—and indeed, more importantly, he is also prepared to provide moneys to the adoption societies. But I would put it to the Minister since he makes this point, this research is a long time coming. The adoption procedure is 22 years in existence and there has not been any governmental research. When the Minister became Minister for Justice he did not immediately set up a departmental committee to look into the question. The Adoption Bill before us is not the subject of a detailed survey at governmental level. It is not adequate for the Minister to say that he is interested in an academic sense in research. One has to be more convinced in practical terms of the acknowledgment of the very real deficiencies in our present adoption law and of a genuine intention to both set in motion the necessary research and also bring about much more radical reforms than we have here.
Again the Minister gives the impression that it is a tiny vocal lobby of rather emotional people who are concerned about reform in adoption. I should like to refer the House to a letter which we all received from the Joint Committee of Women's Societies and Social Workers, dated April, 1974. I shall just quote the first paragraph:
The joint committee of women's societies represents at least 50,000 women. This committee was responsible for the first move towards pressing for legal adoption long before the passing of the Adoption Act, 1952. Since then the committee has followed progress and when amendments to present legislation were needed sought the opinions of affiliated societies. The results of the survey show an urgent need for...
It lists 14 amendments. Many of these are not included in this Bill. The first one I will deal with in great detail later—"Statutory Regulation for the registration and supervision of adoption societies". There are a number of others that I may refer back to in a later context. Any committee representing 50,000 women in the country who feel as strongly as the wording of that letter suggests are not an emotional fringe on the periphery of something they do not understand. They reflect a very deep concern for reform in our adoption code and reform which goes a good deal beyond the terms of this Bill.
I should like to refer to some case histories of what happens in our adoption code about which there has been so much complacency and satisfaction expressed. The first of these illustrates a problem of an adoption which did not go through any adoption society. It shows what can happen in relation to adoption practice even where there is goodwill. It concerns the adoption of two children aged 12 and nine years who were born before the marriage of the mother. The mother subsequently married a man who was not the putative father, but he was anxious to adopt his wife's two children who were living with them. This was therefore a straightforward adoption which did not need to come through an adoption society.
To illustrate the inadequacy of the system, the case took over two years for the adoption of the mother's two children to be completed. This caused much unnecessary suffering to the older child, who was very upset. That is a long time lag, given that there were no real problems involved. Secondly, the mother related that a visitor came from the Adoption Board at 7.0 p.m. one Friday evening without any appointment or forewarning. The prospective father was in a public house and this visitor forced the child to take her there in order to contact him. She then stayed in the house talking to them for a few hours. She took the older child aside and discussed with her about her being born before the marriage of her mother. The mother was very angry on hearing of the questions she asked and felt she had intruded on them and had exceeded her position. Both the mother and her husband as well as the older child were upset. This visitor from the Adoption Board is not a qualified social worker. The case illustrates the vital need for using only trained professional people in this delicate region of human relations. That is an example of a problem which can happen in the least complex case of all—where the children had been for a long time with their natural mother who married and it was their joint intention to adopt the children.
Another case history illustrates the insensitivity of some workers in registered adoption societies to the adoptive parents' feelings in some cases. I am using initials to preserve the anonymity of the parties concerned, and I am grateful to a social worker working in adoption for providing me with these cases. I make no apology for putting them on the record of the House. Unless we have specific examples of what goes wrong in our adoption code, we do not know where the real need for reform is, and since we do not have any overall governmental research we must rely on the case histories, and also on a private survey which was made, and from which I intend to quote later.
In 1971 Mrs. W was very upset by the attitude of an adoption worker, when the child she hoped to adopt needed to be hospitalised during the statutory probationary period. The child was with the adoptive parents during the probational period when it became ill and needed hospital attention. Mrs. W telephoned the adoption society which had placed the child with her in order to inform them of the child's illness. She was immediately told "There is no need to worry about this, if the baby is not healthy, we will take it back and give you another". Mrs. W was very upset at this attitude and was unable to discuss her feelings with the adoption worker and needed help. When the social worker contacted the adoption worker on Mrs. W's behalf in order to communicate to the worker the adoptive mother's feelings about the child's illness and her wish to adopt the child, she was again told "There is no need to worry. If the baby is not healthy we will take it back and give Mrs. W another". This callous attitude was very traumatic for the adoptive mother. This is not the only example of such an incident as this social worker had another case this year in which precisely the same thing happened involving an adoption society and causing the same trauma and hurt to the adoptive mother.
