Commencement Matters

Seirbhísí Farantóireachta

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tuigim nach raibh sé ar chumas an Aire Stáit, an Teachta McHugh, bheith i láthair agus go bhfuil freagra ag an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Ó Ríordáin, dúinn. Baineann an cheist phráinneach atá á h-ardú agam ar maidin leis an tseirbhís farantóireachta a théann go hÁrainn. Téann an scéal seo siar tamall de bhlianta, is dócha go dtí an t-am ina raibh an t-iar-Aire Stáit, an Teachta McGinley, i gceannas ar chúrsaí Gaeltachta. Ag an am sin, bhain an conradh PSO, mar a thugtar air, leis an tseirbhís farantóireachta go dtí an trí oiléan - Inis Mór, Inis Meáin agus Inis Oírr. Rinneadh socrú cúpla bliain ó shin díchúpláil a dhéanamh ar an gconradh sin agus dhá chonradh a dhéanamh in áit ceann amháin. Cé go mbeidh dhá chonradh PSO i gceist, níl ach conradh amháin socraithe faoi láthair - an conradh a bhaineann le hInis Meáin agus Inis Oírr. Fógraíodh conradh eile le haghaidh Inis Mór ach, de réir mar a thuigim, níor glacadh leis an gconradh sin. Ós rud é nach bhfuil aon chonradh PSO maidir le seirbhísí farantóireachta aontaithe d'Inis Mór, tá muintir an oileáin fágtha ag brath ar chomhlacht príobháideach, Island Ferries, atá ag cur seirbhíse an-mhaith ar fáil, dála an scéil. I ndáiríre, tá an comhlacht príobháideach sin in ann feidhmiú ar a chonlán féin.

Ardaíodh go leor imní ag an am anseo agus freisin i measc pobal Árann. Dúradh go mbeadh an comhlacht in ann an conradh a bhriseadh dá dtarlódh rud éigin; mar shampla, muna mbeadh an seirbhís seo brabúsach nó muna mbeadh airgead á dhéanamh ag an gcomhlacht. Bhí sé ráite go mb'fhéidir go ndéanfadh an comhlacht an tseirbhís go hInis Mór a tharraingt siar san am nach raibh airgead á dhéanamh acu; sé sin, aimsir an gheimhridh. Le barr a chur ar an mhí-ádh, feictear go bhfuil táille calafoirt de 80 cent in aghaidh an phaisinéara á ghearradh de réir fodhlíthe nua ag Comhairle Contae na Gaillimhe ar Chalafort Chill Rónáin. Tá sé sin ag cruthú go leor deacrachtaí. Tuigim go raibh cás cúirte ann an tseachtain seo maidir leis na táillí sin le feiceáil an bhfuil siad dleathach. De réir mar a thuigim, d'éirigh le Comhairle Contae na Gaillimhe sa chás sin agus tá cead acu na táillí sin a bhaint amach. Dúirt an comhlacht linn go bhfuil idir €120,000 agus €150,000 in aghaidh na bliana i gceist leis na táillí sin, agus dá bhrí sin, nach bhfuil an tseirbhís inmharthana. Tuigim go bhfuil an comhlacht ag iarraidh go gcuirfí deireadh leis na táillí sin.

Is dócha gurb í an cheist is práinní anseo ná go bhfuil lucht an chomhlachta ag rá go mbeidh orthu an tseirbhís farantóireachta go hInis Mór a tharraingt siar ar 17 Eanáir seo chugainn muna n-athraíonn rud éigin. D'fhágfadh sé sin muintir Inis Mór gan seirbhís farantóireachta, rud a bheadh tubaisteach amach is amach dóibh. Caithfear an scéal seo a réiteach go sciobtha, agus roimh an Nollaig más féidir. Más rud é go raibh an tAire Stáit na Gaeltachta sásta conradh PSO a thairiscint, caithfidh go dtuigeann sé nach féidir an seirbhís farantóireachta go hInis Mór a rith ar bhonn brabúsach. Dá bhrí sin, nuair nár ghlac an comhlacht a bhí i gceist leis an PSO, bheifí den tuairim go gcuirfí amach PSO eile ag glacadh leis nach féidir leis an tseirbhís leanacht ar aghaidh ó cheann ceann na bliana gan tacaíocht. Ní thuigim cén fáth nár tharla a leithéid.

