Adoption, Information and Tracing: Statements

I thank Senators for agreeing to allow a deferral of Committee Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 today so that I could come before the House to make a statement about adoption and hear their views. Having met advocacy groups, lawyers and social workers in my Department yesterday evening as another part of my ongoing consultation with key stakeholders on this Bill, I believed it would be more helpful for us to have an exchange of views about some of the challenges of the legislation before we proceed with Committee Stage. Members will be aware that this Bill was published towards the end of 2016 and I brought it into the Seanad in May 2017. The Bill seeks to put in place a comprehensive statutory scheme for information and tracing and deals with identifying and non-identifying information. It also provides for relevant records to come into the custody of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and for the creation of a searchable electronic database for those records.

In applications for the release of identifying information, important rights are engaged relating to privacy and identity. Legislation must provide a mechanism for balancing these rights in individual cases. The balancing of these complex and competing rights has been a considerable challenge and has delayed the progress of the Bill, which as I said before was published in 2016. Subsequent to that time my officials and I, along with the Attorney General and his officials, have been working consistently to prepare Committee Stage amendments in light of strong criticisms from advocates, adopted persons and others of the ways we sought to reconcile the competing issues of privacy and identity.

I will share some of my personal views with the House. As part of my engagement with the Attorney General and his office, I wrote a lengthy letter to him on foot of my involvement in an international conference on transitional justice, which took place in Boston. International and Irish experts, some of whom are adopted, took part in an extensive debate at the conference on Ireland's adoption regime. I outlined to him my strong view that we needed to adopt a different approach in the amendments to the Bill that were being prepared for Committee Stage. The views expressed by adopted people about their life experiences and their interaction with State and church officials and agencies, particularly with regard to their efforts to seek information that is absolutely core to their identity, were deeply disturbing to me. I said it was my considered view that the approach in the Bill, while not intended to be so, would extend into the present the harm that adopted people, through legal or illegal means, had experienced in the past.

In my letter to the Attorney General, I outlined a number of principles for my Ministry, three of which I will mention. First, to put it simply, the right of the child to identity needs to be recognised as weightier than the right to privacy of natural parents or guardians, or indeed the adopted parents of the child. I do not suggest that the latter right should be disregarded, but that it should not be given priority in the balancing of rights. Second, I believe family rights trump the right to privacy. Third, the rights of an adult in 2018, who was a child when he or she was adopted, should be contiguous with a child's right to identity.

I noted in my letter to the Attorney General that I believe the Constitution is a living document. I argued that as the social context changes, our understanding of the common good can change. We should be free to ground ourselves in the present social context to interpret a Constitution that lives. I made the point that the I O'T v. B case was decided in a legislative vacuum because there was no statute expressing the view of the Oireachtas on where the balance between privacy and identity rights should be struck. I believe it is open to the Oireachtas to strike a different balance from that struck by the Supreme Court in the particular circumstances of the I O'T v. B case, as long as this balance does not interfere disproportionately with either right. As courts defer to the balance proposed by the Oireachtas in questions of contentious social policy, such as this one, I suggest that Oireachtas legislation, in which we articulate our view of where the balance lies and how to give effect to both rights, would enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality. I said many things in my letter and I have put a few of them on the record of the Seanad today.

I received a lengthy letter from the Attorney General in light of his extensive personal engagement with this Bill and with his officials. The views expressed in that letter helped us to develop the Government amendments that were prepared for Committee Stage. As Senators are aware, the amendments in question propose the removal of the compelling reasons provision and the requirement that an applicant must sign an undertaking not to contact his or her birth parent to access information. For many adopted people, these were two of the most offensive aspects of the Bill as passed on Second Stage. We heard, we listened and we were able to change our approach. I am aware that the amendments proposed to section 5, with the intention of taking another approach to the balancing of rights, are not acceptable to many people. I have received hundreds of emails and spoken to advocates and some Members of the Oireachtas. I continue to listen and to hear. I asked Senator Bacik to develop the views she outlined in this Chamber the previous time we met into a Committee Stage amendment that we could consider as another way forward. She has done this, and I am most grateful to her for that.

I thank the Minister.

I provided the Senator's amendment to the Attorney General and his office and requested urgent advice on it to be able to offer a summary of that advice in this Chamber today. A summary of the Attorney General's approach begins with the need to balance rights on an individualised basis for the possible, and doubtless small, number of cases in which a birth mother asserts her right to privacy. That is very important. I have got the Attorney General's advice back with great urgency. I spoke to him this morning when he was in The Hague.

There are two parts to the amendment proposed by Senator Bacik. She suggests in the first part of the amendment that, rather than Tusla contacting all birth parents to ascertain if they have any concerns about the information being sought, provision should be made for an opt-in mechanism that would allow birth parents to register their objections to the release of information for a specified period. On first sight, there appears to be no legal obstacle to having an administrative process that allows birth parents to opt into a process rather than having to opt out. At this point, there does not appear to be a difficulty in principle with this aspect of the amendment. However, a detailed scheme of opting in would require further advice from the Attorney General's office to ensure the rights of all parties were adequately protected in its operation. I think the advice that has come back on this part of the amendment is significant.

The second part of Senator Bacik's amendment provides that if an application is received in respect of a person who has concerns about the information being sought, an information meeting will be held at which the applicant will be informed of the registered objection of the birth parents, and then the information will be released. I am advised that this part of the amendment does not adequately protect or vindicate the rights of birth parents in that it allows them to register their objection without providing for a mechanism to enable it to be considered. I have clear legal advice that there must be some mechanism to balance the rights of applicants and birth parents on a case-by-case basis. To achieve a constitutionally sound Bill, there must be some determination against criteria on the competing rights of the applicant and the birth parent.

I will conclude my opening remarks by suggesting a way forward to continue to make this law. I wish to listen intently to the views of Senators. My officials are listening too. The Attorney General and his officials will take note of every word. I would like to meet political parties and Independents to discuss and engage further on these difficult, sensitive and technical matters with regard to the rights of natural parents and adopted people. I would like to meet stakeholders, including the representative groups of adopted people, social workers and natural parents, to hear their views on our efforts to amend the legislation. In light of these various consultations, I would like to see whether we can build on and refine Senator Bacik's amendment to come up with something that is acceptable to the Attorney General, stakeholders and lawmakers. At that stage, I would like to resume Committee Stage in this great Seanad. I want to develop the law in this area with Senators and our colleagues in the Dáil. I believe this is possible and necessary, now more than ever.

