Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 3

Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Amendment Nos. 33 to 36, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 31, line 35, to delete “next of kin” and substitute “close relative”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment Nos. 33, 34 and 36 form a group that seeks to replace the definition of "next of kin" with a new definition of "close relative".

The three amendments together replace the current next of kin mechanism with a new close relative mechanism for requesting information about deceased relevant relatives. Amendment Nos. 33 and 34 replace references to "next of kin" with references to "close relative" while amendment No. 36 creates the new definition of "close relative". The effect of these amendments in Part 4 is that the qualifying relative who could request information about a deceased relevant relative would no longer just be the individual who is the next of kin of that deceased relative but rather any relative from the list of close relatives we define, namely, a mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, nephew or niece of the deceased person. The purpose of these amendments is to avoid issues whereby the rights of relatives to request information about deceased relevant relatives becomes effectively trapped with no individual. If the individual who is the next of kin, for example the brother, does not wish to seek information about the deceased relative the Bill in its current form precludes other relatives from seeking information.

So if the brother is the next of kin and does not want to seek information, then a sister would be blocked from doing so under the current draft of the Bill. We want to avoid a situation where the right to information is seated with one individual and thus trapped with that person, which creates a situation where the next of kin blocks other family members from seeking information.

Under our new proposed mechanism, a qualifying relative is any close relative of the deceased person, and he or she would not need to wait for the next-of-kin status to pass to him or her before seeking information. We believe that this is right and proportionate and that it would vindicate the rights of close relatives to information about deceased relevant relatives.

Amendment No. 35 attempts a similar approach to that taken in amendments Nos. 33, 34 and 36. It leaves the next-of-kin mechanism intact whereby only next of kin can request information about a deceased relevant relative. Only the next of kin is defined as the qualifying relative. The amendment expands the definition of "next of kin" to include multiple family members at once, namely, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. It would ensure that any of these family members would qualify as a relative and have the right to seek information about the deceased relevant relative. The purpose of this amendment is to avoid issues where the rights of relatives to request information about a deceased relevant relative effectively becomes trapped with one individual. If the individual who is the next of kin, for example, a brother, does not wish to seek information about the deceased relative, then the Bill, in its current form, precludes other relatives from doing so. If the brother is the next of kin and he does not want to seek information, then a sister would also be blocked from doing so. Under our new proposed mechanism, via amendment No. 35, the next of kin would become any close relative of the deceased person so one family could not block others from accessing information. We believe that this is right and proportionate.

We anticipate that there may be legal issues with designating multiple family members as the next of kin at the same time, which is why we have proposed an alternative mechanism. Amendments Nos. 33, 34 and 36 would create a new definition of "close relative" whereby all close relatives would become qualifying relatives, thus avoiding legal problems. We are altering the definition of "next of kin".

Senator Ruane has outlined the details of each amendment. I will make an overall point. I feel strongly about these amendments because they are about the idea of what family and relationships mean, which is something that we have discussed at length. Ireland, as part of its evolution in this area, is trying to move away from a very patriarchal and hierarchical version of the family that descends towards the kinds of moments and glimmers we have had in the context of things like the Child and Family Relationships Act, which recognises that relationships are not simply a hierarchy and a cascade but that, in fact, a child has different relationships. There are different relationships with siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.

The problem with the Bill is that the version of next of kin outlined and the requirements in respect of those who are deceased mean that it is only where a parent is deceased that a sibling can access materials relating to a relevant person. In circumstances where a sibling is alive, an aunt, uncle or cousin may not be able to engage. It should not be a requirement that these other people have to be deceased in order for somebody who cares and who wants to connect to the information of someone who is related to them to be able to seek it directly. It should not be the case that if a parent is alive but is not exercising his or her next-of-kin powers in terms of these capacities, a sibling cannot do so. All of that is due to the definition of "next of kin", particularly in the context of access to information under the legislation, which is a leftover from the hierarchy to which I refer. The provision almost denies the next generation from knowing and accessing information and understanding the experiences of someone related to them.

