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Double Standards and Inequality – alive and well thanks to Fianna Fáil
by Claire McGettrick   

4th June 2010

“[T]he 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.” 

These 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. 

Despite 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.  

I 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”.  

These 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?  

It 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. 

During 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.”  

Minister 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.  

Think 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.  

Imagine 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? 

Having 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. 

To 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.

It 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. 

To 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!” 

For 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 government’s side. 

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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