I would like to share time with Senators Leyden and Gallagher.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to adjourn the Committee Stage debate on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, which was to resume today, and thereby ensuring we did not have to divide the House. I welcome her decision to pause the legislative process so that all of us can take time to give the Bill further consideration and engage in further consultation with stakeholders. Like the Minister, Senators have been contacted by many people - I will not say we have been bombarded because that would be the wrong word - who have written eloquent letters to us. I am not talking about the standard email we tend to receive from an email address.

We received genuine and heartfelt emails, correspondence and calls to our offices. There are many concerns, not just on the part of adoptees but also of birth parents. Some of those latter concerns have not been vocalised. Perhaps the people concerned are of an older, less tech-savvy generation. We feel that their voices also need to be heard in this debate.

The balancing of these rights is a huge responsibility. It is a huge challenge for the Seanad. This is really delicate legislation. We have not had such delicate legislation in this House since legislating for abortion. It really sets our minds racing. Many of us find it hard to know where the balance lies. It is a huge challenge but it is on us as legislators to think about it a little bit more carefully. The Minister decided to pause this Bill because of the huge sentiment and the huge moral issue on which we are all going to have to decide. I look forward to engaging with my colleague, Senator Bacik. We have had a cursory look at her amendments. They seem very sound. We will be working along with my colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Rabbitte, who has put a lot of work into engaging with the Minister's office on this issue. Hopefully we will all be able to work together. This is something on which we need to legislate. It has gone on too long. We need to ensure that people have access to their records. DNA ancestry databases remind us that science will move on a little bit quicker than we do. I know many people who have found relatives through the DNA ancestry databases. This legislation might not be applicable to everybody if they are able to go down other avenues, which is a good thing in my own opinion. I want to thank the Minister. I look forward to working with everyone across the House on this legislation.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to the House. From my experience with her in Seanad Éireann and in the Council of Europe I can certainly hear her voice in the speech she has made. She has come up with a very balanced speech today. I welcome the fact that she is going to give time for people to consider this matter. For people who are watching this broadcast I, like the Minister, want to acknowledge the number of emails we have received. Some of them are very personal and I feel the Minister was listening to them. We are very pleased with that because it is a very serious situation. Rights are involved on both sides. With all we have gone through in this country a child who has been adopted must have a right to know who his or her natural parents are, whatever measures the Minister is proposing. Those measures seem sound and will be considered by Fianna Fáil.

Some of the messages received were very personal and provided a lot of information. Birth mothers are not in a position to communicate with us because their information is so personal and so sensitive that to disclose their identity to Members of the House, they would have to trust in our confidentiality. Confidence is generally kept here, but once that information is out there it can be a problem. I hope they can establish a confidential line of communication with the Minister and her officials and that their rights will be looked at very carefully.

Life has moved on. DNA information is now available. A second cousin can now be identified. The birth mother may never provide that information if she does not want to be traced, but a relation can provide information and as a result people are now discovering quite a lot of information about themselves. I would like to compliment the Minister on the respect she has shown to this House. It is not appropriate for us to pass this Bill and for the Dáil to amend it. The Minister knows this from her vast experience in this House, during which she contributed so much to Bills. I am really grateful to her for showing such respect to the Members of this House as her former colleagues. I hope this will progress in due course and that it will be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone. Difficult though it is, it is very important.

I welcome the Minister to the House this afternoon to discuss the Adoption (Tracing and Information) Bill 2016. It is hugely important legislation on an emotional issue for those caught up in it. I am encouraged by the Minister's introductory remarks this afternoon. She has opened her door to everybody and to all views, which is to be welcomed. This issue has been hanging around for many years. There is no point in trying to railroad something through here that does not have universal acceptance, not just from people in this House but from other stakeholders that have very important views to articulate on this issue. It is clear from the number of emails we have all received that many outstanding issues have yet to be addressed. Amendments will be required to address those issues, but anyone listening to the Minister's remarks would have to be encouraged by them. I compliment her for her stance on that and for the respect she has shown to the Members of this House, as Senator Leyden noted. I know her door is open to everyone and I look forward to reaching a conclusion that will be satisfactory to those most affected by this issue.

I thank the Minister for being here. I am very grateful for what Fianna Fáil and Senator Leyden have said, that the Seanad is a fine place to try to work this out. We have the time and the legal knowledge and we have a different kind of energy, which could help to find the solution to this. Having been a Senator, the Minister knows that. It is not a good thing for us to simply let it be worked out in the Dáil. It would be very good for us to try to find a way forward with this very delicate and human Bill that is to the satisfaction of everybody. I know the Minister is a great believer in argument and she will accept this completely on those terms but I find the Bill fundamentally flawed and I cannot and will not back it in its current form.

The first flaw we must get over is that this Bill must not confuse information with tracing. That is a major flaw. It confuses the rights to identity, that is, giving adoptees their information, with their desire to meet or not to meet their biological parents. Most research shows that adoptees are looking for information, not to knock on the doors of their natural parents. Somewhere in the Bill, outside of what is written, is an atmosphere of demonisation of adoptees, as if they are out to cause harm or harm will somehow be caused. I know the Minister does not mean that but it is there somewhere. It is as if adoptees mean to somehow disrupt the lives of their birth mothers, fathers or siblings. This is untrue, it is very dangerous and it is a discriminatory belief.

The first report I have the privilege to mention to the Minister is that of the collaborative forum of former residents of mother and baby homes. It states that the Bill, in common with all of its predecessors, conflates the right to personal information with the right to trace, which applicants have never claimed existed nor have they ever asked for such a right to be created. Despite this, we are bringing it about as if they did. The report goes on to stress that the applicants have merely sought their own identities and information, which are rights enjoyed and guaranteed to all citizens but denied to them due to the circumstances of their birth. The report reiterates that rights to identity information are a fundamental right.

It may interest the Minister to know that in the 1990s, many organisations provided a means of finding birth parents or adopted children. This started in 1985. People have been using many of these organisations and processes for years. There have been no lawsuits and no harm has come about as a result.

The second point I would like to make is very relevant today. I was delighted to hear the Minister say she would contact the stakeholders throughout the world of adoption, which is a big world.

I am sorry that did not happen before because we might not now be in this impasse. I include Fianna Fáil in that reflection. I know it has been very difficult for adoptees. They were very gracious to those of us who met them recently, as was their office. Generally speaking, however, there could have been a little more contact. That is just my opinion.

