged fees for the work he did in setting up adoptions that were illegal. That should be a matter for investigation and inquiry as part of a wider picture that answers the question about the potentially 20,000 illegal adoptions which took place in this State through the years.

Deputy Tóibín and I will speak for five minutes each. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I thank the Deputies who brought it forward. I will be supporting it.

When dealing with such sensitive issues, it is of the utmost importance to listen to those who are affected most by whatever the issue happens to be. In this case, I have listened to adoptees and read numerous emails from them since being elected. They outline the difficulties they face in their lives due to the absence of their biological family history, particularly when it comes to healthcare and health-related issues.

Most of us will be familiar with the procedure of going to a doctor or dentist and having to fill out a medical history form. Quite often, these forms ask if any hereditary conditions are likely to or have already developed. Unfortunately, we all know too well that a cohort of people in this country are unable to answer such questions due to an absence of information about biological parents.

Let me share with the House two examples of testimonies from people who have contacted me on the issue. Gerry is 57 years old. He said:

I am now 57 years old and have had some major health problems. I cannot get any medical history which has greatly impeded my progress. I have been out of work for nearly 20 years due to the above. The lack of right to my records has had a detrimental impact on my life. We had to sell our house in Dublin and move to try and make ends meet.

I have battled alcoholism, depression and health problems a lot of which were stress related. The constant battle with various State agencies have worn me down and unfortunately I don’t think the passing of the Bill will have much effect on my situation. It may help younger people to avoid the pitfalls I have encountered and hopefully give them a better life.

Seamus wrote:

The past few weeks have been very difficult for adoptees, birth parents and survivors. Following the publication of the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes, there has been revelation after revelation about how adoptees in particular are denied access to their own identity. We have failed adoptees for too long, we need to make it right. This is not about party or politics, this is about doing right by a cohort long denied the most basic of knowledge of themselves. Please support this Bill so we can begin to address the wrongs of the past. Thank you.

I intend to support the Bill. The two testimonies from which I read outline the need for this Bill much better than anything I could have said. These are stories from people who have had to live with the present situation. These people know that the legislation needs to be passed for the system to change.

We must also recognise the links between adoptees and the issues surrounding the mother and baby homes. I understand that not every adoptee was linked to a mother and baby home but there is a crossover to a great extent. Suffice to say, adoptees played no part in the decisions that put them in this position. If we want to right at least one of the wrongs perpetrated on adoptees and their mothers, we need to start by allowing access to birth records.

An féidir leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach m'ainm a chur síos le haghaidh Questions on Promised Legislation?

It is absolutely outrageous that after all the debates, documentaries, reports and commissions that have happened people still do not know who exactly they are and cannot access their birth and medical records. People are growing old wondering if their mother is still alive. They are being asked daily by doctors about their family health histories and are facing into serious health issues, and they simply do not know. There are small matters such as people accessing insurance or bank accounts being asked for their date of birth. They do not know the answer, and each time they are asked, the reality of what the system has done to them hits home. For many people, Tusla, the HSE and the State bodies know the answers to their questions but will not share this information with survivors. Under any understanding of this, that is absolutely outrageous. The major question for the Government is why this has happened.

I will be honest. I am worried that the Minister with responsibility for children has been captured by his Department. I believe that there has been significant resistance within the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to do the right thing by these people who have suffered so much. I understand that some individuals within the Department do not want to investigate these illegal adoptions. I also understand that the Department has had in its possession many files on illegal adoption but, in the past, has not shared these files with previous Ministers.

Many people are frustrated about the report of the commission but fail to see that the commission was not asked properly to investigate the illegal adoptions. The issue of illegal birth registrations was omitted from the terms of reference of the mother and baby home commission investigation in 2014. Why was this? If we seek to find out the source of the problems here, we need to answer this particular question. The terms of reference were dealt with within the Department at that time. It took six months to draft and yet it did not directly seek to investigate this issue. My understanding is that the Government has, perhaps, finally woken up to the resistance within the Department. I further understand that the Minister is outsourcing the drafting of this legislation. Why is that the case? This is very unusual. It is not the norm. I believe it will cost €250,000 for the Government to do this. Why is it being done? Perhaps the Minister could answer that question.

The issue of outsourcing is important. To whom is the drafting of this legislation being outsourced? Even after all this, the Minister was on the radio this morning and he equivocated on the question of whether the new legislation would actually give people access to information. The Minister has the adoption orders. I understand that he could release those adoption orders to these individuals. People have said that perhaps it is not constitutional. If, however, the new Bill the Minister is drafting seeks to do roughly the same thing and is constitutional, it will be possible now to give those adoption orders to these individuals who so desperately seek them.

