Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to be before the House for the Second Stage debate on the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016. I look forward to engaging in debate with Senators as the Bill proceeds through the various Stages.

As Senators will be aware, the Bill provides for a number of significant changes to adoption legislation arising from the children's rights referendum which was held in 2012 and the outcome of which was given effect in legislation in 2015. The children's rights referendum resulted in the insertion of Article 42A into the Constitution which provided that children had constitutional rights and protections and that the State had to vindicate these rights. The primary purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to Article 42A, specifically in adoption procedures. The Bill provides that all children are now eligible for adoption, regardless of the marital status of their parents. It also provides for ensuring the best interests of the child and his or her views will be at the heart of adoption proceedings before the authority or the courts.

The Bill amends the Adoption Act 2010 and repeals Part 11 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. The provisions in Part 11 of the 2015 Act, allowing for cohabiting couples and civil partners to adopt, have been brought forward in the Bill to ensure they are encompassed in primary adoption legislation.

The Bill also contains new provisions that provide for step-parent adoption without the requirement for the other parent to adopt his or her own child. The legislation will introduce many significant substantive changes to adoption, as well as technical changes.

As Senators will be aware, adoption is, first and foremost, a child welfare measure that encompasses a child's well-being, happiness and health. Often when one hears the word "welfare", it is associated with adults in difficult circumstances, etc. In this case, adoption is a child well-being measure with the aim of providing a new family and home for a child who cannot be cared for by his or her parents. Adoption is a hugely significant event in the life of a child, one that has life-long implications for him or her and his or her family. An adoption order ends the legal link - there are others - between the child and his or her parents or guardians and transfers parental rights, responsibilities and duties to the adoptive parents. This process is aimed at ensuring the child is provided with a secure and permanent family unit. Given the life-changing legal implications of adoption, it is essential that the best interests of the child remain central to the adoption process. The amendments I brought forward in the Dáil will further strengthen procedures in this regard.

I will refer to the proposed amendment brought forward in the Dáil by Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire on the adoption of a person over the age of 18 years. I understand the intention of his proposal was to allow for the adoption of a person who had begun but not completed the adoption process before turning 18 years. I am not aware of specific cases in that regard. I understand both the Adoption Authority and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, prioritise cases in circumstances such as this. However, in the course of debating the issue a number of Deputies raised concerns that while it might not have happened to date, it could happen in the future. Therefore, they called for procedures to be strengthened. Having given careful consideration to the concerns raised, I requested the Adoption Authority to prepare a proposal, in consultation with the Child and Family Agency, for inclusion in its business plan to address the issue. The Bill is about a child's welfare, well-being, happiness and encouraging care in the context of loving circumstances, which are all good, when difficulties or circumstances arise or there is trauma, neglect or lack of care. This is a significant and a very good Bill that will no doubt be improved in this debate.

I will address specific provisions. As I said, the primary purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the 31st amendment to the Constitution following the children's rights referendum.

Section 1 provides that the principal Act means the Adoption Act 2010. Section 2 provides for the repeal of section 24 of the Adoption Act 2010 and Part 11 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. The repeal of section 24 is consequential on the inclusion of section 12 of the Bill which inserts a new section 23 into the 2010 Act. Section 2 also provides for the repeal of Part 11 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the insertion of the contents of its provisions, amended as required, into the Adoption (Amendment) Bill. As I said, this ensures provisions allowing for the adoption of a child by civil partners or cohabiting couples will form part of primary adoption legislation. Again, it is a significant measure.

Section 3 of the Bill amends section 3 of the 2010 Act to provide for the insertion of definitions of various terms in the Bill.

Section 4 amends section 4 of the 2010 Act to replace the term "birth parents" with "parents" with regard to references to making arrangements for adoption. We are all so aware that language is powerful and this language change reflects a cultural change.

Section 5 amends section 12 of the 2010 Act by including the terms "mother" and "father" in the definition of "guardian" in the context of visits and inquiries pertaining to adoptions.

Section 6 amends section 16 of the 2010 Act and replaces the term "father" with "relevant non-guardian" in order that each person who is included in the definition of relevant non-guardian may give notice of his or her wish to be consulted on an application for an adoption order by a mother, step-parent or relative of a child.

Section 7 replaces the term "father" with "relevant non-guardian" in section 17 of the 2010 Act in order that each person who is included in the definition of relevant non-guardian is included in the category of persons with whom consultation is required prior to the placement of a child for adoption. As the term "relevant non-guardian" has been widened, within each case we need to insert it as distinct from the term "father".

Section 8 is another example as it substitutes section 18 of the 2010 Act to replace the term "father" with "relevant non-guardian". In this case the section sets out the circumstances wherein the authority may, with the approval of the High Court, authorise the placing of a child for adoption and dispense with the requirement for consultation with the child’s "relevant non-guardian".

Section 9 amends section 19 of the 2010 Act by substituting a new section 19 to reflect Article 42A of the Constitution and to provide that in any matter, application or proceedings under the 2010 Act before the Adoption Authority of Ireland or any court, the authority or the court, as the case may be, shall have regard to the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration in the resolution of such matter, application or proceedings. The section also provides that in the resolution of any matter, application or proceedings referred to in the section, the authority or court, as the case may be, shall, in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, ascertain those views and such views shall be given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.

I brought forward an amendment in the Dáil to strengthen the provisions of the new section 19 of the 2010 Act in enabling the views of the child to be heard in matters or proceedings to determine his or her best interests. The new section details the factors and circumstances relevant to the child that the authority or court shall regard in determining the child’s best interests in any matter, application or proceeding before them. One can imagine a child whose universe includes parents, prospective adoptive parents, a guardian or guardians and relevant non-guardians. In that context, it is very important to ensure the best interests of the child in that circle are considered and that his or her views are heard and given due weight. The amendment came about as a result of engagement in the Dáil and many Opposition requests that a more substantive provision be included in the Bill. The factors to be considered include the child’s age; the physical, psychological and emotional needs of the child; the likely effect of adoption on the child; the child’s views on his or her proposed adoption; the child’s social, intellectual and educational needs; the child’s upbringing and care; the child’s relationship with his or her parent, guardian or relative, as the case may be and; any other particular circumstance pertaining to the child concerned.

