...regaining identities, histories and rights for adopted people...  

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Access to Birth Certificates
Having access to one’s birth certificate is a matter of dignity – in short, it proves that you were born, that you exist. Currently in Ireland, adopted people do not have an automatic statutory right to their birth certificates. It is possible to apply to the Adoption Authority (AAI), however the AAI and accredited bodies (previously known as adoption agencies) insist upon seeking the permission of natural mothers before releasing birth certificates. The rate of release of birth certificates by the AAI (then Adoption Board) dwindles every year and the last available figures for 2008 show an unimpressive number of 27, with a further 57 stuck in the system of being sent back to the original adoption agency. 

The situation in the Republic of Ireland is in stark contrast to that of Northern Ireland, where since 1987 adopted people have had a statutory right to access their birth certificates upon reaching the age of 18 years. In relation to this issue, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, in his role as Opposition Spokesperson on Children during the Dáil debates on the Adoption Act 2010 asserted

“This is not rocket science. This has been addressed in all our neighbouring jurisdictions. Someone who was adopted across the Border in Northern Ireland has substantially greater rights than one has in this State. 

I do not believe we comply with Article 8 of the Convention which we should comply with. I find it beyond comprehension that this issue is not being addressed. Other Deputies have referred to all of the reasons it should be addressed. It is not just the issue of tracing origins or facilitating people making contact with each other. There is the whole issue of preserving records, an issue which should have been better dealt with in this legislation. There is the whole issue of getting health histories. There is a broad range of issues that this Bill utterly fails to address that it should have addressed. There is no excuse for it.” 

Access to Information
Like birth certificates, access to information is a basic human right.  Adopted people require access to information for various reasons, apart from the natural need to know the circumstances of their births; information can provide vital clues in the tracing process.  As many adopted people choose to conduct their own traces due to the ineptitude of adoption agencies, access to information is crucial to say the least.

Access to adoption files
Due to successive Irish Governments’ failure to legislate for access to adoption records and in fact appearing to act against adopted people by excluding such files from the FOI Act, adopted people face an absence of a narrative around which to build their early identity.Without their adoption files, adopted people are denied information on their natural families, the circumstances of their birth, the circumstances surrounding their adoption, their early care and medical records – all taken for granted by the rest of the Irish population. The adoption file is crucial to adopted people in filling this void and forms an important part of the adopted person’s heritage. 

In addition to history and heritage issues, there are items on the adoption file that have the capacity to reassure adopted people and increase their sense of wellbeing, such as letters or birthday cards from their natural mothers. Letters such as these are hugely important to adopted people, who may have thought for example, that they were not wanted, but a letter on file might show that the natural mother was very reluctant to give her child up. If the natural mother is deceased, these letters take on even greater importance.

In the case of adoptions conducted through or partly through the UK, the births of these children appear to have been recorded as normal in the UK Register of Births but the women were encouraged/coerced into returning to Ireland to put their children up for adoption so files are held in both jurisdictions. Additionally, those adopted to the US will have adoption files there also, containing crucial information about their transition from Ireland to America.

In addition to issues of identity, family history and heritage, the lack of available medical information can have life threatening implications for adopted people, their children, grandchildren and subsequent generations, as well as natural family members.

The stark juxtaposition of successive Irish Governments denying adopted people access to their files whilst simultaneously opening access to other groups, such as those incarcerated in Industrial Schools, via the “Origins Project”, can only be interpreted as a cynical cover-up, lest yet another church/State scandal be revealed. There is an opportunity for the present government to turn the tide on the practice of avoidance, to show in earnest that Ireland is truly willing to face up to its past and make reparations to those who have been hurt.

Medical Information
In addition to issues of identity and history, records and information are crucial for adopted people when it comes to medical issues.  Adoption Rights Alliance asserts that adopted people should be granted medical cards for themselves and their children so long as the government, the Adoption Authority and the adoption agencies conspire to keep our medical histories secret thus obstructing us from taking preventative measures with regard to hereditary diseases. 

Click on the thumbnails below for examples of the attitude towards adopted people's medical history.  One says: "Fam Hx: (ie family history) not relevant (adopted)" and the other says "Fhx (ie family history) parents* well.  She's adopted".  These scans are from actual medical files donated by an adopted person.
(*refers to adoptive parents)


“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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