I welcome that the Government has published a review into illegal adoptions. The fact is not lost in anybody that this was commissioned in 2018, however. The idea that the review was completed but not brought to Cabinet or published at the time, and was only published after RTÉ ran an expose on illegal adoptions last week, is not lost on anybody.

What is the driving force behind that timeline? Is it the Government, the Minister or the Department? No. The key driving force is the media's exposé of these shocking occurrences. Either the Minister is a driver in the context of directing his Department, seeking to make sure that these issues are resolved for people, or he is a passenger in that particular vehicle. The Minister has a serious question to ask himself in this regard.

It is our job to hold the political establishment to account. It is also our job, as elected representatives, to hold Departments to account. There are many fine people in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. There are many individuals who want to achieve what is being slowly achieved in Leinster House. There is no doubt that the new political space we are in with regard to this issue is helping to drive that agenda within the Department. We also have to hold Departments and senior staff within them to account on these key issues, however. In many ways, they are the permanent government. It is radically important that those who comprise the permanent government do what the elected representatives of this country ask and tell them to do. If it is the reverse, we are never going to get to the bottom of these scandals. We will never be able to resolve these key human questions for the many people who still do not know exactly who they are. Will the Minister make sure that he is involved in driving that agenda in the future?

I thank Sinn Féin and, in particular, Deputy Funchion for facilitating the debate on this important matter. In May 2017, the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill was introduced in the Seanad. The debate on it focused on the competing rights of the desire of adoptees to have the knowledge of who they are and their background information and that of mothers to retain confidentiality regarding their own details. Of course, a balance had to be struck. The concern of adopted people - this is why Deputy Funchion is to be complimented - is that information on them is withheld. This obviously must be deemed to be wrong. Any person should be entitled to the information of where he or she came from and the who his or her people are.

There are all the other reasons, such as health issues, that could arise and why people might need to have necessary information. Of course, we have to be kind, considerate and respectful to the mothers who, at a particular time in their lives, were going through a difficult situation. We have to respect that. In trying to strike a balance in this debate, the one overriding measure that should be in place is the protection of an individual to know his or her background. That is a human, ordinary, fundamental thing that a person should have. Whatever way we as legislators can make amendments and changes to ensure those people get what they need, as well as the groups representing them, is important. That is why I support Deputy Funchion.

I thank Sinn Féin and Deputy Funchion for bringing forward this Bill. Under the Data Protection Act and the GDPR, data being held by the State relating to persons should be given to adoptees. The Government must explain why this data is being held. Copies of information the held should be given to adoptees. This would be their entitlement under Article 15.3 of the GDPR.

In 2019, some 71 requests from adoptees looking for their birth certificates were confirmed by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. This Bill is badly needed. It will facilitate the provision of information to and tracing access for adoptees. Ensuring that adoptees can access their own birth certificates is a vital first step to meeting their basic rights. The right to access such records is already in place in the North and Britain. Why are we always last to do something? For people to know their family and birth information is a basic right. Again, we are on the back foot. It is time that this Bill is passed for adoptees. I have many friends who were adopted. They have families of their own. They only want the basic information that their own children and families have. It is a basic right. I commend Deputy Funchion on bringing this Bill forward.

I thank Sinn Féin for facilitating this debate. I will be supporting the Bill. As I have said before, adoptees are entitled to know who they are and where they come from. If their parents do not want to meet with them or whatever, that is fine. That is their business and they are entitled to do that too. These human beings are entitled to know who they are, however.

I have to say to the Minister that the Government has behaved very badly over the past few months on the issue of mother and baby homes. It was trying to hide records by storing them away for 30 years. Was that to make sure that all those affected would be all dead before they could access them? There are records where details are crossed out with a marker. It is said that it was the same marker used throughout. We need to know who did that. I thank RTÉ for its wonderful programme on adoption recently in which people told us their personal stories. It was really heart breaking to see what had happened. Several people were involved in the sale of these babies. It looks to me that they were sold and their names and their mother's names were crossed out to ensure nobody would know who they were. It was done by the same marker. This is a shame and disgrace. I will support Sinn Féin's Bill.

I support this Bill. One issue officials are wrestling with is how to protect the privacy of birth parents who do not wish to be known or to be contacted by children who were given up for adoption many years ago. The change that is almost certainly coming is that their rights of privacy will no longer trump the rights of adopted people to know their birth identities.

