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Fitzgerald, Frances

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Adoption Issues

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Adoption Issues

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Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)

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Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)

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Frances Fitzgerald

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Snippet Contents:

I thank Deputy Ross for raising this issue. I am committed, in conjunction with my Government colleagues, to bringing forward amending legislation to address current anomalies with respect to adoption by step-parents. As the Deputy indicated, those anomalies include the requirement - as part of step-parent adoption - for a natural parent to adopt his or her own child, including compliance with the requirements associated with the adoption process. In other words and as the Deputy highlighted, such parents must undergo the adoption procedure as if the child were a stranger to them. It is almost like starting out afresh. A further anomaly relates to the creation of a wholly new birth certificate recognising the newly-adoptive parents and possibly removing the recognition of a birth parent, very often the father.
These provisions originated in legislation in 1952 and were further consolidated, but not addressed, in the Adoption Act 2010, which was brought forward by the previous Government. The 2010 Act is complex and there a number of issues - including that under discussion - which have arisen since its enactment. I have indicated previously that I believe it timely to consider a review of some of the policy matters that arose in the Act. In addition to the issue of step-parent adoption, a number of other matters must be considered in the context of a review of the Adoption Act. These include the rights of birth mothers and birth fathers and issues relating to the right to an assessment. There is an automatic right to assessment in this country and the number of people being assessed far exceeds the number of children suitable or available for adoption. This means there is a major imbalance. Other issues which have arisen relate to the age of prospective adoptive parents, the tenure of declarations of eligibility and suitability, etc.
I appreciate the difficulties and frustration the anomalies relating to step-parent adoption pose for many families. I should point out that a cornerstone of the Adoption Act 2010 is the consent of the natural parents, which is a legal basis of all adoptions. This underpins the process for the subsequent adoption of a child by a new family unit. However, I understand that this places natural parents in a difficult position in the area of step-parent adoptions. I am of the view that the law must be changed in order that birth parents will no longer be obliged to adopt their own children in order to facilitate adoption by step-parents. It is not appropriate that we continue to subject birth parents to outdated legal conventions when it comes to step-parent adoption.
Based on my concerns, a number of months ago I sought clarification on the constitutional and legal position in respect of this matter. We had been informed that a number of constitutional issues apply. However, I am now confident - on the basis of legal advice I sought and received - that there are no constitutional barriers to legislative change in this area. Many people will welcome that fact. I accept that some complex legal and policy issues remain and that these need to be resolved within the broader framework of the family law relating to parentage and guardianship. Where the natural father is still alive and where there may be ongoing contact or whatever, guardianship - if the position relating to it were to be made more flexible - might be the more appropriate legal option for step-parents in certain circumstances. This would tie in with a more open approach to adoption. However, I appreciate that certain couples would prefer adoption as opposed to guardianship.
I am working with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who will be bringing forward a Bill in the near future. Some of the issues I have just outlined will be addressed in that legislation. I am preparing adoption legislation which arises on foot of the result in the referendum on children's rights. The legislation would provide an appropriate mechanism by means of which the matter under discussion might be dealt with.