ADOPTION (INFORMATION AND TRACING) BILL 2016
PROPOSAL TO AMEND PRIVACY PROVISIONS
Statement by Dr Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Tuesday 26th February 2019
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone has announced today (Tuesday 26 February 2019) that she had secured Government approval to draft amendments to revise the privacy provisions in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016.
It has always been the policy intent of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, 2016 to provide for the greatest possible release of birth information to adopted persons and to other relevant persons, consistent with the legal and constitutional framework. The Bill as published requires applicants for birth information to sign an undertaking, in certain circumstances, that they will not contact the birth parent. It also allows birth parents to invoke compelling reasons as to why their information should not be released, where such release would be likely to endanger their lives.
Members of the Oireachtas, stakeholders and lobby groups have expressed concerns about these aspects of the Bill, and in particular with the requirement for adopted people to sign an undertaking declaring that they would not contact their birth parent. Having listened to these concerns, Minister Zappone engaged again with the Office of the Attorney General seeking to revisit the privacy provisions and strengthen the right to identity.
Speaking today Minister Zappone said:
“The provisions in the Bill in relation to release of birth information are very serious and complex. We must balance the competing rights to identity with the right to privacy, in certain circumstances. I believe that people have the right to know of their true origins but we are also required to protect vulnerable birth parents.
I believe the scheme for which I got approval today is a reasonable compromise in all the circumstances, and I hope all stakeholders will support the proposal, so this legislation can be enacted as quickly as possible.”
A revised scheme was devised for which the Minister got Cabinet approval at its meeting today, 26 February to draft the necessary amendments. The revised scheme will replace the current provisions, including the undertaking, and will provides for contact with all birth parents to ascertain whether they have any objection to the birth information being released. Where the parent does not consent to the release of the information, there will be an opportunity for both parties to make their case before the Adoption Authority of Ireland. The Authority will make a determination in the case, against a range of criteria by reference to Supreme Court jurisprudence. There will be an appeal from the decision to the Circuit Court.
The revised scheme means that the requirement for signing an undertaking is removed and the applicant and the birth parent have an equal chance to make their case about why the information should be released.
Minister Zappone said:
“I thank my Cabinet colleagues for their support with the revised privacy provisions in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, and look forward to proceeding without delay to progressing this very important Bill.
My Department will engage with the Office of the Attorney General in relation to drafting the necessary detailed amendments, to be brought forward at Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann. I also intend to bring forward an amendment to provide where an applicant requests birth information they will receive a copy of their birth cert, where this is available on the files in State custody.”
Notes for Editors:
Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016
The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 was published in November 2016. This is an important piece of legislation as it provides adopted people and other relevant people with statutory rights to information and to a tracing service. It will also protect relevant records by bringing them into the custody of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and it will create offences for the concealment, destruction, mutilation or falsification of such records.
The Minister is committed to release of birth information to the greatest extent possible within constitutional constraints. The Bill must operate in the current constitutional framework and must seek to balance the rights to identity and to privacy, which may sometimes be in conflict. However, the Bill operates on the basis of a presumption in favour of disclosing information in so far as is legally and constitutionally possible.
The Bill was introduced in Seanad Éireann and has completed the Second Stage debate. The next stage in its progress through the Oireachtas is Committee Stage in Seanad Eireann, at which stage amendments can be proposed. The Minister hopes to progress to Committee Stage as soon as possible.