The next case illustrates that there is not always adequate selection of adoptive parents carried out by the particular adoption societies. Mr. and Mrs. X attended as psychiatric outpatients with their only child aged three and a half years of age as they needed help in handling behaviour problems arising from conflict in the mother and child relationship. These parents wished to have a larger family, and as no further children were born to them, they discussed the possibility with the social worker of adopting a child. However, Mrs. X expressed serious concern about this because she was having a difficult relationship with her own child. In spring 1969 Mr. and Mrs. X were out driving one afternoon and called to a registered adoption society in order to make general inquiries about adoption procedure.
The person whom they met there talked with them for a short time and before they left told them that a baby would be placed with them. Mrs. X was disturbed by the situation as she had not fully decided that she wished to adopt a baby. A number of weeks later Mr. and Mrs. X were informed by the adoption society that a baby had been selected for them and awaited collection. Mrs. X took the baby despite her reservations. She did so because she feared that by refusing to do so they might deprive the baby of a home and jeopardise their own chance of adopting a child later on if they wished to do so. This family were known personally to the social worker who gave me the case history in a professional capacity and freely discussed the situation step by step as it took place. Again, this showed an inadequate approach to this complex and delicate problem of adoption.
Another case study illustrates that registered adoption societies do not always show an awareness of basic child psychology when placing older children for adoption. Mr. and Mrs. Y sought professional help with their eight year old adopted child's behaviour problems. They described the circumstances of the adoption: They had no natural children. They adopted their first child as an infant from a registered adoption society. It was some years before they were in a position to adopt another child and when they applied to do so, it was suggested that they would adopt an older child so that that child would be close in age to the first child adopted. When, in 1967, Mr. and Mrs. Y were informed that a child had been selected for them, they went to the adoption society and met, for the first time, the three and a half year old child whom they took to live with them.
The child's behaviour, as described by the adoptive parents, seemed very disturbed. The adoptive parents do not recall any discussion with the adoption worker of the difficulties involved in adopting older and institutionalised children. The parents did not have any supervisory visits from the adoption society before the adoption order was made, and they had only one statutory visit from the Adoption Board. This was a totally inadequate approach to the extremely difficult problem of an older child who has already spent a considerable amount of time in an institution being adopted by parents who had no preparation for this, no awareness of the child's psychology and of the problems involved and where there has been no back-up help and support by the adoption society concerned.
Another case history, which should make us in this House very concerned at the manner in which adoption is working in this country, is that of parents who had three children who died shortly after birth from congenital deformities. A social worker was in touch with the family frequently during the third baby's lifetime—the child died at the age of five months. The mother had many problems in caring for the child and there was the physical problem of overcrowding in the home and the presence of a difficult and alcoholic grandparent.
The mother had taken the child home from hospital for a time before it died but she was herself very depressed and the child was very ill all the time. Following this baby's death the social worker kept in occasional touch with the mother and the mother had mentioned that she would like to adopt a baby. However the social worker concerned was very distressed to find that less than five months after the baby's death the mother was given a baby through an adoption agency. The social worker felt that from every point of view the mother was not a fit person to undertake the adoption of a child. She was still upset and depressed. The conditions of the home were not at all satisfactory from a physical point of view and also the grandparent was still there, ill from a terminal condition as well as being an alcoholic.
This is a concrete example of what happens when there is a complete lack of proper pre-placement supervision. It is a factual situation which can arise, and which is not catered for under this Bill, because of the absence of a proper system of creating and maintaining standards and of controlling and monitoring our adoption code.
The next case history to which I should like to refer is well-known to many of us. It reached the news media for the saddest reason some time ago. Nevertheless, I wish to put it on the record of this House while we are discussing adoption. It may be a long time before we get another opportunity to reform our adoption code.
This is the case of a husband and wife who wished to adopt. They approached an adoption society in October, 1968. At first it was doubtful whether they could get a child to adopt, but when they went back a month later, in December, 1968, they were told they would probably be given a child to adopt. In January, 1969, a social worker from the adoption society concerned phoned them and said they had been accepted as prospective adopters and asked them if they would consider adopting triplets. They were somewhat doubtful about this, but when they went along to the adoption society in January they fell in love with the triplets and decided they would adopt them.
