Ireland will allow adopted people automatic access to their birth records for the first time under new laws the government hopes will end a “historic wrong”, including for thousands sent for adoption in secret by Catholic institutions.
International laws say all children should be able to establish their identity but tens of thousands of adopted people in Ireland have no automatic right to their birth records or access to tracing services.
The legislation was published a year to the day since an inquiry found that thousands of infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring mostly run by the Catholic church from the 1920s to the 1990s.
Many infants were also taken from mothers and sent overseas to be adopted, that report, the latest in a series that have laid bare some of the church’s worst abuses, found.
Ireland’s minister for children, Roderic O’Gorman, said the law, if enacted, would provide for the full and unredacted release of birth, early life and medical information to anyone over the age of 16, regardless of their parents’ wishes.
“We know that a historic wrong has been done to adopted people. With this bill, we are restoring the information so many of us take for granted as part of our own, personal stories,” O’Gorman said, seeking to end Ireland’s “outlier status”.
Successive governments had argued that a 1998 supreme court ruling prevented them from opening adoption files because it emphasised the mother’s right to privacy. A 2019 bill to improve access to records was scrapped after opposition in parliament and from advocacy groups.
Opposition parties broadly welcomed the new bill but criticised the fact that adopted people would still have to hold an “information session” with officials by phone where a parent has expressed a no-contact preference. An earlier version of the bill specified a mandatory meeting with a social worker.
Some campaigners also said the level of information the bill proposed was still insufficient and that the sources where the data can be collected from must be expanded to include all agencies and institutions.