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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 May 1991

Vol. 128 No. 17

Adoption Bill, 1990: Committee and Final Stages.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

The admirable provision of subsection (1) (e) making trade in babies illegal is something to which we all subscribe. May I say mildly to Senator O'Reilly that whether the children are extremely deprived or not, it would still be wrong to have any suggestion of a trade in babies. Half a million children die each year from malnutrition around the world, many of them in worse conditions than the very visible babies in Romania. However, it would still be wrong not to protect Romanian babies because of the possibilities of exploitation.

How is subsection (1) (e) to be enforced by investigation to ensure that a foreign adoption comes within the definition? We could be talking not only of Romania but about the Philippines, for instance, or about distant countries outside the normal range of communications and with different cultures. What procedures does the Minister have in mind to ensure that there will not be a covert, if not overt, exchange of money?

A number of speakers have mentioned the question of trafficking in babies, etc. Speaking as somebody who was in Romania for some time and who has personal knowledge of the situation this fear is over-exaggerated, although I understand Senator Ryan's concern. I know of at least one dozen couples from Ireland who went to Romania for very honourable reasons and although it was difficult to deal with interpreters, etc. Irish couples would shy away from any type of trafficking in babies.

It would be incorrect for other countries to assume that Irish couples were getting involved in a black market situation. The Romanian authorities, despite their shortcomings, were quite thorough in appearing before the local magistrate or equivalent to a notary public, of being satisfied that both the mother and father in each case I am aware of consented and that the consent was obtained legitimately. I accept that from time to time this procedure of consent could be abused. Other nationalities — it would be wrong of me to go into it — did use the power of the dollar to persuade mothers to give over children but that was the exception rather than the rule. It would be remiss of me not to mention that.

This is an excellent Bill. Whatever other countries do, my experience of the Irish couples indicates they would avoid trafficking in children. The vast majority, if not all, of Irish couples who brought in Romanian babies were above-board in what they did and they should be admired and congratulated.

It was my information, talking to some parents who adopted Romanian babies, that in so far as extortion was involved it was by taxi drivers, petty officials and people other than parents. There was no evidence of financial transactions for the babies. It is not an issue in this legislation.

I agree with Senator O'Donovan that trafficing in babies is not an issue and it has not come to light that Irish couples are trading in babies or buying babies abroad. Nevertheless, it is important that we provide for such an eventuality in law. The implementation of the subsection raised by Senator Brendan Ryan will be a matter for the Adoption Board who will have sole discretion in that. One way in which they may do it is to ask for a sworn affidavit. As they gain experience of foreign adoption from different countries — at the moment the majority of Irish couples are going to Romania to adopt babies — they will build a relationship with the country in which the adoption takes place. I have no doubt that they will be able to ensure as time goes on that they will be able to control such a situation and implement that subsection.

I was not suggesting anything other than the best of motives on the part of the Irish couples. We are all at one on that. However, while Irish couples may not be involved, baby trading is worldwide problem at this stage.

We have little jurisdiction or control over people apart from our own. We have tried to monitor such cases.

That is my point. It is important that this issue should not be wished away because we wish it would not happen. I am grateful to the Minister who is being magnanimous in his responses.

Question put and agreed to.

There was general agreement on the Order of Business this morning that the House would adjourn at 10 p.m. but it was also agreed that all Stages of this Bill would be taken today. If the House agrees, we could continue for a short period. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 1:
In page 5, subsection (3) (a), lines 26 and 27, to delete "that subsection" and substitute "those subsections".

This is just a drafting amendment to correct a technical defect in paragraph (a) of section 5(3).

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 6, subsection (5), line 6, to delete "B".

Amendment No. 2 is a further drafting amendment to delete a reference to (B) in the first line of section 5 (5).

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Briefly, in regard to subsection (I) b (iii) (II) (b), is it possible for a couple who have adopted a foreign baby to be subsequently ruled unsuitable? What happens to the baby in that case?

Even when the law is implemented, perhaps, people will adopt children abroad and bring them into the country. This Bill purely recognises foreign adoptions. At the moment children who have been adopted abroad are not recognised by the State. In future, if people do not comply with the legislation, when the baby comes into the State the baby will not be officially adopted. There are many babies in the State at present who have been adopted in countries around the world, not just Romania, whose adoptions are not recognised.

I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily. Will the best authorities of the State, the health boards or adoption societies, rule that people are unsuitable to adopt a child? Will the child be left with them in that case?

Under the new legislation it will be necessary for a couple, before they go abroad to adopt, to have their eligibility established. The health board will be responsible for that but the health board may, if they wish, delegate that authority to an adoption society. When their suitability is established to the satisfaction of the health board it will then be sent to the Adoption Board who will give a certificate of eligibility which will entitle the couple to receive a clearance certificate from the Department of Justice to bring a baby into the State.

Will the legislation apply retrospectively to babies that have been brought in from Romania and other countries such as Peru, Chile and Ecuador over the last number of years but, particularly, to the 450 babies from Romania in the last number of months?

