100,000 people will be affected by birth legislation

New legal rights to birth information for adoptees finally rights a historic injustice, says PATRICIA CAREY, CEO of the Adoption Authority of Ireland
100,000 people will be affected by birth legislation

Adoption Authority Ireland (AAI) chief executive Patricia Carey

MUCH like the history of adoption in Ireland itself, the process of providing the legal right to birth information for those who are adopted has something of a chequered past.

Indeed, the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 that was finally signed into law recently comes almost 40 years after the first attempts to produce such a piece of legislation.

As far back as 1984, when a review committee on adoption services established by the then Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Barry Desmond, recommended a right of access for adopted persons to their birth certificate – a recommendation that was never implemented – there has been a recognition that we should all be able to access our birth information.

The stumbling block for legislation was always around attempts to balance that recognition with the rights of birth parents, some of whom might not want their names and information shared.

Draft legislation in 2001 tried to achieve that balance with mandatory counselling for applicants and a signed undertaking, on pain of criminal penalties, that he or she would not seek contact with their birth parents. The draft legislation from Mary Hanafin, then the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, never reached publication stage.

The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 finally, and clearly, prioritises the rights of the adopted. It enshrines in law, for the first time, the right for every Irish person who was adopted, boarded out, or had their birth information illegally registered to have full and unrestricted access to any information the State holds relating to their birth and early life.

This includes their birth certificate, care information, early life information, and medical information. It means that once this free information service is operating from October this year, they will be able to find out their name, birthplace, and date, as well as their parents’ names, dates of birth, and other details. In certain circumstances, these rights extend to the children and other next of kin if the adopted person has died.

The new law also establishes a tracing service to facilitate contact between adoptees and birth parents and other birth relatives according to the preferences they register on the new Contact Preference Register.

The Register, which is operated by the Adoption Authority of Ireland, is now open for applications. It allows for different levels of contact. It might be that someone is willing to share background information, they might be willing to communicate by email or letter, they might be open to a telephone call, or they might be willing to meet in person. Others may wish no contact at all. It is up to each individual to make that choice.

In cases where a mother chooses to have no contact, this will not prevent her identity from being shared, but her desire not to be contacted will be communicated. In cases where a mother chooses to have no contact, this will not stop adopted persons meeting or engaging with other family members, such as siblings or half siblings.

The Register forms a key part of the public information and awareness campaign running until the end of September which will inform people in Ireland and around the world of the important services to be provided under the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022.

Adoption was only formalised in Ireland in 1953. Up to that point, an estimated 20,000+ children had been ‘boarded out’ since the formation of the State – sent to live with foster families in ‘informal’ arrangements at a time before there was legal adoption.

Since the introduction of legal adoption in 1953, more than 48,000 children have been adopted, with an additional 2,000 or more children sent from Ireland to other countries – mainly the United States – and adopted there in the earlier days of adoption.

The Adoption Authority believes that around 100,000 people are affected by the new legislation. These are adopted persons and birth parents, but also siblings and other relatives who might be unaware of each other. We estimate that thousands of them are living in countries such as the UK, US, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.

In Ireland, there will be a great many households touched by adoption at some level, in some instances because of the manner in which state agencies and other institutions failed the mothers and children they were charged with protecting.

The information campaign and Contact Preference Register are vitally important for letting these people know that they have the right to find out about who they are, where they came from and, possibly, meet their birth parents and extended families.

Almost 70 years since the Adoption Act was passed in 1953, the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 finally ends a historic injustice and succeeds in balancing parents’ right to privacy while enshrining in law the importance of knowing one’s identity.

To register contact preferences, make an application under the Act, or seek further information, visit www.birthinfo.ie

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