This is an example of an unnecessary set of barriers. Senator Ruane outlined the different ways whereby we could proceed by changing the definition of "next of kin" or adding to the framing of the concept. The term "next of kin" has meaning in other legislation, which is it is difficult to redefine. That is why we also tried to insert measures that simply deal with the question of widening who might have the scope. Why should there be a barrier in place in this regard? By its very nature, the legislation acknowledges that, for example, a sibling relationship may be sufficient for a person to access information. Why should a person's ability to access such information as a sibling be conditional on whether a parent has chosen to exercise his or her powers in that regard? In the Child and Family Relationships Act, it is acknowledged that there is a network of relationships and of care. In the context of that legislation, even if the relevant person is not there any more, for those who want to understand their relationships, it is about acknowledging them in that way.

I wanted to speak on this issue because this is one of the examples whereby an old way of thinking keeps trying to re-embed itself. In thinking in a new, transformative, empowering and caring way about family and relationships, we need to catch that everywhere we can and be as generous as we can at every opportunity.

Part 4 of the Bill is very important for providing answers to family members of children who died in institutions. It provides for access to records for the family of those children who died in a mother and baby home or county home institution. The necessity for these provisions featured in the pre-legislative scrutiny recommendations. They were not in the original draft Schedule to the Bill, but we listened to what was said during the pre-legislative process by the groups and individuals who made representations on this point. As a result of that, Part 4 was introduced.

I am not in a position to accept the amendments from Senators Higgins and Ruane, primarily because we feel they lack a specificity that legislation requires. Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 seek to include the term "relative" rather than "next of kin". The term "next of kin", as used in section 26(2), specifies clearly who those people are and provides for, as we said, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. This section has been carefully drafted in accordance with advice from the Office of the Attorney General.

The hierarchy of next of kin set out in section 26, which amendments Nos. 35 and 36 seek to remove, is a data protection safety for the deceased child because while rights are attenuated, they do not completely vanish and cannot be completely disregarded. It is also a data protection safeguard for parents whose personal data is included in the categories of information for release. It is necessary for parents to be deceased prior to the information being released to a sibling. I am satisfied that this section will allow those family members with questions to gain access to records while respecting data protection rights.

The Bill is significantly informed by data protection law. It is also informed by the principle that information concerning the identity of a parent does constitute personal data pertaining to relevant persons, and this has to allow for the balance to be tipped significantly towards identity.

It is important to remember that Part 4 is not about the identity rights of adopted people. It is about providing information to others about family members whom they lost. It serves a really important but separate purpose in ensuring access to records for the family of a deceased child. The issue in question is different from the identity rights issue that we sought to vindicate in terms of the balancing test and other discussions that we have had on that point.

Obviously, a deceased person is not protected in that respect under the general data protection regulation, GDPR. I am struggling to understand the Minister's response to the effect that the balance is being tipped. However, a balance is being created in favour of, say, parents over siblings with respect to next of kin. Why is it necessary to balance that hierarchy of parents over siblings in terms of access, or am I understanding that wrong?

The concern is with respect to the release of information about a child who has died. With respect to the parent of that child, there is personal information and shared identify information in terms of the release of the information about the child. That is why the parent is first in the hierarchy in the release of that information. If the parent is deceased, it is open to a sibling to apply for that information. If the parent is alive and wishes to receive the information, the parent can receive the information and can, if he or she so chooses, disseminate it within the family. While the parent is alive, he or she has an ability under this provision not to seek the release of that information but it is not a permanent barrier. It ends when the parent is deceased.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 32, line 4, to delete “next of kin” and substitute “a close relative”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 32, to delete lines 5 to 13 and substitute the following:

“(2) For the purposes of this Part, the following shall be considered to be the next of kin of a deceased relevant person:

(a) his or her mother or father;

(b) his or her brother or sister;

(c) his or her uncle or aunt; or

(d) his or her nephew or niece.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 32, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

“(2) For the purposes of this Part, the following shall be considered to be the close relative of a deceased relevant person:

(a) his or her mother or father;

(b) his or her brother or sister;

(c) his or her uncle or aunt; or

(d) his or her nephew or niece.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I second the amendment No. 37:

In page 35, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(iii) obtaining personal information or records relevant to the person which are held by the relevant person,”.

I second the amendment.

Briefly, this amendment seeks to provide that an application for a tracing service shall be made to the agency and may be made by a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, an uncle or an aunt, or a niece or a nephew for the purposes of obtaining personal information or records relevant to person, which are held by the relevant person. This is to ensure all individuals to whom this legislation relates are able to access their own personal information, much in line with the contributions made on the previous set of amendments.

