Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 May 1991

Vol. 128 No. 17

Adoption Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is a privilege for me to present this Bill to the Seanad. I am proud of the fact that this legislation was initiated and drafted by Deputy Alan Shatter. I wholeheartedly welcome and appreciate the fact that the Bill has been accepted by the Minister almost in its entirety. When we proposed the Bill in Dáil Éireann we said it would come up for a certain level of finecomb discussion and amendment. We are delighted that that process should take place and we will co-operate fully with it. It is particularly heartening for us to have been ahead in this area of important social legislation.

Basically, the Bill prescribes, for the first time, the legal rules applicable to the recognition of adoptions from outside our country. Children adopted from outside the country will now have legal equality with children adopted in Ireland. The Bill empowers the Minister for Health to designate specific registered adoption societies to become directly involved in making arrangements for inter-country adoptions and imposes a duty on health boards to carry out family assessments and prepare home study reports when requested. It is significant, and we were very conscious of this in preparing the Bill, that no legislation of this kind previously existed. The 1989 report of the Adoption Board requested this type of legislation. It is clear to everyone that the number of children available for adoption here has fallen dramatically, as the number of single mothers who keep their children has increased over the years. None of us would quibble with the desirability of that, when the circumstances are correct. Whatever attitudes we might have on that question are irrelevant to this debate in that what we are discussing here is the social reality that many more single mothers are keeping their children.

Under our current law there is no recognition for children adopted under the domestic laws of other countries. It is a feature of contemporary society that many people go to work abroad for short periods. With the EC becoming more widely understood and accepted there is greater mobility within EC countries. Up to now an anomaly existed whereby a person could go abroad for a short period to work and while abroad adopt a child but that child, while properly adopted abroad, would not have proper legal status here when the parents returned with it. All of us in political life welcome the return of emigrants or people who have lived abroad.

It was unquestionably the plight of thousands of children in orphanages in Romania that was the catalyst for the initiation of this Bill. A number of people in the Minister's constituency, which is also my own constituency, have adopted children in Romania. The Minister will be aware and will have met a number of those people in the Cavan-Monaghan area. This situation has been repeated throughout the country. There are harrowing tales home from Romania from those people. I have heard dreadful stories of orphanages that lack any form of colour, decoration or ornamentation. One of our colleagues here, who will be speaking later, has been to Romania and he will corroborate this. The orphanages in Romania are absolutely barren and dreadful places. Added to that, children are sleeping in cramped conditions with six or seven to a cot. There is an appalling lack of emotional support for the children, an appalling lack of physical support, manifested in malnutrition, and an appalling lack of any kind of environment that would lend itself to proper emotional, psychological or creative development. That is the dreadful reality of Romania. One could hold up the House — and, God knows, it might not be a futile exercise but I do not propose to do it tonight — for a long time talking about the harrowing stories of people who have been to Romania and witnessed the tragedy there.

It was the ordinary people of Ireland who took the initiative on the Romanian question. It is regrettable that it was the ordinary people solely who took the initiative, although that in itself is desirable, but the initiative came completely from ordinary people rather than from the Government. Another human tragedy is that much of the aid that was sent to Romania by well meaning people throughout this country was sold on the black market. I am very proud of the fact that in the capital town of County Cavan there is a very active support group for Romania. It is a horrific concept that items such as soap being sent to the orphanages has to be marked so that it will not be possible to sell it on the black market. We have heard stories of children who got beautiful clothes and were properly dressed one evening only to have them removed the next morning. The conditions that exist in the orphanages in Romania are harrowing and this is being manifested in many ways. I know a person who has adopted a Romanian child of three and a half years of age and that child is not yet able to walk. Those are the kind of physical manifestations of an absolute horror story.

The Romanian orphanage appeal fund in Ireland raised £900,000. They raised that money without any help from central Government and that was a significant achievement. It is only right that public representatives should put on record our admiration for those people. I again urge the Minister and the Government to consider a much more active role to assist people who give voluntary aid to Romania.

There are two orphanages, specifically, where Irish voluntary groups have had a particular input. In one of those orphanages in Tirgoviste there are 150 children who range in age from three to 18 years. In the other orphanage in Videle there are 170 children ranging in age from three to 18 years. In this institution there is grim, harrowing evidence of undernourishment, total deprivation and great human affliction. Again, this raises the question of what we can do to help those people. The World Health Organisation estimate that there are 160,000 children institutionalised in Romania. Those are children of the Ceausescu regime.

I will depart from the essence of the Bill to make this relevant point on this stage. This must undoubtedly nail the lie once and for all with all age groups here that there is anything attractive about the regimes of eastern Europe or that there is anything attractive about the philosophy which gave rise to those regimes. This is an important point and I hope other public representatives will echo this observation. The horrific end product of the philosophy behind regimes such as that of Ceausescu must be brought home clearly to third level students, in particular, and to all young people who may be victims of misguided idealism. The same human tragedy has been repeated throughout eastern Europe. All of us in democratic politics right across the western world should make this point at every available opportunity. I have no doubt that those who ever flirted with or were in any way associated or sympathetic to that kind of philosophy or those kind of regimes must now have egg on their faces and it is not wrong to remind them of that in public. I know that may be slightly extraneous to the matter under consideration but it is a valid observation.

It is worth remembering that the human tragedy recorded by the World Health Organisation was brought about by draconian issues such as the fact that every married woman in Romania was expected, by law, to have five children. Regular tests were held under the Ceausescu regime — and I had this explained to me in harrowing detail by people from the Romanian support group — who were out there in factories and so on to ensure that women were having the maximum number of pregnancies. Of course, all forms of contraception were outlawed.

During 1990, approximately 150 Romanian children were adopted by Irish couples and couples are still going out there. There are currently 450 adopted Romanian children in Ireland. Each couple going to Romania had to have a family assessment carried out to comply with Romanian law. Neither the health boards nor the adoption societies in Ireland co-operated with this process. It is extraordinary that the health boards refused to give them assessments already made when they sought to adopt the Irish context. There was an urgent need to do something about this and that is what this Fine Gael legislation proposes to do. There is an urgent need to establish an adoption agency with responsibility for foreign adoptions and that is the function of this legislation.

The Bill deals with all foreign adoptions and this is an important point. It deals with recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in May 1989. That report noted that increased mobility within the EC probably added to the number of people adopting abroad and coming back to live in Ireland. It was important that the position be regularised.

