Dáil Éireann - Volume 459 - 05 December, 1995

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Adoption Law.

23. Dr. Woods asked the Minister for Health the steps, if any, he is taking to redress the discrimination in the existing adoption law against a birth mother which requires her to adopt her own child upon marriage so that the birth certificate reflects the fact that she is the natural mother of the child. [15594/95]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Currie): I presume the Deputy is referring to cases where the mother of a child born outside marriage and her husband, who is not the father, wish to share parental rights to the [351] child. As the law stands, the only way in which they can have joint rights is by adopting the child. Such an adoption terminates the mother's natural relationship with the child, and she and her husband are regarded in the eyes of the law as the adoptive mother and adoptive father of the child. If the husband were to adopt the child on his own, this would have the effect of terminating the mother's legal rights with respect to the child.

I am aware that some mothers are unhappy about the present situation and would prefer if their original parental relationship could continue to be recognised. However, providing for an alternative procedure for the exercise of joint parental rights in such cases would be a major legislative undertaking. It would involve substantial amendments to existing adoption law and might also necessitate changes in the law on guardianship.

As I have previously indicated to the House, my absolute priority in the adoption area is the preparation of amending legislation to address the issues raised in the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Keegan v Ireland. This involves giving the fathers of non-marital children a greater say in the adoption process. My Department is currently preparing legislative proposals in this regard.

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Will the Minister agree that while it is important to amend legislation to bring into Irish law the Keegan versus Ireland decision, it is equally important to amend that legislation to address the subject matter of this question, particularly since it will take a long time to prepare complicated legislation, on adoption law? Perhaps there should be a short delay to include Deputy Woods' proposal rather than incorporate the Keegan versus Ireland decision and put off for many years discussing the subject matter we are discussing.

[352] Mr. Currie: I agree with much of what the Deputy has said but not with her use of the word “equally”. As I made clear, the Keegan case must be dealt with as a matter of priority. The Deputy is right that this would present a major legislative undertaking in that substantial amendments would have to be made to the Adoption Acts and it might also be necessary to amend the law on guardianship, for which the Department of Equality and Law Reform has primary responsibility. Last year, of the 424 adoption orders made by the Adoption Board 184, or 43 per cent, were in respect of children adopted by their natural mothers with their husbands who were not the fathers. These cases, known as pre-marital adoptions, account for a significant proportion of the total number of adoption applications received by the board each year. I give those figures to illustrate that the numbers are quite large and that there are a number of satisfied customers.

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Will the Minister indicate whether any preparatory work has been done on the substantial amendments that would be required under the adoption law or the guardianship law?

Mr. Currie: We have done sufficient work in that respect to know how difficult it will be and how much work will be required. It is very important therefore to proceed with the Keegan case.