They brought the children home when they were ten weeks old. They were given at that time a very firm assurance that the mother would sign the adoption papers. In April, 1969, they had a visit from the social worker who left the adoption papers with them but told them not to fill them in until the babies were six months old. They were given a further assurance that the mother's consent would be forthcoming. In May they signed the papers and waited for news. After two weeks they commenced a series of telephone calls to the society. The society said they had lost contact with the mother and that the adoptive parents must be patient. In January, 1970—when the children had been with them for almost a year— they continued to ask why the mother had not signed, what were happening, what the adoption society was doing and so on and they were told that the mother wanted the children back. They were deeply shocked and upset at this news and were left very much on their own to worry about what would happen to the three babies.
I now quote from the case history as written by the adoptive mother:
Over the next 18 months we never quite knew what was happening. We had very little news from the society and contact only seemed to be made by them after we had become particularly firm in our request for a decision. A particular nun had been to England twice to see the mother— the natural mother—who by this time was married and had two more children. She said she wanted them back but never did anything positive about it. We wrote to His Grace and visited Monsignor Barrett who both said we had no claim and could not do anything about it.
August 24th, 1971: 18 months later we had a letter from the person involved saying the mother wanted the children back and was coming to Dublin to get them.
The mother in fact claimed the children and the adoptive parents were asked to take the children to the adoption society so that the mother could see them. They were given the following assurances:
She only wanted to see them and we could bring them home again. She was capable of looking after three more children. She was in a very sound financial position and could afford domestic and necessary help to enable her to cope with five children under three years of age. She would see a psychiatrist and discuss the problem of uprooting three two-and-a-half year olds from all they had ever loved and known. She would have a few days' rehabilitation in the convent to enable her to get to know the children and, more important, for them to learn to trust her.
I continue with the report written by the adoptive mother:
August 24th, 1971: We took our little ones to the convent. We had to leave them with a social worker and were taken to a room where I could hear the screams of my babies.
Her husband was taken out and she was allowed to see the natural mother but the natural mother would not listen to her.
Broken-hearted we returned to our home. Our family was shattered and the other children were also desolate.
On the next day, August 25th, we went to Dublin to discuss any possibilities of having the children returned to us.
They agreed to the £5,000 bond. They phoned the adoption society but there was no way of getting the children back. In September, 1971, they were phoned by a priest who broke the news:
One of our babies had died and the other two were very badly beaten up and desperately ill. Because the mother had reverted to her original name we did not know which of the children had died. On September 22nd we flew to England. On arrival in England we were driven to the inquest of the little girl who had died and identified her. We went to the hospital and found the other children lying in bed. One of them had an arm in plaster, broken nose, black eyes, sores, burns and appalling malnutrition; a pathetic wee scrap.
Then we saw Elizabeth bruised, beaten and emotionless. Only then did we know which of the children had died.
Eventually, they managed to bring the children back to their home. As from then they had problems.
Louise was hysterical and Elizabeth was shocked. They were heavily sedated night and day for many weeks. They cried out loud all the horror they had seen and endured. They cried for their little sister and they looked for her everywhere.
In spring 1972 we commenced our weekly visits to Dr. McQuaid. Now, 12 months after the tragedy, Louise and Elizabeth are much improved but still far from their normal selves.
At the end of this statement there is a little note:
Now it is June, 1974, and the 1974 Adoption Bill is being heard in the Dáil and this particular point of ours has not even been mentioned. We hope that in the Seanad there will be more interest and sympathy for adoption reform.
I now wish to refer to another case on the same theme—illustrating the great difficulty in obtaining consent— and to discuss whether this problem is adequately dealt with in the Bill before us. In this case a child was placed with her adopters at the age of six weeks after the mother had assured everyone that this was what she wanted. She wrote a number of letters to the social worker involved saying that she would consent to the adoption. However, she refused to do so and demanded the child back. The home to which she demanded the child back was under the supervision of the ISPCC officer. There were 13 children in the house including another illegitimate incestuous child whose father was the father of the family. He was, in fact, in jail for two years having been convicted of that crime. The natural mother of the child had been reared in an orphanage herself and worked away from home. She did not intend staying at the home but left her child there and disappeared. Once again, despite all the efforts of those involved, there was no way of getting the child away from those conditions and no way of getting the consent when the consent was not forthcoming.