Part 5 provides for Tusla and the authority to deliver a tracing services. Tracing will be carried out to locate individuals for the purposes of contact or the sharing of information. The tracing service is available to persons over the age of 18 years. An application for a tracing service can be made by a relevant person and by categories of relatives set out in sections 32(6) and (7). An adoptive parent of an adopted child can also seek a trace where the adoptive parent is seeking to locate a person for the purposes of requesting further information regarding the person or providing information relevant to the person.

I cannot support this amendment as I am confident Part 5 on tracing provides fully for the policy intention that a relevant person can trace a relative to facilitate contact or to request information and that a relative can trace a relative person for contact or to request or share information regarding the relevant person.

I understand that with this amendment the Senator is seeking to expand the legal base for a trace by a relative to allow a trace to also be facilitated where a relative believes the relevant person has information on them. Section 32(2)(b)(ii) allows a relative to trace to request further information regarding the relevant person or provide information relevant to the relevant person.

Having consulted with the bodies which currently provide a tracing service, I am satisfied the Bill, as drafted, is fit for purpose and provides clearly and specifically for the reasons a person can trace. Furthermore, we must be mindful that tracing is a resource-intensive task and any expansion of the function of the service may have unintended consequences for the effective operation of the service. However, I hope I can offer the Senator some reassurance. The Bill will not prevent the sharing of records, as is aim of her amendment. I understand once people are facilitated to make contact and build a relationship they very often share records, mementos etc. with each other following the development of that relationship.

I will not come back in but I will press the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 38 and 40 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 60, line 34, to delete “a” and substitute “an accessible”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 38 seeks to ensure a public information campaign held under section 60 is undertaken in an accessible manner. On Committee Stage, our amendments, which would have required a public information campaign to be held in line with the Government's commitment to the use of plain English, were ruled out of order.i

Amendment No. 40 provides the Minister shall ensure any public information campaign conducted under this section is conducted in a manner consistent with the State's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. These amendments are to ensure the public information campaign is held in an accessible manner and that any future public information campaign also complies with the State's obligation under the UNCRPD.

I know the Minister is committed to public information campaigns. It was regrettable an amendment simply stating a campaign should be in plain English, given it is Government official policy that its communications would be in plain English, was ruled as being a cost to the State. This is a wider issue which people will be aware I have been raising. The idea of having an information campaign that people would understand was regarded as being an unacceptable cost on the State. That is an example of an over-reach in terms of the interpretation of a cost to the State. It goes with another amendment, which unfortunately was ruled out of order. The Minister will be aware of the amendment. These proposals could have saved the State money. These amendments sought to give the Minister the power to remove immunity from certain organisations, which he might have added as being relevant bodies. For example, I refer to those organisations in subsection (3), including those the Minister may add. He could, by regulation, remove immunity from such organisations. That is something that would have saved the State money. It is amazing it was chosen to be interpreted as a cost to the State. I wanted to highlight that. It is a slightly wider issue but it is an example of constructive proposals designed to ensure the State does not end up giving indirect immunity or indemnity to people to whom it should not and which attempted to ensure public information is communicated in a proper way in plain English that is accessible to everybody, including some of those whose educational opportunities may have been curtailed by the very fact of their experience in engaging with these institutions. It is regrettable that was ruled out of order. We found another way to bring the point in. I do not doubt the Minister’s commitment to a communication campaign in that regard. I know he wants to reach out widely but I wanted to give an opportunity and a mandate for that. The Minister might engage with those points.

I am not in a position to speak to the amendments that were ruled out of order. While I cannot accept amendments Nos. 38 and 40, I hope I can provide the Senators with some reassurance in terms of the work we are doing to ensure that the public information campaign is designed in as user-friendly a manner as possible. The Adoption Authority of Ireland has already engaged with the National Adult Literacy Agency, NALA, on making sure the material produced as part of the campaign is accessible and easily understood and, in addition, that the materials produced are shared with the stakeholder reference group for feedback, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, including regarding the language, terminology and message used.

Complementarily to our engagement with the stakeholder reference group, my officials have engaged with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs to ensure similar input is sought from stakeholders residing outside the State, recognising that many of the people who are the targets of this campaign and who, we hope, will seek to use it are living outside Ireland. I will speak more about that when I bring forward the next amendment.

