I observe that amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 8 are consequential on amendment No. 2 and I suggest, therefore, that amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 8 be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Adoption Bill 1990: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 29, to delete "sections 3 and 4" and substitute "sections 3, 4 and 5".
The purpose of these amendments is to fill a gap in the Bill. The provisions under the Bill provide rules for the recognition of foreign adoptions in a number of circumstances. First, they provide that where an individual or a couple are domiciled abroad and properly adopt — to paraphrase the section — according to the law of the country of the domicile, it would recognise that adoption. The Bill goes on to say — again I am paraphrasing — that where an individual or a couple properly adopt abroad in a country in which they have habitual residence, we will recognise that adoption.
The Bill contains special provisions to deal with the recognition of adoptions effected by individuals or couples who are resident in Ireland and who, from that Irish residence, adopt abroad. In the context of the Bill as originally published we changed the provisions with regard to the procedures to apply to the recognition of adoptions abroad completed by couples who are resident in Ireland and we removed what is known in international law as the connecting factor of nationality. That has thrown up an anomaly which is addressed by the series of amendments which we are now discussing together.
Clearly, under the Bill, if you are domiciled or habitually resident abroad —"habitual residence" is really the continental terminology for domicile —"habitual residence" would normally mean you are living permanently in another country. On the continent they tend to use the concept of "habitual residence" in common law jurisdictions such as this country, the United Kingdom and the United States. In Canada they tend to use the concept of domicile. For example, an Irish person may be temporarily resident abroad. He is not domiciled abroad, not living there permanently and does not have habitual residency, but equally he is not resident in this State. A variety of people could be in that position, for example, members of the diplomatic service who are perhaps on a two or three years assignment to a foreign country, a newpaper correspondent who is living abroad for two or three years, an Irish business person who is working for an Irish company and who is on an assignment abroad for two or three years or someone who may not have been able to get employment in this country and whose family decided to live outside Ireland for two or three years. These people have no intention of living permanently outside Ireland. They may establish a temporary residence outside Ireland for two or three years but it is their hope and intention to return to Ireland.
If people who are resident outside this State or, to use the legal concept, who are ordinarily resident for a reasonable period of time but who have not established an habitual residence outside the State, adopt while they are abroad, it is important that there is a mechanism to recognise that adoption. It is also important to ensure that the mechanism we put in place does not in any way disrupt the safeguards in the Bill with regard to people who are resident in this State and who adopt abroad, and that the safeguards which require home assessments to be carried out are not disrupted. My amendment seeks to include an additional section in the Bill which would read as follows:
A foreign adoption (whether effected before or after the commencement of this Act) effected in, or recognised under the law of, a place in which either or both of the adopters were ordinarily resident for a period of not less than one year ending on the date on which the adoption was effected shall be deemed, unless such deeming would be contrary to public policy, to have been effected by a valid adoption order made——
(a) on that date or
(b) on such commencement,
whichever is the later.
To put it in simple terms, this would mean if an Irish couple who were living abroad for more than a year wished to adopt in the country in which they were residing and they properly followed the legal procedures in that country, that adoption could, upon it being completed, be recognised as valid in Ireland. Without the inclusion of my amendment in the Bill that couple would be put in a legal limbo and it would not be possible to effect the recognition of that adoption under the other rules specified in the Bill.
This amendment would provide a reciprocal rule for our domestic adoption requirement because in the context of the rules we apply with regard to residents' qualifications section 5 of the Adoption Act, 1964, which amended section 11 of the Principal Act of 1952 and inserted a new section in that Act, states that an adoption order shall not be made unless the applicants are ordinarily resident in the State and have been so resident during the year ending on the date of the order. In other words, we regard our adoption board as being in a position to make an adoption order in favour of an applicant or applicants provided they have been ordinarily resident in this State for a year or longer. I assume in that context that we would wish our adoptions so granted and made in this State to be recognised elsewhere.
What we are now saying is that we regard it as proper within this jurisdiction to make adoption orders in respect of couples who have been resident in this country for a year or longer and we equally recognise an adoption by an Irish couple who are living abroad for a year or longer and who properly effect an adoption according to the laws of that state. My amendment provides for a reciprocal rule of recognition. As I have said, it will remove an anomaly which could have arisen by virtue of the other provisions we have included in the Bill. By using the concept of ordinary residence and including the one year provision, someone who is temporarily resident in this State will not be able to evade our safeguards.
In this context it is worth referring to the book entitled The Conflict of Laws by Dicey and Morris which is regarded as the major thesis on private international law rules. Dicey and Morris refer to the difference between residence, habitual residence and domicile. They refer to ordinary residence as meaning more than the simple concept of a residence. They say that the expression connotes residence in a place with some degree of continuity. There is a reference in Dicey and Morris to a case which distinguishes between the concept of ordinary residence, habitual residence and domicile.
My amendment is really a technical tidying up of the Bill on Report Stage. It seeks to ensure that the small number of people — business people, diplomats or newspaper people — who are working temporarily outside the State and others who are unemployed and have to seek employment outside the State and who adopt while living abroad, can have those adoptions recognised in this State provided they properly comply with the laws of the State in which they are resident. Of course, the various safeguards specified in the Bill and the definition of what constitutes a foreign adoption will equally have to be complied with.
