I am honoured and privileged to contribute this foreword to this important report from Aitheantas – Adoptee Identity Rights. I write as an ally and a supporter of adoptees struggling to realise their rights. This timely report sets out the findings of recent research conducted with adoptees and their families during late 2019, through 2020 and in early 2021. 

The report goes to the heart of an existential question that people have always asked “where do I come from”? My children asked me and I was able to tell them. Answering this most fundamental question is core to a person having a clear sense of their identity, to which we have a right. It is also important for practical matters relating to health and wellbeing including having knowledge of hereditary health conditions like breast cancer where screening and early detection can save lives. 

Yet today people in Ireland, through no fault of their own and because they were adopted, continue to be denied the information they need to answer that most basic of questions “where do I come from”? Their children and their children’s children are also so deprived, adding intergenerational insult to injury. The stigma experienced by adoptees and their families endures and is well articulated in this report. 

The current challenges for adoptees in accessing information about themselves, arises in the main from the closed adoption system pursued in Ireland from the 1950’s onward. Views have changed over time and adoptees’ right to their personal information has begun to be recognised. The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the right to identity as a fundamental right in numerous judgements. 

In Ireland constitutional rights to identity were first recognised in a Supreme Court decision IOT v B in 1998. The Court held that the right to know the identity of one’s “natural mother” was an unenumerated right under article 40.3.1 in Bunreacht na hEireann. 

Yet almost a quarter century on from that Supreme Court decision, Ireland is and remains out of step with progressive norms now in place in many other countries relating to adoptees rights to and access to information about who they are. There is evidence that Ireland has the most restrictive system in the European Union when it comes to accessing information on adoptees’ personal health, history and heritage. 

Ireland is also out of step with public perceptions. More than 90% of respondents to a recent survey believed that adoptees have an automatic right to their birth certificate. This is not the case.  As a result of Ireland’s highly restrictive approach, today access to birth details and other information remains extremely difficult for adoptees. This is not fair. This is discriminatory. It can and must be put right.

The State has successively failed to legislate on this matter. It would seem that the voices of direct experience have not been heard and not adequately or appropriately responded to as yet. 

Issues have been flagged by Aitheantas and other groups about very real concerns relating to the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2021, now under consideration in the Oireachtas. 

This report shows how some of the assigned agencies involved have lost the trust and confidence of adoptees. There are calls in this report for a new agency to be established. 

The Black Civil Rights Activist James Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced”. I am calling on legislators and others to face up to the unnecessary and harmful challenges adoptees and their families continue to face and to listen to them. And to take note of this important report by Aitheantas and deepen your understanding. Hear the voices of adoptees and their families. Feel their pain. Acknowledge their anger and frustration. Above all listen to them and act. 

When we know better we can do better according to Maya Angelou. Do better by adoptees. Vindicate their rights to know who they are. You can make a good start by reading this report. The time for action is now.

Colette Kelleher
July 2021

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