Tuigim ó ráitis éagsúla atá déanta ag an Aire Stáit, an Teachta McHugh, sna meáin go bhfuil sé ag cur na scéalta seo anonn i gComhairle Contae na Gaillimhe agus ag rá go mbaineann an fhadhb seo leis an gcomhlacht agus leis an gcomhairle contae. Iarraim ar an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Ó Ríordáin, an pointe a dhéanfainn mar fhreagra ar sin a thógáil ar ais chuig Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta. Tá dualgas ar an Aire Stáit, an Teachta McHugh, ó thaobh na n-oileán agus ó thaobh pobal na n-oileán. Tá sé de dhualgas air a chinntiú go mbeidh seirbhís leanúnach farantóireachta ag muintir Inis Mór mar a bhí le fada an lá. Céard atá á dhéanamh ag an Aire Stáit faoi láthair le cinntiú go mbeidh a leithéid ann? An bhfuil sé in ann gealltanas a thabhairt do mhuintir Árann go mbeidh an seirbhís acu an bhliain seo chugainn agus go leanfaidh sé ar aghaidh? Ní cheart go mbeadh aon bhriseadh sa tseirbhís. Ba chóir go mbeadh an tseirbhís ar chomhchaighdeán leis an tseirbhís reatha atá ann, mar shampla ó thaobh chaighdeán na mbád agus cé chomh minic is a théann na báid isteach is amach.

Tá sé seo thar a bheith práinneach. Tuigim go bhfuil scairshealbhóirí éagsúla ann, ach teastaíonn ceannródaíocht anseo. De réir mar a thuigim, tá ceisteanna ann ó thaobh Comhairle Chontae an Cláir anois. Tuigtear go bhfuil siad ag baint táille €1 as báid atá ag teacht as Dúlainn isteach go hÁrainn. Tá baol ann anois go mbeidh deireadh leis an tseirbhís. Níl aon mhaith bheith ag seasamh siar nó ag suí siar sa chathaoir ag féachaint céard a tharlóidh. Iarraim ar an Aire Stáit na scairshealbhóirí éagsúla a bhailiú timpeall an bhoird ionas gur féidir an cheist seo a réiteach agus todhchaí na seirbhíse farantóireachta seo a chinntiú do phobal Árann.

Ba mhaith liom i dtús buíochas a ghbháil leis an Seanadóir as ucht an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a chur ar an gclár díospóireachta. Is fíor go bhfuil cúraimí Gaeltachta agus oileán leagtha ar an Aire Stáit sa Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta.

Cuireann an Roinn fóirdheontas ar fáil chun seirbhísí iompair a chur ar fáil chuig na hoileáin a bhfuil cónaí orthu thart timpeall an chósta. Tá na seirbhísí seo comhdhéanta de sheirbhísi farantóireachta paisinéara agus lastais. In theannta sin, tugann an Roinn fóirdheontas chun seirbhís aeir a chur ar fáil chuig na trí Oileán Árann, ar a n-áirítear Inis Mór, faoi chonradh oibleagáid sheirbhís phoiblí, nó PSO, mar a deir an Seanadóir féin. Mar chuid de seo, cuireann an Roinn cúnamh ar fáil don seirbhís bainistíochta do na haeradróim atá lonnaithe ar na hoileáin. San iomlán, tá seirbhísí taistil fóirdheonaithe á maoiniú ag an Roinn do 19 oileán i nDún na nGall, Maigh Eo, i nGaillimh agus i gCorcaigh. Cinntíonn an tacaíocht sin go mbíonn córas taistil sábháilte rialta ar fáil do na hoileáin don bhliain iomlán. Leis an gcúnamh sin bíonn feabhas ar chaighdeán maireachtála na n-oileánach a thacaíonn le pobail inmharthana agus a chuidíonn le turasóireacht. Anuas ar an méid sin, tá an Roinn, ó nios luaithe i mbliana, ag maoiniú na struchtúir bhainistíochta ar na hoileáin neamh-Ghaeltachta. Bhí buiséad de €5.9 milliún ar fáil don Roinn sa bhliain 2015 le caitheamh ar chúrsaí taistil do na hoileáin. Meabhraím don Seanadóir agus don Teach gur caitheadh 57% den bhuiséad sin ar sheirbhísí iompair do na hOileáin Árann.