The Bill specifically proposes that assessments be carried out by the health boards or adoption societies and that those assessments are used in foreign adoptions. Information is coming back to colleagues of mine over the past few weeks — the Minister spoke on this in the Dáil last week — that the health boards are not co-operating with this process and that they are saying it could take up to two years to prepare the assessments.

Does that surprise you?

That is dreadful and I ask the Minister to assure the House that it will not continue. This kind of tardiness in such a sensitive and important area is totally without justification. I know the Minister has already instructed the health boards to give the reports, prior to the enactment of the Bill. Health boards in general are not co-operating fully on this matter. I understand that a meeting has taken place with the Minister on this subject and I ask him to clarify the up-to-date position for the House. A number of my colleagues told me this evening that they have been getting telephone calls from people who had difficulties in this area.

One of the Minister's amendment to the Bill allows the addition of two extra people to the Adoption Board. I strongly recommend that those two people come from the Romanian support group in Ireland because it is important that those people be actively involved. I ask the Minister to respond to that.

This legislation brought forward by Deputy Shatter, sought to deal with an anomaly in the law. He sought to deal with the situation of children resident here who are in a legal limbo and the human distress in relation to this. For that reason I recommend that the Bill be accepted and enacted as quickly as possible.

As Senators are aware, this Bill began as a Private Members' Bill introduced in the Dáil by Deputy Shatter. The Government at the time were in the process of bringing forward a Bill to deal with foreign adoptions when the Private Members' Bill was introduced.

The Government shared the widespread concern about the various difficulties which people who had adopted abroad were encountering with their adoptions and were committed to finding a workable and lasting solution to this problem.

In spite of the serious reservations which they had about some of the provisions contained in the Bill, as introduced, the Government magnanimously decided to accept the principle and overall objective of the Bill, in order to demonstrate their support for parents who have adopted children in Romania, and elsewhere, in recent years and who wanted their position under Irish law regularised.

An important factor which influenced the Government's decision was that, by not opposing its Second Reading, the Bill would be referred to a special committee of the Dáil to be considered in detail. The Government were confident that the special committee appointed to examine the Bill would be successful in devolving and improving the proposals contained in the Bill to ensure that it would provide a secure legal framework for the recognition of foreign adoptions, and to rectify the various defects that existed in the original Bill.

I am very pleased to report that the Government's approach was successful and that the Bill now before the House has been substantially improved as a result of the deliberations of the special committee. I would like to pay a tribute to those Deputies from all sides of the Dáil who were associated with the special committee and to acknowledge the important contribution made by Deputy Shatter to our work. I had a number of discussions with him to tease out a number of issues in relation to the Bill. We succeeded in reaching broad agreement on the issues concerned with the result that a number of the amendments brought forward at the special committee were in our joint names. I am pleased to record that these amendments were accepted by the other members of the special committee in a constructive, non-party political spirit. This all-party co-operation greatly facilitated the work of the special committee and enabled the Bill to proceed quickly through the Dáil, without a division.

This illustrates the level of goodwill on all sides towards the legislation and its objectives. I am confident that the same co-operation will be forthcoming from all the Members of this House. We are all agreed on the desirability of having the legislation enacted as quickly as possible.

I am pleased that section 1 of the Bill now contains a definition of what constitutes a foreign adoption for the purposes of the legislation. I was particularly concerned to ensure that recognition would be confined to adoptions effected in foreign countries which operate a system of legal adoption broadly similar to our own and which provide proper safeguards for the three principle parties involved in any adoption, namely, the child, the natural parent or parents and the adopters.

It is important to bear in mind that the legislation will apply to adoptions effected in any country in the world. I wish to emphasise this, as some reports in the media may have given the impression that the legislation deals exclusively with Romanian adoptions. This is not the case and in examining the Bill it has to be borne in mind that it will apply to adoptions effected in countries throughout the world, some of which have very reputable systems of adoption, whereas in other countries, unfortunately, the buying and selling of children is not unknown. It is essential to ensure that our legislation does nothing to facilitate the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children. I believe that paragraph (e) of the definition of a foreign adoption contained in section 1 achieves this objective. It should be noted that only those foreign adoptions which comply with all of the terms of the definition will be entitled to recognition in the State.

The Bill provides for the recognition of foreign adoptions granted to people who were domiciled or habitually resident in the foreign country at the time of the adoption. These recognition principles are in line with recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in their report on the recognition of foreign adoption decrees. The adoption would, of course, also have to satisfy the criteria set out in the definition of a foreign adoption in order to be entitled to recognition.

The Bill also provides for the recognition of foreign adoptions granted to people who had been ordinarily resident in the foreign country for at least 12 months at the date of the adoption. Our law permits adoption orders to be made in favour of people who have been ordinarily resident in the State for at least one year. It is reasonable, therefore, that adoptions effected abroad in similar circumstances should be entitled to recognition in the State. Here again, the particular adoption would have to comply with the terms of the definition of a foreign adoption in order to qualify for recognition.

Section 5 sets out the circumstances in which a foreign adoption granted to a person or couple who are ordinarily resident in this country will be entitled to recognition. This section replaces a proposal in the Private Members' Bill which would have conferred recognition solely on the basis of the nationality and residence of the adopted child. I had grave reservations about the advisability of that provision which would have resulted in a completely open-ended system of recognition and which would have seriously undermined our own legal adoption system and the important safeguards it contains. I am extremely glad that it was deleted in favour of this alternative approach which I brought forward at the special committee.

Section 5 deals with Irish residents who travel abroad for the sole purpose of adopting a child. Since the adopters' main connection is with this country, their entitlement to recognition must depend, among other matters, on whether they fulfil the eligibility requirements of our own adoption laws.

Section 5 has been designed to cover three categories of adopters. The first category are those people who adopted abroad before 1 April last. Their adoptions will be recognised provided they are eligible to adopt under Irish law and their adoption complies with the terms of the definition of a foreign adoption.

The second category of people are those who applied to the Department of Justice before 1 April for written immigration clearance for an adopted child and who received such a clearance. They did not have to receive the clearance before 1 April; once they applied before 1 April they will have received the clearance since. Where their adoptions are finalised before 1 July next they will be recognised on the same basis as the adoptions completed by people before 1 April last.

The third category of people are those without written immigration clearance from the Department of Justice and who wish to adopt abroad. These people will be required to have their eligibilty and suitability to adopt established before they travel to a foreign country, if their adoption is to be entitled to recognition on their return to this country.

The assessments as to suitability may be carried out by the health boards and the registered adoption societies only, and must be approved by the Adoption Board. In response to Senator O'Reilly, we did meet representatives of each of the health boards and the health boards have a designated person who will now give advice to people who wish to travel to Romania what the best course for them is.

