I propose to take Questions Nos. 624 to 627, inclusive, 630, 632, 633 and 635 together.
Many of the matters raised by the Deputy are being considered by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. The Commission is due to submit its final report to me next month and its remit includes investigating the entry and exit pathways for mothers and their children through certain Mother and Baby Homes. As Minister, I cannot pre-empt the findings of the Commission and I do not intend to make any public statement on historic adoption issues in advance of the final report.
In terms of illegal birth registrations, the Commission's second interim report recognised that these individuals have a need to establish their identity, but also acknowledged that the false registration of births is a very difficult issue to investigate because of a lack of accurate records. The Deputy will be aware that in the case of St Patrick’s Guild, detailed records were kept and 151 cases of illegal birth registrations were identified by Tusla. The process of contacting and then supporting those affected by the illegal birth registrations uncovered on those files is reaching completion, and is being handled very carefully, on a case by case basis, and at the pace of the individual concerned. Tusla social workers are supporting the individuals affected as they deal with the news of their illegal birth registration and have put in place a dedicated counselling service.
In relation to the issue of information and tracing in the context of adoption, the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 has lapsed and I am currently considering the complex matters involved before deciding on how best to legislate in this important area.
I believe it is acknowledged by all parties that adoption in the past was often a secretive process, carried out sometimes without due regard to the rights and interests of those involved, and to the lifelong impact on those individuals. However, adoption today is a service for children, to provide a family to care for them when their parents are unable to do so, and where adoption is in their best interests.
Today, the safeguards in the adoption acts ensure that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in all adoption cases, and in every step of the process. Modern day adoption legislation and practice also ensures that the rights of all involved are vindicated, including birth fathers, within the overarching framework of working for the best interests of the child involved.
I expect to be in a position to comment in more detail on the issues raised by the Deputy, in the context of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation's final report.