I have no objection to this amendment, as our law recognises adoption for people who are ordinarily resident in the State for 12 months. It is reasonable that we should afford the same recognition to foreign adoptions provided, of course, that they qualify within the provisions of section 1 of the Bill.
I welcome the Minister's response to Deputy Shatter's reasonable amendment. This reflects the overall way in which the Bill has been dealt with in the House and at the Special Committee. We will be dealing later with some amendments in the Minister's name in which he has shown a remarkable capacity to meet reasonable arguments.
As has been said, the provisions in this amendment may not apply to many people but, depending on how emigration develops and whether it becomes a permanent feature of life in Ireland, it might apply to more people. This is a good amendment, which I support, and I thank the Minister for accepting it.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has accepted the principle of Deputy Shatter's amendment. While it is, as Deputy Shatter said, a technical amendment, it is also a very important one. Our first responsibility must be to the children who are adopted and to ensure that they will not be left in a legal limbo in the future. We also have a particular responsibility to Irish parents who live abroad temporarily but who are still regarded as Irish. If such couples adopt children in another jurisdiction and meet all the legal requirements of that state it is imperative that when they return to Ireland permanently they can be assured that their children can become Irish citizens and are regarded under this legislation as being properly and legally adopted. The Minister was forthcoming in his contributions at the Special Committee and I am glad he is continuing this approach on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:
4.—A foreign adoption (whether effected before or after the commencement of this Act) effected in, or recognised under the law of, a place in which either or both of the adopters were ordinarily resident for a period of not less than one year ending on the date on which the adoption was effected shall be deemed, unless such deeming would be contrary to public policy, to have been effected by a valid adoption order made—
(a) on that date or
(b) on such commencement,
whichever is the later.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 3, line 43, to delete `section 2 or 3" and substitute "section 2, 3 or 4".
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are cognate and can be taken together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 4, lines 12 and 13, to delete "section 9 of this Act" and substitute "the said section 9".
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 were recommended by the Parliamentary Draftsman. They are technical drafting amendments to improve the of the section.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 4, lines 19 and 20, to delete "section 9 of this Act" and substitute "the said section 9".
In case we do not get an opportunity later, I would like to raise now this issue about home assessments. There seems to be a very genuine problem. The last time we discussed it the Minister said that resources had been made available to the health boards to carry out home assessments within a reasonable period, subject to what had to be done to have a proper home assessment. I have been informed by people who approached the Eastern Health Board that such home assessments will not be feasible except on the basis of a long waiting list where people may have to wait for up to two years. Will the Minister at some stage indicate to the House that waiting lists will be reduced so that people who are anxious to adopt will not have to wait for such a long time? There are well founded reports coming from the health boards that there will be lengthy delays due to lack of resources.
I want to help Deputies. I trust they will not go too far outside of the amendment before us.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by my colleague Deputy Richard Bruton. There is a serious problem in the South-Eastern Health Board. I have informed the Minister's office of the reluctance of the health board to get involved in home assessments. I am dealing with a case in which a couple applied on 1 April immediately news of this Bill was made known, and to date they have not had a response.
I have spoken to the people in the health board and I have detected a serious note of reluctance. The people involved are stressed and concerned by the attitude of the health board and I can confirm that attitude. We were given various excuses to the effect that the health board had not been given a direction to participate in such home assessments and that they did not have enough staff. The couple in question had not been visited and had been informed that there may be a delay of another four weeks. That is not the spirit of the Bill and I am sure it is not the Minister's intention. It is very frustrating for any couple to be asked to wait two months before a social worker visits their home. This is a very serious part of the Bill and is something that will have to be addressed.
On Committee Stage we expressed concern about the co-operation of the health boards. Having received direction from the Minister I thought their reluctance would have been removed. Unfortunately the opposite is the case. Like Deputy Bruton, I would like to know if the Minister is providing the health boards with additional resources to cope with applications for home assessments. In my area there was only one application and the health board could not deal with it. Will the Minister respond to what could eventually be a very serious problem?
I disagree with Deputy Therese Ahearn. I understand the Minister has requested the health boards to give every assistance to people, particularly those trying to adopt Romanian babies. In the North-Eastern Health Board area the social workers have already received that direction and are prepared to assist people proposing to adopt from Romania. I know of at least three couples who have gone to the North-Eastern Health Board already and have been treated well. The health board have obviously told them they would have to do a home study report, and obviously these reports take some time, as it would for a person adopting an Irish baby. There is no problem.
The Minister has given the direction and the health boards are implementing it as far as I am aware. Perhaps when replying the Minister will outline exactly what he said to the health boards so that they can implement his instruction, particularly in relation to Romanian babies because there are a number of people who are caught in this limbo and who now have to get home study reports. The procedures in my health board area are working reasonably well.
The next amendment which deals with the introduction date would give us an opportunity to talk about the Minister's criteria. The Committee Stage debate has not yet been published but Deputy Dermot Ahern has just said that the Minister gave a commitment on Committee Stage to issue instructions to health boards to carry out the necessary home assessments under the legislation with the least possible delay. We accepted that three months was an acceptable delay for this kind of procedure. I have been approached by people who had difficulties with the health boards and I reassured them that the Minister had given a commitment to direct the health boards to initiate procedures even before the legislation was passed so that people would not suffer delays because of restrictions in the legislation. The Minister should now respond to the queries raised by Deputies Therese Ahearn and Richard Bruton. We would not accept that some health boards are still resisting instructions from the Minister. Unless they are pleading inability due to staffing or finance shortages, there is a legal obligation on them to obey the Minister's instruction.