The final case history I want to give is one which happily can no longer arise because of the recent High Court decision in another case, which found that the provisions of section 12 were unconstitutional, both in relation to the impossibility of a child being adopted unless the child is of the same religion as the adoptive parents and also in allowing any forcing of religious consequences, a finding of importance in the judgment of Mr. Justice Pringle, so that this example would now be clearly regarded as unconstitutional.
This case history does not involve adoption between parents of different religions, but is one where the adoptive parents were of the same religion. The natural mother was Church of Ireland. She had a child and subsequently married another man, who was also Church of Ireland but was not the putative father of the child, so that here the adoptive parents were of the same religion. However, the adoptive mother had not baptised the child because she was not religious. She did not wish to baptise her child and she wished to leave it to the child if the child subsequently wished to become a member of any church. In November, 1970, they went along to the Adoption Board having filled in the various papers. The child in question was old enough to be very excited about the idea of being adopted. She was seven or eight years old, and was all dressed up for the occasion.
However, the Adoption Board refused under any circumstances to make an adoption order unless the child was baptised. There were 45 minutes of very distressed and distressing argument and protest and pleading by the parents to allow the adoption order to be proceeded with despite the fact that the child had not been baptised. Eventually the Adoption Board agreed to make the adoption order if there was an oath by the parents concerned that they would baptise the child at the first available opportunity. This is one case where I have spoken to the husband concerned and he said: "We had to balance our own conscience and the effect on the child". Because of the feelings of the child at that time—it would have been so traumatic for that child, who was excited about the idea, to have been refused an adoption order— they took the oath and subsequently baptised the child.
We must be aware in examining the adoption laws we have drawn up, that these are not isolated examples. These are the case histories of one social worker and of one other contact who also works in an adoption society. I am afraid that they are the regular type of problem that arises rather than the exception.
If case histories cannot take away some of our complacency then perhaps we can refer to the report on adoption in Ireland prepared by Miss Vivienne Darling in the Social Studies Department in Trinity College. I understand that this report will be published by CARE and will be available soon. It is a very valuable report indeed. It is admitted that the scope of the study was a fairly narrow one—with its focus on how adoption works essentially. It illustrates the very different pattern around the country: the different standards and, on the whole, the inadequacies of the overall administration and procedure in adoption in this country.
I should like to quote one or two brief extracts from this report, particularly at page 24, dealing with pre-placement procedure and office interviews. The report refers to the Guide to Adoption Practice, the guide issued for adoptions in England and says:
In the Guide to Adoption Practice it is recommended that adoption workers should have several interviews by appointment and that these assessment interviews need skill, patience and persistence. The interviews should include at least one joint interview and a separate interview with both husband and wife. One of these could be combined with the home study. In the course of my investigations I discovered that 25.9% of the adopters in my survey claimed to have had no office interviews before placement but this proportion varied from 19.6% in Dublin to 30% in the country. This variation is understandable as some of the rural societies only interview in applicants' homes because of the distances involved and the difficulties in travelling. As 82.5% of the adopters in my sample survey had used an adoption society and 7% a local authority and only 6.3% and 0.7% were third party or private placements, it would appear that not all applicants are interviewed in the societies' offices.
It goes on as follows:
It emerged that 48.3% of couples had one office interview only, while 12.6% had two interviews and 10.5% three interviews. Only 35% of the couples interviewed were seen both separately and together.
Throughout this report, particularly in relation to the pre-placement visits to the home mentioned on page 26, it was disturbing to note how the practice varied dramatically around the country, and especially between Dublin, Cork and rural areas. This is hard to understand in the light of the claim made by all adoption societies that at least one, and possibly two visits, are made in each case.
I could take up more time, except that it would be unfair to others who are listening and who want to contribute, in showing that this report is an indictment of standards in our adoption services. I hope that when it is published we will have a more realistic awareness of the many problems involved. I shall refer back to the report on Committee Stage in moving amendments to this Bill.