I consider it essential that the procedure for the recognition of foreign adoptions granted to Irish residents in the future must include a proper pre-adoption assessment of their suitability. This is particularly important in the case of adoptions granted in countries which do not require the adopting parents to have had the child in their care of any length of time.

The assessments carried out by the adoption agencies and the Adoption Board in the case of domestic adoptions provide an important safeguard for the welfare of the child. It is vitally important that any child involved in an inter-country adoption enjoys similar safeguards. While the primary responsibility for providing these safeguards rests with the authorities in the foreign country, the State also has a duty to protect the welfare of the child.

This approach is in harmony with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which includes a special provision in relation to inter-country adoption. It requires states to ensure that the child concerned by inter-country adoption enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption.

I believe that section 5, which is the result of a substantial amendment that I brought forward at special committee, is fully in compliance with that requirement. Section 6 was also incorporated in the Bill as a result of another amendment which I brought forward. It provides for the establishment of a register of foreign adoptions which will be kept by the Adoption Board. It will be open to adopters and adopted persons to apply to have their foreign adoptions entered in the register.

Where the Adoption Board enters a foreign adoption in the register the adopters and the adopted person will then be able to obtain a certified copy of the entry. This certificate will be similar to a birth certificate. It will be acceptable for all the purposes for which the adopted person's birth certificate may be required. Moreover, the certificate can be produced, whenever required, as evidence that the foreign adoption is recognised in the State.

The establishment of a register of foreign adoptions is an innovative measure which will be of enormous practical benefit to adopters and adopted persons alike. I am sure it will be warmly welcomed by them and that they will be keen to avail of the new procedure in order to obtain documentary evidence that their foreign adoptions are recognised.

I also availed of the opportunity presented by this Bill to extend the categories of persons eligible to adopt under domestic law and to reduce the minimum age limits for adopting parents. These important changes are provided for in section 10.

The current distinction between the entitlement of a widow and widower to adopt is being abolished.

Minister, I do not like to interrupt but there is a vote in the other House.

Is the Minister paired?

No. In addition, a single person or a separated married person will be permitted to adopt in exceptional cases where the Adoption Board is satisfied that this would be in the best interests of the child.

A standard minimum age of 21 years for adopting parents is also being introduced, except where a parent or relative is adopting the child jointly with a spouse, in which case only one of them will be required to be 21 years of age. The present minimum ages are 21, 25, or 30 years depending on the relationship of the adopters to the child and the duration of their marriage. I do not see a good reason for maintaining these age limits.

The final charge to the Bill as initiated that I would like to draw attention to, is the short Title. The Bill is now called the Adoption Bill, 1990. This change in title was required as a result of the important new responsibilities assigned to the Adoption Board by the amendments accepted in the special committee. The original provisions in the Bill did not envisage any role for the Adoption Board. The changes made in special committee will ensure that the board will have a central role in administering the new legislation. In recognition of this, section 11 provides for an increase in the present membership of the Adoption Board from seven to nine members to cope with the additional workload arising from the processing of applications under the legislation.

I am well pleased that the Bill now before the House is a better Bill as a result of the amendments made in the Dáil. I acknowledge once again the contribution of Deputies of all parties and I look forward to a similar response from the Members of this House.

I commend the Bill, as amended, in the Dáil, to the Seanad.

I will not be long. I appreciate we have a reasonable time limit.

If the House agrees to proceed with the Second Stage debate in the absence of the Minister, we can do that while he goes to vote.

I thought the Minister was paired.

The Minister has not been paired. That was made clear by the Minister a few moments ago.

If I am paired I will come back.

Does the House agree to continue without the Minister?

Yes, I am happy to go ahead. I do not want to hold up the proceedings. This Bill is a difficult Bill to deal with. On the one hand there is the enormous human problem of the people who have, for the most understandable of reasons, taken the opportunity to adopt children who, quite clearly, in the initial phase of the wave of adoptions from Romania in particular, were in desperate need. Everybody could feel that what was being done was a gesture of enormous human worth. The image, which was a true image, was of people who were rescuing children who had no future and bringing them into loving homes where they would have a much better, a more positive future. How could any human being, not least somebody like myself who has three, I hope, cherished children feel anything but compassion and sympathy. If one was to leave it at that, then the whole area of adoption could be left at that.

You are welcome back, Minister. I am very glad that civilisation has prevailed in the other House and that you are obviously paired.

Civilisation has prevailed in this House.

Civilisation always prevails in this House.

Let us get back to business.

We can have a bit of self-praise, an odd time.

Over-indulgence in it is not good for the business.

Senator Honan and I might not be too far in disagreement on some of her recent remarks.

The simplest thing to do with this Bill would be to say it is a great idea and leave it at that. The Bill, as it now stands, is very good legislation which deals with the problems as they exist. On the issue of the adoption of children, whether they be foreign or native adoptions, it is extremely important that always and in all circumstances a couple of principles prevail. The first is, that the rights of the child must always be predominant. We cannot fudge that right of the child by a misguided or uncritical compassion which does not acknowledge that right. The second principle——

On a point of order, may I point out that that is not at issue in the Bill? There is no question of fudging that issue.

The Senator will have an opportunity to reply when concluding.

I have considerable respect for Senator O'Reilly and I do not want to start an argument with him, but the emotional climate in which this legislation was introduced had at least in it the potential to forget some of the basic principles that should underly adoption law. There were undoubted deep human reasons that made people feel that what was happening was wonderful, but the two principles that need to be enshrined in this are that the right of the child is paramount and that the natural parents, if they can be identified, must have made a free choice to give their children up for adoption without inducements or pressure. It is a tragic fact that before the Romanian babies issue arose, there were and there continue to be considerable reservations about the number of children adopted from Third World countries. Such countries tend to have societies where children are very poor and where women and families are under considerable pressure.

It is still right, notwithstanding all of the human problems, that we should regulate adoption procedures in the interests of the children and with proper respect for the rights of the natural parents where they exist or where they can be identified. No amount of perfectly legitimate compassion should prevent us from making sure that those rights are enforced. It is difficult in this case where there has been a large number of adoptions, for instance, to be absolutely certain that the procedures that would have applied in an adoption that took place in this State, in terms of assessing the bonding between the child and parents and of assessing the way in which the adoption process has worked, have been applied and it is impossible in many of the existing cases to ascertain that. A two-tier system of adoption could have developed so that people who adopt children from within this jurisdiction, would have to undergo a very rigorous, and in some specific cases, a too rigorous process, of assessment and, on the other hand, we would have almost a carte blanche approach to people who adopt children from outside the State. The enormous humanitarian instincts of the Irish people should not have allowed us ever to get away from that.