What Deputy Ahern said is correct and what my colleagues are saying is also correct. A different approach is being taken by different health boards. That is a real problem and it is leaving a number of people who wish to adopt abroad in something of a limbo. I have had reports from people who approached the EHB to be told in a relatively offhand way that there is a waiting list of two years and that perhaps somebody could start assessing them in two years' time. I know of the case to which Deputy Therese Ahearn referred. There is nothing party political about any of this.
I fully accept that the Minister issued an instruction in March and that it is being complied with by some health boards and not by others. It will create a problem for the workability of the legislation if health boards do not comply properly with the legislation. Following the completion of the Bill today, will the Minister again write to the health boards and make it clear what their obligations are? There are often disagreements between this side of the House and the Minister about resources which are made available to the health boards, but this is not an issue about resources.
I am concerned that those who wish to adopt abroad do not become pawns in a battle about whether health boards have adequate resources. The point must be made that for many years health boards have assessed people for the purpose of domestic adoptions. There has been a huge fall-off in the number of children available for adoption in Ireland and nearly all of the couples who seek to adopt abroad would in years gone by have adopted in Ireland and been assessed by health boards here for that purpose.
This Bill does not confer new work on the health boards; it is simply saying that assessments are now to be carried out for the purpose of foreign adoptions, not domestic adoptions. Many people are anxious that they be assessed and the assessment be carried out properly. It is not reasonable to tell them that there is a six months or one or two year waiting list before they are even visited by a social worker for the purpose of carrying out an assessment. I ask the Minister to make direct contact with the two health boards mentioned by my colleagues to find out where the logjam is and resolve it.
I must say that I am concerned that we are tending to have a rather wide-ranging debate on what is clearly a mere drafting amendment. I will hear Deputy Browne.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I will respect your wish to make a short contribution. I have spoken to the Minister in an effort to highlight the difficulties facing couples at present. I have mentioned to him the case of a couple in Carlow who should have received clearance. They have booked a flight for June and have all the arrangements made. It now looks as if they will be caught one way or the other. I appeal to the Minister to try to get the health boards moving.
I appreciate the points made by Deputies and accept that there are variations in health board areas. I wrote to the chief executive officers on 26 March stating that "health boards are to begin carrying out these assessments from 1 April next in anticipation of the early enactment of the legislation". To be fair to the health boards and agencies, including the adoption societies, there is a certain amount of confusion given that it is unusual to start implementing the provisions of a Bill before it is enacted. Some people may be reluctant therefore to commence work until the Bill has passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas. Nevertheless, I wrote to the health boards recently asking them to name one person in each health board area who would be available to give advice to people on the procedures. We have arranged a meeting of the named persons from each of the eight health board areas for tomorrow to further discuss the issue.
That is excellent.
We want to ensure that the health boards take account of the feelings of Members of the House.
With regard to resources, Deputies will be aware that we are appointing 40 more social workers in the current year to the health boards to improve child services. We will be watching that. I can understand the confusion that exists given that the law has not yet been enacted but, nevertheless, we are anxious to move on the matter.
We now come to amendment No. 6. I observe that amendment No. 7 is consequential and I suggest, therefore, that we discuss amendments Nos. 6 and 7 together. They are both in the name of the Minister.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 4, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
"(2) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), where a foreign adoption was effected on or after the 1st day of April, 1991, and before the 1st day of July, 1991, and the Minister for Justice had received a request in writing from the adopters before the said 1st day of April, 1991, for an assurance in writing addressed to them as to the admission to the State of a child the subject of a foreign adoption effected in their favour, the adoption shall be deemed, unless such deeming would be contrary to public policy, to have been effected by a valid adoption order made—
(a) on the date on which the adoption was effected, or
(b) on the commencement of this Act,
whichever is the later, if but only if—
(i) the Minister for Justice gave such an assurance as aforesaid,
(ii) the adopters are persons coming within the classes of persons in whose favour an adoption order may, by virtue of section 9 of this Act, be made,
(iii) the adopters were ordinarily resident in the State on the date on which the adoption was effected, and
(iv) the Board declares in writing that it is satisfied that the adopters are persons coming within the classes of persons in whose favour an adoption order may, by virtue of the said section 9, be made.".
At the Special Committee I undertook to examine the question of bringing forward an amendment on Report Stage to deal with those situations involving people already in Romania on 1 April or who were about to travel there at that time and who were unlikely to have their adoptions finalised before 1 April. I accept that these are special cases and that special provision should be made for them. Accordingly, I have brought forward a special amendment to facilitate the people concerned.
Amendment No. 6 would extend the special procedure applicable to people who adopted before 1 April last to people who had applied to the Department of Justice before that date for immigration clearance for an adopted child and who subsequently received such clearance from that Department. Where people with written immigration clearance finalise their foreign adoptions before 1 July next their adoptions will be recognised in the same way as adoptions granted to people before 1 April; in other words, their adoptions will be recognised if they are eligible to adopt a child under Irish law and the adoption complies with the terms of the definition of a foreign adoption set out in section 1.