My third point concerns Tusla. As the sole agency, it is not equipped to carry out what the Bill suggests it should carry out. The Minister knows this and referred to it in her speech. Tusla is unregulated under the Adoption Act 2010. Some 15,000 people, including birth parents and adoptees, are already on a contact register maintained by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. I refer to the national adoption contact preference register, NACPR. It is my belief and that of the collaborative forum of former residents of mother and baby homes that the NACPR should be relaunched on a statutory footing and rebadged to allow registrations for all. Tusla should be ruled out from managing that database. That is a radical thing to say. I do not mean that in a personal way but in respect of the Department. I note the Minister's answer to Deputy Micheál Martin today regarding the provision of extra money to Tusla. There is a serious problem regarding how Tusla is going to have the resources and money required to carry out this task. I note the Minister's answer and that on the time limits as well.

All current information that the Adoption Authority of Ireland holds on the 15,000 people who are already registered will be lost or laid dormant as people are forced to reregister. Those on the current register, both natural mothers and adoptees, put their names on that list in good faith and gave that decision the consideration required. It was not a decision they came to lightly. Under this Bill, it is now being suggested that they start all over again. If the current NACPR were to be placed on a statutory basis, active tracing and provision of information to those requests would begin immediately. Tusla has undermined the civil registration system. It has done that while lacking the talent, experience and requisite expansive and expensive training to do that task itself. Tusla is not regulated for adoptive services, yet the Bill suggests that it set up a quasi-legal process to argue the case for and against the release of information. That is flawed, unfair and costly and will cause undue delays.

Tusla does not have the staff, the administration nor the training required. It has neither the gestalt nor the Jungian theory to be able to decide, therapeutically, which information to give out and which to withhold. I understand that social workers, by their very nature, are very well trained, well meaning and do outstanding work. It is an enormous task, however, and one too great to ask. How will social workers be able to fulfil that task without the benefit of substantial resources in the areas of time, space, technology, training, expertise, communication and specialisms? We are really talking about the need for a new agency. I reiterate that Tusla is not regulated for adoption services by the appropriate State regulator. In this case, that is the Adoption Authority of Ireland. Tusla's adoption services would, therefore, be unregulated.

When adoption agencies withered on the vine and bowed out of the adoption process, for very natural reasons, the HSE nominated Tusla as the body to which all files should revert. Tusla is now the second biggest holder of adoption records, numbering 120,000. This aspect of the Bill cannot have been thought through. It is too huge and profound a task to ask of an agency which is already engaged in so much other incredible and important work with young people. There has been much talk about the whole area of the natural mother's right to privacy. Privacy can be negative or positive. The Minister raised this herself. Why does the natural mother's right to privacy supersede the adoptee's right to privacy or identity? Why is the adoptee vetoed by the mother?

This Bill is forcing natural mothers to know of their adopted child’s efforts to seek information, whether they wish to know or not. If adoptees were trusted by the State to be able to source their records for their own personal use or reason, then the natural mothers would never need to know of this development. That would allow for lives to go on without the initiation of any tracing or reunion. Whether tracing or reunions happen are completely separate issues. The process I have suggested would protect the privacy of the natural mother and the adopted child. It is possible to do that, but certainly not in this Bill as it is now. The Minister has acknowledged that. The greatest abuse of the right to privacy is brought about by the interference of the State. No one in this country needs to be reminded of what happens to women and children when the State interferes.

I have read hundreds of emails from representative bodies such as the Adoption Rights Alliance, the Adoption Authority of Ireland, Aitheantas-Adoptee Identity Rights, human rights lawyers, legislatures, sociologists, mothers and adoptees. Two phrases keep coming to mind that encompass the despair of this whole world. Those are the "architecture of containment" and "living bereavement". It is sometimes not easy to understand what people mean when they say they do not know who they are. We talk about transcendence and we make statements concerning being able to walk in the shoes of other people or understanding the feelings of others. That is not the case. We really do not know how people are and how they feel when they do not know who they are and cannot find out. The absolute isolation of that is mind-boggling. All of these barriers are placed, for the best reasons in the world, in front of people when they try to do something about that situation.

We need to keep that in our minds. I suggest that the Minister consider three points. Information should be given out by independent archivists to every person requesting it. Applicants would get their personal data after an information session where they would be informed of how the NACPR works, as well as the responsibilities and opportunities it places on everyone. Family tracing would be an optional service after that and it would be a service well resourced and staffed with trained, expert social workers. That is why I suggest-----

The Senator is in full flow but she is over time.

I will sit down soon. One point is salvageable in the Bill and we must not forget it, and that is the Government's right to compel former private adoption agencies to hand over their records to the national database.

That is a measure I support fully and I thank the Minister for that. It is the only one, however. I cannot support the rest of the Bill. I have faith in the Minister as a woman, as a former Senator and as a Minister. We are not, however, going to let this go.

I thank the Senator. I call Senator Feighan. Before he starts, I welcome the group from Limerick City Council to the Chamber.

I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this important Bill. I also feel that the agreement to allow the deferral of the Committee Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 today is very welcome. It shows that there is cross-party support. I thank all of the members of the public and all of the various agencies involved on their engagement. Many of us in this House were not aware of the considerable debate in this area. It is nice to see the people taking the time to engage with us. It is also nice to see that, cross-party, people have listened. That is the right way forward.

The matter of adoption is a sensitive issue and one that we must carefully consider. There has been much debate about the contents of this Bill. That has focused on the balance between the right to privacy and the right to information on identity. I hope and believe that this Bill will strike the correct balance between these rights. Nobody wants to see a return to the past where the adoption process was shrouded in secrecy. I believe this Bill will allow us to move forward in providing information to adoptees. Much more consultation is needed.

I also welcome the fact that the Minister spent time considering this Bill in conjunction with the Attorney General to determine the best and most efficient way to expand access to information for adoptees. That is to deliver a comprehensive and much-needed Bill. I understand that the Attorney General is in The Hague. It is nice to see that it is possible to get information turned around, even given that situation. Sometimes we complain about various Departments, but I would not, however, like to be in The Hague on other business and then have to try to deal with this issue as well. This shows that at least something works in government. This is an issue that is probably way above my pay grade.

I turn to the issue of whether this matter should be put to referendum.

However, it was determined that this legislation would provide the quickest resolution of the matter. Like most referenda, a constitutional referendum has the potential to be a painful process for those directly involved. I believe the adoptees do not want to be the subject of a national referendum debate on such a deeply personal and emotive issue. When the question is put to the people in a referendum, sometimes it is not that question that is answered. We have seen what happened in the Brexit referendum. People may not like the Government or somebody might make a persuasive argument and use the opportunity to vote on a different issue. This is the right way to go forward.

I also welcome the fact that concerns raised by individuals and organisations are being addressed by the Minister. I thank Senator Bacik for bringing forward proposals that have been taken on board, most notably through the removal of the provision that some adoptees had to sign an undertaking that they would not attempt to contact their birth parent. Instead all birth parents will be contacted to clarify the position regarding contact.