Maidir le hÁrainn, nó Inis Mór, tháinig deireadh leis an gconradh farantóireachta paisinéirí don oileán sin ar 31 Eanáir 2013. Chuaigh mo Roinn i mbun phróiseas tairisceana poiblí sa ghnáthshlí, chun conradh nua cúig bliana suas go dtí an 31 Eanáir 2018 a aontú. Ní bhfuair an Roinn aon tairiscint i leith na seirbhíse laistigh den sprioc-am, áfach. In éagmais tairisceana, bhí comhráití idir oifigigh na Roinne agus an farantóir a bhí ag cur na seirbhíse ar fáil, chun plé a dhéanamh ar an bhféidearthacht teacht ar réiteach chun conradh nua a aontú ar na téarmaí céanna is a bhí sa chonradh roimhe sin. Faraor, níor éirigh leis na comhráití sin mar nach bhféadfadh an Roinn géilleadh d’éilimh an fharantóra go mbeadh ardú substaintiúil ar an bhfóirdheontas ar sheirbhís atá, de réir cosúlachta, eacnamaíoch gan fóirdheontas. Pé scéal é, lean an farantóir ar aghaidh ag cur na seirbhíse ar fáil ag an am. Ansin sa bhliain 2014, bhí sé ráite ag an bhfarantóir céanna nach mbeadh aon rogha aige ach éirí as an tseirbhís a chur ar fáil ó Shamhain 2014 mar bhí caillteanas á dhéanamh ag an gcuideachta agus ní fhéadfaí Ieanúint ar aghaidh. Chinn an Roinn go mb'fhearr tairiscintí poibli a lorg sa ghnáthbhealach do chonradh níos faide a thiocfadh chun críoch ar an 31 Deireadh Fómhair 2017, an t-am céanna a chríochnódh an conradh le Aran Ferries Teo do sheirbhís Inis Meáin agus Inis Oirr. Fuarthas tairiscint amháin ó Aran Ferries Teo. Cuireadh coiste le chéile chun measúnú a dhéanamh ar an tairiscint sin. Bhí cruinniú idir an Roinn agus an comhlacht ar 22 Deireadh Fómhair 2014 mar chuid den idirbheartaíocht agus tar éis go leor plé rinne siad féin cinneadh go bhfágfaí rudaí mar a bhí, gan aon chonradh leis an Roinn, agus go leanfadh Aran Ferries Teo ag cur na seírbhíse ar fáil tríd an ngeimhreadh chomh maith leis an samhradh. Tuigtear dom go bhfuil an farantóir sásta Ieanúint leis an tseirbhís bhliantúil i gcónaí ag an mhinicíocht chéanna gan fóirdheontas ón Roinn. Tá éisteacht tugtha ag an Roinn don chuideachta agus tuigim go bhfuil an deacracht atá ann faoi Iáthair ag eascairt as na fodhlíthe até le cur i bhfeidhm ag Comhairle Contae na Galllimhe.

Ba mhaith liom a shoiléiriú don Seanadóir go bhfuiI an tAire oscailte d’aon chéim réasúnta a thógáil a chuideodh le réiteach a fháil ar an gceist ata ardaithe aige. Tuigim nach bhfuil an farantóir ag éileamh fhóirdheontais ón Roinn ach go bhfuil sé ráite aige nach mbeidh sé in ann seirbhís a chur ar fáil sa gheimhreadh má chuirtear na fodhlíthe i bhfeidhm. Is léir don Aire mar sin go mbaineann an cheist áirithe atá faoi chaibidil ag an Seanadóir le Comhairle Contae na Gaillimhe agus an farantóir. É sin réite tá an tAire Stáit le freagracht as na hoileáin, sásta tathant ar na páirtithe leasmhara éagsúla teacht le chéile chun a chinntiú go leanfar leis an tseirbhís farantóireachta chuig Árainn. Is féidir liom a chinntiú don Seanadóir go leanfar le gach iarracht chun a chinntiú go mbeidh seirbhis farantóireacht rialta do phaisinéirí chuig an oileán i rith na bliana agus go bhfuil an Roinn ar fáil aon am le haghaidh comhráití.