I consider it is essential that this special provision should be confined to people who applied to the Department of Justice for immigration clearance before 1 April and subsequently received such clearance. As far as I am aware, all foreign adoption authorities require documentary evidence from prospective adopters that an adopted child will be permitted to enter their country to live with them and that the foreign authorities will not consider an application for adoption unless the prospective adopters can satisfy them on this crucial point.
I might also point out that the Department of Justice have not issued any immigration clearance to people who have applied since 1 April. That Department have advised applicants that they are unable to issue these clearances until they complete the new procedures provided for in the Bill which involve having their eligibility and suitability established so as to ensure that their foreign adoption will be recognised on their return to this country. It is clearly not in the interests of a foreign child to be adopted by an Irish person or couple in circumstances which would preclude the adoption from being recognised in here.
Amendment No. 7 is consequential and will enable the adopters to apply to the Adoption Board for a declaration that they are eligible to be granted an Irish adoption order.
When the Minister published his proposed amendments to the Bill on 15 March last he suggested a cut-off date of 1 April for the procedure which would apply to those who had completed or were about to complete adoptions. The new, and somewhat more involved procedure, was to apply from 1 April. I made the point at the Special Committee meeting which I think met on either 28 or 29 March, that there were people in Romania with letters of authorisation issued by the Department who could not complete their adoptions before 1 April, — they may not have been able to complete them until mid-April or early May — and who would find themselves in a legal limbo or legal twilight zone. When we discussed this matter with the Minister at a subsequent committee meeting the point was made that there were people who had received authorisations prior to 1 April, who had already booked flights, who had made plans to go to Romania some time during the month of May, who had family assessments carried out and who had complied with all the pre-adoption requirements of the Romanian authorities but who clearly, again, could not complete the adoptions before 1 April.
Two formulas were suggested to the Minister, the first was that we simply change the cut-off date from 1 April to 1 July or that provision be made that those who received authorisations prior to 1 April from the Department be allowed to complete their adoptions and have them recognised under the simpler procedure. The Minister's amendment deals with in as reasonable a way as possible, the difficulties in this area.
This side of the House fully recognise that the procedure for the carrying out of domestic assessments by health boards or our domestic adoption societies, with declarations of suitability from the Adoption Board, should come into operation as early as possible. There was a necessity for an interim measure to deal with people caught between the two positions, people who had undertaken all the arrangements to complete a foreign adoption but had not managed to have it completed. The Minister's proposal makes provision for the inclusion of the date of 1 July which we sought prior to completing Committee Stage. I deliberately withdrew my amendment on Committee Stage seeking the 1 July date to give the Minister additional time to think the matter over so we could do it on a consensus basis rather than a confrontational basis.
I understand that as a result of the arrangements that have been made in recent days some additional letters of authorisation have been issued by the Department of Justice. My information was that up to 1 April there had been in the region of 477 letters of authorisation issued by the Department of Justice. One cannot be exact in this because one is getting back information from organisations and individuals who have been involved, but I believe there are in the region of 400 Romanian children in the country who have been adopted by either Irish couples or individuals.
One problem that arose was that there were people who, prior to 1 April, sought a departmental authorisation to bring an adopted child into Ireland to whom the Department had not replied before 1 April. As a result of the Minister's conclusions on the matter now being resolved, I understand that in the region of 30 or so new letters went out from the Department of Justice confirming to couples who sought a departmental authorisation prior to 1 April that if they now adopted abroad the child adopted would be admitted into the country.
I am very pleased that we have the 1 July date and I am raising no issue about that. This is not a matter on which I tabled any amendments and I do not intend to divide the House on it but I know from personal contacts with a number of couples that while we were debating Committee Stage and over the past two weeks, they had letters from the Department pre-1 April and literally did not know whether they should or should not adopt. I told them that it had to be their decision, that I hoped we would agree on the 1 July date and that if they went in early May that should allow them time to complete an adoption, but I could not be certain at that stage that agreement would be reached. Following today's events in the House there may be some couples who might consider going to Romania at the beginning of May who may now go at the end of May or the beginning of June. Equally there may be some couples who, having got Department of Justice letters of authorisation only a week or ten days ago having thought it was not possible to go to complete an adoption, now would have finalised their paper work and would have put in place arrangements to go to Romania at the end of May or the beginning of June. Again it may not be possible for some of those people to complete their arrangements by 1 July.
I was anxious not to divide the House on this because we have reached agreement on all the issues in the Bill. We are happy with this amendment having pressed for the 1 July date on Committee Stage and it would be peculiar now not to agree to that date now. What we did not know was that there would be 30 new letters of authorisation issued and how long it would take to agree a 1 July date. On the assumption that we accept the 1 July date, the Department may get a feed back that some people could be caught in a hiatus. If so, when the Bill goes to the Seanad if the Minister feels there is a need to change 1 July to 31 July in the context of the letters of authorisation that have already been issued — because this cannot result in more people going off hastily to adopt abroad without having done their paperwork — the 30 people who only in the last couple of weeks received authorisations from the Department of Justice should be facilitated by having that 1 July date changed to 31 July. We would agree to that and the matter could be accepted without debate or difficulty arising if the Seanad accept it. However, it may not be necessary to do that.
