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.