Adoption law must contain privacy rights, says Minister

There is a risk that a new law allowing adopted people access to their birth information would be deemed unconstitutional if it did not include a measure acknowledging the privacy rights of parents who do not want to be contacted, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said.

Mr O’Gorman has hailed the proposed Birth Information and Tracing Bill as “landmark” legislation that will provide a right to adopted people “to full and complete information” about their birth and early life for the first time.

However, adoption rights campaigners and Opposition politicians have criticised a requirement for adopted people – whose natural parents have expressed a wish not to be contacted – to take part in an information session before they can access their information.

Under the new Bill the applicant must participate in a phone or video call, or in-person meeting where their parents’ privacy rights are set out to them.

In cases where the people involved have not expressed a preference for no contact a National Tracing Service is to help adopted people find their relatives.

Under the proposed law adopted people will have the right to access their full and unredacted birth certificate, baptismal certificates, information about their early childhood and medical information.

Co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance Susan Lohan criticised the information session requirement arguing that it means it does not amount to unrestricted access to birth certs and other information.

She said her organisation and others have outlined their view that the measure is “discriminatory, repugnant and completely at odds with GDPR legislation.”

Ms Lohan said “it perpetuates the notion that adopted people are somehow not to be trusted”. She said no other Irish citizens have to “jump through those hoops” to access their information.

The Adoption Rights Alliance also has concerns about the level of information about siblings that would be offered to applicants.

It has criticised how the Bill specifies mother and baby homes and county homes among the list of potential institutions that can be asked to provide information and not other institutions involved in adoptions. Mr O’Gorman has said the Bill allows for other institutions to be added in the future.

Opposition reaction

Sinn Féin spokeswoman on Children Kathleen Funchion claimed the legislation is “totally at odds with the express wishes of adoptees and mothers” and accused the Minister of failing to listen to them.

Labour Party TD Ivana Bacik welcomed the legislation but said she is concerned to see the retention information session.

A spokesman for Mr O’Gorman said the Bill has been long awaited and urgently needed and it “follows repeated attempts over decades to legislate for information rights for adopted persons, all of which, ultimately, did not succeed.”

He said that any legislation in this area “must grapple with the reality of shared personal data and balancing of rights” and it is “not correct to suggest that we can bring forward legislation which ignores the EU and constitutional rights of mothers”.

The spokesman said the Bill “guarantees full access to birth certificates, birth, early life, care and medical information for all adopted persons in all cases”.

“To achieve this, the legislation must balance the privacy rights of parents and it does this in the most minimal and unobstructive way possible, namely a short and sensitive phone call which guarantees that the parent’s request for privacy is conveyed when handing over her personal information.”

He added: “Failure to include this balancing mechanism risks the legislation being found unconstitutional.”

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