To summarise the points made so far, the first is: why have we not accepted the recommendations of the Kennedy and Devlin Reports to change the whole control of adoption from the Department of Justice to the Department of Health, and with that to have a better emphasis on the child care aspect of it? Secondly, in the light of the sort of evidence that I have been trying to give, can we be as complacent as was suggested? The third point that I want to discuss is the question of the category of children who are eligible to be adopted.
I should like to introduce an amendment to broaden the category of children to include abandoned children or children neglected and illtreated by their parents who are not fit to have the custody and control of such children, in cases where the parents were married and the children were born during marriage. The first prelude to this would have to be a section— which again I would hope to introduce as an amendment—that the welfare of the child in all adoption procedure is paramount. I believe that this ought to be stated, showing where our emphasis is and allowing the courts—as they do in the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964—to interpret constructively a statement in the Bill itself to this effect.
In his Second Reading speech and in Limerick, the Minister said he has been advised that to broaden the category to include abandoned or neglected children of a married family would be unconstitutional. I would submit that no judgment of the High Court or Supreme Court has ever made a finding on this exact point, nor do the existing cases allow for an obvious inference that this is the case. There are clauses in the Constitution pointing indeed the other way, and in a moment I shall attempt to elaborate on this a little.
If that be the case, if there is at least a doubt about the matter—if not, as in my submission, a very strong case for extending the category of children who may be adopted in quite a constitutional manner—I believe there is an onus on us as legislators to draft the appropriate section and to include it in this Bill and, if necessary, to have the Bill itself referred to the Supreme Court by the President under Article 26. If there was some doubt, surely the proper course is to take the necessary legal steps to extend the category of children who may be adopted to include abandoned and neglected children and to clarify the constitutional issue by referring the section of the Bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26, for determination as to its constitutionality.
It is argued that the difficulty arises from the wording of Article 41 of the Constitution. I will not deal with this point at great length now. To begin with, I anticipate that another Senator will deal with it—though perhaps not in the same way—and in any case it would be more appropriate to argue the point at length on Committee Stage in the light of the amendment proposed. Very briefly, Article 41 deals with the family and section 1 provides as follows:
The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit of the society and as the moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.
The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.
Nothing in that section lays it down in an authoritative way that parents have, for all time and in an absolute manner the right to custody and possession of their children of which they can never be deprived. Nothing there says that if a mother and father, reject the child from the moment of its birth, put it in an institution and never want to see it again, that they nevertheless have inalienable and imprescriptible rights. The truth is that the courts have never interpreted this section in its direct sense and have never set out what are these "inalienable and imprescriptible rights". I would suggest that subsection 20 of the Constitution:
The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority...
is a guarantee against legislation either abolishing or interfering with the family. It is not any authority for what it is being put forward as authority for. It is being put forward as authority to say that in some strange way, which is out of line with a great deal of legislation in other countries, there is a natural right in parents—no matter what they do to their children—to the custody and control over those children and that no laws we draft can prevent that. I cannot accept that. Senator Ryan has referred to the Nicolaou case. I have read with great care the judgment in that case and I do not believe that there is provided any authority for this point. Rather than dwell on the point here, I shall come back to the argument when moving an amendment.
I reject emphatically—and it is a part of this whole question of how the family provisions in the Constitution are being interpreted—any possible line of development which would tend to suggest that the single mother and her child are not a "family" under the Constitution. This would be very bad and would be a most cruel and perverse way in which to develop our family law. It is the family based on marriage which is referred to in subsection 3º of Article 41:
The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack,
No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage.
But that section must be confined precisely to what it says, which is:
The State pledges itself to guard... the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded...
It does not say that it is only when you have a family based on marriage that you have a family. We must not fall into the trap of drawing a conclusion when no such conclusion ought to be drawn. The common law has never confined the family to a family based on marriage. We would not just be a cold, callous society but a blind one in this modern day and age if we were to say that our reading of these phrases is that the family is confined so far as the Constitution, and constitutional rights are concerned to the family based on marriage. I will return in more detail to these arguments when drafting an amendment to broaden the category of children.
We hear too often that there are more adoptive parents wanting to adopt children than there are children to be adopted. We forget that the reason for that is because the category of children is so narrow. There are many children who lead an institutionalised life in this country or at best are involved in a system of fosterage which may or may not be successful and in which they do not have the full legal rights which they ought to have. When we have broadened the category to comply with social justice then there will be many more children who will be suitable for adoption and able to avail of the hopes which adoptive parents would provide for them.