Section 5 deals in great detail with a retrospective facility for recognition of adoptions of children who are already in the State. In the case of children brought into the State before 1 April, provided certain criteria are met, their adoptions will be recognised without the parents having to establish their eligibility. After we announced in the Dáil on 15 March that there would be a cut-off time of 1 April we recognised that it would pose a problem for certain couples who, perhaps, were in Romania on 1 April or who had a substantial amount of their procedure for adoption completed, and, therefore, we decided to extend the date. In the case of a child brought into the State before 1 July, where the couple had applied to the Department of Justice for an emigration clearance certificate before 1 April, those people have now got an extension until 1 July to have their adoptions declared in the country of adoption. Again, that is subject to certain criteria being met but I expect a very small number of couples, if any, will be ineligible. It is a special facility for people who have already adopted children. Following the enactment of this legislation it will be necessary for a couple to have their eligibility established. I would advise couples to consult with their local health board.

In reference to a number of points made during Second Stage about health boards, the health boards have designated at least one person and, in some instances, up to four people, depending on the number of counties involved, to respond to queries from the public. I understand the difficulty for the boards in providing a facility to establish eligibility in the absence of legislation. We wrote to the boards in March and asked them to be sympathetic to people who approached them. We met a designated representative of each of the boards last week and the boards are co-operating. It is understandable, in the absence of legislation, that there was a certain reluctance and, indeed, confusion as to what their role should be. They have accepted this and are quite sympathetic to the situation.

I welcome what the Minister has said. I did not frivolously bring up the point, it had been talked about by my colleagues. I asked a few of my colleagues about the legislation and about what should be said tonight. A number of them, who are very involved with this, said they had telephone calls to the effect that the health boards were not co-operating. I am delighted that is cleared up and I welcome that.

Question put an agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 7, subsection (1), line 20, after "section 6 (2)” to insert “of this Act”.

This is a technical, drafting amendment as has been recommended by the parliamentary draftsman. The purpose of the amendment is to make it absolutely clear that the section 6 referred to in the first line of section 7 (1) is section 6 of this Act.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 7, as amended, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 8, subsection (3), line 24, before "section 5”, to insert “the said”.

Again this is a technical drafting amendment that has been recommended by the parliamentary draftsman to make it absolutely clear that the reference in the section is to section 5 of this Act.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 8, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I would like to refer to a point that was raised about the facilities available to the health boards to ensure that they will be in a position to carry out the assessments. We have provided funding for 40 extra social workers to the health boards in the current year. They are provided for child care generally. That will ensure that the boards will be in a position to carry out the assessments. It is fair to say that the boards will carry out the assessments in a reasonable time. Reference was made to two years during the Second Stage debate, but I do not think it will take that long. However, it is important to point out that an assessment is not something that can be done like an examination in a doctor's surgery, it will take a certain length of time. A number of Senators referred to the need to ensure that the highest standards are maintained in the interests of the child, therefore, assessment and establishment of eligibility will take time. It will take a number of months but I have no doubt that the health boards will do a thorough job and they will not take any shortcuts.

This is relevant to the Bill but it may be pushing it a little to far. The review body on adoption had some very strong remarks to make about the uneveness of the training of personnel of registered adoption societies. Is there some way of ensuring that adoption societies carrying out this very sensitive work employ staff that are adequately trained?

In relation to this legislation, that will be a matter for the health boards. They will have responsibility for that and may delegate that responsibility to adoption societies. I will take that point up with the boards. From my own experience with adoption societies, they maintain very high standards. Perhaps from time to time there has been a shortfall but from my experience they take their work very seriously and maintain a very high standard. They employ social workers of a very high calibre. However, I will raise that point with the health boards.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 9 to 12, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I do not intend to delay the House. This is important legislation. Senator O'Reilly stated that this is a Fine Gael Bill and I accept that it was initiated by Deputy Alan Shatter. However, it is historic in that we have this extraordinary new thinking by the Minister, Deputy O'Hanlon to whom I do not always pay tribute, as he is well aware. I do so this evening on Report Stage of this Bill because it is important that we all accept the way it has gone through the House. The title, Adoption Bill, 1990, is also relevant, because not alone does it cover Romanian children, it also covers children of other nations. I am glad that the Minister has given clearance to provide extra child care social workers in health boards to deal specifically with these problems. That clears up the worries some of us had earlier.

I wish to pay tribute to Senator O'Donovan on his excellent, personally motivated address. This is important when speaking on legislation. I would also like to pay tribute to Senator O'Reilly and to the Minister for going down this road. At times we are blinded on all sides of the House. We do not intend going out of Government, but if we do and are on the other side, I hope the Government side will be as generous in looking at legislation we might introduce.

I would like to thank Senators O'Reilly, O'Donovan, Eoin Ryan, Hourigan, Brendan Ryan and Upton for their constructive contributions to the Bill. I would like to thank you a Chathaoirligh, your staff in the Seanad and the officials of my own Department for what I believe is very good legislation. There has been good co-operation in the Dáil and, again, in the Seanad. We have put in place legislation to facilitate those people who adopt children abroad within the very high standards that we have always had here and which will recognise their adoption here. I believe the legislation will stand the test of time.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit at 10.30 tomorrow morning.