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 Header Item Adoption Issues (Continued)
 Header Item Northern Ireland Issues

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 816 No. 3

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross] Whereas it is both right and fair that the adoptive father - as is the position in the case to which I refer but it could also be an adoptive mother - should be subject to some form of observation, scrutiny and approval, it seems absurd that the birth mother should also be subject to the latter when she has kept the child all along. I am familiar with many cases where social workers came into the house in which all three parties - mother, prospective father and child - live and spent a great deal of time with them. He or she then proceeded to interview them and eventually granted approval to the adoptive father and the natural mother to adopt the child.

The Minister will understand that it is unfair to place people under pressure of this sort. It would not happen unless they were simply and solely deciding to do something which is in the interests of the child, namely, to give him or her another - and an official - parent. He or she would not otherwise have two parents as a result of the circumstances which obtain. I cannot see anything wrong with issuing birth certificates containing the names of all three parents, namely, the natural mother, the natural father and the adoptive father. This is a problem with gives rise to great emotion and which, due to changes in society, is increasing in frequency. It would be very easy to put matters right in respect of by introducing a small number of legal changes.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald 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.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank the Minister for her reply, which is enlightened in sentiment but perhaps somewhat unclear in the context of intention and timing. I am delighted that there are no constitutional difficulties in respect of this matter. I did not anticipate any such difficulties. When I heard the words "complex" and "review", I become concerned that nothing is going to happen or that a matter will be placed on the long finger to such a degree that it will fall to a future generation or Government to address it. In that context, I understand that problems arise in the context of addressing the overall issue of adoption.

I am not asking the Minister to immediately address all the anomalies thrown up by the 2010 Act. I am simply requesting that she give a commitment to the effect that action will be taken in order that it will no longer be necessary for natural parents to be obliged to adopt their own children. What I am seeking is nothing more complicated than that. I do not believe what I am suggesting would have any complex knock-on effects in respect of other matters. I am merely representing the person in the position I have outlined who finds it emotionally offensive and practically difficult to do that about which we are talking. Perhaps the Minister might provide a commitment to the effect that the particular item to which I refer and which is causing so much trouble could be addressed in isolation and prior to all other matters. What is so offensive is that a mother or a father should be obliged to go before the Adoption Board and ask to adopt her or his own child. The provision in this regard should be deleted from the adoption legislation.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald If it were that simple, I would proceed in the manner outlined by Deputy Ross. I am considering the precise implications of changing the position. I understand why he might advocate that we should just bring an end to what is happening, particularly as it would not have implications for any other approaches to adoption and consent. However, I am of the view that there are implications for other aspects of the adoption process. I am teasing out precisely what are those implications. I want to change the position in legislation and I will do so as soon as possible. I am informed that if we were to make the change the Deputy suggests, it would have a knock-on effect on other aspects of the legislation. As stated, however, the new parentage Bill, which is due to be introduced either prior to the end of this year or earlier next year, will provide an opportunity to make some changes. I will deal with this issue in the context of the adoption legislation I propose to introduce.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank the Minister.

Northern Ireland Issues

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue.

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