The overriding constitutional consideration in that context is the guarantee in Article 40, section 1:
that all citizens shall as human persons be held equal before the law.
The citizens who have been abandoned and rejected by their parents and who have been put in institutions or in fosterage on a temporary basis are not being treated equally as human persons before the law, because we are not allowing them to avail of adoption into a substitute family thereby giving them what they are being denied by their natural parents.
In looking at this question of the child to be adopted we must consider in much more detail the relationship between the single mother and the child. That is very much a family relationship. The child who is loved and desired by the single mother is a lucky child. It will have love and affection and will be brought up, probably against the odds in this country, in an environment of love and affection. I should like to pay tribute to the members of "Cherish", the organisation formed by single mothers in their concern to help one another, for the way in which they have argued their case, often against the odds and without much public sympathy. I should like to encourage them in what they do and to support their line of argument. They are not given a real choice in economic and social terms. They say that they are willing to see reform in the adoption consent procedure provided society will give them a real choice: a choice either to keep the child and bring it up with the love and opportunities which they want to give it or, alternatively, to place the child in adoption in order to give it the advantage of a better life in that way.
Looking at the problem from this overall context, I should like to refer briefly to the question of the figures for illegitimate births and the number of children who are kept by their natural mother. These particular statistics are slightly out-of-date. There is now a much stronger move by single mothers, helped by the provisions of the Social Welfare Act, 1972, to retain their children. I wish to quote from an article in This Week of 12th February, 1971:
In 1970, there were some 1,800 illegitimate births registered in Ireland. That represents close to 3 per cent of all live births. Some 400 of these girls entered Dublin's National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street to have their children. These were the girls who did not choose to enter homes and had kept the fact of their pregnancy a secret until the last moment. During 1970, some 400 girls gave birth in Holles Street. Of this number some 42 per cent were under the age 20 and 24 per cent under 18. Of the general hospital population of married mothers, only five per cent were under 18. One in six of all births in the hospital to mothers under the age of 20 were to unmarried mothers. Girls who entered the hospital were in general simple but poorly educated girls, 70 per cent of them were in domestic service of one sort or another. The most serious factor concerning the 400 girls treated in the National Maternity Hospital was that 20 per cent did not receive any medical care until labour pains had begun. Presumably, many of them were not even sure they were pregnant. Some 50 per cent received no ante-natal care until the last four weeks of pregnancy. Less than 17 per cent received any care before they were five months pregnant.
The same report in This Week goes on to point out that:
In 1969, a total of 1,638 illegitimate births were registered in the State. The adoption rate at almost 90 per cent of these represents as near as nothing the maximum possible adoption level.
Later on there is reference to the position in Scandinavia. Let us look at the position of the single mother in some of the Scandinavian countries with their advanced welfare state systems: "In Denmark some 93 per cent of unmarried mothers keep their babies." In 1969 90 per cent of Irish unmarried mothers gave them up, while 93 per cent of Danish unmarried mothers kept their children. That is an extraordinary reflection on the way in which the system can determine social conduct. What can be more crucial than the decision by a single mother whether to put the child in adoption or not? I cannot believe that you can explain that by saying that in Scandinavian countries, where there is more advice on family planning, the child is likely to be a wanted one. This is true to some extent, but it cannot explain the extraordinary variation in the graph that in 1969 in this country over 90 per cent of single mothers put their children in adoption and in Denmark in the equivalent year over 93 per cent kept the children. The report goes on to say that
In Denmark the single mother must identify the father and then legal efforts are made to ensure that the person named is the father and that he accepts his responsibilities to the child.
A good deal more of this information is more relevant to the Illegitimate Children (Maintenance and Succession) Bill, which I still hope may be moved before the end of this session. Despite what was said by the Leader of the House when this was mentioned on the Order of Business, I should argue very strongly for having that Bill taken before the Recess. It is very difficult to see how we can convince ourselves that we are reforming the adoption code unless we also reform very dramatically the position of the so-called illegitimate child. I regret that we must use a word like illegitimate, because it has a pejorative sense; but, forgetting any such meaning, it is essential that we redress the existing balance of society against the single mother and her child.