For people who were illegally adopted at birth, either without the full consent of their birth mothers or who had their birth certificates falsified, there is another potentially insurmountable barrier to the discovery of their natural parentage and the access to their documents where the records are intact. However, a right to access in law is now proposed, although previous Governments cited constitutional difficulties. The Minister said he will have the heads of legislation prepared by early April. This will establish the right to use the GDPR avenue to access birth and early life records.

We all know the debacle of the mother and baby homes, the survivors and the need they have to know their stories. We know how the mothers involved want to know where their babies were sent and where the babies, now adults, want to know their history and from where they came. For decades, successive Governments have chosen to ignore the needs of adopted people. We are running out of time to heal the damage done. This Bill would mean adoptees can access their birth certificates, something for which they have been fighting hard. It is an issue which large numbers of my constituents in Cork South-West have asked me to support. I will certainly be doing so.

I too compliment Deputy Funchion and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this badly needed amending legislation. I wish the Minister well. He is open-minded and fair-minded regarding this, in spite of what has gone on in the past six months.

I compliment RTÉ - I do not do so often - and the "RTÉ Investigates" programme for the brilliant exposure it did in bringing it out in the open and the facts being laid bare to people of what went on. It was horrific what happened.

Obviously, there are two sets of rights here to be protected - the birth mothers and the individuals who were adopted, most of them against the will of their mother back in the time. We are in the modern era now. We must catch up with the other European countries. Northern Ireland and England have dealt with this issue, and dealt with it properly. It is so vital that we move forward with legislation.

I note Deputy Tóibín's critique of officialdom. If there is any semblance of truth in that, that they are dragging their feet it needs to be addressed. Elected politicians have to come in here and be accountable to the Opposition and to the public, and the public decide our fate in the next election. If people, faceless bureaucrats, are in any way holding this up or delaying it it needs to be addressed. We know that they were involved over the years. There was a plethora of official Ireland involved and all the aspects were covered up in every sector. Families, as well, have to take the blame, but now it is time to wash the linen and allow the people the right to know. It is so important for health reasons. It is so important if they have children and for themselves as well.

I know there are two sets of rights to be protected and we must strike the right balance. This Bill is measured in that way. Sinn Féin is to be complimented. It is important that we support it. We in the Rural Independents support the Bill. I hope the Government will embrace it and will be able to have legislation brought in quite soon. It is so badly needed and it is so much delayed.

Casaimid anois go dtí Grúpa Neamhspleách. Deputy Joan Collins is sharing time with Deputy Connolly.

Yes, five minutes each.

I urge all Deputies to support this straightforward legislation. I ask the Government side not only to not vote against it, but to vote with us, because this is too important an issue for the people who are facing this awful situation. I also commend Deputy Funchion, who introduced this Bill.

It is now 20 years since this legislation on adoption information and tracing was first announced and there has still been no action taken. Professor Conor O'Mahony, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, commenting on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, "Who am I?", said, "We need to enact comprehensive adoption-tracing legislation which would give adopted persons an unconditional right to access their birth and adoption records and we need to do that without any further delay." He went on to say:

Many adoption records are scattered around private agencies and adoption societies. If an adoption tracing system is to work effectively, the State needs to put in place the necessary legal and other measures to secure those records and ensure they are under the control of a centralised State entity so that people can easily access the records necessary to establish their identity.

"RTÉ Investigates" was yet more shocking evidence of the callous mistreatment of women and their babies to go alongside the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes, the county homes and, in this instance, the illegal and criminal falsification of birth registration of children born to women outside of so-called "wedlock" - what a word. The Adoption Act 1952 made this practice illegal yet it continued for decades.

The programme showed elite and powerful individuals regarded themselves as above the law. One of these was Professor Éamon de Valera Jr., a high profile consultant gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. In one case, he facilitated the adoption of four children by one family. The adoptive mother feigned pregnancy and was called for a false prenatal appointment where the baby of a so-called "unmarried mother" was handed over merely days after its birth. He also arranged antenatal appointments for women who were not pregnant to maintain the impression that the child was her biological child. Registering a child falsely, as he did, of someone who is not their mother has been illegal since 1880. This has to be held to account somewhere along the line and it has to be done as soon as possible. There were probably thousands of these cases carried out by medical professionals, religious orders such as the misnamed Sisters of Charity and adoption agencies such as the St. Patrick's Guild.