I accept the need to provide certainty in this area and the message should go out from this House today that couples who do not have letters of authorisation at this stage and are thinking of adoptions abroad should go to their health boards or adoption societies, have assessments carried out and go through the new procedure.
I welcome the fact that we have been able to reach agreement on this new date. I know of two couples who are at this moment in Romania, who decided to go regardless of what we did in this House and who already had letters of authorisation. I know it will come as something of a relief to them and their families to know the 1 July date has been agreed. Both couples expect adoptions in Romania towards the end of this month and it will mean their children will be recognised as adopted under this legislation on the assumption that all the legislative requirements will have been properly complied.
I am interested in what Deputy Shatter had to say. I made the very point on Committee Stage that even the cut off date of 1 July might cause problems later. I instanced a case where a couple had been given a final court date of sometime in October, even though they had the letter of authorisation from the Department of Justice. No matter what we put into the legislation at that time that couple still would have been left out.
On Committee Stage I supported 1 April date because I felt we had to have a cut off date and we were probably better off having it early rather than late. If we put it back further and further we would have an avalanche of applicants who might not necessarily apply later. I accept that with the passage of time the 1 July date is probably now more relevant.
I accept there will still be problems but no matter what we do in legislation, at the end of the day there will always be hard cases. I think what we are doing in this amendment is the best solution. It will leave out some couples but at the end of the day they will just have to go through the more rigorous procedure which is in vogue even for couples adopting Irish babies. I support this amendment.
I welcome this amendment. Consternation was created in the Committee when the Minister published his Press statement of 15-16 March announcing a cut-off date of 1 April. Not that we had any objection to a particular date applying, but we were aware of many couples who had not brought the children back to Ireland before 1 April or were in the process of adopting but did not have the opportunity to get their air fare together or arrange their tickets or whatever. We debated this at length on Committee Stage and the Minister was forthcoming. He said he would look at some interim arrangement which would satisfy the points made by all of us, particularly Deputy Shatter. I am satisfied that what the Minister is suggesting will meet the requirement. There will be exceptions to every rule but I think this cut-off date has attracted sufficient publicity.
The people who have contacted me are now aware that there will be changes. I am not sure whether the people recently issued with letters from the Department of Justice had originally made all the other necessary arrangements, but anybody who intends to go to Romania now is aware that legislation is coming into place with a new cut off date.
Lest we forget what happens, I want to put on the record our appreciation of the work of the Irish Romanian Adoptive Parents Group who have regional bodies which advise adoptive parents. They have put in place a very detailed and relevant procedure. They advised members of their group that their documentation would have to include marriage and birth certificates, a Department of Justice letter of permission, a Garda report, a financial status report, a medical report and a social report.
Also incorporated in the adoption order from the Romanian side are the child's birth certificate, the mother's birth certificate, the mother's marriage certificate, if married, mother's and/or father's consent and a social report on the mother, giving her background and her reasons for placing the child for adoption in Romania. Both sets of documents must then be notarised. The Irish documents are notarised in Ireland and again in Romania, while the Romanian documents are notarised there.
At the court hearing all these papers are examined by a panel usually comprised of three judges. The parents or single mother are present and preferably the adoptive parents. If the latter are not present, the lawyer representing them should attend. When everybody has presented the case satisfactorily to the Chief Justice, he will make an adoption order. Then there is a further waiting period during which each side can change their minds. When the adoption order is finally signed all the above-mentioned paper work is filed in the court and a synopsis is given, in which the adoptive parents are declared to be the parents of the child and new birth certificates are issued bearing the adoptive parents surname.
I wonder if a long quotation of that kind is really necessary.
I wanted to spell out the procedure which has been followed up to now. This formula was followed on the recommendation of the Irish Romanian Adoptive Parents Group. People who adopted this procedure and satisfy the criteria contained in the legislation, but who had not brought children here before 1 April, need an assurance that their children will be formally and legally adopted here. It would be unwise for any prospective adoptive parents to set off with just a letter from the Department of Justice. The criteria I have mentioned were laid down before the initiation of this legislation. These criteria, together with the provisions of the legislation should be sufficient to satisfy adoptive parents that what they have done is in accordance with law and that there will be no ambiguity about the legality of the adoptions in the future. They must be assured that children adopted under this legislation will have the same status as any other adopted children, foreign or otherwise.
People did not just get a letter, hop on a plane and come home with a child. They went through a very detailed procedure. We must compliment them as a voluntary group who were concerned to make sure that children were available for adoption and who were also concerned with doing something about the social crisis in Romania. Anybody who has seen these children must realise what an important step it was and how beautiful these children are. We must welcome the fact that Deputy Shatter brought forward this legislation to regularise the future status and nationality of these children.
If we need to make a case for extending the Committee system to deal with difficult legislation, the work of the Committee is as good an advertisement as any. Perhaps we could bring this message back to our party whips in an effort to extend the system. On every occasion when we have used the Committee system to deal with legislation, nothing but good parliamentary work has come from it.
The Minister must be thanked for accepting the arguments made on Committee Stage about the degree of flexibility regarding the cut-off stage. The time has come for the House to rally around and agree that what we have here is a good and fair formula. The approach that has been shown indicates a degree of flexibility and there is certainly a full appreciation of the problems people have had to deal with and will have to meet in the future.