Concerns were raised about the role that Tusla would play under the legislation, and Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell articulated that point well. However, I believe that Tusla will be equipped and ready to carry out its duties when called upon. Setting up a different agency may not be the correct approach but I am willing to listen to all views. I agree with the Senator that we must ensure that Tusla has the ability sanctioned by law to gain and share information but it also needs people on the ground. The agency needs the resources to deal with this very difficult issue. I have full confidence in the Minister and I know that concerns regarding this Bill are being treated with utmost respect and consideration. This is reflected in the passage of the Bill through the Seanad.

I also recognise that this Bill has been needed for 20 years. It will allow for the first time a statutory basis for information and tracing methods for all parties. This is needed and wanted by many people on this island. I hope that the deliberations by all sides in the coming weeks will give us a Bill will stand the test of time.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the fact that the Bill has been removed from the schedule today. This is a recognition of a clear message from Members that it is not sufficient to provide a clear indiscriminate pathway for adoptive persons and birth parents seeking truth and, even with the proposed amendments, it is still steeped with hurtful stigma. This well of misinformation, mistruth and the guarding of people's rights to their identity is a stain on the State's past. Not only did the church co-ordinate on this, but the State was complicit in hiding the evidence. Not only should the State be beholden to its responsibilities in this regard, it should do its utmost to reconcile the damage it has done and not serve to compound the hurt with overbearing litigation and an ongoing denial of identity rights.

While the Minister has addressed the fact that the Attorney General is insisting on the right of refusal of the birth mother, it is clear that this is discriminatory to adopted people and it writes into statute a clear and unequivocal stigma that says to adopted people, many of whom have spent a lifetime of being let down by the State, that it does not trust them with information pertaining to their own identity and personal data. While I do not believe that is the Government's intention, the Bill needs to be reconsidered in respect of balancing the rights of privacy and the right to one's identity. The Minister's Department has been working on this tirelessly to try to seek the best balance but for those of us who take their lead from the voices of those affected by the Bill, we cannot currently endorse it as it stands. We welcome the Bill being put on hold.

I reiterate that birth registrations have been a matter of public record in Ireland since 1864. The general data protection regulation, GDPR ensures that a person has a right to their own personal information. There is no substantial data to suggest that there is an issue of adoptive people knocking on the door of his or her natural mother's home, without due consideration and there is no substantial data to suggest that there is an imbalance of adopted persons seeking their birth mothers and not vice versa or that there is a requirement to place the birth mother's refusal and only hers in law, which prejudices adopted people. We cannot support the dynamic proposed in this legislation that would only further prolong the hurt and discrimination against adopted people by the State and Sinn Féin cannot support a Bill that contains these proposals.

However, we have taken our lead from adopted people. I welcome the Minister's commitment to continue to engage more with the stakeholders. I have not seen the amendments proposed by Senator Bacik.

They have been circulated.

I am aware that alternative legislative proposals are being considered by representatives of adopted people. We will give all of these proposals our full consideration over the coming days and weeks. We are conscious that we are against the clock and that www.ancestry.com, www.23andMe.com are currently doing the work that the State has not done and they are doing so in a supportive atmosphere. More crucially, those who were adopted need to have unfettered access to medical information regarding their birth and their heritage now more than ever. This is urgent and vital.

Senator Kelleher has eight minutes.

I wish to share my time with Senator Alice-Mary Higgins

Will that be four minutes each?

I thank the Minister. It is great that we are listening to each other today. The Minister's statement was most encouraging and our debate is in the context of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, which is rightly getting a great deal of our attention. The Bill itself is an existential matter for people who were adopted, either by force, legally or illegally. It is about identity for the adoptees and their children's children. In that balancing equation, that group of people also need to be taken into consideration by the Attorney General and others. Of course, we need to have due regard and compassion for the natural mothers as well.

Serious issues have been raised by a range of different people and groups, including adoptees themselves, the Adoption Rights Alliance, Council of Irish Adoption Agencies, Aitheantas, Irish Association of Social Work, and Irish Council for Civil Liberties. Like the Minister, we have received hundreds of emails on this Bill. There is a fundamental concern that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell outlined in detail about the conflation of information and tracing. They are not the same and need to be separated. That is one of the fundamental jobs we need to do in improving the Bill. Advocates such as Mairead Enright, Maeve O'Rourke and Fred Logue have flagged key issues to which we should pay attention. The Adoption Rights Alliance cited their deep opposition to the Government’s approach in a letter circulated to Members yesterday, which I am sure the Minister has seen. The letter raises the restrictions on access to birth certificates; the censorship of files; and that no rights to information provided for natural mothers or relatives of the deceased are provided for in the Bill. Only last week, Mairead Enright reminded us that we need to consider this Bill in the context of "reproductive justice" in Ireland, the lack of which was so painfully and so graphically recalled again last weekend by Majella Moynihan, in case we have forgotten. That is the context in which this Bill is being debated.

Ms Enright also raised concerns about Tusla, about which Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell spoke at length. She said it was not clear how adopted people's rights would be safeguarded by the process, especially given Tusla's poor history. It is vital to pause and tease out the role and functions envisaged for Tusla in the Bill and its suitability, capability and competence in performing them.

It is welcome that yesterday the Minister met some of the stakeholders and listened to their concerns and that she met Senators last week. However, complex issues related to the Bill need further reflection, dialogue and consideration. I am grateful that the Minister and her officials will continue to engage with and listen to the individuals concerned. Will the findings of the collaborative forum on mother and baby homes which presented its work to the Minister in December 2018 be published? That would be useful to us as Senators to make the Bill as good as it needs to be.

We need to pause. There were pauses in the development of the domestic violence legislation that helped to improve it. The offence of coercive control was put in the Statute Book because we had paused and thought the matter through. We will do the same in dealing with this important Bill. It is important to give Senators and advocacy organisations time to come forward with concrete proposals such as Senator Bacik's proposal for opting in and others in development by the Adoption Rights Alliance and others. There are also good things in the Bill such as the strengthened powers of the Adoption Authority of Ireland. We need to keep the best, but we also need to make changes on the points raised with us.

I thank the Minister for listening. We can and will have a good law for adoptees. This is a pause, rather than a stop, which will enable us to make better law for adoptees, their children and their children's children, as well as natural mothers.

