Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Ceisteanna (23)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

23. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to widen the scope of the investigation into illegal birth registrations beyond the initial sampling exercise to include all of those homes and private agencies involved in organising adoptions in the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25106/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

My question is on widening the scope of the investigation into illegal birth registrations beyond the initial sampling exercise to include more broadly the homes and private agencies that were involved. I note that the Minister told Deputy Mitchell that she was open to this, but the key point is that this is an ageing community and there must be urgency in carrying out the exercise. It must be extended to include all, not just a sample.

As I indicated earlier, I have asked an independent reviewer to oversee a further analysis of relevant records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority in the first instance. The purpose of the exercise is to see if clear evidence of illegal registrations is evident in other records. The first meeting to commence this process took place yesterday and I expect the analysis to be completed four months from when it is initiated. In that regard, I understand that methodological matters are currently being finalised. Given the volume of records involved, we must first judge the likely incidence of cases that can actually be identified through this analysis. I will then be in a position to judge the next steps. Records which are not in the custody of either Tusla or the Adoption Authority cannot be included in the analysis at this stage as the State does not have possession of them. The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 is the statutory mechanism necessary to bring these records, estimated at about 50,000, into the custody of the Adoption Authority. I am meeting colleagues from both Houses this afternoon to explore how we can progress this legislation as quickly as possible.

The extent to which children were simply placed with couples and their births registered as if they had been born to them is but one of the major issues that we need to examine. The work of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes will be important in dealing with a range of other adoption-related matters. The commission is examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in the institutions within its terms of reference. The commission is also required to examine the interaction of mother and baby homes with other institutions, organisations and individuals who had involvement with children from these institutions.

For example, it is examining the practices and policies within adoption societies involved in the placement of children from these institutions. This will provide important insight into any irregularities or illegalities. I want to get to the truth. The further analysis, which has commenced, together with the ongoing work of the commission, will be important for our initial steps. I reiterate that I am open to furthering those steps.

The difficulty is that, sadly, there is nothing new in the recent revelations. The knowledge of the incidence of the criminal, illegal registration of births has been known by society for a long time. One of the points that must emerge from an extension beyond a scoping exercise is the huge numbers of people involved. This is not speculation; the evidence is known.

Conall Ó Fátharta wrote in yesterday's edition of the Irish Examiner about the 748 cases on top of the 126 cases and the knowledge that existed in adoption agencies. The AAI gave information to the health committee in 2014 that said there were thousands of illegal adoptions at that stage. It cannot be a lottery for the people at the centre of this whereby one of their samples might get picked and they get an answer. There may be people who do not even know that they require an answer. We need to be extensive in the research because much larger numbers of people are affected by this. These cases have gone long beyond the records of St. Patrick's Guild and the other institutions. It has been known for some time that we needed to secure those records. The key issues are to stress to the Minister the urgency of the situation and the need to extend the scope.

I acknowledge the Deputy as a champion of this issue, and all the work she has done with advocates, which has brought us to this point. I met a number of the advocates recently and one of the key messages coming from them is the sense of urgency that is required.

When considering where we go from here, particularly with regard to the records we have as well as those we do not, the right way to begin is a targeted approach with the 100,000 records I mentioned. One of the reasons for this, apart from the fact that trawling through 100,000 records will be a significant and labour intensive job, is that from a research perspective we should take this one step at a time to see if the methodology being developed will work to help us uncover evidence of the illegal registrations. Perhaps it might not do this and as time passes there will not be the huge numbers the Deputy has indicated. I do not necessarily disagree with the Deputy but there may be other ways to try to get at the truth apart from the methodology currently being developed.

We will discuss the scoping exercise this afternoon and I am sure every Member's input will stress the urgency. In the interim, however, there are older and vulnerable people who, in some instances, do not have months or years to wait for that process. In this context the expertise of a person such as Sharon Lawless, who produced "Adoption Stories" for TV3, is important. People like her, with few resources but with an open heart and a will to find answers through DNA testing and so on, have been able to give people answers when they were told there was no information to be had in other quarters. We need to tap into resources such as DNA. Mandatory counselling should be provided to support people in this process and a method to reach out to affected people and those who will be affected must be put in place early on in the process. We should not wait for that. It requires not just urgency; it requires a beefing up of resources in those areas as well as in record searching and in extending the scope. It is incumbent on all of us to get behind this to make sure the resources are delivered for that.

I would be open to all those suggestions and I thank the Deputy for them. We need to consider all of those aspects in the context of the research and the identification of the evidence, as she said. I agree that we may need to go about these in other ways, especially from the stakeholders' perspective. It may be the case that little information emerges following the initial four months of using the methodology, and we may need to consider a different approach to reviewing the files. If that is the case, engagement with stakeholders could be critical. At the meeting I held with stakeholders - and the Deputy will be aware of this because she has also spoken with them - a number of related issues and concerns were raised such as falsified addresses and dates of birth by birth mothers, the importance of baptismal records, the use of obviously false addresses on records and the potential to identify trends. To follow up on information such as this and to seek information from these people and organisations, who are familiar with the system and are experts in the field, may be a more appropriate way to go about this research. Subsequent to my announcement, I was contacted by a number of people who suspect they were illegally registered. We must also take on board those contacts and those questions as part of our research moving forward.