Adoption reforms: Why a referendum may be on the cards – The Irish Times

Tuesday, December 10th, 1991: Ireland was in the midst of a vitally important debate about an agreement that would create the European Union as we now know it.

The front page of The Irish Times carried an update from the opening day of a European summit where the Maastricht Treaty was being drafted, overhauling the then European Community. British concerns about the plans were noted in the coverage.

In the Dáil that day, Fine Gael TD Nuala Fennell took to her feet to raise a different matter.

“Action is long overdue,” she said. “The substance of this matter is that our adoption procedures are not coping with significant emerging developments which involve people who were parties to legal adoptions in years past and who are now trying to trace their blood relatives.

“Because neither our adoption laws nor our structures can cope with this development, our system is blind and deaf to these people.”

Private investigators were being tasked with tracking down unsuspecting family members in insensitive ways, she said. “There is no voluntary contact register in which people could indicate their wishes in regard to future contact.”

Responding, Fianna Fáil minister of State Chris Flood said there was a fundamental issue around the disclosure of identifying information, with some warning him that contact should be facilitated only with the consent of both the adopted person and the birth mother.

Nearly 30 years later, the challenge of balancing the rights of adopted people and birth mothers has not been solved. It seems astounding, but we have been grappling with this issue since the effective birth of the European Union.

Adoption information Bill

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, an Independent member of the Cabinet, was not long in her new role when she attempted to revive legislation to give adopted men and women access to their information. The Adoption Information and Tracing Bill was reintroduced in the Seanad in May 2017.

Significant problems soon emerged. One of the more controversial aspects involved an undertaking that adopted people would be forced to sign. In that, they would promise not to contact their natural parents in order to get their birth cert, if that was the parent’s wish. Birth parents would be allowed to invoke compelling reasons as to why their information should not be released, where such a release would be likely to endanger their lives.

Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) said the proposals were insulting. The proposition was dropped.

Ms Zappone changed tack. Under a revised plan, contact would be made with all birth parents to find out whether they had any objection to information being released. If they did not consent, both parties would be given the opportunity to make their case before the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

The authority would make a determination in the case “against a range of criteria by reference to Supreme Court jurisprudence”. Either side could appeal the decision to the Circuit Court.

This plan, too, drew ire. Over the last number of months, TDs and senators have reported being inundated with representations from adopted people and from advocacy groups. Some of the emails and letters contained personal stories; others were clearly part of a larger campaign.

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