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Government criticised over Adoption Bill

JAMIE SMYTH

Irish Times, Thu, Dec 03, 2009

THE BODY representing all adoption agencies in the State has criticised the Government for moving to pass the Adoption Bill before holding a planned referendum on the rights of the child.

The Council of Irish Adoption Agencies warned yesterday the new legislation failed to provide the legal right to enable adopted people to trace their birth parents or obtain post-adoption services such as counselling.

It said the lack of a constitutional amendment on the rights of children was a key factor in preventing the Adoption Bill from strengthening the rights of adopted children and families.

“We take the view that it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. We needed a referendum on the rights of the child and then the Adoption Bill,” said Marian Bennett, a social worker on the council’s ethics committee. “It’s probably too late now to amend the Adoption Bill,” she added.

She said adopted children are still being denied basic information about who they are and access to their birth certificates, which was their basic human right.

Similarly, the constitutional protection afforded to family life through the Constitution meant that birth parents had no statutory rights to trace adopted children in the Republic. “The referendum on the rights of the child is long overdue. I think there has been a loss of impetus with regard to the issue,” said Ms Bennett at the launch of a new guidebook for social workers, An Ethical Framework for Adoption in Ireland.

The Government said it would introduce a constitutional amendment on the rights of children following the “Baby Ann” case in 2006. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that a two-year-old girl should be returned to the custody of her birth parents from her adoptive parents when they withdrew consent for her adoption.

At the book launch yesterday Justice Catherine McGuinness, who presided over the Supreme Court case, said Baby Ann had “no voice” at all during the case. She said she was hopeful the proposed referendum on the rights of the child would take place shortly. But she said the Adoption Bill included key provisions to boost child protection, principally bringing the Hague Convention on the protection of children into statute law, and should not be delayed.

Following a lengthy delay an Oireachtas committee, chaired by Mary O’Rourke, is expected to formulate the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment on the rights of the child shortly.

In Britain adopted children have had the legal right to trace their natural parents since 1973. But in Ireland many adopted children and birth parents face legal problems in tracing their relatives.

2009 The Irish Times

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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." 

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