The amendments I brought forward in the Dáil also provide for the making of regulations to prescribe the procedures under which the authority or court best ascertain and give due weight to the views of the child. This will include procedures to enable a child to present his or her views, in person or in writing and to nominate an appropriate person to present the child’s views, as well as the procedures that are to apply to any consultation by the authority or court with the child or appropriate person. I intend to enter into a consultation process with children before the drafting of these regulations. This is the norm in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on matters of such importance and I look forward to the results of that consultation. Section 10 amends section 20 of the 2010 Act to enable the Adoption Authority of Ireland to make an adoption order in respect of civil partners or a couple who have been cohabiting for over three years if they have been assessed as eligible and suitable to adopt. This represents a big change. It also provides for an inter-country adoption undertaken outside the State to be recognised where the adopting couple are civil partners or cohabitants who have cohabited together for over three years.

Section 11 amends section 21 of the 2010 Act by substituting a new subsection (2) to provide that the Child and Family Agency shall give notice of discontinuance of adoption proceedings to the authority, to any adoption committee concerned, to the mother or any other guardian and to each relevant non-guardian of a child.

Section 12 amends section 23 of the 2010 Act to extend the eligibility for adoption to any child residing in the State who is under the age of 18 years and has been in the care of the applicants for the prescribed period. The section also deletes the reference to the eligibility for adoption in respect of a child who is an "orphan" - I wonder when was the last time Members heard that word - or who is "born of parents not married to each other". This is a very significant change, reflecting how society has moved on. The section also provides that a step-parent may adopt a child where that child has had a home with the child’s parent and step-parent for a continuous period of not less than two years at the date of the application for the adoption order.

Section 13 amends section 30 of the 2010 Act to replace the term "father" with "relevant non-guardian" in order that all persons included in the definition of relevant non-guardian are persons with whom consultation is required under the section. In the drafting of the Bill it was important to ensure clarity on whose consent would be required in the adoption process.

Section 14 amends section 31 of the 2010 Act by substituting a new section 31 to provide that in circumstances where a child has been placed with prospective adopters and where, prior to the final adoption order being made, a person whose consent to the making of the adoption order is necessary fails or refuses to give consent or withdraws consent already given, the applicants may apply to the High Court for an order giving custody of the child to the applicants for such period as the court may determine and authorising the authority to dispense with the consent to the making of an adoption order in favour of the applicants. This is one of the many examples in the Bill of a thinking-through on the part of those drafting the Bill, in my Department and the Office of the Attorney General, of the consequences of what is being written with the aim of ensuring the bests interests of the child are to the fore. In these circumstances, the section provides that the High Court shall have regard to the relationship between the child and the applicants, the child and his or her mother or guardian and the efforts made by any of those persons to develop or maintain such a relationship and any proposed arrangement of either the applicants and the mother or guardian for the future care of the child. The section also provides that the High Court shall, in so far as is practicable, give due weight to the views of the child, having regard to his or her age and maturity.

Section 15 amends section 32 of the 2010 Act to provide that the authority shall not make an adoption order in circumstances where the child, the applicant or applicants for an adoption order and every person whose consent to the adoption is required under section 26 of the 2010 Act are not all of the same religion, if of any religion, unless every person whose consent is required to that adoption knows, when so consenting, the religion, if any, of the applicant or applicants.

Section 16 amends section 33 of the 2010 Act to provide that a couple who are civil partners of each other, a cohabiting couple and a step-parent of a child are included in the categories of persons eligible to apply for an adoption order or for the recognition of an adoption order effected outside the State.

Section 17 amends section 34 of the 2010 Act to bring forward the provisions of section 115 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 into the Bill to provide that a couple who are civil partners of each other and a cohabiting couple are included in the categories of persons whose suitability for an adoption order or for the recognition of an adoption order effected outside the State must be satisfactory to the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

Section 18 amends section 37 of the 2010 Act to provide that civil partners, a cohabiting couple and a step-parent are included in the categories of persons who may apply to the Child and Family Agency for an assessment of eligibility and suitability.

Section 19 amends section 38 of the 2010 Act by providing that the Child and Family Agency shall give notice of the discontinuance of an application for assessment under section 37(1) to the authority, the adoption committee concerned, the mother or any other guardian of the child and to each relevant non-guardian.

Section 20 amends section 40 of the Act by providing that civil partners and a cohabiting couple are included in the categories of persons in whose favour the authority may issue a declaration of eligibility and suitability. There was a time when that was not the case. Actually, there still is. This change is only being introduced.

Section 21 brings the provisions of section 119 or the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 into section 41 of the 2010 Act to provide that civil partners and a cohabiting couple are included in the categories of persons in whose favour the authority may extend the time period of the declaration of eligibility and suitability.

Section 22 amends section 43 of the 2010 Act to provide that a relevant non-guardian is included in the category of persons entitled to be heard by the authority on the application for an adoption order, as well as any guardian.

Section 23 amends section 45 of the 2010 Act in order to clarify that a child who was adopted may have a further adoption order made in respect of him or her and that, in those circumstances, the child shall be taken as the lawful child of the first-mentioned adopters.

Section 24 amends section 54 of the Act to provide for revised criteria, under which the High Court may authorise the making of an adoption order without parental consent where a child's parents have failed in their duty towards him or her. This is significant. Under the revised criteria, the child must be in the custody of and have a home with the applicants for a continuous period of not less than 18 months and the High Court must be satisfied that the parents of the child have failed in their duty for a period of 36 months and that there is no reasonable prospect that the parents will be able to care for the child in a manner that will not prejudicially affect his or her safety or welfare. These are heavy responsibilities.

Section 25 amends section 58 of the 2010 Act to provide that, upon an adoption order being made, an adopted child shall be considered, with regard to the rights and duties of parents and children in respect of one another, as the child of the adopter or adopters and that the child's mother, guardian or relevant non-guardian shall lose all parental rights and be freed from parental duties in respect of the child.