The situation as it currently exists in Romania is not quite as simple as the situation that existed 18 months ago, at the end of the not in the least bit lamented Ceausescu regime. There is some evidence that it is not the children, for instance, for orphanages that are now being offered for adoption. There is some evidence, according to Professor Irene Hillery, as reported in The Irish Times of 15 April, that couples are paying £3,000 to £4,000 for a baby and even £10,000 for a “very good baby”. That is the sort of material which justifies dispassionate legislation. It is the sort of material which makes it obligatory on all of us not to let feelings run away with us and to insist that the same principles must apply. It is very difficult for those who have the privilege of having children to say to people who, for one reason or another, are not in a position to have children, “We must insist on regulating and interfering bureaucratically,” as they would see it, in their right and desire to do what we have the right to do and are able to do without an external interference. If we believe that adoption should be regulated and that there is a proper way to do it in the interests of the natural mother of a child, or indeed, the natural parents of a child, in the interests of the adoptive parents and above all in the interests of the child, then we have to grasp the nettle of the sort of legislation we have here.

The legislation is welcome. Many of the amendments introduced by the Government were both necessary and worthwhile. This Bill should not have become an issue for the exchange of what on a couple of occasions came close to party political abuse. It is far too sensitive an issue for that. It is not an issue on which I would want to score party political points. For instance, it would have helped if the Minister left words like "magnanimously" out of his script about the Government decision to accept the Bill. He could have simply said that the Government decided to accept the principle of the Bill. Sticking in the word "magnanimously" is to a certain extent rubbing people's noses in it a little bit, and we could have done without it. It is a little out of tone with the spirit in which this legislation has moved through both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is not the sort of comment that I would normally expect from this Minister. He is not a man given to revelling in controversy. He has survived controversy by not revelling in it and by rolling with a lot of the punches over the last three or four years with considerable expertise. It is not like him to create a controversy out of nothing by the injudicious use of language.

Leave it alone, then. Do not tell us he said it.

A few minutes ago the Senator was on my side.

I am giving the Senator advice.

Since the occupancy of the Chair changed the Senator has stopped being nice to me. I am now suspicious. I do not want to delay the House unnecessarily, but we are still waiting for legislation to deal with the report of the adoption review body. There are a considerable number of problems identified by a review board which was representative of people who knew a lot about the issue. We need, not just legislation to deal with adoptions, particularly foreign adoptions, but to ensure that proper standards are met in the whole area of adoption, particularly in the insistence on training and skills for people who work in the area of adoption societies.

I am glad we have grasped the nettle, that we have been prepared to insist on standards. In the case of Romania, in particular, the Minister, the Government and all of us may well have to be extremely vigilant to ensure that an adoption industry does not develop. I do not care who says it to me, it is not right, however compassionate the motives, that we should ever allow anything that looks like, or remotely resembles, trade in babies. It is extremely important that however heartrending the human cases may be, that principle should be established. This legislation will go a long way to do that.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill which is of considerable importance to me and to the nation. As was rightly pointed out by Senator O'Reilly, as a result of a severe reduction in the numbers of babies for adoption here, a crisis point had almost been reached in that couples had been waiting sometimes ten and 12 years with little or no hope of getting a baby for adoption at home. Senator Ryan condemned Ceausescu and to a certain extent a lot of the parents who ended up in this situation did so because of the Ceausescu regime and what developed in Romania.

I compliment Deputy Shatter of Fine Gael on his initiative on this matter. The Minister and his staff, with the assistance and co-operation of all parties, were instrumental in bringing in several important amendments to this Bill. Even though the tenets and concept of the Bill presented by Deputy Shatter were right, the Minister must be lauded for making necessary major amendments to the Bill. I am not being political. All the newspapers gave credit solely to Deputy Shatter, whose involvement I acknowledge, but the Minister must be complimented for taking up the task and dealing with it so expeditiously, as it is only four or five months since Deputy Shatter's Bill was brought before the House. The Minister in his wisdom, instead of throwing it aside, decided to sit down with Deputy Shatter and set up a special committee to get this legislation more or less agreed by all parties.

It would be remiss of me not to compliment the parents who went to the trouble of going to Romania and making a very major, serious decision. The number of adopted children who have come here from Romania as Senator O'Reilly said is somewhere in the region of 450. The register, when eventually compiled, will sort that out. It is a difficult, traumatic decision, for a couple here to take it upon themselves to get social reports, home study reports, visas and a letter of consent from the Department of Justice to bring an adopted child in here.

I am glad to say that I am the uncle of adopted Romanian twins. I was delighted to go to Romania last October-November and see at first hand the situation in the homes, and so on. It was very noble of couples who went to Romania to see the children. It was not an easy task. I concur with Senator Ryan who said that the whole idea of Romanian adoptions has become very flowery and attractive. It is a very serious step to take.

Unless couples were extremely lucky they spent six, eight or ten weeks going through the various systems out there. In one case when parents were ready to return to Ireland, it was discovered that the child had AIDS. In a second case, on the morning of the court hearing before the notary public, the child and mother disappeared. Possibly American or Canadian dollars ensured that the mother and child disappeared to another town and fulfilled the adoption process there. I met at least six couples from different parts of Ireland who had a difficult time there. It is wrong to glorify the idea of Romanian adoption. However, there was a basic need here. Many couples had been waiting for six or seven years to adopt a child and they were frustrated. The floodgates had opened. The rush has peaked and even though the new legislation will provide for people who wish to adopt in the future, in Romania, the rush is over. There will be a levelling off.

Some of the officials in Romania who cared, regretted that Irish, English, and, indeed, Americans were arriving to adopt healthy children, leaving those with physical and other disabilities behind. It is what happened. It has been a difficult experience for many couples who had to spend weeks there in difficult conditions. One would have to live there for a couple of days to experience the lack of basic things such as shops and so on. The people are very subdued. Senator O'Reilly pointed out that children are living in desperate conditions in overcrowded orphanages. A bottle was given to those children maybe once or twice a day, and if they could not fend for themselves, or if the bottle fell out of the cot, that was it. Now that some of these children have some love an attention, it is amazing how they have developed physically. They have really progressed in a few weeks.