I welcome the amendment which sets out clearly the position from now on. Certain rules apply before 1 April, after 1 April and before July, and thereafter. Reports indicate that all is certainly not well on the Romanian front. The sooner the better we have in place the post-1 July regime. It is important that the Adoption Board and the health authorities here become actively involved in the process. The original enthusiasm and efforts on the part of people in Romania to meet reasonable requests for adoption are breaking down and the blackmarket is entering the whole area.
The Minister will recall my concern about the roles played by different Departments in this procedure. I appreciate that the question of aliens is a matter for the Department of Justice but I wonder whether we should describe as aliens children who are adopted. The controls on the admission of aliens should apply to adults who come to this country. Children who come as babes in arms or accompanied by adults should be treated otherwise. In the area of child care generally, and especially in the case of children at risk, there is a great problem finding out which Departments are responsible — Health, Justice or Education. I am concerned that similar difficuties may arise here.
It appears that the Minister for Health is having a direct influence on the procedures adopted by the Department of Justice but difficulties could arise in the future. I should prefer the Minister for Health to have entire responsibility in this area. The letter required to authorise the bringing of a child to this country should emanate from the Department of Health or the Adoption Board.
I fully support the amendment and thank the Minister for being so forthcoming.
I congratulate Deputy Shatter and the Minister for pioneering the resolution of this problem. Every cut-off date will leave certain hard cases behind. I know of people who are caught by the provision that the requests to the Department must have been in writing. I can understand their frustration in that this was just a single element in a process of assessment which they were undergoing. They would regard it as arbitrary that this point was picked out as the one which would decide who would benefit from the special procedure. That was not indicated on 20 March when the Minister made his first statement on the matter. Some people had the good fortune to put in a written request before 1 April and we must feel for those who did not. Since there will be certain hard cases where most of the homework has been completed priority should be given to those people who have been caught in a rather arbitrary way by this provision. I recognise the Minister had to have some documentary basis for determining a cut-off. I appeal to him to ensure that the first priority in the health boards providing the assessment should be to people who were well advanced in the procedure under the old rules.
There is one final question I wish to ask the Minister. It refers to paragraph (iv) of subsection (2) which states:
the Board declares in writing that it is satisfied that the adopters are persons coming within the classes of persons in whose favour an adoption order may, by virtue of the said section 9, be made.
The only small worry I have about that paragraph is that the Minister is now introducing a procedure whereby single people can adopt but in special circumstances and those circumstances are not specified in the Bill. When I asked the Minister on Committee Stage what these circumstances meant, he suggested it would be a situation of a natural bond such as an aunt adopting a child after the death of the parents. I want the Minister to satisfy himself that he is not arbitrarily cutting out single people who may have fulfilled, in good faith, all the other requirements but the board may say these do not meet the special circumstances which were envisaged. Perhaps it is not a real fear but I would like to have a brief comment on it from the Minister.
I thank the Minister for bringing in this amendment. It clears up an area of uncertainty and ambiguity which was causing some distress to prospective adoptive parents.
As soon as this Bill has passed both Houses, in clear and unambiguous language there should be published a list of steps that must be taken by prospective adoptive parents if they are contemplating a foreign adoption. The catalyst for this Bill was the Romanian situation, but what we are passing through the Dáil and the Seanad is a foreign adoptions Bill that will apply not only to Romania but to many other countries as well.
I welcome this amendment. It is a positive and reasonable response to a section that could have been very contentious. It shows a sympathetic and understanding approach on the part of the Minister. It is very important that any applicants to the Department of Justice cannot argue that their application was unduly delayed by the Department of Justice which resulted in their not having received clearance for going to Romania. The fact that all applications received before 1 April will now obtain clearance is a good response and, at least, we will not have couples who will feel aggrieved.
On Committee Stage fears were expressed that by changing any date the floodgates could be open to applications. By confining it to all those who had written before 1 April it eliminates any hasty decisions being made by any couple in deciding to go to Romania. I hope this change will be made known to the couples so that they will not find themselves in a dilemma that they heard about it too late and could not have the adoption completed by 1 July. How important is the 1 July date? It applies only to the 30 or so people who have received clearance over the past number of days who had applied before 1 April. Extending the date to 31 July or to August would not mean that people who had not obtained a clearance could hastily decide to go to Romania. I hope we will not have any problems because of that cut-off date. It is not all that important because it concerns only those applicants who have got clearance over the past few days from the Department of Justice.
I thank Deputies for their support for this amendment. Like the other side of the House, on this side of the House we are very sympathetic in our attitude on this matter and we were anxious that there would be a special procedure to recognise foreign adoptions for children who are already in the country. When we met on 16 March we decided on a cut-off date of 1 April. I believe that was right and appropriate at the time. It was very important that we would signal to the people that a law was about to be enacted. It was not in anybody's interest that the procedure which was in place should continue indefinitely. We are looking for a balance between recognising the adoption of children who were properly adopted abroad and, at the same time, ensuring that we have procedures in place that are in accordance with the very high standards of adoption in this country since the foundation of the State. Nobody can deny that we have a standard of adoption procedure in Ireland that compares with the best anywhere in the world and we want to maintain that standard. The parents who adopted children abroad are very anxious that that would be the case and that the procedures we have in place would be seen to be of the very highest standard. I believe it was right to signal a date that was not too far away. Members in this House will recall that at one time a Government decided to stop house improvement grants and to cease applications after two weeks. In those two weeks 69,000 applications were received in the Department of the Environment.
