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Adoption Rights Alliance Opinion Piece:

Unlike horses, we've no right to a birth cert

Irish Examiner, 20th April 2010

Adopted people have no legal rights to their birth certificates and will most likely remain ignorant of their natural parents, writes Susan Lohan and Claire McGettrick.

On 2nd March 2010, in response to a parliamentary question as to why the tracing and information rights of adopted people and natural parents had been excluded from the 2009 Adoption Bill, Minister for Children Barry Andrews said that there is ‘an effective administrative system in place to deal with the issue of adoption information and tracing’.  Had the Minister taken the trouble to read his predecessor, Brian Lenihan’s   recommendations following a costly national public consultation or any of the Adoption Board’s annual reports over the last two decades, he would not have made such a dishonest statement considering that Ireland’s 42,000+ adopted people have so far been unsuccessful in achieving the same level of family tracing as the country’s race horse stock.  

Those recommendations included the setting up a National Contact Preference Register, a National Adoption Records Index, a National Adoption Information and Tracing Service on a statutory basis and to grant the new Adoption Authority the power to seize adoption records where an agency was dilatory in carrying out traces or releasing information.  None of these provisions have been included in the proposed bill. 

Unlike racehorses, adopted people have no legal rights to their birth certificates and will most likely remain ignorant of their natural parentage for their entire lives. They also have no right to know that they are adopted, no right to information on their natural family members, no right (and more importantly no information) to make contact with those same family members; the sort of rights enjoyed by adopted people in the UK since the early 1970’s and in most other developed countries. 

Adopted people routinely experience year long waiting lists to even see a registered adoption agency staff member who is just as likely to be the society’s administrator rather than a qualified social worker.  They experience unconscionable delays in accessing vital information leading e.g. to the endangerment of a sick child’s life for want of medical information held on his mother’s adoption file.  These delays, whether by design, incompetence or convenience, by adoption agencies are used to cover up past illegalities, which in the worst cases prevent or delay reunions until a parent or child has died. Mike Millotte in the epitaph to his excellent 1997 book “Banished Babies” on the 2100+ Irish children trafficked to the US by church run Irish adoption agencies, more accurately describes this “effective” service as “deny till they die”. 

Those adopted people lucky enough to have a face to face meeting with an agency worker commonly experience dishonesty, intimidation, false and inaccurate information, bungled searches and breaches of confidentiality (where agency workers inform and seek the views of the adopted adult’s adoptive parents before releasing any information). 

In an unusual turn of events, a government department  – the Department of Health and Children – and its junior Minister – finds itself working in tandem with conservative church bodies, each striving to ensure that adoption files remain resolutely closed; the church backed adoption agencies for fear of revealing their involvement with illegal adoptions and Minister Andrews for fear of committing the State to expensive overseas search and reunion services as the first of the 4,500 children adopted into Ireland from overseas reach maturity over the next five years.  No qualms for Minister Andrews in allowing the church free reign over this area of social policy….. 

Nor too for the Adoption Board whose website section covering “(Agency) Standards and Inspection” has displayed the message “Nothing to display” for months. In a parallel move, the detailed document, Framework for a National Adoption Tracing and Information Service produced by an Advisory group of adopted people, natural and adoptive parents four years ago has also disappeared from the website and we have been told by some insiders that certain social workers are refusing to adhere to the standards set out therein – a perfect example of what happens when service is not placed on a statutory basis.  

In a recent debate on the proposed 2009 Adoption Bill, Minister Andrews informed a Joint Oireachtas Health and Children committee that he had excluded any statutory provision for Information and Tracing rights for Ireland's 42,000+ adopted people and their 80,000+ natural parents because the Adoption Board staff hadn’t yet learned enough about inter-country adoption aspects of tracing and they wanted to bring both aspects into legislation simultaneously.  What efficiency measure next?  Perhaps the Mater Hospital will suspend their kidney transplant programme until they have mastered the intricacies of combined lung, heart and liver transplants. 

Minister Barry Andrews has ignored the advice of most of the main players in adoption and children’s rights including adopted people, natural parents, adoptive parents, Barnardos, the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies, the Children’s Rights Alliance as well as the Ombudsman for Children – all of whom have called on Minister Andrews to include information and tracing in the proposed Adoption Bill.  This out-of-touch minister does not have to suffer the anguish of not knowing from which family he hails – he and his relatives have access not only to ordinary public records but also to the expertise of the professional family researchers on the excellent “Who Do You Think You Are?” programme, which recently traced the lineage of the Andrews and Tubridy families.

Adopted people also can’t enjoy the same level of genealogy services that are made readily available and advertised to the Irish Diaspora scattered around the globe – perhaps our histories and heritages are worth less or is that worthless? 

If this 2009 Adoption Bill is passed in its present form, the voluntary organisations, who have been picking up the slack for successive Irish governments due to the lack of legislation will be committed to a further twenty years dealing with the emotional fall-out of legislative failure and this time ignorance will be no defence.  It seems clear to us that Barry Andrews has no interest in doing the right thing and he therefore has no place in the office of Minister for Children. 

Susan Lohan and Claire McGettrick are co-founders of Adoption Rights Alliance, which campaigns to ensure that the rights of the adopted child and the rights of Ireland's 42,000+ adult adopted people are protected in legislation.

If you suspect you were illegally adopted or for general information contact Adoption Rights Alliance at: www.adoptionrightsalliance.com info@adoptionrightsalliance.com

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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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