It is essential that we give her the legal machinery and protection by improving the affiliation proceedings. It is essential that we give the child concerned equality before the law as a human person and as an Irish citizen which at the present moment that child is denied. It is essential that the illegitimate child have the same property rights, inheritance rights and rights of identity, as any other child. It is essential to know who the father is and to have a relationship with the natural father in the circumstances. It is high time that our society got rid of any stigma or any reproach against the single mother with her child. It is time we had a much greater willingness to explore the ways in which the community, where the single mother wants to bring up her child, can make it easier for her to do it. It is only when there is this balanced relationship that we can talk about having an adoption code which has any regard for the principles of social justice.
I made the point that I propose to broaden the category of the children to be adopted. Also, no discussion of adoption can be a balanced one unless there is either firm Government intent to accept the Illegitimate Children (Maintenance and Succession) Bill or to bring in a Government Bill in order to improve the situation of the single mother who wishes to keep her child and improve the status and rights of that child.
I now wish to look at another matter. That is the question of the role of the Adoption Board in controlling adoption societies. I am very disappointed that the Minister has expressed a view that the Adoption Board do not "want" to have the power to make regulations governing adoption societies and that he is content that they are right and that there is no need for such power. I believe that there is a very strong need for the statutory authority to make regulations which would be binding on all adoption societies. I propose to introduce an amendment to that effect.
Anybody reading Miss Darling's Report could have no doubt of the need for regulations imposing standards on adoption societies. The Minister has expressed the view that it is not possible, through legislation and regulation, to impose standards. At least one can create standards. Then, by a proper system of supervision and, if necessary, of de-registering adoption societies, one can go a long way to imposing standards. Reading the cold print of Miss Darling's Report, nobody with concern for adoption procedure could deny the need for improving these standards. I would ask the Minister why he made no reference to the fact that—not in his time, admittedly, but in the comparatively recent past—three members of the Adoption Board resigned on this issue. They resigned, among other reasons, because the Minister for Justice of that time would not bring in legislation giving the Adoption Board the statutory power to make regulations.
It is worth examining what happens in other jurisdictions. In this context I wish to make reference to another jurisdiction about which we talk at great length in another context, namely, Northern Ireland. It is always interesting to see the many areas in which we can learn from the legislation, particularly in the family law area, which exists in Northern Ireland. Also, Northern Ireland has the latest Adoption Act of these islands, the Adoption Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. Section 32 of that Act provides:
The Ministry may make regulations—
(a) for regulating the conduct of negotiations entered into by or on behalf of registered adoption societies with persons having the care and possession of infants who are desirous of causing the infants to be adopted, and in particular, for securing—
(i) that, where the parent or guardian of an infant proposes to place the infant at the disposition of the society with a view to the infant being adopted, he shall be furnished with a memorandum in the prescribed form explaining, in ordinary language, the effect, in relation to his rights as a parent or guardian, of the making of an adoption order in respect of the infant, and calling attention to the provisions of this Act, or of any rules made thereunder, relating to the consent of a parent or guardian to the making of such an order, and to the provisions of this Act relating to the sending or taking of infants abroad; and
(ii) that, before so placing the child at the disposition of the society, the parent or guardian shall sign a document in the prescribed form certifying that he has read and understood the said memorandum.
It goes on:
(b) for requiring that the case of every infant proposed to be delivered by or on behalf of a registered adoption society into the care and possession of an adopter shall be considered by a committee (to be called a "case committee") appointed by the society for the purpose, and consisting of not less than three persons;
Some adoption societies have case committees in this part of the country. Many other do not. Here there is a statutory requirement for case committees
(c) for prescribing, in respect of every such infant as aforesaid, the inquiries which must be made and the reports which must be obtained by the society in relation to the infant and the adopter for the purpose of ensuring, so far as may be, the suitability of the infant and the adopter respectively, and, in particular, for requiring that a report on the health of the infant signed by a fully registered medical practitioner must be obtained by the society...