Many of the children involved have only discovered in later life that they are not who they thought they were. They were celebrating their birthday on wrong dates. The trauma is unimaginable. The least we can do is that whatever can be done to help them fill in the blanks is done now without further delay.

The Minister has promised the heads of a Bill in three-to-four weeks and is in talks with the Attorney General. This is a process, with pre-legislative scrutiny etc. which will likely take months. A Bill is here now. The Minister can propose amendments on Committee Stage if he feels it is necessary. I urge support for the Bill. The people who need this have waited too long.

I support this Bill. I should point out that this is the third Bill. I and my colleague, Deputy Pringle, have one at lunchtime today. That is four Bills now. It shows the measure of pressure on all of us to do the right thing.

Page 46 of the report that was published yesterday, A Shadow Cast Long, states, "A great wrong has been done to those robbed of their right to identity and family, as the Taoiseach acknowledged..." Indeed, I will come back to Dr. Conor O'Mahony. As far back as 5 November 2015, presenting to the then Joint Committee on Health and Children, at that stage in relation to the pre-legislative scrutiny, Dr. O'Mahony stated:

the right to access a birth certificate is a minimum core of the right to identity. In order to comply with our international human rights law obligations, this should be an automatic entitlement of every adoptee, with no exceptions or qualifications.

I could go back to 1984, when there was a committee on adoption making recommendations for the future. At that point, in 1984, the majority recommended, from the future onwards, every adopted person should be entitled to his or her basic information. I could go back anywhere.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Irish Examiner, and particularly Conall Ó Fátharta. We are here today as a result of pressure from people on the ground who are forcing us as Deputies. These are ordinary people struggling to get on with their lives and trying to come to terms with what is necessary. Again, we are being led, and led by some of the very good media which take the trouble, and I come back to a comment this morning when the Minister was being interviewed by the journalist in relation to the report and the time it took. On Wednesday, 30 May 2018, Mr. Ó Fátharta gave a detailed account in the newspaper in relation to the delays. Things jump out at me, including, of course, St. Patrick's Guild and the knowledgebase.

I feel sorry for the Minister. Just like Deputy Tóibín, I believe that there is a difficult situation for the Minister in his Department. When we talk about protecting mothers, we are not protecting mothers at all; we are protecting a system. We know that from what we saw on RTÉ last week. We know that from the TG4 programme. This is all about protecting the system. I have said to the Minister repeatedly that I and my colleagues will work with the Minister and support him, if he shows leadership.

The Minister is bringing in a Bill. We need comprehensive legislation but in the meantime, we need the Bill that Sinn Féin is bringing in here today, the one that we are bringing in at lunchtime and the one that Labour is bringing forward. I do not want all of these Bills. We want to do the right thing and in the meantime, we need to do something urgently.

Going back to Conall Ó Fátharta, the Adoption Association of Ireland knew at that point and was very familiar with problems and issues that had arisen. So was Tusla. There is a quote here in relation to Francis Fitzgerald MEP. Mr. Ó Fátharta writes:

It seems the revelations made little or no impact at the time [this is going back to 2013, 2014, 2015]. Just five months after the meeting, then children's minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she "had no plans to initiate an audit of all [adoption] files".

Then there is a quote from the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan.

I will not waste my time in relation to different parties. The point I am making is there was collusion - it might be a strong word but I am using that word - to leave the status quo as it was, not change it and not ask any difficult questions.

That is what has come out of every single report, the latest of which was from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. It was insulting in the way it stated it was going against the prevailing narrative when it was in fact reinforcing the prevailing narrative, namely, that mothers themselves did this and just walked in without analysing the situation in which the mothers found themselves. I found that particularly upsetting.

As to the report that was published yesterday, can the Minister give the House a clear answer as to why that report, which was completed in May 2019, was only published yesterday? I and other colleagues have repeatedly sought its publication. Why was it not published and why has it taken up to now to get it into my hands? I have read as much as I can, have read the full introduction and am making my way through the Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland part. The narrative is already being rewritten. This morning, when the Minister was asked a question, the answer was framed by how this report has taken three years and how the Government is only giving Professor O’Mahony six months.