I concur as this is an opportunity to make better law. It is also an opportunity to genuinely engage on and shape the Ireland in which we want to live by addressing the many injustices that occurred in the past. I again acknowledge in the Minister's statements the principles to which she spoke. We are living in an Ireland that has acknowledged a child's rights by popular mandate. It is an Ireland in which the understanding of the common good is very different. We are recognising a systematic injustice that was done to women for decades and trying to change it. I hope the introduction of open adoption might be another way of reflecting the new Ireland of openness, without stigma and discrimination.

I will respond specifically to the question posed by the Minister in the limited time I have available. It is welcome that progress seems to have been on the first part of Senator Bacik's proposal. It may end up nuanced, but there is the idea that we do have deep concern for people and their ability to trace their birth mother and father. The Minister said there must be some mechanism, but we have the seeds of such a mechanism. That mechanism is set out in data protection legislation and reflected in EU Regulation No. 2016/679, the general data protection regulation, GDPR. It is EU law and recognised in the Constitution just as much as any other constitutional provision about which we have sometimes spoken. In some case it has supremacy. The GDPR is either compatible or incompatible with the Constitution and it seems that we have determined it is compatible. The issues of privacy and the pre-eminence of the right to an identity are reflected in Article 15 of the general data protection regulation which enumerates the right of persons to their data and personal information. It also mentions that consideration should be given to the rights of others. A process has been set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 which transposes the regulation into Irish law. This is not incompatible with the information session idea or proposals put forward by Senator Bacik. We might need to be clear that there would be a moment for the consideration of rights that would be reflected in the way an information session might be conducted, for example. It is the case in other areas - there are many areas in which such balancing occurs in the GDPR - that "suitable and specific measures" or "proportionate actions" should be prescribed or set out in law. For example, it is a fundamental principle that the denial of a birth certificate to somebody is not a proportionate action and should not be recognised as such in any case. There might be other measures that are proportionate and appropriate that could be reflected within an information session. That is perhaps one way of making the mechanism or consideration visible and it can be in line with this process.

The GDPR is important for another reason, that is, the deep concern reflected in the Bill, as it stands. Every individual, whether he or she is seeking information or another party, already has legal recourse or a pathway set out by the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 if he or she is concerned that the balancing was not made appropriately in terms of protecting his or her rights. The mechanism involves going to the Data Protection Commissioner and the path to be followed is set out. I know that it is no longer the proposal, but I am deeply concerned that the Bill, as it stands, seeks to actively confer jurisdiction on the Circuit Court, with the process being at odds with that undertaken by somebody concerned about personal data under data protection legislation. There is a conflicting process.

One of the concerns of the individuals affected about which they feel passionately is that they want to move past a climate of distrust where people feel they really have to fight for vindication of their rights. It is about moving to a position where the State will seek to make reparations and see what it can do to deal with that deep sense of justice of the citizens affected, something that was spoken about eloquently. There are tools in place to do this. We can move forward in a constructive way. I look forward to further engagement with all stakeholders, including birth mothers and others affected by this issue, as well as those people who have been adopted.

I wish to share time with Senator Ó Ríordáin.

I welcome the Minister. I also very much welcome the deferral of Committee Stage and its replacement with statements. I thank the Minister for her very full opening statement to us in which she set out her views. I wholeheartedly agree with the content of her letter to the Attorney General as she explained it to us, particularly her view on the balancing of rights, her reading of the I O'T v. B case and her view of the Constitution as a living document. I am also very glad to hear that the Attorney General's preliminary advice, as I understand it, is that there is no difficulty in principle with the amendment I have put forward.

For the assistance of colleagues, I will confirm the text of the amendment I put forward, about which I spoke in this House last week and which I subsequently developed. I thank those to whom I spoke about the drafting and preparation of the amendment, notably Dr. Maeve O'Rourke, Ms Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance, Mr. Liam Herrick from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, our drafter Mr. Finbarr O'Malley in the Labour Party and Deputy Joan Burton, all of whom were very helpful to me in giving my initial idea a little more substance. It is now amendment No. 71a which was circulated to all colleagues as part of an additional list of amendments earlier this week. It seeks to insert a new section 23 which reads:

In page 20, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

“Rights from birth

23. (1) This Act is based upon the principle, recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that every child should have as far as possible the right from birth to know his or her parents and to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations.

(2) In keeping with this principle, notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, where an application is made for provision to the applicant of information referred to in section 22#, including the birth certificate of the applicant, there shall be a right of access to such information, including the applicant’s full original birth certificate, whether the applicant is a person whose adoption was effected before or after the date on which this Act comes into operation.

(3) Notwithstanding subsection (2), upon commencement of the Act the Minister shall make provision by way of regulation for a six-month period of extensive advertising and outreach in order to ask for any birth mother who may have given a child up for adoption previously to come forward to the Agency if they wish to assert an objection to the disclosure of the birth certificate of that child or other relevant information identifying of them as birth mother, based upon their privacy rights, and the advertising and outreach shall specify that such birth mothers may at any time after registering an initial objection within the six-month period come forward to withdraw such objection.

Subsection (3) is the core of the opt-in procedure I am proposing as a replacement for the opt-out procedure. As I see it, the strength of this proposal is that it still provides a mechanism for individual birth mothers to come forward and assert their privacy-based rights. The Minister sought to achieve such a balance.

As I said last week, as others have said and as we have heard in the extensive correspondence from adoptees, the previous set of amendments was insufficiently cognisant of the information and identity rights of adoptees, and the right of the child to his or her identity as set out in the UN convention. Those amendments placed too great an emphasis on the privacy rights of birth mothers, many of whom, as we have heard in correspondence, do not want to assert privacy rights, have never been given any such undertakings and often signed up to conditional consent that was coerced out of them. We have heard even more distressing disclosures about the Majella Moynihan case. Senator Kelleher is quite right when she says that reproductive justice for women is the context in which we are debating all of this. I am glad it seems that subsection (3) will pass muster constitutionally. It is clear that it will need to be tweaked. I am glad to hear that the idea of opting in will pass. As I said last week, it is based on previous precedent, notably the residential institution redress procedure, in which the State invites applicants to participate. I have been told since our last debate that our approach is also based on practice in other jurisdictions and on the way we advertise the national contact preference register. I think there is a robust precedent.

I understand from the Minister's statement that the Attorney General does not believe the next provision in my amendment, subsection (4), would pass muster. Subsections (4) and (5) provide:

(4) If such objection under subsection (3) is made to the Agency by a birth mother, it shall be registered as an objection by the Agency, so that if any applicant seeks provision of section 22 information, including their birth certificate, in circumstances where such provision would disclose the identity of that birth mother who has asserted an objection, the applicant shall be informed of the objection and shall attend at an information meeting to be facilitated by the Agency, at which the information shall be discussed with them and provided to them.