I will not continue reading the relevant provisions of the Northern Ireland Act. I only want to refer to it as a jurisdiction where it is thought necessary and desirable to have statutory authority to make regulations. These statutory regulations were made as the Adoption Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1969. They are very detailed and comprehensive and undoubtedly create standards. By doing so they ensure that it is more likely that these standards will, in fact, be maintained. Despite the Minister's indication that he is satisfied that the Adoption Board do not wish to have statutory power to make regulations, I feel that is a very narrow base from which to conclude it is unnecessary to give the Adoption Board the statutory power. Those involved, particularly the adoptive parents and social workers, feel the need exists for statutory regulations. If there is a need—and the case histories which I have just put on the record and conclusions of Miss Darling's Report emphasise it—then it is up to us as legislators to insert in the Bill the statutory power to make regulations.
Another matter which I want to mention is the consent of the mother. It may come up again on Committee Stage. This Bill proposes that the mother can consent after six weeks. An organisation like "Cherish" and those who are concerned about the imbalance at present in our adoption procedure will say that we cannot in conscience put in a cut-off limit of six weeks— which for so many reasons is desirable— unless we improve the position of the single mother; unless we give her the sort of help and support, leading to the real choice in economic and social terms which she ought to have.
I am greatly in favour of the provision which allows an application for custody to be made to the High Court. In the light of that application an adoption order can then be made without consent. But once again, who would be objecting to that application being made to the High Court? In very many circumstances it would be the single mother. As the law at present stands, what position is she in to dispute custody in the High Court? What does she know about it? Where is she going to get the advice about it? How is she going to be able to pay for legal advice about it? In this respect the intended provision of the law is in social terms a very inadequate one. For it to be realistic, there would have to be a guarantee of adequate and free legal advice in the matter. There must be the possibility of hearing in camera, a provision which the Minister, himself, mentioned in his Second Reading speech.
I should like to support the Senators who raised the problem of the nationality of the adopted child. I have been approached on several occasions by Irish citizens who adopted a child in England, or indeed it could have been any other country. When the adopted child who had lived for most of his life in this country applied for a passport he was told he was not an Irish citizen and was requested to take out naturalisation in order to become an Irish citizen. It is a very shattering experience for one who has already come to terms with the idea of being adopted, who has Irish parents and has lived all his life in this country, to get a letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the effect that he is not an Irish citizen. I believe it would be possible, if we amend the relevant part of the 1952 Act, which talks about the legal rights of the adopted child to remove this anomaly. We ought to extend the existing section so that it would apply to the case where the parents are Irish and adopt outside the country. I am confident the appropriate section can be extended to cover that.
Another matter which I want to touch on briefly is the question of the role of the local authority in adoption. I think the local authority should be brought in under any provisions for making regulations and creating standards. Section 39 of the Adoption Act, 1952, should also be extended to cover local authorities.
Above all, provision should be made for the situation where the Adoption Board had decided not to complete the adoption order. In other words there is a problem where the adoption order is not finalised, although the child has been for some time during a probationary period with the adoptive parents. At present there is no machinery for getting that child out of that situation. The inference to be drawn from the fact that the adoption order is not finalised is that they are not suitable adoptive parents. However, in many circumstances, the child just stays there. No final adoption order is made, and the child is at risk in a family environment which is considered unsuitable for processing an adoption order. At present the board have no function in this sort of circumstance. I believe that it should have a function of ensuring that the child is removed from the adoptive home which was not found to be suitable and where a final order would not be given. It should have power to ensure that the child either be returned to the adoption society or, in cases where it is relevant, to the care and custody of the local authority.
I should like to support Senators Horgan and Ryan on the question of giving a statutory right to the natural father. I believe that once again it would be a most retrograde step to continue to deny in our legislation the right of a natural father in these circumstances. I should like also to include widowers in the category of potential adopters. I note that widows are already included. I think widowers should also have the possibility of adopting. They should not be excluded from even being considered, as they are at the moment.
A final point which I should like to raise and which has been mentioned many times by those concerned with adoption is the question of why it is necessary to have a different birth certificate for the adopted child. Can we go as far as other jurisdictions have gone, particularly America, to remove any difference between the adopted child and the natural child of parents, so that the long certificate does not give rise to hardship later on when the child has to produce such long certificate and therefore admit to being adopted and even risk being discriminated against on that ground?
I notice that in Northern Ireland the Hague Convention on Adoption of 1965 was ratified by legislation in 1969. I should like to ask the Minister whether it is intended that we would also adhere to this convention?