For many couples it has brought endless happiness. It is a dream come true for many couples who were really trapped in a situation here. I admire and compliment the couples who for many years could not succeed in adopting a child here but took it upon themselves to travel to Romania, sometimes on two or three occasions to fulfil their dream. They have given an opportunity and a home to infants and children as old as three and four years, who otherwise would probably never experience life as we experience it, but would have been left in institutions for the rest of their lives.

The amended Bill before us basically regulates our laws as up to this we could not legally recognise foreign adoptions. The Government and all parties have made sure that this lack was put right in this Bill. As the law stood, if one brought children back from Romania there would have been serious problems in relation to succession laws and so on. The adoptions would not have been recognised. Under this legislation children who have now been brought in will be treated in the same way as if they had been adopted in this country. This is welcome and essential.

I compliment the Minister and all those concerned in that this Bill also allows single people to adopt in restricted circumstances. Our Adoption Board have very high standards, possibly the best in Europe. There was a free-for-all in the last 12 months. To get us back on the rails it is important that the Adoption Board play a leading role in ensuring that the welfare of the child is at all times of paramount importance. The Minister introduced a vital role for the Adoption Board and this must be lauded. He has increased the number on the board from seven to nine. It is important that an agency such as the Adoption Board which has wide experience here will be given a leading role to play. The Minister must be complimented for that. It is a step worthy of praise.

There were some adverse comments about the health boards and the Adoption Board in that up to now they were slow or reticent in assisting couples who wanted to go abroad to adopt. The reality is that up to the introduction of this Bill, the Adoption Board and the health boards had no jurisdiction whatsoever to deal with this situation. It is unfair to criticise the health boards or the Adoption Board for their lack of interest. They had to take a neutral stance. In all cases the Department of Justice were very cooperative in issuing a letter. There was tacit agreement that the Department of Justice would issue a letter so that when a couple entered the country with a child they were entitled to do so. I compliment the Department of Justice for their work to date.

Another advance that must be attributed to the Minister and to his staff, was the setting up of a register. It is vitally important that this be done, for a number of reasons. To date, there is uncertainty as to who has adopted which child. There is an urgent need to compile this register as soon as possible and get the facts and figures regarding these children on record. In the long term, this register will provide records for the children as they grow older and need certificates and so on when they wish to go to college or whatever. I understand that certificates will be issued in the same way as birth certificates. This is crucial. The Minister should be lauded for this amendment.

I do not want to go into the details of the Bill. This legislation is very straightforward. The Minister and all parties recognised and dealt with the problem. There were three different types of situations. First, there were the couples who went abroad last year and adopted independently. Second, there are the people who are going abroad with their letters of consent and provided they have their letter in by 1 July they will be allowed go ahead, the only assessment being necessary is the one they themselves will do.

The third situation is the regulatory situation. After 1 July, the Adoption Board will be playing a crucial role for any couple who want to go to Romania. Perhaps I am over-emphasising the situation in Romania because it could also take in places like Brazil, South America and possibly some eastern countries, such as Bangladesh and Turkey, where there are serious problems at the moment. I am glad the Minister cleared this up because there was a concept abroad that this was a Romanian Adoption Bill. That is not the case. It is broader than that. It covers the whole world, and that is very important.

It is a very personal decision when a couple, or in certain cases a single person, take it upon themselves to adopt. In future they will have to go through the Adoption Board and be properly assessed so that when the children — the child is of paramount importance at all stages — are brought back they will get a good home and it is ensured that the people who go abroad to adopt are both suitable and eligible. That is crucial and that is the role that the Adoption Board will play in the future as a result of the Minister's amendment.

The net result of this legislation will be to bring peace of mind to 300 or 400 couples who have already gone abroad and adopted children, primarily from Romania but not exclusively. Previously, it was a great source of worry. There was the trauma of going out there, bringing the child back, getting AIDS tests done, checking for different diseases, having blood samples done, trying to decide which child to take, travelling from orphanage to orphanage. It was a very harrowing experience. But, having done all of that, they were coming back here to the uncertainty that the laws in this country were not adequate to deal with the situation. The Bill now before us recognises the difficulties and ends a situation that was most undesirable.

I could speak on this topic for another two or three hours because of my own experiences, but I do not think that politics in Romania should be brought into it. This is legislation that is being put expeditiously through both Houses. All concerned must be lauded, because the Romanian problem arose only about 12 months ago. This is a typical example of parliamentary teamwork whereby all parties put this very sensitive issue to the forefront.

The Minister complimented Deputy Shatter. He is a man for whom I have great respect and I have read his book on family law. He is a leading figure in this field and I think the Minister and the Government recognised the sensitive issue. They sat down together; they set up a commission and within two to three months this matter had been ironed out and some very crucial amendments have been made, because the Bill as originally submitted to the other House by Deputy Shatter contained certain flaws. I am not being derogatory in any way, but the old saying is that two heads are better than one and when all the parties came together on this these flaws were ironed out. If it had been rushed into last December or January we would be dealing with deficient legislation, we would be forced to make amendments and that would be an undesirable situation. All parties have agreed on the Bill as it now stands.

I welcome the support from other Senators and I think that the concept and principle of the Bill can only be welcomed. I am quite satisfied that it will bring peace of mind, happiness and a sigh of relief to parents who have brought children from Romania to this country. They deserve this, because it was a very noble gesture to travel abroad and take it upon themselves to bring a child, and in some cases three and four children, back to Ireland and give them a home. These people are the winners and they deserve praise. I hope that by the end of this month the position will be resolved in their favour, that the register will be set up immediately and that the new role for the Adoption Board with regard to future adoptions will be in place.

There is a fear among certain couples currently thinking of going abroad — possibly to Romania — to adopt a child that this legislation is in some way going to stop them. That is not the case. In fact, it gives a legal sanction to new adoption and they will be guided by the Adoption Board. The Minister has said that in each health board area a person will be assigned to assist couples looking for information on foreign adoption, etc. When the new system is working, hopefully before the end of this session, or certainly before the autumn, it will be welcomed as a desirable approach to this situation.

Like other speakers, I compliment Deputy Shatter on introducing the Bill and, indeed I compliment the Minister on his open-minded attitude to the Bill by way of adopting a proposal from a party other than his own and modifying and improving it.

Unlike Senator Ryan, I would not take exception to the Minister using the term "magnanimous" in reference to himself, because the last thing I would have associated with this Minister is triumphalism. There would be many other aspects on which I might criticise him, but certainly I would never ascribe triumphalism to him. It must also have been something of a consolation to the Minister to see Senator O'Reilly introduce his legislation with such dexterity. Indeed, I am sure the Minister must have felt that should he ever move into opposition and should Senator O'Reilly's party ever again get into Government, which seems a trifle unlikely at present, Senator O'Reilly would make an excellent Minister for Health and would keep the Health brief in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, which I am sure must be a consolation to both of them.