Section 26 inserts a new section 58A into the 2010 Act to provide that a child's mother or guardian shall not lose all parental rights in respect of his or her child where the child is adopted by a step-parent. The section provides that a child who is adopted by his or her step-parent shall, upon the making of an adoption order, be regarded as the child of that step-parent and the step-parent's spouse, civil partner or cohabitant.

Section 27 amends section 59 of the 2010 Act to replace the term "birth parents" with "parents".

Regarding property rights, section 28 provides that, for the purposes of section 60 of the 2010 Act, an adopted person is to be regarded as the child of his or her adopter and not his or her pre-adoption parents.

For the purposes of stamp duty chargeable on conveyances or transfers of land, section 29 amends section 61 of the 2010 Act to provide that, subject to section 58A of the Act, an adopted person is regarded as the child of his or her adopter or adopters, not of any other person.

Section 30 amends section 62 of the 2010 Act on the ceasing of payments for the benefit of the child by a parent upon the making of an adoption order by replacing the term "birth parent" with "parent" in each place that it occurs.

Sections 31 to 34, inclusive, amend sections 68, 69, 78 and 79 of the 2010 Act to replace the term "birth parent" with "person" to allow for circumstances where a person other than a birth parent may be required to consent to the making of the adoption order.

Section 35 amends section 84 of the 2010 Act to provide that the entry of particulars in the Adopted Children Register are appropriate particulars in respect of the type of adoption concerned.

Section 36 amends section 85 of the 2010 Act to provide that, in the case of a further adoption, any reference to a previous adoption will be excluded in a copy or extract of the entry from the Adopted Children Register.

Section 37 amends section 97 of the 2010 Act to provide that the term "father" is replaced with "relevant non-guardian" in order that the Adoption Authority, when making rules regarding its procedures governing the consultation required with a person, shall include each person who is included in the definition of "relevant non-guardian".

Section 38 amends section 125 of the 2010 Act to provide that a civil partner of a parent of a child and a cohabitant of a parent of a child are included in the categories of persons who are not precluded from giving or receiving a child for adoption.

Sections 39 and 40 amend sections 144 and 145 of the 2010 Act which relate to the prohibition of certain advertisements for adoptions and the prohibition of making or receiving payments for adoption to clarify that the reference to a "guardian" in those sections is a reference to a "guardian" as defined in the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964.

Section 41 amends Schedule 3 to the 2010 Act to provide that the term "marital status" is replaced with the term "civil status" and that the Schedule includes the required particulars for all adoptions, including the particulars of a person who is married to or in a civil partnership or cohabiting with the adopter.

Section 42 is a standard provision setting out that sections of the Bill may be commenced by the Minister on a phased basis.

I look forward to hearing the opinions of Senators on the Bill and the important issues that they wish to address. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister and thank her for her comprehensive explanation of the Bill's provisions. Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill, as it gives legislative effect to Article 42A which was inserted into the Constitution as a result of the children's rights referendum. Fianna Fáil supported the referendum and I engaged in a great deal of door-to-door canvassing during it. As such, I am delighted to see the Bill before the House.

The Bill requires the views of the child to be heard and given due weight in adoption cases. The Minister has comprehensively outlined the relevant provisions. It removes a number of outdated anomalies, for example, that married parents may not voluntarily place their child for adoption and that a step-parent may not adopt a partner's biological child without the partner also being required to adopt the child. That is a welcome change.

In discussing the Bill it is important that we refer to the context, as well as the changing face of Irish families and society. I will cite figures from the 2011 census. More than 200,000 households comprised lone parents; 17,378 one-parent households were living in multi-family arrangements, more than 49,000 households comprised cohabiting couples with children under 15 years of age, while more than 4,000 same-sex couples were living together. The Bill's provisions will assist the thousands of families who make up these statistics - the numbers have certainly increased since - and, importantly, give additional rights to children living in such households.

Regarding adoption in the case of parental failure, it is important that children in the care system not be allowed to drift and be given security. The changes are welcome and sensible. Of the 94 Irish adoptions that occurred in 2015, only 13 involved children in long-term foster care and most occurred when the children involved were approaching their 18th birthday. That was unacceptable and could not be allowed to continue because those children had been deprived of security during their childhood. All children deserve security, either with their biological family or as part of a foster family.

Approximately 600 children in full-time care come from families based on marriage. The changes provided for in the Bill allow for the possibility that these children may be adopted, if circumstances allow. That is welcome.

While we support the Bill, further legislation or guidelines are required to give full effect to Article 42A of the Constitution in adoption proceedings.

In particular, guidelines on best practice for courts in ascertaining the views of the child should be considered in line with the Law Reform Commission recommendations. The guardian ad litem system must also be reformed. Fianna Fáil will shortly introduce legislation in the Dáil to give effect to these changes.

I recommend to the Minister that the grant for foster carers be extended to families who proceed to adopt a child they have been fostering. The removal of this grant often acts as a barrier to adoption and in such circumstances only the child loses out. I ask the Minister to consider extending the grant to families post-adoption.

I welcome the Minister to discuss an issue that is close to my own heart. The Bill which gives effect to constitutional provisions has been a long time coming. In 1992 Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2010 it passed the Adoption Act and subsequently ratified the Hague Convention on the protection of children and co-operation in respect of adoption. In 2012 the Thirty-first Amendment to the Constitution (Children) Act was introduced and followed by a referendum on children's rights. We then had the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. At last, after this long journey, the Minister has introduced the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016.

Having grown up in a children's orphanage in Dún Laoghaire where many hundreds of children lived, I have personal experience of this issue which I would like to share with the House. I was only a few days old when I entered the orphanage. I lived there for sixteen and a half years, which is a long time. I knew on the date of my seventh birthday that I would not be adopted because a family who wanted to adopt me and take me into their care were denied the opportunity to do so. However, they continued to have a relationship and friendship with me that I cherish to this day. From an experience such as this, one learns a few things and develops a great interest in this issue.

