Below is an article I wrote for the Sunday Business Post regarding my own personal experience with adoption services and the obstacles that are still faced by adoptees trying to trace their birth family:
SUNDAY BUSINESS POST
June 3rd 2018
What’s your name’ ‘where do you come from’?
These are daily parts of Irish conversations. For adopted people like myself growing up in the 1950s and 60s the answers had to be ambiguous and complex.
There was a double identity. One was the adopted identity and there was also a kind of secret identity, the original or birth family of which you knew nothing and had no right to such information.
How did people know they were adopted?
In most cases they were told at home but many were told nothing and often found out at family occasions such as funerals or weddings.
Of course, the public authorities knew and created a special short form birth certificate that adopted people could use as I did to register for college and for marriage.
The long form birth cert that contained the adoption information was kept strictly under lock and key with no right of access to the adopted person.
I only saw mine when I was close to 50 years of age.
When I was getting married I asked St Patricks Guild to pass on a letter to my birth mother to tell how I was and my wedding plans. Months later I got the letter back with a note saying they didn’t do that kind of thing.
That refusal to convey a simple message upset me a lot but I realised it was just one of the hallmarks of psychological cruelty so characteristic of the adoption societies.
I had attempted again and again from the time of my adoptive mother’s early death from cancer to get basic tracing information from St Patricks Guild. Each time I sat in their little waiting room under a picture of the baby Jesus and each time the answer was a blunt NO.
One incident I remember well was in 1993 when I had become a TD and Minister of State. A woman came to me about her fruitless search for her birth records.
This woman was married with grown up children.
She told me she had been to St Patricks Guild where she had been told a mess of conflicting stories about different possible mothers. Eventually she found out she had been informally fostered so that there was in fact no legal barrier to her getting full Information.
Even then it still took months of battle with the Archdiocese to get her information. I met one senior priest who remarked frostily to me that people like the woman I was representing were only interested in getting money.
At this stage we need to proceed with some essential legal changes that have stalled so far.
First and foremost, there has to be a clearly stated right of full access to records and knowledge of their original identity.
That is a human rights issue and has been recognised internationally as such by a UN Convention and is also implicit in the European Convention on Human Rights.
I have one fear about all this that I mentioned in an interview with Jason O Toole in a HOTPRESS interview a few months back.
We have made immense strides in the past few years on Marriage Equality, Gender Recognition and now Abortion Rights.
Are adopted people to be last in the queue to have their basic rights accepted and enshrined in Law?
I think there have been too many barriers to reforms in this area. I had to endure endless delays whenever I argued for reform in Government. The draft 2015 Bill is on the Seanad Order Paper and needs to get priority. It has a number of cumbersome features and some serious flaws that have to be amended in Committee to fully satisfy the demands and rights of adopted people.
In the spirit of justice and compassion that inspired the Repeal referendum I make this plea: Let’s do this now.
Joan Burton is Labour TD for Dublin West and a former Tanaiste