I, too, am pleased that the anxieties of the 500 or so Irish couples who will benefit directly from this legislation will be alleviated. This is desirable, and it was somewhat touching to hear Senator O'Donovan talk about his own immediate family experience in relation to this matter. However, having said that and having acknowledged that the Bill is much improved on when it was introduced initially, I also share Senator Ryan's concern about the welfare of the child being the first priority above all other priorities. I would also be concerned about the protection and safeguarding of the rights of these children's natural parents.

I make these statements not by way of scaremongering or to disturb anybody, as that is the last thing I would wish to do, but because of some of the information which is at hand. It seems to me that we are going to be dependent on Romanian standards and Romania's capacity to see that those standards are adhered to. We in Ireland will to some extent be dependent on that when these adoptions take place. I am very concerned that these standards, which may appear to be all right on paper, are actually adhered to in practice. I am very concerned that we would have copperfastened guarantees that that happens and I am not at all satisfied that that is the case.

I express these concerns for a number of reasons. I express them for the same reason that Senator Ryan saw fit to quote the statement from Professor Irene Hillery from University College, Dublin. At the risk of repeating what Senator Ryan said, she spoke in terms of £3,000 to £4,000 being paid per baby and £10,000 for a "very good one." That is very disturbing by any standards and it has to give rise to great anxiety. I am further concerned because of reports in The Observer newspaper of 27 January 1991, in which a report written by Victoria Clarke headlined “How You Can Sell Your Kids for $500” spoke of a gypsy woman offering two girls for sale for £500 a pair adding: “But Lousie baulks at buying the toddler when she clings to her mother.” You could say there is an element of sensationalism in that. You can make what you like of it but it is there in black and white in what is by any standards a reputable international newspaper.

I will go further and quote from a statement by Mr. Hans van Loon of The Hague Conference on Private and International Law. I gather he was speaking in Trinity College on 8 May 1991. He spoke in fairly grim and disturbing terms. He had just returned from Romania and he said:

... there are now well established Romanian "Mafia-networks" of adoption black marketeers. The greatest demand now is not for those children in the institutions but for new-born babies. Women are being targeted in the early stages of pregnancy, with a view to the sale of their babies at a few days old.

This is from an international expert. I do not know the man and I do not know of his reputation personally, but I am disturbed that somebody who has a reputation like that should say such things and I am not satisfied those allegations have been adequately refuted.

I fully understand and I have the greatest sympathy for the tremendous anxieties which drive people who want to adopt children. The last thing I would wish to do would be to disturb those people but, at the same time, we have to bear in mind the principle enunciated by Senator Ryan when he spoke in terms of the welfare of the child being the first priority and the rights of the parents also being very important. Children come into this country and I have no objection to that happening — indeed, in many ways it can be very desirable — but I am concerned that appropriate standards, in other words Irish standards, should be applied in those situations. It is very disturbing when you see that kind of thing, when you read about money changing hands, hear the stories going the rounds of all sorts of things going on, of people going out to Romania and some of them apparently agreeing to pay money and then finding that the ante is jacked up half-way through the process. I cannot quote direct figures or sources on that as it is hearsay. The nature of these things is that most of it will hinge on hearsay but there are the hard statements from Professor Hillery, from this gentleman who spoke in Trinity College and indeed the report in The Observer newspaper.

These are my anxieties and my concerns. I am very anxious that under no circumstances should standards be applied to Romanian children that would not be acceptable in this country. If Irish standards are applied to their adoption then, as far as I am concerned, it is great; but if that does not happen I would be very concerned and anxious that the Minister would reassure us that in all circumstances the basic buying and selling of children will not happen. I think that is appalling and Irish people, no matter what awful situation they might find themselves in, should not be part of it.

There is one other item of concern and that relates to the role of health board social workers in monitoring and looking after these children, ensuring that proper standards are applied to them in Ireland. My concern about that provision relates to the crisis in the health boards at present and the fact that the boards are nearly broke. They are stretched to the ultimate for money and I have great difficulty in seeing how that extra work can be funded. I am very anxious that the Minister would reassure us that adequate funding will be provided to support social workers who are designated to do this type of work. Having sounded those notes of caution and concern about the whole process, I welcome the Bill. I hope it will solve the anxieties of the 500 or so Irish parents who have adopted children from foreign countries.

First, I would like to place on record my unreserved support for the Bill before us this evening. I would also like to say how happy I am that there is so much goodwill and support both in the Dáil and in this House for this Bill. It is nice to see everybody agreeing to a piece of legislation. It is only right that we should congratulate Deputy Shatter for introducing this Bill, and also to congratulate the Minister for the many improvements he made to the original Bill.

I would also like to say how happy I am that the Minister clarified what is called the second category of people who applied to the Department of Justice before 1 April for written immigration clearance for an adopted child and received such a clearance. Where the adoption is finalised before 1 July they will be recognised on the same basis as the adoptions completed by people before 1 April last. I had a number of people who were very concerned who had applied before that date, as it looked at one stage that they were not going to get a clearance to bring a child into the country. Happily, all of them have now got that clearance and they are now either in Romania or planning to go to Romania so that they can adopt a child. They are all very happy that situation has been clarified.

This proposed legislation represents a timely initiative in seeking to regularise satisfactorily an undesirable situation which has arisen over the past 12 months or so in Ireland. This relates to adoptions effected abroad, particularly in Romania. No legislation exists in this country which states the particular circumstances in which a foreign adoption can be recognised and due status conferred. Equally, as I understand it, there is an absence of any case law in this area which gives any indication of how this anomalous position which has arisen could be regarded. Nevertheless, the report of the Law Reform Commission indicates that some statute law does proceed on the assumption that recognition and principles exist. Given the complexity and intricacy of the law relating to adoption procedures in Ireland, this Bill represents a comprehensive and sensitive piece of legislation which should confer proper status and insert the correct safeguards for parents who have gone through an adoption process abroad.

The appalling spectacle in Romania touched the hearts of many people here, particularly couples who were seeking to adopt. The plight of abandoned babies and children who could not be properly looked after by their natural parents provoked a singularly humanitarian and compassionate response there. The Irish couples who despite all the obstacles travelled to Romania and secured adopted children deserve our congratulations. Moreover, they are now entitled to have their adoptions duly recognised in this State and to avoid any difficulties which might arise, we must ensure the necessary safeguards are put in place as a matter of urgency. It is critical that formal legal status be confered so that the interests of the children and the adoptive parents are adequately safeguarded and that any doubt or uncertainty surrounding the adoption and the circumstances be cleared up once and for all.