The Bill recognises children as being at the centre of adoption. We learned from the redress scheme and other stories that have been told of the great pain, anxiety, suffering and vulnerability of many children in care. That was then, however. Today many hundreds of children are in care, some of them for five, six or seven years. These children must not be denied an opportunity to be fostered or adopted. However, fostering and adoption are not for all children and good State care is sometimes the best option. For that reason, a suite of opportunities must be available to suit the needs of each child and his or her particular needs

We must always recognise the heritage of children. I got to know my parents and built relationships with them, which I valued. I am the youngest of seven children, all of whom were placed in care at different stages and in different institutions. We are brothers and sisters and meet and celebrate as family. I cherish and love this tradition. Let us not lose sight of the fact that parents bring children into the world with good intentions and to love and care for them. They do not always want to abandon them, but circumstances visit this upon them. The church visited it on some families and single parents. Likewise, families have forced people to abandon their children for inheritance reasons or for land, farms or other circumstances. That is the history of this issue and it is also my history and the reason I can discuss it.

It is important that we encourage and acknowledge the birth mother and father because they also have a role to play. We must not lose sight of the fact that they will experience terrible regret and loss. At the same time, we must acknowledge what children want, namely, care, love and affection. Regardless of whether it is two men, two women, a man and a woman or one person, provided they can nourish, cherish, love and encourage a child, they will be the answer. I salute the Minister because she has done a great deal of work in this area.

When I was seven years old, I knew I could never be adopted because at the age of seven, we were told we would stay in the orphanage until we were 16 or 17 years or until we could hack it in the world. That is what we did, but it is something no child should have to do. I met children who returned from a fostering experience with terrible stories. We must be careful about those to whom we foster children and those who are adopting children.

The Bill is wonderful and I thank the Minister for the 42 points she brought us through today. However, it will all be meaningless if the necessary resources, including care packages, scrutiny and monitoring are not provided. We need to ensure education, health services, care workers and advocates for children dovetail. People talk about the need for advocacy. Children need advocates. I knew what I was doing at six or seven years of age, as did most other children, and sometimes I was good, bad, wrong or manipulative. It is important to have advocates for children who can represent them.

A recent survey of care leavers shows that many of them would have liked the opportunity to have been adopted or fostered. There are three or perhaps more options because not everything fits together. I spoke about the important role of the birth family. How could anyone not support a Bill that allows married parents to place their children for adoption in certain circumstances? I have received many nasty letters from people in recent days in which they refer to the suitability of people, the erosion of the powers of the family and the constitutional provisions that make family a very special place. That is not right. When children are shown love, care and support, they will flourish. It is important that cohabiting couples, those in civil partnerships and anyone else who is suitable, caring and loving and can provide stability for children be allowed to do so.

I am convinced that the Minister has done an exceptional job in bringing her insight, knowledge and experience to the Bill. I feel this in every word she has written and spoken. She is putting in place unique legislation and I am more than happy to support it.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill before the House. I also commend Senator Victor Boyhan and thank him for sharing his personal experience. I found his contribution very touching and feel like a bit of a bore speaking after him because what he had to say will be much more meaningful than the result of my examination of the Bill and some of its interesting provisions.

The Bill is the result of the referendum on children's rights, which many of us will remember because in some ways it was sidelined by the referendum on Oireachtas inquiries held at the same time. Certain referendums often receive greater emphasis on the day. However, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of the provisions of the Bill. This is open and forward-thinking legislation which provides a robust legislative basis for adoption. I have some additional suggestions and comments which I will make before I conclude.

As the Minister stated, the primary purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution which inserted Article 42A into the Constitution. It is welcome that the Bill treats all children equally, regardless of the marital status of their parents, allows for married parents to consent to and voluntarily place their child for adoption and standardises the threshold to be met before an adoption order can be granted. Other features of the Bill which I welcome relate to step-adoption and the extension of eligibility to adopt to civil partners and same-sex couples. It is crucial that all aspects of family law keep up to date with different family formations, as Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee stated.

The legislative changes arising from Article 42A of the Constitution and provided for in the Adoption (Amendment) Bill include providing that married couples may place a child for adoption on a voluntary basis in circumstances where both parents place the child for adoption and where both parents consent to the making of the adoption order. It also provides for revised criteria in order that where an application to adopt is made in respect of a child in the custody of and who has had a home with the applicants for a period of at least 18 months and where the child's parents have failed in their parental duty, as the Minister has discussed, the High Court may dispense with parental consent and authorise the Adoption Authority to make an adoption order in respect of that child. The Bill also provides that the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration in respect of any matter. In respect of applications or proceedings under the 2010 Act, the views of the child shall be ascertained by the Adoption Authority or the court, as the case may be, and given due weight having regard to his or her age and maturity.

In addition to the legislative changes arising from the children's rights referendum, the Bill also makes a number of other significant changes. The Minister has spoken about each section, but I will discuss a few of the more significant changes this legislation will bring about. Provisions providing for the adoption of a child by civil partners and cohabiting couples are being made in the Bill by way of bringing forward the relevant section from Part 2 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 into the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016. It is welcome that Part 2 of the 2015 Act requires amendment in order to ensure the 2010 Act adequately protects the rights of those persons who consent to an adoption and generally ensures a robust legislative basis for an adoption. This drafting approach will assist in achieving clarity and coherence in adoption legislation with the added benefit of providing for adoption law in adoption Acts.

It is welcome that the Bill also provides for the adoption of a child by their step-parent without requiring the child's other parent to adopt their own child. Previously, if a step-parent wanted to adopt, both the child's parent and the step-parent had to apply to adopt and the parent became an adoptive parent. Under the Bill, the parent will continue to be a parent and the step-parent will become an adoptive parent.

Section 45 of the Adoption Act 2010 provides that where a child's adoptive parents have died, a further adoption order may be made in respect of the child and that for the purposes of the order, the child should be taken to be the lawful child of the deceased adoptive parents. It is welcome that the Bill amends section 45 of the Adoption Act 2010 to provide for this.

