DUBLIN (REUTERS) - Ireland will allow tens of thousands of adopted people access to their birth certificates for the first time under proposed legislation that some advocacy groups say could still deprive many of their identities.
International laws say all children should be able to establish their identity but adopted people in Ireland, many of whom were sent for adoption in secret by Catholic institutions, have no automatic right to their birth records or access to tracing services.
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. But Children's Minister James Reilly said on Monday that any adopted person should have a statutory right to apply for a birth certificate.
"It's all too easy for those of us who know where we come from not to appreciate the profound importance of this information," Mr Reilly told a news conference, adding it was critical that birth parents' right to privacy was protected.
Birth records will be given to an adopted person, including those illegally adopted, with the consent of their birth parent. Without any consent, records will only be released if an adopted person signs a statutory declaration not to contact their birth parent and once the legislation has been in place for a year.
The new laws, which face a tight timeframe to be voted through parliament before elections early next year, will only permit access to other identifying information in adoption files - including family medical history - with a parent's consent.
In contrast, any adoption effected after the commencement of this bill will allow shared access to a birth certificate, the adoption order and any other information.
While some adopted people welcomed what one group described as the end of "decades and generations of secrecy", Ireland's Adoption Rights Alliance said tracing of identities will remain incredibly difficult. Many adoptees' birth certificates contain incorrect names and addresses for mothers and no details for fathers.
With Irish child protection services already stretched after years of budget cuts, they also feared delays in processing the requests relating to an estimated 100,000 people, including those adopted illegally or informally before records began.
"When it comes to older adoptions, a birth cert might be next to useless, it is just a slither of the picture. Adopted people want our file and nothing but the file," Adoption Rights Alliance co-founder Susan Lohan told Reuters.
"When you think how many natural mothers are dying and that adopted people are now dying due to old age, it is not a great cause for celebration when we could be looking at years down the road before anybody sees results."