I am glad that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is present as she has a long-standing interest in this issue and much detailed knowledge of it.
There is a great deal of unhappiness at the fact that there is a further delay. Much of the delay is probably inevitable, but arrangements should be made to deal with a number of issues which I believe the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, could address with some speed. She is not present for the discussion, but she must bear in mind that we now know that there are approximately 150,000 adoption files held by Tusla, of which 50,000 or more are since adoption was legally introduced in Ireland in 1952. I have been asking questions and campaigning on this issue for a long period and one of the problems is that in most cases many of the parents of the children are now deceased, while many of the children are much older. The unfortunate part is that the Minister is continuing to cling to a social worker-led model when people just want to receive their information. They want to receive information on the mother and baby homes, with their personal information and files.
Since we last discussed this matter, the information on burials at Sean Ross Abbey has come to light, with suggestions the number of children buried there is far more significant than previously believed. This is very distressing for all of the people connected with Sean Ross Abbey, but everybody was aware of the information. Certainly, my mother used to say to me when I was a child that children had died like flies in these institutions. They died from what are now treatable illnesses such as gastroenteritis. They also died from a range of other illnesses which nowadays can still take babies' lives such as meningitis. If there was an infection in a home, it appears that it spread like wildfire. I welcome the Minister's decision to have excavations carried out at Sean Ross Abbey.
The biggest mother and baby home in the Dublin area was St. Patrick's on the Navan Road. I was always told and people connected with the home have repeatedly said approximately 2,000 babies are buried in the Holy Angels plot at Glasnevin Cemetery. In fact, others have suggested the figure is higher. In addition, many people living in Dublin at the time, particularly poorer people, who lost a baby buried him or her in the Holy Angels plot. That issue must be addressed. It is part of a very sad history in Ireland, but the people affected deserve to have it addressed.
I have with me the reply I received from Tusla last June about the number of people who were seeking to trace their origins. The numbers are extremely high, but, more importantly, where the process is still ongoing, the number amounts to many thousands. Last year the Minister made a public announcement on the 126 files related to St. Patrick's Guild which ran a home on Temple Hill in Blackrock. I am aware of many people from St. Patrick's Guild who have been approached with a letter from the Minister and Tusla offering social worker services. People do not particularly need social worker services unless they ask for them. They are adults. The people referred to were born between the late 1940s and the late 1960s; therefore, almost everybody is well over 40 years old. Some might need counselling and the help of a social worker, but more than anything they need information.
My view is, given the way it is set up, Tusla will never be able to deal with more than 10% to 20% of the inquiries it faces. Before Christmas we received the news that St. Patrick's Guild which was one of the biggest adoption societies in Ireland had gone into liquidation. That means that almost 100 years of its history is gone. I believe Tusla has the records, as the Minister can confirm, but the position is far from satisfactory. I understand there were legal cases, some of which were in the public domain last year, and that the guild may have had to make legal redress to some of the people involved.
What is the current position? We are in the middle of a detailed mother and baby homes investigation which is being carried out by some eminent and trustworthy people, but the problem with the Government is that it is not prepared to expand its remit to address very important issues, some of which are relatively resolvable in the time that is left. I refer, first, to Bethany Home. After almost three years in office, the Government has not addressed the issues involved. Almost every Member is aware that the people from Bethany Home are now mainly of considerably advanced years and deserve to be addressed in a fair way. I ask the Minister of State to convey that message to her senior Minister colleagues.
Second, with regard to St. Patrick's Guild and the files on the 126 people mentioned, I introduced a Bill to deal with informal, false and illegally registered adoptions. It would provide people with a mechanism to approach the court to have their circumstances validated. There are a number of people who were registered as the natural children of their adoptive parents. I assume that the nun gave the happy parents the baby they were going to adopt and told them to register him or her. They probably never knew that they were doing anything untoward, but there must have been arrangements which facilitated it. An increasing number of cases came to my attention following publication of the Bill. Ms Anne O'Meara is a barrister who was adopted and whose birth certificate turned out to be illegal. She has spoken on the Sean O'Rourke radio programme and spoke at the launch of the Bill. She is quite clear that she was adopted by a very loving family who brought her up, with her siblings. However, when they were given her, they went and registered her as their natural born baby. Therefore, her birth certificate is invalid. In addition, she was born in Belfast. As in most cases, her adoptive parents always told her that she had been adopted. She was adopted in Belfast. She must have a remedy whereby she can go to court to have her life validated as it has been lived, in other words, that she was adopted by her parents. The registration of her birth was false and wrong and she needs a mechanism to resolve the issue.
I really plead with the Minister of State because I know she knows a lot about this issue, to get the Government to act on the legislation I have brought forward.
Regarding St. Patrick's Guild, we are told there are another 746 cases that are of concern, to use the words of the Minister. As St. Patrick's Guild is just one of many adoption societies, if one uses one's imagination one will know this affected many people. I have dealt in recent days with a case of someone whose original birth certificate, when they obtained it, had been utterly falsified. Again, there was something irregular about the birth certificate they got. However, there is no remedy whatever available to this individual, and what is more, they do not even know how they should have registered their children in terms of their children's parentage and their own identity.
There is a lot that could be done about this. I stress that we can work together on this and with the various organisations which have been lobbying on this issue. We can help people without having to say, as is inevitable, that they will have to wait three, five or seven years for a social worker. That is just neither a practical nor a realistic solution.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection handles vast amounts of people's data, as do other Departments, such as the Department of Health. It is possible to have access to one's own data, and that is a human right, for information purposes. It is proposed, however, to put up a roadblock and say all data must go through some social worker model. The children who are young now and have difficulties are the people who need the social worker and the family support, whereas the Government just has to make a decision on the people who are more mature and want their information. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, was very vocal about this when she was a Senator. She supported me on a lot of legislation which was socially very advanced for the Ireland of the time, such as legislation providing for marriages to be celebrated by civil solemnisers and humanists and, similarly, legislation providing for transgender people to be allowed a birth certificate in their required gender.