Most importantly, in respect of the best interests and voice of the child, the Adoption (Amendment) Bill amends section 19 of the Adoption Act 2010 to reflect the Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution regarding the best interests of the child. In determining what is in the best interests of the child, the authority or the court shall have regard to all of the factors or circumstances it considers relevant to the child who is the subject matter of an application or proceedings concerned. These include the child's age and maturity; the physical, psychological and emotional needs of the child; the likely effect of adoption on the child; the child's views on his or her proposed adoption; the child's social, intellectual and educational needs; the child's upbringing and care and relationship with their parents; and any other circumstance pertaining to the child. Regarding the voice of the child, the court or the authority will guarantee that informed views are expressed. We must ensure children are provided with clear explanations and information on adoption covering each individual stage of the adoption process.

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 is intended to facilitate access to adoption information and provide a statutory basis for the provision of information on past and future adoptions. It will provide clarity ib the information that can be provided and the circumstances in which it can be provided. This provision is long overdue. We must learn from the pitfalls of a closed adoption process that has long operated in Ireland and has posed countless problems for adopted people when gathering information on their origins.

Is the Minister considering implementing a resourcing plan for this legislation, given that the number of adoptions that go through the Adoption Authority could dramatically increase? The Bill has further resource implications for Tusla. As such, additional staff will be required to ensure all parties receive the best support possible. Are these extra resources available? This Bill provides that adoption now becomes a real option for some children in long-term care. As such, it is imperative that judges be trained. I feel passionate about this because I have spent time in family law courts. As is always the way in a legal case, one is in the hands of the judge before which one appears. If we are going to have more cases like that before the courts, it is important that training be provided because the decision is lifelong.

From a practice perspective, there is an additional requirement of adoption and post-adoption services for both sets of parents such as advice and counselling, as well as for the children and young people involved. I commend the Minister and her Department for their work on the Bill. The Minister's passion for the area is clear. I support the Bill and commend it to the House.

I am very pleased to support this progressive Bill. As has been outlined by Sinn Féin in the Dáil, it legislates for what is in the best interests of the child and modernises a system that previously held archaic and restrictive barriers. It is the view of Sinn Féin that any adoption system must embrace a more modern and progressive view of the family. Throughout the State's history with regard to adoption, the moral diktat of the church-State relationship endeavoured to protect the nuclear family model. Non-traditional families were not appreciated or considered and were met by stigmatisation. This, as we know, was institutionalised in the Magdalen laundries and mother and baby homes and was State policy, even in the Adoption Act 1952, which legally branded children born outside wedlock as "illegitimate". "Illegitimate" people were banned by the State from joining An Garda Síochána and by the church from becoming priests without special papal dispensation. This clause was only removed in 1987.

The disparity in application of equal family rights has been to the fore in recent years, not only with the children's rights referendum campaign but also with the civil marriage equality referendum, which highlighted a legal discrimination in terms of guardianship, kinship, succession and shared parental rights. Not so long ago, same-sex couples were restricted from marrying but also from adopting children as a couple and having full and equal legal protection as a family. I welcome the amendments to the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 which seek to remedy this. I also welcome the provision that removes the barriers which require a birth parent to adopt alongside a step-parent who wants to adopt their spouse's child. Furthermore, the extension of the adoption age from the age of seven to 18 years and the removal of criteria that only allowed for adoption in exceptional circumstances have our full support.

The extension in the powers of the High Court to further grant parental consent in situations where it is required and in the interests of the child strengthens children's rights and family rights. The broadening of the criteria in respect of adoption opens up many avenues to loving families, in whatever shape or form they may take, to have the opportunity to display their ability to look after a child and raise them to become an adult with the love and care they deserve and with their best interests at heart. This Bill goes a long way towards dispelling the notion that a family in Ireland is a nuclear family. The family, in all its function and dysfunction, is diverse and takes many forms. There is no single proposition for the family. Where the rights and care of the child are paramount, the State should endeavour to support that family, the children and the parents. The outdated and regressive view of the nuclear family has been destructive to Irish society and the biggest losers in that equation were children.

Should the Bill pass, there will still be many unnecessary obstacles for prospective parents, including legal costs. Those who can adopt are stifled in their care for that child as hefty legal fees must be repaid. Sinn Féin proposed an amendment to aid foster parents with this cost when it went through the Dáil only for it to be ruled out of order. I ask the Minister to propose this amendment as it is logical and fair and would greatly improve parental prospects for so many loving people.

I also ask the Minister to make the tabling of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 a top priority of her Department. I understand the Bill is ready for introduction to the Dáil. I do not need to emphasise the importance of reuniting relatives, but I ask the Minister to consider the great impact it will have on many mothers and children who were separated that would benefit from such a Bill. For the most part, they are elderly and wish to be able to be reunited as soon as possible.

The Bill is a follow-up to the children's rights referendum in 2012 on the Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution, in which the rights of the child became part of the fabric of society and the Constitution. The referendum and this legislation require that the best interests of the child be considered paramount. The Bill must be commended for the vast improvements it makes and I have no doubt that numerous children will benefit from the Minister's work, with that of her predecessors. However, Sinn Féin has some concerns and I feel there is a little more to be done. We will be happy to contribute in that regard. Overall, Sinn Féin is happy to support the Bill and encourages the Minister in her efforts. We reserve the right to propose amendments on later Stages and I hope the Minister will take our suggestions on board. I commend the contribution made by Senator Victor Boyhan.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone. I wish her, her colleagues and all Members present a happy new year, if it is not too late in January to do so.

Like others, I very much welcome the Bill as the changes it introduces are very welcome. It will bring some aspects of Irish adoption law into the 21st century and modernise the law in a very welcome way. Others have spoken very eloquently about the very positive changes the Bill will bring about, particularly in two respects in allowing step-parents to adopt and ending the bizarre anomaly where the birth mother had to give up her child for adoption and re-adopt in order to adopt her own child. It is very welcome to see step-parent adoption becoming simplified and updated in that way.

I commend Senator Victor Boyhan for his extremely moving personal testimony. Like others, I was really moved by what he said. That, in itself, speaks for the necessity of ensuring it becomes easier for children to be adopted out of long-term foster care. I must declare some interest as a professional who has represented children and guardians ad litem before the child care courts, or the HSE courts as they were typically known. I have seen at close hand the terrible heartbreak that arises when children are in long-term care with no real prospect of finding a resolution of their status, even where they very much desire to be adopted by foster carers who may have been caring for them over a long period. It is very welcome to see those provisions in the Bill. Barnardos and others have strongly welcomed these aspects of the Bill.