(5) Where no such objection is made to the Agency within the specified six-month period, any applicant who seeks disclosure thereafter of section 22 information, including their birth certificate, shall be provided with such disclosure by the Agency.

The key difficulty we need to address in respect of subsection (4) is the need to meet the Attorney General's request for us to come up with an additional condition on access. The Labour Party cannot support a Bill that seems to be premised on placing an undue emphasis on privacy rights and an insufficient emphasis on rights of information and identity. The key challenge is to find a middle way. Senator Higgins has helpfully set out an alternative proposal that falls between the information meeting, which is the sole condition we are proposing on an applicant's right of access to information, and the very cumbersome and labyrinthine procedure of hearing and determination before the Adoption Authority of Ireland and then the Circuit Court. I think there must be a middle way. Perhaps the existing GDPR and Data Protection Commissioner process represents such a way. We will work and engage with the Minister constructively to ensure this Bill meets the requirements of adoptees, birth parents and other stakeholders.

I am grateful not only to the people I have named, but also to the Minister and her officials, whom I have met and communicated with on a number of occasions since we last discussed these matters in this House.

I am also grateful to the Tusla officials whom Deputy Burton and I met yesterday. They helpfully explained to us how the information and tracing process is being carried out at present. They told us that the lack of a statutory basis for this work is frustrating for everyone who is trying to provide information. I think we all understand that. We understand the need for legislation of this sort. We understand the positive aspects of this law, some of which have been mentioned by Senator Kelleher. For example, the Bill will require private agencies to disclose information. Much of this crucial information is still being held by private adoption agencies.

It is clear that much of this Bill is positive. Although it is sorely needed and eagerly awaited, we cannot support it if it continues to overemphasise privacy rights above identity rights. If the first part of my amendment - subsections (1), (2), (3) and (5), which form the bulk of the opt-in process - is accepted, I think that will resolve the issue for most people. The reality is that very few birth mothers will assert privacy rights. I understand from Tusla officials that some birth mothers may do so, but the number will be small. In most cases, no objection will be registered. Many birth mothers have already sought this information. Not all adoptees want information. I think we can craft a mechanism that will cater for the small number of cases that will not be resolved by the unconditional right of access provided for elsewhere.

Deputy Burton and Ms Anne O'Meara have worked on a Bill to provide for redress for illegal adoptees. I understand there are 148 such adoptees. I ask the Minister to see whether it is possible for her to find a way of accepting the Informal Adoptions (Regularisation) Bill 2019, which has been proposed by Deputy Burton. The position of this small but important group of people needs to be resolved.

Beidh mé an-ghairid. Ba mhaith liom an Aire a mholadh tar éis an méid oibre atá déanta aici. Is léir go bhfuil sí ag éisteacht linn. Ba mhaith liom an Seanadóir Bacik a mholadh freisin. Is léir go bhfuil fadhbanna móra ag baint leis an mBille seo. Táimid ar fad tar éis na mílte litreacha a fháil uathu siúd atá uchtaithe agus ó dhaoine eile atá fadhbanna acu leis an mBille. Ní féidir linn tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille mar atá sé faoi láthair. Tar éis an mhéid atá cloiste againn ón Aire, tá sé soiléir go bhfuil sí sásta éisteacht linn agus oibriú linn. Tá sí ag éisteacht leis na hoifigigh atá timpeall uirthi. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann an reachtaíocht seo a neartú, a fheabhsú agus a chur chun cinn ionas go mbeimid ar fad bródúil as an bpróiseas seo.

I thank the Minister. I agree with the previous speakers. It is crucial that we pause the Bill now to give all the relevant stakeholders an opportunity to have their voices heard. This is about information, which is very important to people. It is important that we strike a balance. We need more time because there is not enough balance in this Bill. If pausing this Bill today makes for better legislation going forward, it is the right thing to do. I welcome this debate. We have a journey. It will be a good journey because we need to strike a balance here. I thank the Minister for pausing this Bill today.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I want to endorse what other people have said. I thank the Minister's officials. I have always found them to be courteous and helpful. I know something of the enormous amount of work they have put into this legislation. I sometimes think we always forget the backroom people. They are more central than we think. I want to acknowledge that they are there.

It takes a courageous and brave Minister to put the foot down. I love the word "pause" that has been used by Senator Kelleher and others. As Senators, we have decided today to defer this matter. I want to join others in making the point that the Minister has shown great respect to the House by coming in here and setting out her intentions. That is not something we can always say in politics and in this House. The Minister has shown great respect to the House. I think we will get a pathway that enables us to find a resolution. We have received hundreds of letters and telephone calls from people who want to tell us about their personal experiences. We all know where we have come from. We see the child from where we stand and in the context of our experiences throughout life. We bring our past experiences with us. We always want to cling on to our identity, to who we are and to where we have come from. It is important for many reasons for us to be able to do that. I believe we will have a pathway to a Bill and to good law. I think that is really important. I will work with the Minister to get this law. I know all of us will do so.

I would like to echo some of the points that have been made by my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. She touched on some core issues, including the capacity of Tusla. There are issues with our experiences and those of the public with regard to Tusla and what it stands for. We need confidence in any system that is going to have to do this job. The Minister's decision to pause this process is an important one. While I do not think we should pause for too long, I do not think we should move too fast either. There is a balance here. It is better to get this legislation right. I want to acknowledge the work of Senator Bacik.

I was at the meeting in the Minister's office where she teased out some of the aspects to it, which was constructive. That is the great thing about this House, as Members have vast experience and different backgrounds and traditions, as well as different expertise to draw on, to get this right. It is important.

I like the words used by the Minister when she said, we heard, we listened and we were able to change our approach. That is not a bad thing. That is a really good and sound quality. We stopped, we had regard to the correspondence and the communications and we listened. More importantly, we are going to take action and there is a certain empathy in all of this and a greater understanding. I like the Minister's tone that we are going to make laws together. I like the tenor, tone and the pace of this correspondence and I can see it is very much the Minister's words that are jumping off the page, it is her voice. That is really important. I know that the Minister has put a significant amount of her personal commitments into this to see it right. I do not doubt for one moment the Minister's commitment. I sat down with a number of women the other day, who were all quite emotional drinking coffee in the restaurant and they talked about the Minister and her legacy. I understood what they meant and they meant that in a positive way. They have great expectation of the Minister. I do not want to be overstating but there is an expectation of her, as an Independent Minister with a good track record in the heart of Cabinet in the heart of Government and the Minister, more than anybody else, is expected to deliver. Yes, we have had a blip and we have a pause, but I think we will get this right.

