I move amendment No. 29:
In page 25, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
“Information relating to contact preference
17. In every case where an applicant is provided under this Act with a birth certificate or copy of the records that contain the birth information to which the application relates, or with a statement setting out the birth information contained in those records, the Authority shall send to the applicant, by prepaid registered post or other recorded delivery, a statement by the Authority setting out, in so far as it has established in relation to each relevant parent, whether—
(a) he or she has not made a statement under section 38(11),
(b) he or she has made a statement under section 38(11) that either of the following applies:
(i) he or she is seeking to have contact with the applicant;
(ii) he or she is willing to be contacted by the applicant,
(c) he or she has made a statement under section 38(11) that he or she is not willing to be contacted by the applicant,
(d) he or she is deceased,
(e) he or she is not willing to be contacted by the applicant.”.
We have had a very extensive discussion. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that the committee, including my colleague, Senator Ruane, and others, have had very extensive discussion on the provisions around information relating to contact preference.
Amendment No. 29 seeks to delete section 17, as drafted, and substitute a new section, which would replace the mandatory information session with a registered letter that sets out the information regarding the contact person preferences of each relevant parent. I am aware that similar amendments were put forward by the Labour Party on Committee Stage and discussed at that point.
Amendment No. 29 seeks to make it clear that access to birth certificates and other relevant information by relevant persons should be unconditional. Again, unconditional because of this being their personal information in this context. Section 17 currently provides that an applicant or relevant person must attend an information session with a designated person prior to certain information being released to them. The nub of this matter for many people is that the information includes birth certificates. Every other person in the State can access their birth certificate without an information session but persons who have experienced adoption, who are "relevant persons" under this Bill, must go through the extra tier of an information session while every other person does not. People feel very frustrated as an extra obstacle has been placed in their way. Having already been poorly treated by the State in many ways, people feel that the provision is a sustained inequality for them.
Compared with where we were a few years ago when I debated this legislation with the previous Minister there has been progress, which I acknowledge. We have moved passed the presumption of a non-sharing of information and the idea of an automatic veto. The current Minister has talked about replacing a physical information session with a phone call session but people still have a philosophical and fundamental concern about the idea of having access to one's personal information being conditional, and the fact that nobody else in society has that conditionality attached to their birth certificate. There are questions concerning a phone call. For example, how can we be certain that it is an authorised person and how does a person satisfy themselves about that aspect? The registered letter was a solution suggested by members of the Oireachtas joint committee during pre-legislative scrutiny. The suggestion has the advantage of ensuring that the information has arrived and been received, which to me is a constructive proposal. As the Minister will be aware, this section is just a red line for many of the stakeholders and survival groups.
Amendment No. 31 states: "Where a relevant person refuses, or is not in a position, to attend an information session" and information regarding the contact person in terms of preferences of relevant persons "shall instead be provided to the relevant person in writing through a registered letter". The Minister did make a point about a similar amendment that I tabled. In this scenario it would be a situation where the first measure is for persons to be asked "to attend an information session".
For a person who has a very strong objection to taking part in an information session, he or she could request this as an alternative. So in this scenario one has the engagement of the person in that sense and he or she requests that the information "shall instead be provided to the relevant person in writing through a registered letter". In my previous amendment on Committee Stage, the provision was not for a registered letter and the Minister pointed out that the amendment was inadequate. Subsequently, I have combined the idea of a registered letter with a narrower pool of people covered by amendment No. 31, who are just those persons who specifically and explicitly state that they do not attend. In that scenario, one would leave the information session as the main route but have an alternative that persons could seek, by request, which would be "a registered letter". The amendment includes the registered letter mechanism but as an option that must be sought. So this amendment just addresses those who have a huge personal objection.
I hope that the Minister will consider amendment No. 31 as it is a constructive attempt to reflect some of his concerns and some of the ideas of the committee. The amendment gives some option to those people who have particular reservations while leaving the proposal set out in the Bill as the norm in most cases. Again, it would only be the people who have a principled objection or, indeed, have physical constraints who would seek to use this mechanism.