As Senator Fintan Warfield said, in a very welcome development, the Bill also updates the language of adoption and recognises the diversity of family life in this country. It reflects, in particular, the changes we saw come about through the Child and Family Relationships Act and the changes brought about by the marriage equality referendum. The Bill is very much about bringing into law the changes brought about by the children's rights referendum - that other referendum Senator Catherine Noone and others mentioned in November 2012. It is very welcome to see the best interests of the child and the voice of the child brought to the fore in the Bill.

I commend the Minister for her comments, particularly on section 9. She indicated that she brought forward an amendment in the Dáil to amend section 19 of the 2010 Act to reflect more strongly the need to ensure the voice of the child is heard. I am pleased she said she would enter into consultation with children prior to drafting the necessary regulations under section 9. Again, that is very welcome. When she was Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan conducted a very worthwhile set of consultations directly with children. That is a good model and I know that there are others also. Those are all very welcome aspects of the Bill.

I wish to turn to an issue raised by my colleagues, Deputies Joan Burton and Jan O’Sullivan, namely, the absence of provision for the other glaring anomaly in adoption law - the need to ensure legislation on information and tracing. I know that the Minister has moved in that regard. In November she published the heads of a Bill and there was a hearing before an Oireachtas committee. However, the issue is long overdue to be tackled. I dug out from my own records a speech I made in November 2014. The Minister will recall it because she was in the Seanad at the time. Our then colleagues, Averil Power, Jillian van Turnhout and Fidelma Healy Eames, brought forward a very commendable and robust information and tracing Bill in November 2014. It was accepted on Second Stage by the Government. We all spoke on it. Many colleagues at the time spoke eloquently about their own personal experiences. Averil Power spoke about her experience as an adopted person and Fidelma Healy Eames as an adoptive parent. They spoke so strongly about the need to ensure adopted children would have the right to an identity.

It is something I saw at second hand as a representative of survivors of abuse before the Residential Institutions Redress Board. We saw adults who had been utterly abandoned as children, failed by the State and horribly abused in institutions. However, for them, alongside the dreadful physical and emotional abuse they suffered, something that really resonated with them all was their lack of knowledge about their origins and the need to know their identity and where they came from. That was something about which Averil Power, in particular, spoke so eloquently, while Deputy Joan Burton has spoken in the Dáil about her experience as an adopted person. The right to know one’s origin has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights, yet it is currently absent from our law. While the Bill is extremely welcome and introduces very welcome and overdue aspects of adoption law, we see still a failure to address the issue of information and tracing. It is an issue about which the Minister spoke eloquently when she was a Senator.

There is a problem with our law in this sort of piecemeal reform. We are bringing adoption law into the 21st century but only partially in the Bill. Until we have robust information and tracing legislation, we will not have sufficiently or adequately modernised the system. I accept the point has been made by others and it has been made in the Dáil, but it deserves to be emphasised again. My colleagues in the Dáil introduced some amendments to seek to introduce into the Bill a scheme that would provide for information and tracing. In the Minister's Committee Stage response in the Dáil which I read, she said her own Bill was at an advanced stage and that she hoped to bring it forward. However, that is very similar to the response given by the then Minister in November 2014 on the Bill introduced by the then Senators Averil Power, Jillian van Turnhout and Fidelma Healy Eames. It is important that we keep pressing this issue. There is a justifiable concern that given the difficulties under new politics in bringing forward Government legislation – the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Regina Doherty, has spoken about it in the Dáil – there is a concern that we will not get to see the information and tracing Bill and that, in fact, this Bill, which is now at an advanced stage, might well be an appropriate place to introduce the relevant measures.

I understand the difficulty with the drafting of the Bill, but many of the difficulties have now been overcome. People have raised issues about the penal nature of the provisions for people who look for information where there is no consent from the birth mother. Like other speakers, I have had numerous contacts with individuals, both adults who were adopted as children and birth mothers. One birth mother spoke to me about the anguish and absolute heartbreak of the mothers who had gifted their children to adoption – an anguish that might be a shock for many who still do not realise this was such an appalling heartbreak for so many women at the time. Women were often coerced or felt utterly pressured into giving children up for adoption at a time in society when, shamefully, single parents and children born outside marriage were maltreated. Senator Fintan Warfield addressed that issue. It must be said this country has a shameful history, both in the development of adoption law and the treatment of women and children. The Minister has spoken eloquently and done so much in her own work to address the issue, but, again, it is the context in which we bring forward the Bill and in which the debate is being held. It emphasises the need to ensure we will have some provision in the law to provide for information and tracing rights, as a matter of urgency.

We must also be very conscious that there have been much fewer intra-country adoptions in this state that are non-familial since the very welcome introduction of the single parent allowance.

In reality, it must be said, there is only a small number of people of increasing age who this is likely to affect, namely, mothers who gave children up for adoption at a time when they did not wish information on their identities to be disclosed. Their adult children are now also of advanced age. Some of the concerns surroundings sensitivities and so on might now be more easily addressed, given the simple lapse of time and the changed context in which adoptions are taking place. Much more frequently, we are seeing international adoptions or intra-family adoptions such as step-parent adoptions which will be facilitated by the Bill.

That is long way of saying I hope very much the Minister will feel able to take the information and tracing amendments I will put forward on Committee Stage. If she cannot, I hope very much that she will introduce her own Bill as a matter of urgency. I would like us to debate it here first in the Seanad. Let us introduce it here in the Seanad where we have less difficulty, albeit the Deputy Leader may correct me, in getting Government legislation through than the Dáil does. Certainly, there are many Bills which have lately been started in the Seanad and it would be very helpful to enable us to have a debate here.

