Standards and Inequality – alive and well thanks to Fianna Fáil
by Claire McGettrick
1901 Census has been eagerly awaited by those who wish to further pursue
their family history, and from today that history is a bit closer to us
all to search for our ancestors.”
are the words of Minister Mary Hanafin at the launch of the 1901 Census
online service. How ironic, that history should be brought closer
to millions of Irish people worldwide, less than 24 hours after Minister
for Children Barry Andrews drove the wedge even further between adopted
people and their history as he callously voted down a Labour Party
amendment to provide tracing rights for adopted people.
valiant efforts by Jan O’Sullivan, Kathleen Lynch and especially Joan
Burton - who pleaded with the Minister, drawing from her own experience
as an adopted person – Barry Andrews wouldn’t be told.
He said he was committed to bringing in separate legislation.
The Labour women, backed up by Caomhghín O’Caolain and Alan
Shatter, rightfully told the Minister that it was highly unlikely that
any new adoption legislation would be enacted in the lifetime of this
present government, which is why they brought forward the amendment.
wholeheartedly concur with this sentiment because Minister Andrews, in a meeting with Adoption Rights
Alliance in January 2010 was utterly dismissive of our pleas for
legislation in the area of information and tracing.
In fact, he practically laughed at us.
I was further convinced of this when, in March 2010, in response
to a PQ from Joan Burton regarding the absence of tracing and
information rights in the Adoption Bill, Barry Andrews claimed there was
an “an effective administrative system in place to deal with the
issue of information and tracing”.
are not the words of a man who is “absolutely committed” to
legislating in this area. Not to mention the fact that Barry Andrews is the fourth
Fianna Fáil minister in a decade to promise legislation – why on
earth would we believe him?
has been seven years since the 2003 Adoption Legislation Consultation in
which adopted people worked tirelessly to educate legislators and
adoption professionals about the impact of closed secret adoption.
In 2010, not a lot has changed.
True the National Adoption Contact Preference Register was
launched in 2005, however it has not been run professionally and
efficiently and those who are matched are delivered back into the hands
of the very adoption agencies that they sought to evade in the first
place. A lot can happen in seven years – a lot has happened in the
last seven years – people affected by adoption have died before
getting to meet each other, people affected by adoption have been ill
and denied medical information - untold pain and anguish has been caused
due to Fianna Fáil’s inaction on adoption legislation.
the 2003 Consultation, Brian Lenihan correctly abolished the element in
Mary Hanafin’s 2001 Adoption Bill which proposed to criminalise
adopted people (a seven year old piece of news which Barry Andrews is
now using as an excuse not to legislate).
It is quite a slap in the face to hear that same Minister who
proposed criminalising adopted people - Mary Hanafin - at the launch of
the online Census, saying: “In a world which is very troubled,
people want to know where they are rooted and are anxious to know about
their background and their heritage.”
Hanafin went on to say that because of the Census she now knows where
she gets her interest in clothes from.
I’m happy for the Minister, however, back here in the real
world (or at least “Adoption World”), adopted people don’t even
have the right to know their own names, their natural mother’s name or
their natural father’s name. They
don’t have the right to their birth certificate, or the right to know
where they were born, what time they were born, let alone the luxury of
a photograph, keepsake or even family memories and anecdotes about the
event of their birth.
of all the things you take for granted – simple things like knowing
who you resemble in your family, never mind knowing how it feels to look
like someone in the first place; the stories and memories that make up a
family’s heritage; the births, deaths, marriages and the shared
experiences, whether good or bad – all of these things, and more were
taken away from adopted people through Ireland’s barbaric and
unnatural closed secret adoption system.
not knowing anything about the first six weeks, six months or even two
years of your life. Who
cared for you? Were you held? Did
your mother see you? Did
your father see you? Did other family members see you?
How often and for how long were you left alone? Were you left to cry in the cot, or did someone pick you up?
Were any photographs taken of you?
Did anything happen for you (or to you) during that time other
than getting fed and changed?
access to a birth certificate and file won’t give back all of those
things or even answer all the questions, for adoption wounds deeply and
permanently, but it would certainly help repair some of the damage and
replenish some of the lost history and heritage – not to mention the
practical help for those who wish to trace.
By denying adopted people access to birth certificates and files
Barry Andrews and Fianna Fáil are pouring salt on the wounds of adopted
people. But it’s not just
inaction that hurts. Barry
Andrews’ derogatory comments in his recent Irish Examiner opinion
piece about “unregulated contact”, making it sound as if adopted
people need regulation, as if they are unable to control themselves, are
hurtful, disrespectful and have no basis in fact.
If there wasn’t so much secrecy surrounding Irish adoption,
there wouldn’t be so much fuss about opening what little information
we are allowed to have.
briefly clarify something, in saying that adoption wounds deeply and
permanently, I do not want to portray adopted people as helpless,
wounded souls. I am proud to say after having the pleasure to meet
a great number of my fellow adopted people, I can say that we are
strong, resourceful people who work hard to overcome the obstacles
created by the cruel and outdated Irish system.
seems that every other Irish person’s natural desire to know where
they came from is applauded, while adopted people are expected to
suppress that natural, primal need and replace it with being careful
about the needs and rights of others - adoptive parents are not to be
upset, natural parents allegedly want privacy (our experience is that
the complete opposite is true) – everyone else’s rights are
considered. (If I had a
Euro for every time I was asked how my adoptive parents felt about my
reunion I would be a very rich person by now.)
Through the release of the 1901 Census records online, millions
of Irish people worldwide have free and open access to records while
adopted people are expected to be content with scraps from the table.
answer the inevitable question in some people’s minds, (and if I have
read your mind you should think about what preconceptions led you to ask
the question) - what about adopted people who don’t want to trace?
It’s true that some adopted people don’t want to trace,
though in my experience most change their minds either when they have
children of their own or when their adoptive parents die – generally,
for people in this situation, once the door is opened to the issue of
their adoption, a whole new world opens up.
Let’s be clear about this - that some adopted people chose not
to trace is no excuse for the lack of legislation.
Not every gay person wants to join the army, but this is no
reason to exclude all gay people. As one (male) member of our online support group just said:
“You really are helping all of us even if some of [us] don’t
know it yet!”
myself, I have met both my natural parents and natural family.
On a practical level, legislation giving the right to access my
birth certificate will not be of any benefit to me.
As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t about practicalities –
it’s about my basic human right to equality – to dignity.
Under the present system I am considered “less than” – my
rights don’t matter. Suffice
it to say, until my rights matter, until adopted people are treated
equally, I will continue to be one hell of an annoying thorn in the
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