Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (5)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

5. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017; and when it will commence. [9002/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

What is the current status of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 and have all sections of the Act been commenced?

I am pleased to confirm that all sections of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 are now in force.  

The primary purpose of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 is to give effect to Article 42A of the Constitution in so far as it relates to adoption. In particular, the Act provides for the adoption of any child, regardless of the marital status of his or her parents. It also provides for the best interests of the child to be the paramount consideration in respect of any matter, application or proceedings under the Adoption Act 2010. The Act also provides for the views of the child to be ascertained by the Adoption Authority or a court and for those views to be given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.  

In 2017, I signed the commencement order to give effect to the provisions in the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017. All provisions of the Act other than section 24(1)(a) were commenced on 19 October 2017.  Section 24(1)(a) provides that before making an application for a child to be adopted because of parental failure, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, must be satisfied that every reasonable effort has been made to support the parents of the child in question. This provision came in to operation on 1 February 2018.

I regard the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 as important and progressive legislation. It makes adoption a realistic option for children of married parents, where appropriate. It allows the High Court to dispense with parental consent to adoption in certain circumstances and provides for the adoption of a child by civil partners and co-habiting couples. Importantly, the Act allows for the adoption of a child by his or her step-parent, without the previous requirement for the child's other parent to adopt his or her own child. This provision addresses a very unsatisfactory situation that prevailed under the earlier legislation.

 The legislation has been enacted and commenced. It is an important milestone and I am proud to have been the Minister to bring it through both Houses. I am very appreciative of my colleagues in this House and the Seanad who supported its commencement and implementation.

I thank the Minister for her clarity. Analysis of the Adoption (Amendment) Act was carried out following the adoption of the Act by the Houses in 2017. There have been calls for the introduction of semi-open adoptions. What is the Minister's perspective on semi-open adoptions, whereby birth families have ongoing contact with adoptive families and there would be contact between the adopted child and his or her birth family? Does the current Act allow for that, would it require further legislation or has the Minister given thought to the issue in light of the analysis that took place at a conference hosted by the Adoption Authority of Ireland in November and attended by the chairperson of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and other representative bodies which espoused that view?

I appreciate the Deputy's very important question. I attended the conference to which he referred. His specific question regards a more open approach to the adoption process, that being either semi or fully open. These issues have been on my mind and in my heart since beginning work on the Adoption (Amendment) Act and, in particular, as we have been working on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2017. Many of these issues were raised in the context of the Adoption (Amendment) Act but we had to refer most questions regarding the openness of our process to be considered and dealt with in so far as possible in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. These are complicated issues upon which to move. I believe that the process should be as open as possible and, as Minister, I have pushed that view as far as I can. We are currently working on amendments to the Bill that will be brought forward on Committee Stage. It has been a challenging process.

I again thank the Minister. We must challenge our institutionalised thinking regarding how adoptions work and the relationships that follow therefrom, which are quite structured. I appreciate that the Minister is giving some thought to the issue. I am unclear as to whether there will be a move on this issue on Committee Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. Does the Minister intend to legislate for this issue in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill?

There are a couple of key areas in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill that deal with trying to make our law regarding contact and protection of rights between the adoptee and the birth parents as open as possible. We continue to work on a couple of challenging areas, although we may have progressed them as far as is possible without meeting the barrier of constitutional requirements.

That is the first point. I hope it is clear enough.

I wish to comment on another issue relating to the Adoption (Amendment) Act raised by the Deputy. There is an outstanding issue, not relating to that Act but to the Children and Family Relationships Act. A section in the latter needs to be commenced in order to allow for both members of a same-sex partnership to be registered as parents of their child. That is being worked on in the Department of Health as we speak. The Minister for Health hopes to be in a position to lay the order before the Houses as early as possible this year. That remains outstanding. It relates to what we were doing with the Adoption (Amendment) Act but the provisions are in the Child and Family Relationships Act.