This report did not take three years to complete; it took one year. The delay was in its publication. This point must be answered and it should have been pointed out to the journalists this morning that this did not take three years. This is an excellent report. It is well written, well set out, the conclusions are clear and the recommendations are clear. Regardless of whether one agrees with them, this report is an example of how a report should have been done by the commission of investigation. It is excellent and sets out the facts. The narrative is now being written, however, that there is no evidence of falsely-registered adoptions. That is utterly false. I do not have time to go into all of the detail but repeatedly, on pages 40, 45 and 51 to 53, inclusive, concerns are highlighted by Ms Marion Reynolds as to further investigation on the serious concerns raised on all of those pages. When Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland state there is no evidence, that is a narrative that is utterly false. What they should be doing is reading what is here and then asking where they should be going with this information. At the very least, Ms Reynolds has said that we need further investigation and inquiry. At the very least, I ask the Minister for a debate on this report in the Dáil. Let us not have an hour or two debate but let us put this down on the agenda in the spirit of openness and accountability.

I welcome the debate in the House today and acknowledge all of the Deputies who have contributed, particularly those who have shared personal family stories. I also thank Deputy Funchion and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this Bill.

We all recognise the background to the issues giving rise to this initiative. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, has already set out the Government position, which I endorse. I add my own views given that responsibility for the General Register Office and Civil Registration Service and systems fall under my Department’s remit. As the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, has already outlined, the Government is fully committed to allowing adopted persons and others to have access to information about their births and early childhood. The Minister has already indicated that both he and the Attorney General are working to present the House with a set of proposals that will comprehensively address the issues of access to birth and early life information.

I find it difficult, if not impossible, to adequately appreciate the significance of this issue for people who are adopted. From my engagement with those who have approached me, I know the depth of hurt and alienation that many have suffered in the way that we have attempted and failed to deal with these matters heretofore. It is time to change. We must acknowledge the pain suffered by birth parents, often young vulnerable women who had little or no choice. We will never be able to fully appreciate the horror and pain endured by these women. I do not care what the cultural or social environment was at the time, what happened to those women was and will always be wrong.

I join with Deputies on all sides of the House today in condemning the activities of certain agencies and people in authority and in positions of trust that operated outside of the legal framework and safeguards of the adoption laws. They have left a trail of hurt, concealment and loss.

As the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, indicated earlier, the Government will not oppose the Bill and wants to provide adoptees with full access to their birth certificate. I am aware that there has been extensive engagement between the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, and the Attorney General on the issue of access to birth information. Intensive work is currently ongoing on the development of draft heads of an information and tracing Bill which the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, hopes to bring to Government in the coming weeks.

In that context it is important to point out that the mechanisms set out in the Private Members’ Bill will not assist persons other than adoptees who are seeking their birth certificate. While the Bill is well intentioned, it will not assist those whose births were illegally registered or those whose original identity may have been obscured as a result of being boarded out. I am also conscious that the legislative proposal in the Private Members’ Bill only deals with those who have an adoption recorded since 1953. This legislation will not deal with others who have been telling their compelling stories for years. These are the people who are adopted before legal adoption was passed in 1952. We know of people in our communities who had family care arrangements made before the Adoption Act came into operation. There are also those who benefited from informal care arrangements made after the Adoption Act was commenced. There is also a group of people whose true birth registration may not have been recorded accurately or where their origins were obscured by informal processes where no records were maintained.

I agree with Deputies when they call on the Government to provide long-term solutions to those who are the victims of incorrect birth registration and for whom only false or misleading historic documentation is available. It is the intention of the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, that his legislative proposals on information and tracing will include these and other related matters.

Those of us who are not adopted will never fully appreciate the significance of knowing our true identity or that of our birth parents. It is just something that we take for granted. I can only imagine how difficult this is for people and the emotional journey that a person engages in before they seek their birth information. It is important that we reflect on the importance of adoption and ensure, by our words and comments, that we do not sunder the confidence society has in the work of the Adoption Authority of Ireland. There will always be a need to enable a child to be placed with loving and caring adoptive parents. Let us remember that adoption provides families and children with security and opportunities that might not otherwise be available. We must be careful to ensure that parents of today and in the future are encouraged to provide adoptive opportunities.

As the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, has outlined, he is committed to working with the Attorney General to bring forward comprehensive legislation in the coming weeks to address many of the issues that have been raised.

We all agree that it is absolutely vital that we get the legislation right to give people certainty and ensure that full and comprehensive access to birth information for all adoptees is provided.

The "RTÉ Investigates" programme, "Who Am I?" catalogued trauma and distress. While this generated some shock among the public, those who were not shocked by all of this are those who have lived their lives seeking the answer to that profoundly simply question, "who am I?". Those also not shocked were the State and its agencies, which have known that illegal adoption and the illegal placement and trafficking of children was an essential part of the tapestry of misery and of the brutal system to which Irish women, unmarried women, poor women, young women, vulnerable women, pregnant women, mothers and their children were subjected for generations. The scandalous abuse of women in Magdalen laundries and in mother and baby homes is matched only by the mistreatment of their babies and their children. The remains of infant children in a septic tank in Tuam, or in the clay of Sean Ross Abbey and in other institutions is screaming testimony to this.