I would agree with a number of the other speakers who discussed the trafficking and exploitation of children in certain countries. Obviously, it is imperative that we make sure that there is no adoption industry. Because of the falling birthrate in Ireland and because there is an increasing number of people who wish to adopt children, we have to be very watchful of the source and make sure that people are not using a difficult situation in certain countries to make fast money on the quick adoption of children. I think that will be vital in future, because I believe that in future we will see more pressure in this area and I hope we will keep a very close eye on what could be a very serious problem.

As I said earlier, the law relating to adoption in Ireland is of an extremely complicated nature. By its essence the legislation must be sensitive and relevant to the interests of all parties involved. In Ireland the interests and welfare of the child are afforded paramount importance. The rights of the natural parents are observed, together with the rights of the adoptive parents. These necessary elements are also incorporated in this Bill, given the peculiar circumstances relating to foreign adoptions. These interests must continue to be vigorously protected and reinforced.

I believe there are approximately 150 to 200 Romanian children now adopted in this country. It is of the utmost importance that the welfare of the children be safeguarded adequately and, equally, that the adoptive parents be given security of having the foreign adoption order recognised as properly enshrined in legislation. More and more couples are seeking to adopt children outside the State. In recent years the number of children available for adoption has been diminishing rapidly. This situation has brought into very sharp focus in the Romanian situation these adopted children who would otherwise have been confined to an orphanage enjoying no legal status here. The Bill before us is absolutely vital to ensure legal protection for these children. Recognition principles must be thoroughly defined particularly in view of increasing foreign adoptions with the imminence of 1992 and increased freedom of movement between member states. It is now important to have the situation regularised and that express provisions be inserted which affect such fundamental rights as the capacity to exercise parental rights and attendant matters relating to succession, maintenance and taxation. At all costs, uncertainty must be avoided,

I welcome the Bill. There are many people out there who are very happy about it and also there are many children who are going to be very happy and secure in proper homes because of this Bill.

Like the other speakers I welcome this Bill without reservation and I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister here.

It is good to see a combined effort on the part of Deputy Shatter on the one hand and the Minister and his colleagues on the other, who have put together legislation that in my view offers great hope for the future. This Bill will make possible the adoption of children from outside this country for the first time. We had a situation in existence here for some time whereby children could be adopted but never before had we the position where people could adopt from outside the country. This is very significant and I would like to pay tribute to Deputy Shatter, to the Minister and to all concerned in bringing this legislation before the House.

As was said earlier, we are not talking here exclusively about Romania. Romania happens to be the country on which attention is focused at present. We are effectively talking about the world. This legislation will be relevant to all parts of the world as time goes on. It is vital that we all fully recognise that we are talking here about legal equality. We are talking about matters that relate for instance, to such vital documentation as passports; we are talking about the whole area of inheritance and the full legal status of these children. We are not talking about bringing in children and making them part of a family. We are bringing in these children and they are part of the family just the same as any other members of that family or, if there are no other members of the family, they are fully fledged members of the family with total equality from a legal point of view. This cannot be overstated, nor can the attention the Minister and others took to ensure that that is part and parcel of the Bill.

The Bill also enables the Minister for Health to be involved in the whole area of regulations and the designation of particular agencies with regard to adoption measures in the future. This is also important. Some months ago certain individuals took the initiative to go to Romania to adopt children. They did this on their own initiative, there was no legislation in place, there was no official mechanism or any official formula by which they could operate. I personally know of a number of people, including some of my own relations who have been to Romania and have adopted babies. They are extremely happy and proud of these young children.

Adoption for those persons who do not have a family of their own is something of vital importance. While adoption here was perhaps a thing of the past, because of the scarcity of babies for adoption, it is indeed a matter of great encouragement that there is another market — I use the word "market" with the greatest of respect in this context — whereby people can go to get children that they cannot and could not get at home. For example, from the years 1964 to 1984 we had 1,200 adoptions here. Since 1984 there has been a continuing decrease in that figure. In 1989 a meagre 615 children were adopted. Indeed, 400 of those were to couples who were not related to the child being adopted. These figures illustrate very clearly that the concept of adopting children in Ireland was fast coming to an end unless we had measures of the sort contained in this Bill which hopefully will bring joy to many people for many years to come. It is vital that we look on matters in that light.

The Minister referred to age limits. I would like to put a question to him. It was not absolutely clear in his speech whether the current age limits for adoption in Ireland will still rigidly apply. I would say strongly to the Minister that the current age limits are a bit prohibitive, severe and restrictive for couples who could adopt. There are many couples over the age of 40 who could make excellent parents if given the opportunity, but legislation so far has prevented them from being considered. That might be a separate question, but it is relevant.

There are thousands of people in this country who for one reason or another are not blessed with a family of their own. Those of us who are fortunate to have our own families do not always appreciate what the other people are missing. We take it for granted when we have a healthy family but it is indeed a blessing from the Lord. We do not sufficiently realise the great blessing it is to have a family. I often say to friends that those childless couples are fortunate that they do not realise the happiness children bring to a marriage because otherwise life would be more difficult for them. Thankfully the road has been opened up and for those who wish to adopt there would be great possibilities here.

As I said, Romania is only one country. There are many other countries from where adoptions have been made over the last ten years, countries like Peru, Ecuador, Chile. Though small in number perhaps, 30 or 40 in all, these adoptions were not or could not be recognised in this country. It indicates to us the possibilities that are out there for people who genuinely want to adopt. There will, and correctly so, be positive and definite standards laid down by the Adoption Board when the legislation comes into force. There will be a total and regular scrutiny of the position of the adoptive parents and there will also be a fair scrutiny of the children being adopted. This is a mutual protection for the parents and indeed for the children who will be adopted. It is important that children be placed in secure, stable homes and not thrown to the winds. Many of the children we have in here, in Romania, Chile, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have not known security. It would be tragic if these children were again confronted with instability. For that reason I support the measures put forward by the Minister whereby there will be careful scrutiny of people proposing to adopt foreign children to make sure that these children will be received into established homes.

