I move amendment No. 68:
In page 62, to delete lines 33 to 37 and substitute the following:
"(2) The High Court, in respect of subsection (1)(b), in considering the fact that under the law of the state in which an adoption was effected, the adoption has been set aside, revoked, terminated, annulled or otherwise rendered void, shall review the status of the adoption order under the law of this state. The High Court shall give a direction having regard for the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.”.
This amendment seeks to substitute a new subsection (2) to section 92. It relates to the procedure whereby an application may be made to the High Court to correct, amend or make an entry in the register of inter-country adoptions. The substantive change the amendment would introduce is to provide that the High Court, in any such application, would give its direction having regard for the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.
This point was raised previously by Senator Fitzgerald in the debate on this Bill. This is the underlying principle on which the whole Bill must be based. We spoke earlier on the Order of Business about the Minister of State's comments to The Irish Times, as published in its edition today, in respect of the agreements with Vietnam in particular and the concern that in conducting an agreement with that jurisdiction, matters had come to his attention which meant he was not happy, I understand, in signing off on the agreement. Certainly, those were matters relating very closely to the welfare of children.
It is a matter of great concern to all of us to read these reports which I believe go beyond what was said in the House last week. We were sensitive in our approach in the House last week because we believed there were things the Minister of State could not say about difficulties in the agreement with Vietnam. What we read in The Irish Times today made it clear to us that particular issues had been raised in respect of fees that apparently are being paid to adoption agencies in Vietnam. There are issues around consent, potentially the valid consents by birth parents in Vietnam.
I see the Minister of State shaking his head so I would like to get some clarification from him for the Seanad record as to the exact nature of the concerns about the agreement with Vietnam. We have all read heart-rending e-mails from prospective adopters in Ireland who, understandably, are deeply distressed about the circumstances in which they find themselves. In many cases they were in the final stages of having an adoption carried out and indeed understood they had children waiting for them in Vietnam, yet now are no longer in a position to proceed. This is very distressing both for them and, very importantly, the children in Vietnam. We need to know the position in respect of the agreement.
The welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration is what guides us all in this. It has been raised before in this debate, however, that had we had a constitutional amendment on this, it might have meant there would have been no need to have inserted it in every provision. Given that we do not have an amendment to the Constitution which provides for that, it is especially important we insert it, where necessary, into provisions in the Bill and that is what Senator Norris and I have sought to do. At a broader level, when we are looking at the welfare of the child, we need to know the particular issues that have made it difficult to finalise the adoption agreement with Vietnam. The Minister of State is on the record in saying last week in the Seanad that he has trust in the agency in Vietnam with which Irish couples are dealing, namely, the Helping Hands Adoption and Mediation Agency. I believe there is only one agency with which prospective Irish adopters are dealing.
We need some clarity because the report in The Irish Times refers to difficulties in the USA and Sweden and issues raised in those countries. These go to the core of the welfare of children and raise concerns about this and the position of birth parents in Vietnam. We need to know the position for Irish prospective adopters and, perhaps more importantly, the position regarding the welfare of the children in Vietnam about whom we are all concerned.