Illegal adoption was not accidental. It was not done in error. It was a calculated course of action and it was a criminal course of action. The State facilitated and colluded in robbing children of their most basic and fundamental rights. Acknowledging this reality brings us face to face with the ingrained misogyny and the cruel reactionary DNA of this State. The nature of the State is very eloquently summarised in the ministerial review just published, where the rationale for actions in the 1950s in illegal adoptions was described as, "the desire to protect young mothers from the censure of society and its epitaph of 'being fallen women' who had conceived their children 'in sin' and their children from the taint associated with illegitimacy". It should be recalled that the taint of illegitimacy was not removed from the Statute Book until 1987.

The churches, the Roman Catholic Church in particular but other churches also, the religious orders and private institutions have cases to answer and must be held to account but by far the greatest burden of accountability rests with the State. The State had full knowledge of and oversaw the mass incarceration, indeed the enslavement, of women and girls. The State and its agents stood aside as babies and children were illegally adopted, placed and trafficked. To this day, the State actively frustrates and prevents the efforts of adopted people to access their records, files, stories, history and birth certificates.

The State, which is yet to fully acknowledge, investigate and uncover the full story of illegal adoption, must act. This must be done. This means the establishment of a full public inquiry. It means a full and complete audit of every record. I and we are calling for this. The State is obliged to carry out this inquiry as a matter of absolute urgency. Delay is not acceptable.

Neither is delay acceptable in the provision of access to birth certificates for all adopted people. This is the purpose of today's legislation brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Funchion. As is readily acknowledged, it is only to be a first step in putting things right but it is important to take that first step. The need for wider information and tracing legislation, which by the way has been promised for decades, is of course unanswerable but that does not change the need for immediate action now with regard to access to birth certificates.

The Minister's position not to oppose the legislation but also not to support it is cynical and wrong. The legislation will be voted on tomorrow. I believe and hope it will be passed by the Dáil tomorrow. It must thereafter move to Committee Stage quickly without hindrance or delay. The Minister's job and the job of the Government is to work with the rest of us to ensure this then becomes law on the Statute Book without further delay. Anything short of this will simply mean more suffering for those who have suffered too much for too long all over again.

Every important journey begins with a single step. The first single step for those who have been so wronged is to allow access to birth certificates for every adopted person and thereafter we must move quickly to have a full public inquiry and to have information and tracing legislation that places the rights of the adopted person at the centre and first and foremost in that law. We have the opportunity to take this first step and I ask the Minister to take that step with us.

I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate for their supportive words. I was struck by the fact that everyone, with the exception of the two Ministers who spoke, really seemed to understand this is a first step. This is what we have said from the minute we launched the Bill a number of weeks ago. It will not solve all of the problems but, as my colleague, Deputy McDonald, has just said, we have to start somewhere and every process has to start somewhere. This is a really good start for people who have been failed time and again by the State, beginning with incarceration in one of these institutions, after which the subsequent list of the failings is endless, particularly most recently with the report, which was a total disgrace. It did absolutely no justice to survivors. People are constantly being failed and are being made promises.

We are led to believe by the Government that it will not oppose the Bill because it is well intentioned but it has much better all-singing all-dancing legislation that will come forward very soon. This is great and welcome. Everybody wants to see that legislation and to have wider access to medical files and adoption files but this Bill is here now, ready to go and it is a first step. What we really need is not just to pass Second Stage today, which obviously we do want to see happen and we want to see the Bill supported, but we also want to see action on it. Then we will have the other legislation, which we will welcome and on which we will work with the Minister and anybody else bringing forward proposals on this issue because it is about doing the right thing. It is about taking action. We have to match all of the sympathetic words we have heard recently and match with action all of the apologies that people have heard. Today is an opportunity to do this and demonstrate to people that everybody in the House is serious about finally listening to people and doing the right thing. There is no difficulty with having it supported further down the line in a number of weeks, or whenever the Government's legislation is ready. Obviously we will have to wait to see it but we will openly welcome anything that gives people access to their information.

This is a first step. In 2021, to say there is a cohort of people in Irish society who do not have access to their birth certificate is a disgrace. We have the opportunity today to ensure that does not happen anymore.

Question put and agreed to.