Let me say "well done" to those who sent emails, who rang and who engaged with Members, because this is participative democracy working at its best. We are all involved. Is that not a great thing to be able to say? We are involved, we have taken a conscious decision to pause and to listen. I wish the Minister well and I think we will work with the Minister and her officials to get good strong legislation. The great pity of all of this would be to throw it all out. Many people sent me one-liners, stating "please reject the Bill". I will not reject a Bill. We need a Bill and we need to address this issue in legislation. We need to tap into the best ideas but we must get the best advice and must be prepared to listen to that advice. We have to operate within the constraints of the Constitution and we have to listen to the advice of the Attorney General. Within all of that mix, hopefully we can get a sound strong Bill because I for one do not want to go out of here, rejecting legislation. We need to improve it and polish it up and go forward. I wish everybody well and I hope we can come to a satisfactory Bill that will serve the people that most need it.

I thank Senator Boyhan

I wish to welcome some more members from Limerick City and County Council sport and social club to the Gallery. They are very welcome.

With the permission of the Chair, I wish to share my time with Senator Black and to give her three minutes.

I thank the Chair. I thank the Minister for her presence in the Chamber this afternoon. I welcome the fact that the Bill has not returned for Committee Stage and that instead we are instead having statements on adoption, information and tracing.

On a purely practical level, I certainly did not feel I had had enough time to review the more than 150 amendments from Government and Opposition and the really significant rewriting of the Bill that was proposed.

I certainly had not had enough time to review the significant amount of correspondence received directly from adopted people who expressed their concerns and anxieties and suggested the changes they sought and needed to see to feel recognised, supported and respected in any real way by a law that is supposed to be designed for them.

It was quite stark to have read and reread the points made by adopted person after adopted person who got in touch with us in the past week to the effect that they would rather have no law at all in preference to the law the Government was proposing. Even just on that basis, it would justify taking some time to pause and reflect on the Bill, its provisions and the balancing of rights that are at its very heart; that balance between the adopted person’s fundamental right to their identity, to knowing themselves and documents about their own lives and the right to privacy of a birth parent.

I recognise the work that the Minister has done during the past three years and that she has done her best to make progress within the confines that she perceives. However, for me the main problem with the Bill is that it still confuses information about the adopted person and tracing, as other Senators have mentioned, which is about contact and relationships. They are far from being the same thing and yet in this Bill, they are treated as being the same and without distinction.

That is far from the only problem, which include the restrictions on information, which are unlike those imposed on any other citizen, the absence of a single mention in the Bill of the Data Protection Act 2018 or of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and the continuous philosophy throughout the Bill, which states that adopted people cannot be trusted with their own identities. Should we consider, in the rewriting of the legislation, the Data Protection Act 2018 after GDPR, then I believe the adoption agency would be the data controller.

It is also of extreme concern that we have not seen the published full report from the collaborative forum on the mother and baby homes. This is a representative group of both adopted people and birth parents with directly relevant experience and views on this Bill, who I understand make direct criticisms of the Bill in the report and yet we cannot read them. At an absolute minimum, this Bill should be postponed until we can hear what that report has to say.

As tough as it may be to hear this, many Members and I think we need to withdraw the Bill. On a purely practical level, the Minister has proposed a significant rewriting of the Bill on Committee Stage, and in her memorandum to Senators, she is planning more on Report Stage. The absolute minimum the Minister could do would be to introduce a new Bill with all those changes made in order that we could assess it as a whole on its merits. However, as the Minister will know from her meetings with advocates for the adopted - I really welcome that she took the time to do this - even the substantially rewritten Bill she is proposing is still discriminatory, it is still stigmatising and it still targets adopted people as different and untrustworthy.

I know the Minister must act in accordance with the advice of the Attorney General, but it is clear to Members in this House that the right balancing of rights to privacy and information established in the IO'T v. B case has not been struck. I know also that the Minister states that our Constitution puts us in a different category from other common law countries and that we cannot look to the UK for inspiration. However, the provisions the Minister has proposed to balance these rights are not the only option.

Senator Bacik has proposed an amendment and the Minister has obviously spoken about that amendment, and I hope that if the Minister is not looking at rewriting the Bill, she will works with Senator Bacik's amendment.

I also believe the model in Northern Ireland where everyone receiving information is given a one-to-one information session beforehand and informed of their rights and responsibilities is worth looking at, where adopted people can be treated as adults and with respect. I welcome the Minister's comments to that effect. I believe there are other ways that we could draft a better way to do this but it will require flexibility on the part the Minister and from the Attorney General, as well as an openness to give up on the approach with which we started.

In light of our history in this country of illegal adoption and incarceration, we have a moral responsibility to do this properly and to give a cohort of people who have been marginalised and mistreated by the State a chance to find their truth. We have to get it right for them.

Senator Black has three minutes.

I thank the Minister for coming into the House today. It is welcome that the relevant legislation has been removed from the schedule for this afternoon. I thank the Minister for that. It is important that we get an update from the Minister on the Department's position and proposals.

The major level of public interest in this Bill is testament to how important it is to so many people and that we are dealing with extremely sensitive issues concerning people's identity and personhood. Along with Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Kelleher and Warfield, I met some of the individuals affected by the legislation last night. I found their case very compelling. I want to thank them, together with Dr. Maeve O'Rourke, for putting their case to us in such great detail. While I understand the need for a balancing of rights, ultimately I share their concerns about the current proposals. We have to ensure that any system we put in place and any restrictions constructed within it are necessary and proportionate. That is a crucial test that should be applied to every proposal before us. We will have an opportunity to debate the 160 or so amendments in detail on Committee Stage.

Let me highlight a number of important points in advance of that. On a point of principle, in general we should be clear that privacy is not just about somebody's capacity to keep to him or herself or to keep his or her information unknown. It also relates to someone's capacity to know the most sensitive essential details about his or her own private life and identity.

Privacy rights, in that sense, can be both positive and negative. This point has been lost somewhat in the debate so far.

Second, my reading of the current proposals is that they seem to be establishing almost two separate systems. The provisions we are debating will apply historically, but persons adopted after the legislation is enacted will actually be able to receive their full files when they reach adulthood. As such, it seems that we will be discriminating between persons who have been adopted before and will be adopted after the Bill is enacted, which means that there will be two very different processes used in accessing information. I would like to hear feedback from the Minister on this and whether any legal advice has been sought on the matter. It seems that if we accept, in principle, that there is a right to information, all adopted persons should be able to access that right on equal terms.