I am not comparing adoption with a housing grant scheme. The decision to adopt a child is probably one of four or five of the most major decisions that people will make in their lifetime. I would not wish to precipitate anybody into making a hasty decision by giving a date whereby people might be tempted to go abroad and bring home a baby and then find that it was not the right decision. I think the date of 1 April was correct.
Having regard to the fact that there were so many people who had the procedures almost finalised and perhaps were awaiting travel arrangements to Romania, it was right that we should look at the date. We have a fair compromise that satisfies what we set out to do; namely, to find the balance between recognition for children who are already in the country and, at the same time, ensuring that we maintain a very high standard of procedure for recognition of foreign adoptions. This is very much in line with the procedure that already exists. Because it will be necessary for people to have had their emigration clearance from the Department of Justice before 1 April, the date of 1 July is reasonable.
I think it is fair to tell the House that I do not intend to change the date of 1 July. I take the point that has been made that there will be some people whom it will inconvenience. As Deputy Ahearn has said, it does not matter what date you accept, it will inconvenience some people. It would be most unfortunate if people's expectations were raised that this procedure would go on until 31 July and then if there are other people who would be inconvenienced that it would be extended to a further date. The Bill will be completed in this House today; it will then go to the Seanad and certainly it is not my intention to extend the date again. It is important that the public are aware of that because we do not want to raise expectations. We have got a good compromise and I believe it will satisfy the needs of the vast majority of people who had almost completed their arrangements by 1 April but had not completed an adoption order abroad.
I agree with Deputy Shatter and others that people who are contemplating adoption abroad should now seek proper advice. We will be meeting a designated person in each of the eight health boards on Friday. That person — or somebody whom they will brief — will be in a position to give people advice. People seeking advice on adoption procedures should go to their health board or to an adoption society, if the adoption societies are participating, or indeed — and perhaps Deputy Shatter was too modest to suggest this — they should get legal advice before they go abroad to adopt a child so that they will know the procedures and what will be necessary when the law is enacted.
Deputy McCartan referred to what he perceived as a lack of co-ordination in the activities relating to children between the Departments of Health, Justice and Education. Deputy McCartan will be aware that the Minister of State in my Department, Deputy Flood, was given the specific task of co-ordinating the work of the three Departments as it relates to child care and affects children. I think everybody in the House will agree that Deputy Flood has done a tremendous amount of work in the short time since he was appointed Minister of State. Certainly this should not be a problem in the future as we accept it was in the past.
Deputy Bruton raised the issue of single persons wishing to adopt. The special procedures will apply to single people who have adopted a child through foreign adoptions, provided they meet the criteria in all other ways. Following the enactment of this legislation it will be a matter for the Adoption Board to decide on the special circumstances. As I see it, the special circumstances will be closely related to the bonding between the single person and the child, but it will be a matter for the Adoption Board to decide on individual cases. Deputy Fitzpatrick asked that we outline a list of procedures. While that is our intention, it is important that we wait until the Bill is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and is enacted before we publish a list of the criteria and procedures for adoption.
Again, I thank the Deputies for their support for this amendment and I commend it to the House.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 4, line 34, after "subsection (1)", to insert "or subsection (2) (iv)*".
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 5, lines 28 and 29, to delete "section 2 or 3" and substitute "section 2,3 or 4*".
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 9, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"10. —(1) Section 8 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsections for subsection (2) and (5):
(2) The Board shall consist of a chairman and 8 ordinary members.
(5) The Board may act notwithstanding the existence of one or more vacancies in its membership.'.
(2) Notwithstanding paragraph 2 (1) of the First Schedule to the Principal Act, the two persons first appointed, by virtue of the amendment of section 8 of the Principal Act effected by this section, to be members of the Board shall be appointed for such period ending on the 29th day of January, 1993, as the Government may determine.".
Deputies will recall that at the Special Committee I drew attention to the fact that the amendments accepted by the special committee would result in the Adoption Board having new responsibilities under this legislation and that I intended to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to increase the present membership of the board so as to facilitate meetings to process applications under the new legislation. As currently constituted, the Adoption Board consists of seven members, a chairman and six ordinary members. The membership is fixed by section 8 of the Adoption Act, 1952. Subsection (1) of amendment No. 9 increases the membership of the board to nine. I consider it is necessary to do this so that the board will have a greater number of members to call upon for meetings. Section 8 (5) of the Adoption Act, 1952, states:
The Board may act notwithstanding the existence of one vacancy in its membership.
I consider it desirable to enable the board with its increased membership to act with more than one vacancy. This is also provided for in subsection (1) of amendment No. 9. The quorum for a meeting of the board is three members, including the chairman or deputy chairman. Thus while this amendment would allow the board to act with more than one vacancy in its membership, the board will still be required to have the necessary quorum in order to meet. The purpose of subsection (2) of the amendment is to ensure that the term of office of the two additional members first appointed to the board will be co-terminus with that of the other members of the present board, whose term of office ends on 29 January 1993.
