A new national tracing service for adopted people or parents seeking contact is expected to be up and running this year.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said genealogy expertise would be recruited to help people connect with their relatives as he published what he said was a “landmark” Birth Information and Tracing Bill.
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, even where their parents object, for the first time.
The right has been sought by adopted people for decades, but successive governments have said they were unable to legislate for it due to the rights of privacy of the mother.
Once the law is enacted, there will be a three-month period where the new rights will be advertised and adopted people and their mothers will be encouraged to express a preference on whether or not they want contact.
Mr O’Gorman said that both Tusla, the Child and Family Agency and the Adoption Authority of Ireland were already beginning to hire staff who would work in the new tracing service, which will be free of charge.
Extra funding has been provided to both organisations and there will be 30 staff recruited by Tusla specifically to assist in the rollout of the information.
He said the service would be ready at the end of the three-month period public awareness campaign period and that he believed it would be open this year.
The public awareness campaign will include advertising in Britain, the United States and Australia.
Mr O’Gorman said that the legislation would for the first time “provide a statutory right to every adopted person in Ireland and those adopted people now living abroad to full and complete information about their birth, about their early life and their origins”.
He added that it would also “provide important remedies to the difficult issues faced by those subjected to an illegal birth registration in relation to their own birth certificate and their identity”.
Aside from birth certificates, Mr O’Gorman highlighted how people will also be able to seek information on their early childhoods such as “where they lived, if and when they were baptised, how long they spent with their mother” and who cared for them as an infant.
In the case of people who were boarded out as a child, they may be able to find out who they were boarded out with.
Mr O’Gorman also said adopted people would be able to access “key medical information about themselves and their genetic relatives, including information on hereditary medical conditions where these exist”.
They may also be able to get items such as photographs, letters or mementos intended for them but which remained in the possession of an institution.
Mr O’Gorman called the measures “a massive step forward for how Ireland respects and vindicates the rights of the adopted and all those who have questions about their origins”.
He said the new tracing service could be used not just by an adopted person or someone boarded out or illegally registered, but also by parents, grandparents, siblings and other extended family.
In specific circumstances next of kin will be able to use this legislation to access information about a family member.
Mr O’Gorman said this “brings into the into the frame children of deceased adopted people who have questions about their parents’ origin and by extension, their own”.
He said the tracing service would work in conjunction with a new contact preference register.
He said that an information session used to communicate a no contact preference would no longer have to be an in-person meeting, a provision in a previous version of the legislation that campaigners had concerns about.
A phone or video call will now suffice and a previous requirement that a social worker would be involved has been removed from the Bill.
Mr O’Gorman also said that he responded to concerns raised by the mothers of adopted people about the use of the term “birth mother” to describe them in the original Bill.
This term has now been amended to the term “mother” throughout the legislation.
The legislation is due to be debated in the Dáil next week.
Labour TD Ivana Bacik welcomed the legislation but described it as “long-overdue” saying: “Survivors of mother-and-baby and county homes and all adopted persons have been waiting decades for recognition of the right to information on their identity.”
She said that on first reading she was concerned to see the retention of the controversial information session for those seeking information about their origins.
Ms Bacik said that during the Oireachtas Committee on Children’s examination of the Bill these meetings were “raised repeatedly as a concern by privacy experts and adopted persons alike”.
She said the committee had recommended deletion of any requirement for a meeting or information session and “it is disappointing to see that some form of information provision requirement is retained in the revised Bill”.
Sinn Féin’s spokeswoman on Children Kathleen Funchion – who is also the chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children – claimed the legislation is “totally at odds with the express wishes of adoptees and mothers”.
She accused the Minister of failing to listen to adoptees, mothers and their advocates and of a “deliberate ploy to spin today’s announcement as a win for adoptees and mothers.” She said: “The reality is this is no win.”
Ms Funchion said the Bill should have led to adoptees “gaining full and unfettered access to their records and birth information.
“Instead, they have once again been met with another Government Bill that will not deliver… I am particularly disappointed by the requirement for mandatory information sessions; at first glance it seems that this provision has been removed. But on further inspection it appears the only thing that has changed is the mechanism by which this ‘meeting’ takes place.
“Bearing in mind that no other Irish citizen making a similar application would be obliged to go through this process.”
“I cannot comprehend how key recommendations from the Joint Oireachtas Children’s Committee Report, which I chair, have not been included at all in the redrafting of this legislation.”
Adoption rights campaigner Claire McGettrick has argued that the Bill does not provided unrestricted access to birth certificates and information. Among other criticisms in a series of posts on Twitter she said the definitions of personal data are narrow and open to interpretation. She says the sections of the Bill that relate to access to birth certificates and birth information are “exceptionally convoluted” and added: “I don’t know how the average person is supposed to read and understand it.”
Ms McGettrick said that one section of the Bill means “that in a case where a natural parent has lodged a no contact preference, a birth cert will only be given where the adopted person has completed an information session” and said this is “completely unacceptable”.