Once this legislation is passed, we hope to have the public information campaign begin in July. The material will be available online and in hard copy and will be shared across a broad range of media and communication channels in response to the broad age demographic of persons affected by the provisions. The campaign will run from July to October, with the possibility of extending it if necessary. It will include a door drop to every household in the State of an information booklet outlining the key provisions of the legislation and letting people know their rights under it, recognising the very wide range of people across the State who are impacted by the issues surrounding adoption, mother and baby homes, county homes and other institutions, and acknowledging the secretive nature of these matters for a long period. The information campaign will also utilise television, radio and print media channels. As I mentioned, the Department of Foreign Affairs will assist with disseminating the information campaign internationally, including identifying media channels, utilising embassy networks and engaging with Irish abroad groups, as appropriate.

Regarding the amendments, I confirm that the relevant bodies are working with NALA to ensure plain English and accessible format are secured for the information campaign.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 39:
In page 60, to delete line 36 and substitute the following:
"particular, parents and relevant persons (including parents and relevant persons residing outside the State), of the following:".

This amendment inserts an explicit reference in section 60 to the international component of the public information campaign. Having listened to Senators' views on this matter on Committee Stage and recognising the importance of the information campaign and that it must reach those living in other jurisdictions, it is appropriate that the primary legislation should reference the international element of the campaign. The amendment inserts the words "parents and relevant persons residing outside the State" in section 60. I thank Senators for their constructive debate on this issue on Committee Stage.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 61, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(2) The Minister shall ensure that any public information campaign conducted under this section is conducted in a manner consistent with the State's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 41 in the names of Senators Higgins and Ruane has been ruled out of order because of a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 41 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 64, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(2) For the avoidance of doubt, no Articles of the General Data Protection Regulation, other than those referred to in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of subsection (1), shall

be restricted in the performance of functions or fulfilment of obligations provided for in this Act.".

These amendments seek to ensure that, other than the limitations described in section 68, no element of the GDPR shall be restricted by any provision of this Bill. During pre-legislative scrutiny, the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth explicitly recommended that the Bill be amended to provide a statutory right of access to the administrative records, wherever they are held, of all adoption agencies, institutions, State bodies and others involved in forced family separation for natural and birth mothers, survivors, adopted people and others placed in care. The core point is that people should have access to all their own records and must, under EU law, be able to make a data subject access request under Article 15 of the GDPR.

I second the amendment.

I fully agree with the Senator that everybody should be able to use their rights under the GDPR to make a subject access request. I assure the Senators that the Bill does not restrict in any way a person's right to apply for his or her information through the alternative route of a subject access request. We do restrict GDPR rights in a very limited way in the legislation, as set out in section 68. It is a requirement under the GDPR to set out clearly the articles that are limited. Section 68 states that Articles 12, 14, 18 and 21 are affected. The restrictions are limited and are introduced only to ensure the full operation of the legislation and, most importantly, the full release of all information in every circumstance. The central nub of what we are trying to achieve with this legislation is that there should be no reason that an adopted person's information would be refused. That is why we have to limit the GDPR rights of other parties, particularly those of parents, in certain circumstances.

Section 68 clearly states which articles of the GDPR are impacted. Article 15 is not listed. There is no need for these amendments because there is no limitation on Article 15. There is full provision for subject access requests and this legislation does not impact on that in any way.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 64, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

“Rights and obligations under Article 15 of the General Data Protection Regulation

69. For the avoidance of doubt, no rights or obligations under Article 15 of the General Data Protection Regulation shall be restricted or infringed upon by any provision of this Act.".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 64, line 37, after "her" to insert "in an expedient manner".

Amendment No. 44 aims to ensure the provision of counselling supports to parents and relevant persons is not subject to inappropriate delays by stipulating that counselling support shall be arranged expeditiously for parents and relevant persons on application. An amendment specifying that counselling support should be provided within a specific timeframe was not accepted on Committee Stage. This version of the amendment does not specify a period within with counselling should be arranged other than to say it should be arranged immediately.

Recent reports have highlighted that many people wait well over three months to receive counselling from the HSE. It is important that such delays are not allowed to become common in this vital service for parents and relevant persons. We know it can take individuals a long time to arrive at a point at which they are ready and open to talk to a counsellor. We must ensure that when a person arrives at that point, he or she is not subject to inordinate delays. While the amendment falls short of setting out a specific timeframe, it would provide applicants with confidence that when they ask for help, it will be provided.

