Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Questions (25)

Anne Rabbitte


25. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the date by which she plans to have the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 enacted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25647/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

What is the date by which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs hopes to have the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill enacted and will she make a comment on the matter?

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 has passed Second Stage in the Seanad. As I am sure the Deputy is aware, the Bill seeks to respect the rights to identity and privacy, which sometimes conflict with one another.

Given the constitutional context, striking the balance between these rights is proving challenging. It is important legislation for many people. Previous attempts to introduce a Bill, dating back as far as 2001, failed.

I am conscious of Deputies' interest in this important issue and of our shared desire to move matters forward. It is essential that the Bill progresses as quickly as possible, particularly as it will place the information and tracing service on a statutory footing for the first time.

It will also protect relevant records by bringing them into the custody of the AAI. It will create offences for the concealment, destruction, mutilation or falsification of such records.

The Bill impacts on people who are the subject of illegal registrations, as well as adopted people. Officials are currently reviewing its provisions, in the light of the recent evidence emerging on illegal birth registrations, to ensure that it is robust in addressing this issue. If additional amendments to the Bill are required to ensure this, that can be addressed as the Bill goes through the Houses.

My intention is that the Bill will be enacted by the end of the year. Earlier this week, I met advocacy groups. That was an informative and helpful engagement. As the Deputy will be aware, I am meeting my Oireachtas colleagues today for a briefing session with a view to progressing the Bill to Committee Stage in the Seanad as soon as possible.

I look forward to working with Members of this House and of the Seanad in order that all of us who wish to see this Bill implemented as soon as possible can work together to achieve that goal.

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill will, quite correctly, give adopted persons, birth parents and relatives a legal right to an information and tracing service. It is frustrating that the legislation has not been progressed in the past 12 months. I am not saying there is a particular reason for that. We are all aware the process is clogged up.

Has the Minister spoken to the Attorney General or has he provided a legal position, information or guidance on this very complex matter? There are the issues relating to the rights of birth parents and those of the adopted persons. A bridge needs to be built and we must find a pathway to enable us to enact this valuable legislation. Has the Minister heard from the Attorney General on this?

I have spoken to the Attorney General twice in the past month - I also had engagement with the previous Attorney General - largely in the context of the urgency of this matter. A number of amendments will have to be brought forward on Committee Stage. There are two areas that are the most difficult to resolve and I have been working with Senators and hearing their responses in respect of these. In terms of the advice I am receiving, the first of these relates to the compelling reasons as to why birth mother information should not be released and what is the constitutional issue in that regard. I have also received advice regarding the introduction of an undertaking or a statutory duty on the part of all persons involved committing to not contact other parties unless they agree to be contacted. Those are the two primary issues that still have not been resolved. In terms of meeting advocates and my colleagues, I am trying to push the boundaries as far as we can in order to ensure that the apparent conflict of rights can be resolved so that we can get the Bill implemented as soon as possible.

I agree with the Minister that we have to push boundaries if we want to enact this legislation. It might not be perfect at the start of that process but it needs to move forward. What she announced two weeks ago was not new because this legislation has been around in various guises. There is a need to progress to Committee Stage. Has the Attorney General given the Minister any guidance or will he give the Oireachtas committee guidance on the way we can work with her to move forward with the legislation? It is urgently required and there is frustration about the lack of progress on it. We must have empathy for the parties on both sides. How can we all work together to get this legislation through?

I appreciate the Deputy's comments. I would make two points. First, in light of the announcement that was made, things have shifted considerably in terms of there being a wider public awareness. That is not to say there was not awareness or that many people were not shocked. In light of that growing public awareness, the number of people who are contacting me and the stories we are hearing in the media and in different forums have ensured there is a greater urgency for all of us to get this resolved as soon as possible. It has also perhaps changed the context a little in that we should have more space to ensure that what we are doing is right and good in terms of that conflict of rights. The Attorney General and his officials are open to meeting me and my officials in the context of what I learn from the Deputy and the advocates to consider these issues as we move forward, perhaps even in a more intensive way than was the case in the past.