Thursday, 28 March 2019

Questions (15)

Anne Rabbitte


15. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14502/19]

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Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Children)

My question is to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

As the Deputy is aware, this Bill passed Second Stage in the Seanad. I will be bringing the Bill back to the Seanad soon and intend to have it passed by both Houses by the end of this session.

As I am sure the Deputy is aware, the Bill seeks to balance the rights to identity and to privacy, which sometimes conflict with one another. Given the constitutional context, striking the balance between those rights is proving to be challenging. Members of the Oireachtas, stakeholders and lobby groups have expressed concerns about those specific aspects of the Bill which seek to achieve that balance. In particular, the requirement for adopted people to sign an undertaking declaring that they would not contact their birth parent was considered by some to be offensive to adopted people.

Having listened to these concerns, I engaged again with the Office of the Attorney General seeking to revisit the privacy provisions and to strengthen the right to identity. I recently secured Government approval to draft amendments to revise these provisions in the Bill. The revised scheme will seek to remove the requirement to sign an undertaking. It will also provide people applying for birth information with the opportunity to make their case about why this should be released, in circumstances where its release is being opposed by a birth parent. My officials are actively working on drafting the necessary amendments, with the assistance of the Attorney General’s office.

I am conscious of the delay with progressing the Bill. It has been a long and arduous legislative journey but new draft legislation was announced by the Deputy's colleague, the former Minister, Mary Hanafin, in May 2001. Eighteen years later, I am confident that this revision will have a positive impact on access to birth information and will be an improvement on the existing provisions in the Bill but it will only finally succeed if Members of the Oireachtas support it. It reflects my sincere efforts to tilt the balance more strongly in favour of applicants’ right to identity and access to birth information, while maintaining protections for a small cohort of potentially vulnerable birth parents.

I thank the Minister for her response. All the information she has laid before the House today is welcome. To follow on from that, when does she plan to meet the various groups that would have fed into the process previously, as they want to have an input into the amendments? Does she plan to have a consultation or a round-table discussion with the various interested parties to ensure the Bill makes its way through the Seanad? There has been much hurt and upset about this and 18 years on, many people are waiting with bated breath for the passing of this legislation. What steps will the Minister take to ensure there is communication and dialogue and not stalling?

I will be meeting all my colleagues before bringing the Bill to the Seanad but also those here who are good representatives of the various advocate groups, which I meet regularly in other contexts. I am confident at this stage that we have pushed as far as we can in terms of the constitutional limits and restrictions on the right to identity and the protection of the birth parents to bring that together in the best possible way for both sets of stakeholders, having listened to the stakeholders from different sides for quite some time. I am confident about that but I need Members of the House to support it to ensure its passage.

Questions Nos. 16 to 30, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.