I welcome the Seanad amendments and any changes that will help to improve this highly problematic legislation. I acknowledge the adopted people and their advocates who have been fighting for the most basic changes, and the Senators who argued for the improvements as well.
We all wanted to get behind this Bill but, regrettably, the major defects and injustices remain. The mandatory information session, labelled a barrier by numerous human rights experts, is still in place and the Bill still does not feature the words "illegal adoption", which ignores the lived experience and wishes of many adopted people. Also, it does not provide for the widest definition of "personal information" to ensure relevant people will have access to all records. These are some of the main issues, and many others remain. There is no hope for those necessary changes now.
Regarding the amendments, amendment No. 1 is very welcome. It ensures that affected people can access information about who made inquiries about them or visited, which could be an important link in identifying family members or other people who were concerned about their welfare.
Amendment No. 3 is especially welcome. It ensures that any public information campaign would have international aspects. This correctly addresses a flaw in the Bill which failed to recognise the reality that many mothers, relatives and adopted people will have emigrated, especially after the deplorable way they were treated by the State and the prevailing social stigmatisation. The importance of the campaign having an international reach was called for in the pre-legislative scrutiny. Adopted people and advocates sought additional guarantees regarding the campaign that were disregarded, particularly the need for a stakeholder advisory group to have input into the design of the campaign.
It is paramount that this campaign is designed with empathy and sensitivity for dealing with these complex and potentially very triggering matters. Having stakeholders involved from the beginning would help in developing a more considered and effective campaign. Unfortunately, without a provision in the Bill to secure the involvement of adopted people and advocates, I have no confidence that they will have input to a Government campaign about them. I remind the Minister about the children's committee recommendation that the information campaign should be accessible and in plain English in a range of media sources, and that simple non-digital routes to access the Bill's provisions must be advertised and made available. Given the Department's poor track record in this area, it is something we must prioritise.
Amendment No. 4 adds greater detail on the review mechanism. This is obviously welcome but, again, it dismissed the committee's recommendation for an explicit reference to the review including meaningful participation of relevant persons, groups representing survivors and families, persons with human rights and data protection expertise and other relevant persons or groups.
Since this is the first time the Bill is being discussed in the Dáil since it went through the Seanad, I add my voice to the voices of those who were disappointed with the way the apology for adopted people was approached. While I have no doubt that the Minister's apology was sincere, it was extremely poorly handled and insufficient for the scale of the rights violations concerned. The horrors of forced family separation, State-imposed trauma, denial of identity and ongoing institutional hostility need to be fully acknowledged and apologised for by the Taoiseach in a special sitting of this House, and adopted people, relatives and campaign groups should be given sufficient notice to attend in person. Anything else is another disgraceful treatment of a group people who have suffered enough abuse from the State since their birth.
This is the first Bill on which I have been directly engaged through the entire legislative process, from pre-legislative scrutiny to the final step. From my perspective, it is deeply concerning the extent to which the will of the people directly affected, who came before the committee, has been dismissed and ignored. These few last-minute amendments are welcome but they only represent a tiny portion of the changes that were sought by the people affected, advocacy groups and the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The Minister says the amendments were based on listening, but if he only accepts a tiny minority of the amendments and proposed improvements, it does not seem like it is listening. Unfortunately, it is adopted people and their relatives who will suffer.
I am not the only Deputy who is confused about the nature of this part of it, that is, of dealing with amendments from the Seanad. I agree to the amendments, but I do not agree with the Bill in its entirety. It seems that we do not have the opportunity to vote on the Bill in its entirety. It would be helpful if we could get clarity on that.