Táim buíoch den Aire Stáit as ucht an fhreagra sin a léamh. An rud nach bhfeicim mórán tráchta air anseo ná pobal Árann agus na mianta atá acusan. Deir an tAire Stáit go bhfuil sé sásta aon chéim réasúnta a thógáil leis an gceist seo a réiteach. Táim ag iarraidh air céim réasúnta amháin a thógáil, is é sin ceannaireacht a ghlacadh agus cruinniú a shocrú idir na páirtithe leasmhara. Ní leor a bheith ag tathant ar na páirtithe teacht le chéile. D'fhéadfadh sé ceannaireacht a thógáil. Tuigim gur duine iontach réasúnta é an tAire Stáit, an Teachta McHugh, ins na ceisteanna seo ach tá práinn leis mar gheall go bhfuil an tseirbhís le críochnú ar 17 Eanáir. In áit a bheith ag fanacht le go dtiocfadh siad seo le chéile, d'fhéadfadh sé an cheannaireacht sin a ghlacadh, daoine a tharraingt le chéile agus teacht ar réiteach. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil sé dosháraithe i gcomhthéacs an airgid atá i gceist agus ní dóigh liom go bhfuil sé fíor a rá go bhfuil an farantóir sásta leanacht ar aghaidh mar tá sé tar éis fógra a thabhairt go bhfuil sé chun críochnú ar an 17 Eanáir. B'iontach an bronntanas Nollag é do mhuintir Árann an cruinniú seo a tharraingt le chéile, teacht ar chomhréiteach agus go mbeadh muid in ann an scéil seo a shocrú roimh an Nollaig más féidir.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as an méid sin. Tá sé ag iarraidh a rá go gcaithfimid a bheith réasúnta agus níl i gceist anseo ach cruinniú a shocrú idir na páirtithe uilig. Labhróidh mé leis an Aire Stáit. Dar liom féin, is plean réasúnta é sin ar bhealach agus b'fhéidir gur chóir dúinn dul síos an bhealach sin. Beidh mé ag caint leis an Aire Stáit agus inseoidh mé dó an méid a bhí le rá ag an Seanadóir.

Adoption Legislation

At the start of this year the Seanad passed the Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill which had been proposed by me and seconded by Senator Jillian van Turnhout. The Bill passed through the Seanad with unanimous support. It was also supported by groups representing adopted people and natural parents. In July the Government indicated its intention to move this issue forward by bringing forward its own Bill. I gave that Government announcement a cautious welcome at the time. I said I was glad to see any progress on this issue, but I was concerned that the Government Bill might not be passed before the general election.

I also expressed some concerns about aspects of that Bill, as did the Adoption Rights Alliance and the Irish First Mothers group. We were particularly concerned about two issues, namely, the statutory declaration that adopted people would be forced to sign before being given their birth certificates and the inclusion of an information veto provision, allowing that in some circumstances an adopted person could be refused the basic information in his or her birth certificate where there were so-called "compelling reasons", although the heads of the Bill did not make it clear what exactly they might be.

The Joint Committee on Health and Children also looked at this issue recently. It listened to those concerns. It invited in all the different groups - the various groups representing adopted people and natural parents, Tusla, the Adoption Authority, lawyers like Fergus Ryan, who drafted my Bill and Mr. Conor O'Mahony from University College Cork who is an expert on this area - and very thoroughly considered all the issues involved. After that, the committee also recommended changes on those two areas I mentioned: the statutory declaration and the compelling reasons for non-release.

It is now the end of December and I am very concerned at this stage that the Government's proposed legislation is unlikely to get through the Oireachtas before the general election. This is a source of great concern, not just to me as a legislator and as an adopted person but also to tens of thousands of adopted people and natural parents all across the country who were separated through forced adoption. This is the first chance they have had to be given rights by the Government. This issue has never been legislated on before, even though in the United Kngdom adopted people have had a right to their birth certificate and birth identity since the 1970s, as has been the case for decades in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. There was great hope. When the Seanad passed my Bill earlier this year, I received letters from all over the country, many of them from elderly natural parents, women who were forced to separate from their children decades ago, who are getting on in years and are concerned that they might never get to meet their son or daughter before they pass away.

Such women wrote to me in great hope and expectation saying they were delighted that somebody was finally doing something about this and they hoped the legislation would be passed without further delay.

The reason I have tabled this Commencement matter is to ask the Minister of State who is attending on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the legislation will be brought forward by the Government before the general election. Will it be amended to take account of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Health and Children? I remind the Minister of State of a Bill on the Order Paper, passed by this House and endorsed by the Government representatives in the House who stated at the time that they hoped that Bill would be progressed and that the Government would work with me, Senator Jillian van Turnout and others in getting legislation through, based on that Bill. If the Government Bill is not going to be passed on time, I urge the Minister of State to look again at the Seanad Bill which is halfway through the process in the Oireachtas and could easily be brought through the Dáil before the general election.

As the Senator is aware, the Government approved the publication of the heads and general scheme of the adoption (information and tracing) Bill 2015 last July. The Bill is intended to facilitate access to adoption information and operates on the basis of presumption in favour of disclosing information in so far as is legally and constitutionally possible. The Bill will, for the first time, provide a statutory basis for the provision of information related to both past and future adoptions. It will provide clarity around the information that can be provided and the circumstances in which it can be provided.

Efforts have been ongoing for many years to address the issues related to the provision of a statutory entitlement to identity information, in particular an original birth certificate to adopted persons. The overall policy objective in bringing forward proposed legislation on adoption information and tracing has always been to provide access to as much information as possible to adopted persons.