Amendment No. 45 seeks a report containing details on the provision of counselling services to parents and relevant persons under section 69. We are all aware of the appalling delays of many months, and far longer in many cases, experienced by those seeking counselling. Our amendment on Committee Stage, which would have ensured that counselling is delivered within three months of being sought by relevant persons, was rejected.

Amendment No. 45, much like the previous one, is a compromise amendment which asks that, at the very least, a report is compiled on the counselling provision so delays in accessing counselling can be identified and action on potential delays can be incentivised. The Bill in its current form does not compel authorities to deliver counselling in an expedient manner and this needs to change in the final version of the Bill.

I second the amendment.

While I understand the spirit in which this amendment has been brought, I am not in a position to accept it. Counselling provisions, as currently drafted within the legislation, allow for the broad spectrum of counselling support to be provided as required and requested by a person, and also allow for more urgent cases to be prioritised. As I flagged on Committee Stage, the National Counselling Service separately provides services to survivors of mother and baby and county home institutions as a priority group and, additionally, my Department has allocated significant additional resources to both Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland for fulfilling their obligations under this legislation, including the provision of counselling support. Tusla already has a positive and successful relationship with Barnardos to provide counselling to persons to whom this legislation is relevant. The experience is there and preparations are already under way to ensure services will be ready on enactment. In addition, the ministerial guidelines will include an appendix on the spectrum of counselling and supports available to the different cohorts of people affected by this legislation.

Counselling for relevant people is provided for under this legislation but even in advance of this legislation being enacted, there is a counselling service available right now for anybody who was in a mother and baby or county home institution, the National Counselling Service. It is a service that is free of charge and survivors of these institutions are prioritised in terms of receiving the counselling. I ask all Senators to continue to amplify that message because it is important that people who were in institutions understand there is that support available to them right now, even in advance of this Bill being passed.

I cannot accept amendment No. 45 as I believe it is already provided for in this legislation. The provision of counselling services under section 69 will form part of the review of the legislation provided for under section 70. Section 70 provides for a review to be commenced by two years post-enactment and all sections, other than Parts 8 and 9, fall within the scope of that process. I brought in amendments in Dáil Éireann based on commitments made on Committee Stage to reduce the timeframe for this review from four years to two years, and it was agreed by all parties at that time that two years was an acceptable time to allow for a meaningful review to take place. We have to allow the legislation to operate for a period of time so we can detect if there are issues or problems which can then be solved. Two years gives us that good balance between giving it a two-year period to operate but also making sure we are responding quickly to any problems that will emerge.

In our next discussion today, I am bringing forward an amendment that will provide more detail on section 70, including that the report done on the legislation will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I hope this will address the Senators’ amendment in this regard.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 65, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(5) The Minister shall, within 18 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas outlining the number of persons who have been provided with counselling services under subsection (2) and shall identify any obstacles to persons availing of such counselling services in an expedient manner and shall identify any mitigation measures which may be necessary to ensure the expedient delivery of counselling services.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 46:
In page 65, to delete lines 9 and 10 and substitute the following:
“70. (1) The Minister shall, not later than 2 years after the coming into operation of this section, commence a review of the operation of this Act, other than Parts 8 and 9.
(2) In conducting a review under subsection (1), the Minister shall consult with such persons, including relevant persons, as he or she considers appropriate.
(3) The Minister shall cause a report in writing of the findings of the review under subsection (1) to be prepared and, as soon as may be after it is prepared, shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”.

I propose this amendment further to commitments I made on Committee Stage in response to Senator Boyhan’s amendment. A key part of bringing forward any legislation is to provide for a review of the legislation to ensure it operates as intended, is sufficient and is robust. On Report Stage in the Dáil, I brought an amendment to reduce the timeframe for review to two years. This amendment now seeks to provide further clarity on the composition of the review in terms of confirming it will include consultation with relevant persons and other persons affected by this legislation, as appropriate. This amendment also guarantees the review will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I thank Senator Victor Boyhan for his proposal. I believe this amendment supports his aim to ensure the implementation of this legislation into the future is monitored with a view to improvement, where necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 47 has been ruled out of order as it does not arise out of committee proceedings.

Amendment No. 47 not moved.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take next Stage?

Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 7.

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Seán Kyne and Robbie Gallagher; Níl, Senators Fintan Warfield and Lynn Boylan.
Question declared carried.