I will talk about the legal process. This is an issue we face regularly, in that crucial aspects of the legislation are the subject of competing legal advice. Proposals are being made on the basis of secret advice provided for the Cabinet by the Attorney General. While I appreciate that this advice is private, given its importance in dealing with the matter at hand, more could be done in providing summary details. If there are legal concerns, let us tease them out transparently. I urge the Minister to consider this before Committee Stage.

I am grateful for the reflective, passionate, heartfelt, well informed and well studied responses of all Senators. I have listened carefully and taken notes, while others have done so on my behalf. I will review what Senators have said because it is quite profound. It is rooted in their different professional expertise and also their way of listening to the people who have spoken or written to them. Each Senator does this differently and there is diversity in what they have said. It is a significant aspect for me, as Minister, as I try to make this law. I hope they know this and thank them for it.

I could not possibly respond on all of the different issues Senators have raised, but we will, no doubt, have time to do so as we move through the process, perhaps when we come back to take Committee Stage, or in other exchanges we will have inside or outside this Chamber, to which I look forward. I am wide open to the criticisms of Senators at whatever level. Several themes have come through in what has been said by Senators which I do not need to mention because we have heard them. When remarks become thematic and advocates emphasise the same things, it means that they are the issues to which we need to pay attention when we are considering whether to come back to the House with a new law or amendments to this one. That is my responsibility. It is great to hear those themes.

I want to say a couple of other things, rather than come back on the issues that have been raised, because, as I said, we have other ways of doing so. I want to share two pieces of information from the perspective of Tusla as it is important that people be aware of them. Some Senators will know this already. I do not think it will come as any surprise to Senator Bacik because she has spoken to Tusla, but it is important for us, as law makers, to know what is going on.

I will mention a couple of things about the impact of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, in the provision of an information and tracing service. I referred to this issue is my comments when I was here last, but the Bill is vitally needed to provide Tusla with the statutory legal basis it requires to deliver an effective information and tracing service. The data protection legislation and the GDPR have seriously curtailed Tusla in this work. Let me give some specific examples because I asked my officials to work on the issue and talk to Tusla about it. First, Tusla can no longer access information held by other data controllers, including those in the United Kingdom. I am informed by it that the number of people it cannot locate has increased since the introduction of the GDPR. The reason is other data controllers such as the church and the HSE are prevented from sharing information with Tusla as there is no legal basis for them to do so. The GDPR brings with it significant penalties for data controllers in breach of their duties. At an operational level, this that means Tusla can no longer gain access to records such as baptismal certificates, a matter to which I have referred. The archbishop told me this directly in my office with some of his people. They are not happy about this and would like to be able to access these records. I understand church parish offices were a key source of information, as baptismal certificates show a child's name at birth and the mother's maiden name. That is one example.

Under the GDPR-----

I apologise for interrupting, but the public good is a legitimate ground as set out in the law. I want to make that point in case it is useful.

I will take note of it. Under the GDPR, consent must be given for the release of information. Explicit consent must be obtained from a third party before his or her personal information can be shared. This means that, as things stand, if Tusla is unable to locate the birth mother, for example, the requested information cannot be released to the adoptee. The Bill provides that where a birth parent is unlocatable, the information can be released.

Tusla cannot release non-identifying information. It is hampered by the GDPR, even in the release of third party information, although, on the face of it, it is non-identifying, for example, general information on a person's county of birth, occupation, hair, eye colour and so forth. Prior to the introduction of the GDPR, Tusla provided general information for applicants. For example, an adoptee could have been told that his or her birth mother had brown hair and blue eyes and come from Galway. I understand that was really important; of course, it was. It would be important to me if I was in that position, but that information is no longer being provided. I could give more examples, but I wanted to share those examples from the recent past with the Seanad to show that, without a law, current efforts to provide an information and tracing service in Tusla are being hampered.

I have heard the questions and concerns about confidence in Tusla. My view is that some of it is related to the resources it will require when this law is in place. That is critical and it is important that we all continue to say it.

Some Senators referred to the following, as I did. It is important for me, as Minister, to seek and rely on the advice of the Attorney General. I have a lot of information, from a constitutional perspective, that I could lay out for Senators if it is important, although, because they are law makers, it is not as important. Under Article 30 of the Constitution, the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government on matters of law. The Attorney General advises the Government and is the chief law officer of the State. Article 15.4.1° of the Constitution states, "The Oireachtas shall not enact any law which is in any respect repugnant to this Constitution or any provision thereof". The Attorney General provides me with advice in that regard and, as Minister, I am duty bound to follow it. That is why we try to continue to engage with the Office of the Attorney General in a way that, while respecting it, we still put forward views, arguments and the concerns of other law makers and advocates directly to it. The Attorney General allows them to feed into the way in which he interprets the important issues he must consider in this case.

When I spoke to him this morning he said that he would continue to do that. He knows what we are doing right now and it is very important. As I said before, he is paying attention.

The last thing I am going to say concerns time, rhythm and taking one step at a time. It is not a straightforward path. How do we get the rhythm right?

It is never easy whatever path we are following to major significant social change. I know that. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we do not. What is important is that we continue to try to get the rhythm right. That was what I was thinking when I woke up this morning. Having been informed that the Seanad wanted to defer this Bill but would consider it again, I wanted to convey the fact that I had heard the message. I thought we should do that, but perhaps we could do it in a way that would also be constructive and that would allow me to come here and have this kind of exchange. I am most appreciative of the Senators allowing me to do this. I thank the Senators. I again acknowledge the work of Senator Bacik and those who engaged with her work. That allowed me to bring something new to this debate today. I acknowledge all of Senator Bacik's colleagues, especially those who contributed to the amendment. I met some of them last evening as well.

It is very heartening for me to hear what the Senators are saying. As we continue to try to get the rhythm right, I cannot promise there will not be another blip. We will try not to allow that to happen, however. I know how emotional this is for all of us and how important trust is for all of us as well. Even if it appears that we may not be listening to or considering what is said, I hope people will find it within themselves to trust that that is still going on. I hope we can find ways to modulate that emotion so we can continue the work of the intellect. I hope we can also do that in a fashion that will allow us to call on the expertise of our legal eagles and, most especially, the expertise and experience of the adopted persons and the natural parents, as well as their families, their children and their children's children. I will be issuing invitations tomorrow to all of the different groups I mentioned in my opening statement to start that process. I hope we can move as quickly as we can while at the same time getting the rhythm right. I thank the Senators.

That concludes the statements. I thank the Minister for her contribution. I ask the Acting Leader to propose the suspension until 5 p.m.

I propose that we suspend until 5 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 4.43 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.