I welcome the Bill and quote Tanya Ward from the Children's Rights Alliance who said: "The Bill does bring adoption law in Ireland into the 21st century." In some very welcome respects, that is true, but we still need to see the other legislation brought forward as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the Minister. I pay tribute to all the Senators who have contributed on the matter, in particular, Senator Victor Boyhan. It is something about which he obviously feels very strongly. I welcome the legislation which is very comprehensive and long overdue. In the referendum we amended the Constitution, Article 42A of which now provides for the Bill. It is important to progress the Bill at the earliest possible date and that we cover all of the angles. Sometimes, legislation is found not to cover everything. The Minister has raised the issue of a person who is over 18 years. I have come across that scenario in a court matter where an adoption was not processed and that is causing its own problems. It is a matter that obviously has to be dealt with at some stage.

When one is involved in the legal profession and politics, one comes across some very complex cases. People tend to come to us because we are involved in politics, thinking we have a magic wand, even though it is a very complex legal problem. One issue that has arisen is where incorrect information is provided when a child is delivered. I have come across that situation and it is a problem that is going to get more complex as one has different nationalities in the country and not all the information the maternity services receive may be correct. I am not sure whether it is covered by legislation as regards trying to find information. I remember being in the High Court where we could not identify either the mother or the father, not because the child had not been delivered in a maternity hospital but because incorrect information had been supplied. There was a complication in that if an application to register a birth was not made within 12 months, an application must be made in court, which is complex, particularly if incorrect information is provided. I raise this issue because it may be relevant later in trying to deal with adoptions. Do maternity hospitals have sufficient procedures in place for the identification of those who are attending? It is an issue I have come across and while it might be going slightly away from the issue before us, it is one with which I had to deal. It was complex and trying to ascertain information at a later stage was extremely difficult.

The legislation is long overdue and important. When children are in foster care, there is still that insecurity, even though I know foster parents are providing the best possible care for them. However, there is that insecurity and it would be useful if a child could be adopted, rather than to stay in foster care for the rest of his or her life. It is difficult when one comes across someone, as I did recently, who was in foster care from the age of seven years and who then found out the natural parent had died. The parent had known of the person's existence, yet had completely excluded the person from receiving anything at all from the estate. It is very difficult to try to explain that to a foster child. Even though the child was very well cared for in foster care, there was no opportunity to be adopted. If the legislation had been in place, the person would have been adopted. As such, the Bill is extremely important for everyone.

The Minister outlined the provisions of the Bill very well. My colleagues have gone through a lot of the sections, but the issue Senator Ivana Bacik and others have raised about tracing parents is an important one and we should prioritise it. I agree with Senator Ivana Bacik that we should try to introduce legislation in that regard in this House and move it on. We have already talked about the time that has passed since the referendum on this matter. I hope we will not have to wait the same length of time again in dealing with the issue of traceability. I urge the Minister to bring forward legislation in that regard as soon as possible.

I welcome the Minister and acknowledge her sterling role in preserving it as part of the Democracy Matters campaign before she became a Minister. I thank her for being one of the leaders of the small group of people who stood up for the Seanad at the time. I was struck at the time by the fact that referenda generally can never be regarded as foregone conclusions. The children's rights referendum was a case in point. I do not know what exact percentage of the population voted "No", but it was of the order of 30% to 40%. It was not a foregone conclusion that it would be passed, even though there was no political party, of which I was aware which actually togged out against it and no organised opposition to it. It is in that context that I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Victor Boyhan, for his very moving and sensible speech on why this legislation is needed. He gave a very personal description of the plight of children who were marooned by the law, the Constitution and the institutions of the State. He has emphasised the fact that in the end what children need is love, care, nourishment and affection from parents or a parent to have any chance of functioning as fully developed and emotionally mature members of society.

One thing Senator Victor Boyhan mentioned that struck a chord with me was that in the last few days he had received correspondence from people saying the legislation was dangerous; that it struck at the constitutional status of parenthood and damaged and undermined the family as an institution. I want to make one contribution on that issue. It is funny that the minority of hardline Catholics who put pen to paper to write to Senator Victor Boyhan and write articles in the hardline Catholic newspapers do not seem to have any sense of conscience at all about the fact that it was the same hardline opinions that drove girls into Magdalen convents and parents into expelling their pregnant daughters from their houses and the like. I received a letter from the author of a small history of the Archdiocese of Tuam on an interesting exchange between my grandfather, Eoin MacNeill, and the Archbishop of Tuam in the wake of the Black and Tans burning down the town as a reprisal.

When I read through the rest of his book, which is wonderful, I discovered that in the 1920s and 1930s a diocesan synod had been held in Tuam every year and that the then archbishop had laid down very clearly that if there was an extra-marital pregnancy which was known to members of the clergy in any part of the archdiocese, the fact was to be dealt with firmly from the altar in front of the whole community, albeit without mentioning the identity of the girl in question. This was part of the social pressure which was brought to bear on families to turn on the most vulnerable member of the family unit in the most vulnerable period of her life, to expel her or to end the scandal of the pregnancy by sweeping it under the carpet.

On another occasion I remember the late former Deputy Peadar Clohessy, a wonderful gentleman, telling me about a particular instance in his part of the woods in rural County Limerick in which a farmer had got a girl into trouble. The farmer survived but the girl did not. She was sent to a laundry in Limerick She tried to escape, but gardaí found her and brought her back to the laundry, even though she was over 18 years of age.

The people who write harsh letters saying the approach adopted in this Bill which is child centred is an attack on the family, in effect, belong to the same morally conformist tradition that supported bishops when they took a hard line against extra-marital pregnancies. They display an atavistic "let us get back to the good old times" attitude which seeks to forget about all of the progress made in the Catholic Church and among Christians generally. There is one Catholic newspaper, published fortnightly, which yearns for a return to pre-Conciliar religion in Ireland, the good old religion. The people who write such letters and read such newspapers are the ones who write letters to Senator Victor Boyhan to tell him that he is getting it wrong, that this legislation is wrong and subversive of some moral order and the family as a moral institution in society. I wonder if, on occasion, any of them ever looks in a mirror and asks himself or herself if he or she is speaking from the same pulpit as those who decried unmarried mothers in the Tuam diocese and forced them out of their community or from a Christian, loving perspective. I often think they confuse moral conformity, moral order and the notion that the family is a moral institution with the idea that at the heart of that institution - I do not like calling a family an institution - however it is structured, whether it be a one-parent or a two-parent family of whatever age or gender, is the glue of love. If the price of maintaining the family is the exiling from love of children in the circumstances described by Senator Victor Boyhan, one must wonder what schizoid mentality can object to the Bill, on the one hand, and, on the other, preach religion and a moral view of life.