I wish to conclude with a few remarks. I thank the Minister and acknowledge that since he became Minister he engaged extensively with the people whose births were illegally registered. That is important and should be acknowledged. In early May, he offered in this House a very sincere apology on behalf of the Government, which I wish to acknowledge. I said then that it was not for me to accept an apology on behalf of anybody else but on behalf of myself, I accept that apology because it ws sincere. I acknowledge the work the Minister has done.

I thank Professor Conor O'Mahony for his independent review of the illegal birth registrations and his 17 recommendations. In regard to his recommendation that a State inquiry into illegal adoptions should be established, we know that such an inquiry would be sensitive, complex and challenging but very important nonetheless. I urge the Minister and the Government to pursue that inquiry. I make that ask on the public record today. It was after all one of Professor Conor O'Mahony's strong recommendations. That is the wish of the survivors, the families and the advocates.

I thank the Minister's officials. One of the officials had a word with me today as I came in today. I was talking about the Minister, in terms of the amendments, and she said we had collaboration on this. The Minister has excellent public servants and I acknowledge that commentary. I also acknowledge that we have all had collaboration, including victims, survivors, advocates and politicians in the Dáil and the Seanad. I thank the official for the prompt and for saying that because it is true. It is important that it is acknowledged.

Another of the 17 recommendations was that we establish a truth commission. I hope the Minister will continue to work on that proposal and work out some scheme.

Although I said some weeks ago that I would find it difficult to vote for this Information and Tracing Bill 2022, the reason I did was that the Minister, as a politician, led from the front and he assured me and others. I made the decision for myself in the House today. Everyone else speaks for and votes for themselves. I am going away today feeling that we have the best legislation we could possibly have achieved that it will provide unredacted access to birth and early life information for people affected by illegal birth registrations, for adopted people and for anyone who seeks further information on his or her origins and for that I thank the Minister.

This is only one part of a suite of important legislation. We will have issues around the Institutional Burials Bill 2022, redress and many aspects of how this State cared, or failed to care, for its minors. There are many other issues and reports on the Minister's desk. I am happy in the knowledge that he is working through them. There will be difficulties and setbacks but did anyone ever think - I had long discussions with the Minister's predecessor, Katherine Zappone - that we would reach a time when these two Houses would agree very significant legislation that he has charted through these Houses? It was not always easy. When dealing with emotions, people's past and that sense of wanting to belong, it touches on a raw nerve and open up old hurts and disappointments and sometimes an uncertainty about who one is, where one is going and to whom did one belong. That is a journey that each and every one of us must make - all of us - in life.

I thank the Minister genuinely and sincerely for navigating this important and fundamental legislation. The option today was to do nothing or to go with this. Yes, it will need to be tweaked but that can happen. I thank the Minister for his stewardship of this legislation.

I thank Senator Boyhan. We all accept that was very sincerely put.

I thank Senator Boyhan for his comments and leadership in this area. As he said, this is a significant moment. We are one stage away from passing this legislation and finally and conclusively dealing with the wrongful denial of people's identity rights over many decades in this State. In this legislation, we have finally found a way to provide a right for each person to full and unredacted access to all of his or her information. For decades now, this has been striven for. That right is nothing less than people who were adopted, who were subject to illegal birth registration or who were boarded out deserve. This Bill today represents a very significant part of the redress that the Irish State is making for its failure towards children and women over decades since the foundation of our State.

I thank all the Senators for their engagement. The Bill we are passing today is a stronger and better Bill than that which I brought into this House in May. That improvement is because of the input, engagement and passion of Members of Seanad Éireann.

In particular, I thank the Senators who are members of the Oireachtas joint committee and who have been engaged with this process for a very long time. I join Senator Boyhan in thanking my officials for their fantastic work and the wider members of my team.

Finally, I thank every adopted person, everyone who was subject to an illegal birth registration or everyone who was boarded out who has engaged in the process of developing this legislation but more particularly everyone who has engaged directly with me since I took this particular office. I hope this law and the processes that flow from it will give each and every one of those persons the answers they have sought for such a long time.

I wish to express my thanks to the Minister, his staff, the staff of the House and all the Senators who participated in this great engagement on a number of occasions.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 2.19 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.45 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.19 p.m. and resumed at 3.45 p.m.
Top
Share