I thank the committee for its kind invitation to contribute to the discussion on the Bill and to discuss our submission. As a recognised key stakeholder group, our primary objective is that reform of the law in this area be victim-survivor led and that the concept of people before paper be at the heart of any legislation. We welcome the Bill as a step forward and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman's work to advance this matter.
I am an adoptee, but I feel I need to highlight that I was not born in a mother and baby home and did not come through the mother and baby home system. As such, I was outside the remit of the commission and, like thousands of others, could not participate in its investigations due to its restrictive remit. Many were shut out of this process and were not included in An Taoiseach's apology. This needs to be acknowledged and addressed. There need to be clear pathways of participation for those who were outside the remit in any process moving forward.
I have experienced this system and its shortcomings on a personal level, whether it was as a 29-year-old diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that I had no background medical information on and that I later discovered I was predisposed to or as a new mum being advised by our doctor to seek clarification on a potentially inherited life-threatening condition to protect myself and my children and having to liaise with agencies that simply did not care. I have experienced the invasive and controlling nature of this system, which withheld the existence of a biological sibling from me for six years, only revealing it years later when I sought information on my biological father. This system treats adoptees as if we are guilty of some wrongdoing, and while we very much welcome this Bill as a signal of some progress and a move away from previous legislation's "much ado about doorsteps" approach, it does not go far enough.
Most adoptees' concerns are practical ones regarding medical information and access to identity information. While the Bill goes some way towards recognising the significance of medical information, it is unrealistic to assume that a bank of information on this will suddenly become available. There are considerable hurdles to overcome and, as such, we would seek for enhanced medical screening for adoptees and their children and earlier entry to existing screening programmes.
While we welcome Mr. Gloster's apology as an acknowledgement of the appalling treatment that adoptees have been subjected to, neither Tusla nor the Adoption Authority of Ireland, AAI, should continue to play a part in adoptees' lives or make determinations on access to information. In 2019, the AAI refused nine applications for birth certificates. In 2018, it refused six. Despite that, under the Bill, this selfsame agency, which has already ruled on these applications, will again have an integral part in the process of adoptees applying for copies of their birth certificates, as set out in the general scheme of the Bill. This begs serious questions as to the constitutionality of the process.
If we are to move the legislative focus from the clean break or clean slate model to clean access, it needs to be within a new agency with a new social work model. Most importantly, as legislation on this issue has languished for so long, the Bill needs to provide for a compulsory review period in order that issues can be addressed and improved upon and we do not perpetuate the wrongs of the past.
I will quickly recap the main issues with the Bill. It is a rehash of the IO'T v. B case. We believe that, for the reasons set out in our submission, the Bill is an unsatisfactory attempt to legislate for adoptees' right to identity. The Child and Family Agency and the Adoption Authority of Ireland are unfit for purpose in the context of this Bill. We are calling for a new agency, independent of the above bodies, to be the main focus. We do not accept the qualifications or restrictions on the release to adoptees of their birth information and birth certificates. This is a disproportionate restriction and goes too far in recognising and placing the constitutional right to privacy of the birth parent over and above the constitutional right to identity of the adoptee. We advocate for a suite of supports, including medical screening. We are concerned by the lack of provision in the Bill for a review of the legislation. This is a serious omission and one that needs to be addressed urgently. We note the conflicting explanatory notes throughout the Bill. For example, the general data protection regulation, GDPR, is used to prevent access to adoptees for certain information. Elsewhere, attempts are made to exempt the application of GDPR. We note a significant level of discretion and arbitrariness assigned to relevant bodies. There is a necessity to make guidelines compulsory rather than optional in the various processes throughout the Bill. The provision relating to a register of acknowledged identity and a certificate of acknowledged identity needs to be clarified. The issue of immunity for the State and relevant bodies as set out in the Bill is noteworthy and concerning.
We very much appreciate the opportunity to speak before the committee today and would sincerely like to thank its members, clerk and staff for their assistance. We welcome members' questions.