I have no argument about increasing the number on the Adoption Board. I am not sure whether it is necessary because a lot of the additional work will be administrative within the board as much as the board actually meeting. I assume that if the Adoption Board require additional personnel, even temporarily, to meet the large amount of work that may arise in the 12 to 18 months following the enactment of this Bill, that will be provided by the Minister through his Department. We are going to have hundreds of adoptions, perhaps 400 to 600, because not only will this Bill cover Romanian adoptions but people will seek to register and have declarations of recognition from the board in cases of foreign adoptions. Therefore I imagine the board will have a large influx of work for approximately 18 months after which matters will settle down considerably, and the board may need additional administrative staff.
As I recall from the legislation, it is largely at the Minister's discretion that appointments are made to the board. Those appointed to the board over the years tended to represent different walks of life and different interests. Indeed, I cannot remember any major complaints arising in regard to the personnel appointed to the board and I certainly have no complaints. I have the highest regard for the Adoption Board over the years. Indeed it had a very fine chairperson in District Justice Agnes Cassidy who served on the board for many years until her retirement and it now has another fine chairperson. None of the people currently on the board, as far as I know, has had any major involvement over the years with foreign adoptions. I have a suggestion, but the Minister is not bound in any way by it and it is entirely at his discretion. In the context of the tremendous work being done by the Romanian adoptive parents group and their knowledge of the background to adoption in Romania and that the vast majority of initial matters to come before the board will relate to Romania the Minister might consider appointing someone from that group to one of the additional places on the board. Over the years appointments to the board have been based on the general perception that the members appointed would be able to add some insight or common sense to the proceedings of the board. The Romanian adoptive parents group have never had any political axe to grind and they have always been very anxious to make the point that they wanted this issue dealt with in a non-political party context. They made public their problems and the needs in this area and sought to avoid scoring political points either way. This is just a suggestion but I hope the Minister will consider it.
A good point.
I presume the Minister will be issuing instructions on the appointment of the two additional members to the board.
I would like to comment briefly on a point raised by Deputy Bruton. In the past the members of the Adoption Board have placed a restriction on the upper age limit of adoptive parents. People must be 21 years at least in order to adopt but people aged 40 years or over are prohibited from adopting and as the Minister has said this was based on the scarcity of babies. There is now no such legal restriction on the age except that persons be over 21 years of age, and I hope that people in their forties who wish to adopt will now be facilitated by way of a ministerial recommendation to the members of the board.
I agree with Deputy Ferris on this point. I raised this point on Committee Stage. I felt that undue restrictions were being imposed on parents whom I would consider very capable to adopt children. As a matter of fact I would liken it to the third level education system whereby the number of places are related to the number of points, actually discriminates against many people going into a profession. A great many people who would be excellent parents at the age of 40 should be considered at this time. We now have so many people here who are anxious to adopt and at the same time, there is a crisis in Romania in that connection. I hope the Minister will put this very important matter to the Adoption Board.
Before we conclude let me say, on behalf of Fine Gael, that we are pleased that this Bill which we brought forward as a Private Members' Bill has achieved a consensus in the House. We are pleased that the Bill has now successfully passed through the Dáil. It would be our hope that the passage of the Bill through the Seanad will be completed during the course of this month. We are pleased that people who now adopt abroad will be in a position to ensure that their children properly adopted abroad are treated in Ireland as adopted children and are treated no differently in Ireland than a child adopted at home. We have done a good day's work on this Bill. I would like to thank the Minister and the other parties in the House for their co-operation and assistance in bringing the Bill to this Stage.
I would like to thank the Deputies who contributed to this Bill, particularly the Deputies who served on the Special Committee. I would like to thank the officials in my Department, the officials in the House and yourself, a Cheann Comhairle, for the expeditious manner in which the Bill was dealt with, and I look forward to similar progress in the Seanad.
I want to put on record our appreciation of Deputy Shatter for introducing this Bill, and our appreciation of the Minister for his approach to it. This is a lesson to be learned from this that if we have a common cause we can always forget our political differences and come up with something for the good of the people we represent.
I would like to join with the other Deputies in thanking Deputy Shatter for bringing forward the legislation and the Minister for being so forthcoming at the Special Committee and on Report Stage in accepting some of the suggestions that were made. I was happy at the Special Committee to make the suggestion that discussions should take place. I was very pleased that so much work was put into this during the Easter recess. I join with the Minister in thanking his officials because I know they played a central role in this. It was a good day's work and now we can wish those parents who have adopted children in Romania, and elsewhere, a happy time, because that is the essence of this legislation, that they and their children will enjoy their new life together.
I would like to join with my colleague, Deputy Shatter, in expressing our thanks and admiration to everybody involved in all stages of this Bill. This Bill, initiated by Deputy Shatter on behalf of Fine Gael, was important for the people affected. It was necessary to get the co-operation and understanding of everybody who participated in the debate on it. Its success is due to the fact that they got that co-operation and the Fine Gael Party appreciate that.
I also would like to congratulate those concerned. The manner in which this Bill was dealt with from its introduction by Deputy Shatter to this moment is a good example of how this House can respond to situations in society and deal with them speedily and effectively when it applies itself and puts forward a united front. This is a good day for the House and a good day for the parents and prospective parents of adopted children.
As it is now 12 noon I am required to put the following question in accordance with the resolution of the Dáil of 7 May: "That the amendment set down by the Minister for Health and not disposed of is hereby made to the Bill, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed."