I welcome the announcement that a commission of investigation is to be established to report on the mother and baby homes. I note the assurance that the commission will have full statutory powers. I understand that a cross-departmental group will report to the Government by 30 June to advise on the terms of reference. I join other Senators in calling for an early debate this week ahead of that work in order that Members of this House, as Members of the Oireachtas, can feed into that process and make suggestions regarding the terms of reference of the investigation. It is essential for the commission to have a broad remit and to consider all the issues involved, including the conditions in the homes, the mortality rates, the issues of forced and illegal adoptions, the vaccine trials and the medical research. It should have powers of compellability.
It is essential for the Government to act now to seize and centralise all records in relation to adoption, including illegal adoption, and make them available to families. Many people who have sought to find out about their birth parents and many mothers who have tried to find their children who were lost through illegal adoption have found themselves completely abandoned by the State, which has shirked all responsibility for this issue. The State has said it is a private matter that has nothing to do with it. Throughout this country, there are records in State offices of passports that were issued to facilitate adoptions to other countries. There are records in GP offices. A nurses’ file with the original birth names of 1,000 babies, as well as the names of their birth mothers and their adoptive families, was found ten years ago. If the Government is serious about this issue, it is incumbent on it to act to centralise all of those files. It should seize all of the adoption files that are held on the records of agencies throughout this country, particularly the illegal adoption files.
The experience depicted in the movie “Philomena” is not uncommon. Many agencies have gone out of their way to be deliberately evasive when people have looked for information. They have not provided those records. I do not think they can be trusted to do so. The State should seize all of that information. The HSE has some information in respect of agencies that have closed but not in respect of the other agencies. It should seize all of it. It is long past time for us to act to give proper rights to adopted people in this country. I was fortunate to find my mother after 28 years. I am one of the small minority of people who were matched through the adoption preference register. In almost every other country in Europe, people like me have an automatic entitlement to their birth certificate at the age of 18. Irish people should have that right too.
If we are serious about this issue and providing justice for people, it is not just about the past but also about the daily experience of thousands of mothers and babies in this country who are separated and who want to find each other and deserve support from the State.
I second the motion proposed by Senator MacSharry that the Minister for Health would come to the House for a debate on medical cards. I too have been contacted by dozens of people who are confused about where they stand in the midst of all the various announcements. It is important we would get clarity in this House.