Dáil Éireann - Volume 438 - 02 February, 1994
Adjournment Debate. - Foreign Adoptions.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: First, I would like to thank you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue. More than 400 Romanian children have been adopted by Irish couples. Most of these adoptions took place in the 1990-91 period. In many cases children were rescued by Irish couples from absolutely appalling conditions. Many of those children would probably not be alive today if they had remained in Romania.
It was a cause of great concern to read in our newspapers yesterday a report, which apparently received the imprimatur of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Willie O'Dea, that 18 children have been abandoned by their adoptive parents and placed in the care of health boards. I was pleased that last night the Minister for Health issued a statement to the effect that that is not the case. However, the confusion was compounded by a report in The Irish Press today in which unnamed social worker sources say that the Minister is wrong. Either the Minister of State or the Minister is wrong.
It is most dangerous for any Minister to jump to precipitate conclusions on an issue such as this because it casts a shadow over what has happened in this area. It is my information that the vast majority of Romanian children adopted by Irish couples have settled in well and are receiving loving care within the families into which they have been adopted. It is true that a small number of such children have experienced difficulties which derive from the conditions under which they lived. The parents of these children have utilised the resources of their local health boards in dealing with those problems. I am not aware of a single case of a parent who adopted a child in Romania who subsequently abandoned that child to the permanent care of the health board. A whispering campaign, supported by the Minister of State, suggesting that that is the case not merely casts a shadow over the hundreds of Irish couples who successfully adopted in Romania but poses a major problem for other Irish couples who may seek to adopt in Romania or other foreign countries in the future because it will give rise to a suspicion in those countries that there is a danger that Irish couples who adopt children abroad may abandon them in Ireland. I emphasise that I do not know of any instance in which this has happened.
I am concerned that this report has come from unnamed social worker sources. Social workers in each of the health boards throughout the country have done a vast amount of good work in carrying out assessments to assist couples who wish to adopt children abroad to comply with the Adoption Act, 1991. Since I published that measure as a Private Members' Bill it has been my experience that within the group of professional social workers a small number seem to have a personalised, ideological fixation with the idea that in no circumstances should a couple living in Ireland adopt outside Ireland, that this is to be seriously discouraged. While most  health boards have been helpful to couples who wish to adopt abroad in the future and have carried out assessments, the behaviour of one health board has left a number of questions to be answered. It seems that its approach more often has been to seek to discourage adoptions in these circumstances than to encourage them.
I hope the Minister will put to bed these reports once and for all and clarify the position. He must seek to remove the slur that has been cast on the hundreds of Irish couples who have adopted Romanian and other children abroad, who feel that their reputation is being impunged and that their care for these children is being questioned. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin) Brendan Howlin
Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): I thank Deputy Shatter for raising this matter as it affords me the opportunity to set the record straight in relation to the newspaper article referred to by the Deputy which wrongly attributed to me statements regarding the alleged abandonment of Romanian children by their Irish adoptive parents. I wish to make it clear that I gave no interview to the newspaper in question on this subject. Indeed, I made no comment to the newspaper or the journalist.
My Department has made inquiries from both the community care and special hospital programmes of the eight regional health boards and has been informed that no Romanian children have been taken into the care of the health boards at the request of their adoptive parents.
As the House is aware, a number of Romanian children were adopted directly from orphanages and other institutions. Some of the children have delayed development as a result of being institutionalised at a very early stage in their lives. These children and their adoptive parents are receiving appropriate day supports from the health boards. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the wonderful commitment and dedication of these adoptive parents  who, in the same way as any other parents, are actively involved in the upbringing of their children and in promoting their welfare.
Having regard to the outcome of the inquiries made by my Department, I am at a loss to understand how anybody could claim that up to 18 Romanian children have been abandoned to the care of the health boards. I note that the Parents of Adopted Romanian Children group also expressed serious doubts about the veracity of this allegation. It is indeed significant that this support group, which offers guidance and advice to adopters of Romanian children, are not aware of any of the children being abandoned.
I share the Deputy's concern about the unnecessary upset and distress that these unfounded allegations have caused adoptive parents. More than 400 Romanian children have been adopted by Irish parents, many of whom I know personally, who have given the children the opportunity to grow and develop within the love and security of a stable family environment. These parents are deserving of our gratitude, and it is a matter of immense personal disappointment to me that their commitment to their children has been the subject of groundless speculation.
In relation to future arrangements for the adoption of Romanian children by Irish residents, I should like the House to know that the consultations between my Department and the Romanian adoption authorities are nearing a successful conclusion. I hope to be in a position to bring a draft bilateral adoption agreement before the Dáil for approval in the very near future. In the meantime, I would like to assure the Deputy that my Department will take all necessary steps to ensure that those concerned are made aware that there is no basis to the allegations made in yesterday's newspaper article.
Dáil Éireann 438 Adjournment Debate. Foreign Adoptions.