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Adoptees battle to get copies of birth certificates

By Patricia McDonagh
Irish Independent, Monday September 27 2010

ALMOST half of all adopted people who applied for a copy of their original birth certificate in recent years have not received the vital document.

Just 244 birth certificates were released by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), despite 485 applications being received between 2004 and 2009.

Some 205 of the 241 unapproved applications were passed to private adoption agencies for permission, and have yet to be answered.

The revelation last night sparked outrage from adoption campaigners who branded the current situation as "disgraceful".

Adopted people here have no legal entitlement to their birth certificate or other personal or medical information in their adoption file.

The 1952 Adoption Act introduced a "clean break" process, which insisted the mother's right to privacy was paramount in any requests for information. This right was later reinforced by a Supreme Court judgment.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said she was "gobsmacked" at the figures. "The rest of the population would find it astonishing if they had to get their parents' permission to access their birth certificate.

"Immediate legislation needs to be provided to change the current situation. A birth cert is a crucial document. Not being able to access it places a block on people's lives."

A birth certificate may include the name and the address of the natural mother and, if so, under Irish law she must be consulted. The application will only be approved if she agrees or has passed away.

The AAI must write to the private adoption agency from which the child was adopted to contact the mother.

There is no waiting list for applications in the Adoption Board, but waiting times exist within the agencies and this can range from a few weeks to two years.

The situation in Ireland is in contrast to many other European countries, which allow adopted people to access information about their past from a very young age.

Successive Irish governments have refused to legislate to give adopted people the right to information that could help them to trace their biological parents.


A new bill has been promised to deal with the situation, but no date has been given for its publication.

Last year just 25 out of 80 birth certificate applications were approved -- with 45 of the unapproved applications awaiting a report from the adoption agency. In 2008, 28 out of 90 applications were approved, with 58 awaiting information from adoption agencies. And in 2007 just 38 out of 73 applications were approved, with 30 referred to adoption agencies.

Last night the AAI insisted its hands were tied because of the current legislative situation.

- Patricia McDonagh

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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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