I see no threat in this legislation to the moral order in Ireland. The constitutional amendment is absolutely balanced. Some might argue that it is overly balanced as to exclude the possibility of damaging a family which is operating and functioning as such. I see no moral danger to Irish society and no threat to the moral structures of Irish society or the moral beliefs of Irish people in the legislation. It is good that on this occasion, having passed the constitutional amendment, the legislation, with some stutters, has come into being fairly rapidly thereafter. Its critics should not be worried by it. If their criticism comes from some a priori religious commitment to the family as an inviolable structure to which the legislation is counterpoised as a danger, it is their view that is wrong and Senator Victor Boyhan's view and that of the Minister and, I presume, the great majority of Members of this House that is right. I commend the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House and congratulate her on doing so.

I welcome the Minister and wish her a happy new year. I also welcome the Bill which has been in the making for quite some time. I commend the Minister and her Department for bringing it to the House. I believe it will receive overwhelming support, notwithstanding the concerns of a few.

The situation was that there was no provision for re-adoption. A child had only one chance and if he or she was unlucky and something happened to his or her adopted parents or the adoption did not work out for other reasons, through no fault of the child, that was it. As a society, we had decided that children would have one chance and one chance only. I do not think anybody would agree with this from a moral point of view. Equally, the idea that two people in a loving and lasting relationship, one of whom was the parent of a child, would have to give up that child in order to have him or her adopted by both parents was ludicrous and such issues needed to be addressed urgently.

I welcome the Bill and will not speak at length on it. It is legislation I am very pleased to see in the House. I know that that there are other Bills on adoption coming through the Department to which I also look forward.

I thank all Senators for their insightful, practical and pragmatic reflections, many of which were deeply rooted in a philosophical and ethical base. I know that all Senators were operating from that position, but it is helpful to put it into words. I found it inspiring listening to the way in which they offered their reflections and for that reason it is wonderful to be back in the Seanad. As we continue to move through the various Stages of the Bill, suggestions or amendments from Senators will help to make it better. Practical changes, for example, will certainly make implementation of the Bill, by way of regulations, better, for which I am very grateful.

I know that time is limited, but I wish to respond on a number of issues raised by Senators during the debate. In response to Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, I acknowledge that Fianna Fáil has welcomed the Bill, for which I thank her.

I note the point she made about resources, with reference to extending the foster care grant. I cannot give a commitment in the Seanad, but I will certainly consider the points she raised, as well as those raised by Senator Fintan Warfield.

Everyone has acknowledged, rightly so, the extraordinary contribution of Senator Victor Boyhan. It was a privilege to be the Minister to listen to it. As Senator Michael McDowell stated, it was common sense and profound, as well as pragmatic and practical om identifying various ways in which we can offer care for the child through fostering, adoption and good State care. Out of this, perhaps the Bill will enable a better way of children having the opportunity to go down whatever path is appropriate and good for them.

Senator Catherine Noone acknowledged how important the Bill was and that it treated all children equally, regardless of the marital status of their parents. This is critical and why it is so important for me that the Bill has this aspect. She also drew on her experience as a practitioner and raised the question of resourcing the legislation, particularly the plans to implement it with reference to Tusla. That is something I very much had in mind in my negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on the budget. I hope Tusla will be able to set aside the appropriate resources required.

It was great to hear Senator Fintan Warfield reflect in another profound contribution that this was a progressive Bill contributing towards the ongoing dispelling of the myth of the nuclear family, which perhaps one could say is part of the overall, and is one way of interpreting the institution about which Senator Michael McDowell spoke and which various bodies in society may still wish to promote.

Senator Ivana Bacik stated the Bill would bring some of the aspects into the 21st century. I thank her for her compliments on various aspects of the Bill. She mentioned how long overdue it was and, as she always does, welcomed significant aspects of the legislation. Her primary criticism is with what is not included - some of the key elements of what ought to be included in terms of information and tracing for people who are searching their right to identity and origins, as she eloquently laid out. I agree with all of this. I was appointed in May and published the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill in November. From the moment I started going to the Cabinet, the Attorney General and I often spoke about it, after which I went back to the Department. It is very much a personal priority for me. I can now state we have just had news that the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill is scheduled to be taken on Second Stage in the Seanad on 7 March.

That is great. I thank the Minister.

I thank the gods and goddesses for the timing of that one.

Excellent timing.

I thank my predecessor, Senator James Reilly, for his kind comments. He has identified two issues which are integral to the Bill and long overdue.

Senator Colm Burke mentioned that he had come across a case which involved a person who was over 18 years. I will ask him about it. His points on incorrect information on a child are important.

To answer some of the practical issues raised, we will bring forward the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill shortly and it is appropriate that it should start here. It will help us to do the best job we can before we get it to the Dáil.

The way Senator Michael McDowell complimented his colleague in his reflection brought together much of what was underneath those comments, if not explicitly referred to, and causes me to ask the question of what are the values that underlie what we are doing in the Bill. Earlier in the session Senator Victor Boyhan stated where there was love, children would be cherished. The religious body and institutional organisation to which Senator Michael McDowell referred, as he knows well, at least on its best days, draws on its greatest aspects of tradition, what used to be called a revelation but is the profound insight that God is love. I hope the Bill can contribute to ensuring more children will have the opportunity to be cherished by the love of a family, even in the diversity we now acknowledge. That is part of the reason Senator Victor Boyhan is getting some of the responses. Much of it has to do with resistance. We need to have a diversity of families. We have moved in this direction to ensure we will have more opportunities where children are loved and cherished. I note and acknowledge the contribution of Senator Michael McDowell which reminded us of this. For us to have the child-centredness the Bill represents, we absolutely require the diversity of families which so many of us have struggled to bring into being.

I thank Senators and look forward to continuing this conversation on the remaining Stages.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 31 January 2017.

When is it proposed to set again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 January 2017.