From a report published by OECD we understand that 160,000 children remain in institutions in Romania, an indication of the number of misfortunate children hoping to be adopted. People who have been to these orphanages in Romania have spoken of heartrending scenes when youngsters of two and three years of age come to them in the unspoken hope of being adopted. We have also heard of cases in some Romanian orphanages before the overthrow of their famous leader where children were left in cots for six or more days with broken limbs and uncared for. This intolerable situation cannot be accepted now or in future. We must look to parts of the world where children are in need of adoption. Let us do the best we can for Romania but be careful not to bring children into the country if we cannot provide for them or offer them the lives they are entitled to expect.

We are talking about countries throughout the world that will seek to adopt children from Romania and from other countries. We are a small island on the periphery of Europe but we can and will do our share to take up many of these children who would otherwise be left in a hopeless situation. Regardless of what is done it has to be acknowledged that many children, including those who are mentally or physically handicapped, will be left in residential homes. There is a well-known home in Videle, housing 170 handicapped children. It is frightening to think of that number of severely handicapped children in one home. Several other homes have large numbers of handicapped children too. I am certain the problem is even greater than we imagine. Irish people have visited Romania but have not perhaps seen the worst sights of all. We have seen enough to tell us that the situation is grave.

We must make sure that all qualifying functions referred to already by other speakers and myself are fully met. Unless parents are equipped financially, emotionally and in every other way to cope with a family situation they should not be involved in foreign adoption. We are not talking about a trading situation but about a personalised one. The Minister and all concerned have done trojan work in formulating this legislation and I hope it will meet with the full acceptance of this House and go on the Statute Book shortly to enable people to go to Romania and other countries with the full assistance of the Irish Government to adopt children, bring them home and give them lives they would not otherwise enjoy.

Sufficient numbers of children for adoption are not available in Ireland because many people who bear children outside marriage do not give them up for adoption. Coupled with that, a high proportion go to England and other places for illegal abortions. Those facts are regrettable but must be acknowledged. There has been a long waiting period for adoptive parents up to now which is connected with the question of age, which I raised with the Minister earlier. Couples at present have to be married three years before they can apply to adopt a child; they are then placed on a waiting list and when that waiting period is over many would have exceeded the the age limit, which as far as I can recollect, is 40 years for a woman and 45 years for a man. The Minister might clarify that point.

The Departments of Health, Justice and Foreign Affairs all have a vital role to play working in unity to make this effort operate meaningfully and effectively. I am certain that these three Departments, their Ministers and the various persons working with them will establish clear records essential for all children coming into our country. We welcome these children it is for us as a nation and as individuals to do the best we can for them.

Reference was made earlier to independent adopting and to 1 July as a date of departure. Official adoption measures are necessary to enable individuals to go to Romania and other countries to select their own children. The journey may not be necessary in all cases. People who have been to Romania say there is an efficient policing system to ensure that no money changes hands, something which is very important.

This legislation when fully approved should be made retrospective to cover all foreign children adopted over the past couple of years. We will be governed by foreign standards and must, therefore, face up to our responsibilities and make certain we are prepared to deal with any situation. The social workers mentioned will play a vital role in this area.

I am overjoyed with this legislation because many people over the years have tried unsuccessfully to adopt children and this legislation offers a major breakthrough. I salute the Minister for Health, Deputy O'Hanlon, and my colleague, Deputy Shatter, for their combined efforts in introducing this legislation. Let us not try to score points; that is not the intention of the Minister. Their combined efforts have brought about an excellent result. I wish this legislation every success and I hope it will do what I expect it to do.

We have enjoyed an excellent Second Stage debate with high level of contribution in terms of content and sincere motivation. I welcome the Minister's attitude to the debate and I do not share Senator Brendan Ryan's sensitivity about the choice of words used. I admire the reforming work done by Deputy Shatter during his time in this Legislature. He will be recognised by social historians as one of the great reformers of this era, a person of forward looking views with an in-depth understanding of the present needs of society.

This Bill is a great tribute to Deputy Shatter's understanding of social legislation, of contemporary society and to his reforming outlook. Senator Brendan Ryan, a person with a commitment to social legislation and reform, made one or two comments I would like to respond to. I think he would accept that babies brought into Ireland from the institutions in Romania were leaving horrific situations, that they have become the centrepiece of the activity. There was no sense in which the rights of the child in that context were compromised; a tremendously positive endeavour was made on behalf of those children.

I accept Senator Ryan's point generally about the abhorrent notion of a trade in babies. We must be vigilant on this matter. This Fine Gael legislation contains subsections in which recommendations are made about the Adoption Board and about the regulation of assessment methods which indicate sensitivity for the rights of the child. On an international level, we must guard against any possibility of a trade in babies.

I congratulate Senator O'Donovan on becoming an uncle; he has reason to be proud of that. I welcome his contribution and that of Senator Upton who made complimentary remarks about my presentation of the Bill. He also referred to the question of payment for babies.

You believed every word he said, Senator.

Nobody, least of all Deputy Shatter, would entertain such a horrendous concept. The contributions of Senators Eoin Ryan and Richard Hourigan were also welcome. Senator Hourigan brought his general breadth of knowledge to the debate. However, I would take issue with him when he identifies abortion as a significant factor in terms of the number of babies available for adoption. There are fewer babies available for adoption because family size has reduced where two parents work, which is the modern economic set up. Single mothers tend to keep their children since the social stigma associated with that has been removed. I do not accept that abortion is a major factor in the non-availability of babies for adoption.

This legislation accommodates people until 1 July who have already received letters of permission to adopt. Prior to Deputy Shatter's legislation there was no legal status available in the Republic of Ireland for children adopted internationally, whether by parents who lived for periods abroad or by people on a once-off mission to somewhere like Romania. Such children had no rights of inheritance or citizenship rights and occupied a position of inequality relative to Irish-born children in the same family. The salient aspect of this legislation relieves the psychological trauma and economic implications involved for those parents. That situation is rectified by this legislation which also acclaims those people motivated to go to Romania to adopt children. It acclaims those who voluntarily — and regrettably I have to say without Government assistance — raised money for Romania during the orphanage appeals. It gives those people an assurance by the Legislature that they are being supported.

The third significant point is that further important recognition might be given by including Romanian people specifically on the Adoption Board so that they receive formal recognition at that level. Given the attitude displayed by the Minister to the legislation so far, I am hopeful. It is important that the boards contain people with expertise in foreign adoptions, the foreign situation and its difficulties.

This extremely timely legislation is another example of Fine Gael reforming social legislation and we are happy with the Minister's acceptance of it. It would be churlish not to admit that. We are proud we initiated it and are gratified by the thoughtfulness and sincere conviction of contributions to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.