The adoption (information and tracing) Bill 2015 provides that where an adoption was effected prior to the commencement of the Bill, the information required to apply for a birth certificate will be provided for an adopted person when he or she has signed a statutory declaration agreeing to respect the privacy of their birth parent and not to contact their birth parent or ask anyone else to make contact on his or her behalf. There will be no requirement for an adopted person to sign a statutory declaration where birth parents have indicated a preference for contact or have consented to the release of the information or where it is established that the birth parents are deceased. The Bill also provides that where an adoption is effected after the commencement of the Bill, an adopted person will be entitled to their his or her certificate once he or she is aged 18 years or over.

The Bill also provides that the Adoption Authority of Ireland will be responsible for collecting, restoring, preserving and the safekeeping of adoption records, including information on informal adoptions and persons whose birth was incorrectly registered. It will set out the information that must be retained by the authority for future adoptions and, in so far as it is available, for past adoptions, persons whose adoption is registered in the register of inter-country adoptions, informal adoptions and incorrect birth registrations Persons who were the subject of incorrect birth registrations will be given access to service provision.

The Bill was referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for pre-legislative scrutiny and the committee published its report recently. The committee’s key recommendations were that the definition of "compelling reasons" be further clarified and more tightly defined in the Bill. In cases where non-disclosure is sought citing compelling reasons, this should be supported by medical evidence. Consideration should be given to excluding the statutory declaration provision from the Bill. This could possibly be replaced by an alternative provision where the applicant is required, before the birth certificate is released, to attend one preparatory session to discuss and explore the issues concerning privacy and respect. Consideration should be given to reducing the lead-in to a much shorter time period and to holding a shorter, more intense information awareness campaign over a six-month period, to include engagement with social media and a wide range of community groups which can help to raise awareness about the new register. In the case of the illegally adopted, consideration should be given to establishing a dedicated unit to investigate those cases actively and a review of service requirements arising from the Bill should be undertaken.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, welcomes the report of the Oireachtas committee and believes it is a valuable contribution to the debate on this important Bill. He has examined the recommendations of the committee very carefully and will shortly finalise the Bill in the light of the committee’s recommendations. The heads will be submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel very shortly with a request to draft the Bill as a matter of urgency. In view of the size and complexity of the Bill, the Minister does not want to offer any guarantee about how quickly it can be finalised. However, he wishes to assure the Senator that he will work closely with the Attorney General to facilitate the Bill's completion as soon as possible.

An bhfuil ceist ag an tSeanadóir?

Tá. I appreciate the Minister of State is replying on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I am very disappointed that there is no commitment to passing the Bill before the general election. Thousands of people are waiting on this legislation which is very important for many people who are separated through adoption. I appreciate the Minister of State's brief is on equality issues. What equality does one have when one does not even know who one is? For 30 years of my life I did not know my original name. I did not know from where I had come. I did not know anything about my parents. I did not know my medical history. I did not know any of this. Thankfully, eventually, I found my mother and have that information. There are tens of thousands of people throughout the country who do not. There are elderly women across Ireland who were forced to separate from their children decades ago and do not know if they are okay. The Minister has probably seen the movie "Philomena" about her story. I receive letters all the time from other women who had the same experience and who have spent decades looking for their lost son or daughter and cannot find him or her owing to resistance on the part of the State.

The reply states this is a complicated issue. I do not agree. This system is in place in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland and Wales, and elsewhere for decades. As we have seen much complex legislation being rushed through the House in recent weeks, I think where there is a will there is a way. We have seen the Legal Services Regulation Bill and the extraordinary process of how it came through this House, with the number of amendments the Government tabled to its own Bill, to ensure it could pass that legislation before the recess and before the House finished for the general election. I urge the Minister of State to speak to the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, about the Bill and remind him again of the Seanad Bill which has passed halfway through the House and is closer to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Health and Children than is the Government Bill. Many of the issues of which the committee was critical were not included in the Bill that Senator Jillian van Turnout and I tabled. I ask the Minister of State to look at this again. I genuinely believe if the interest is there, it can be done. I understand it will require resources on behalf of the draftsman, but this is the first time we have ever got a Government this far, almost to legislating for adoption rights. I urge the Minister of State to ensure it goes the full distance. Let us work together to ensure this is done.

I appreciate the Senator's commitment to this issue and her own personal connection with it. I will endeavour to discuss the issue with the Minister, Deputy James Reilly. I am sure that whatever progress can be made on the Bill before the ending of the term of Parliament will be made.

Sitting suspended at 11 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.