Why I can’t vote “Yes”

Clarification (added 9th November): Below, I said that “The only thing that can’t be done – and that’s debatable, senior judges seem to think so anyway – is extending adoption to the children of married parents.”  This is incorrect.  The adoption of children of married parents is already possible.  The referendum makes it easier for this to happen. Apologies for any confusion. ~~ End of clarification.

I will not be voting yes on November 10th.

The main reason: it’s all lip-service. “We’re putting the child’s interest at the centre, their needs become paramount”, according to Frances Fitzgerald and the yes side.

Except – they’re not.

Anything the referendum claims to be introducing can already be done, just with legislation.

The only thing that can’t be done – and that’s debatable, senior judges seem to think so anyway – is extending adoption to the children of married parents.

But if the child’s interests really are paramount and this isn’t just a bullshit, happy-clappy good-news-story referendum to take our minds off the economy, then:

* Why does the very next piece of “child centred”/adoption-related legislation to be introduced by Frances Fitzgerald – the Adoption Information & Tracing Bill – get it so blatantly wrong. It grants no right of access to the birth cert – in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It permits access to “non-identifying information” only. Whoop-de-do. I had that 20 years ago, without any law needed. Really, all that this law does is copper-fasten the status quo. But it’s the same law proposed by Mary Hanafin and previous Fianna Fáil ministers, that got rejected by adopted people and natural parents because it was unjust. Brian Lenihan at least recognised the problems and organised a major public consultation on this issue, back in 2003.  Almost all participants agreed we needed a law that granted access to birth certs and the full adoption file as a right. (The only exception being the representative body for adoption agencies, but then access to adoption files would expose the lies some of them were in the habit of telling, so…)

* Why has no legal provision been made for open adoptions? All adoptions taking place from this referendum will still be closed, secret, 1952 Adoption Act adoptions, with no right of contact for siblings, non-offending parents, extended family such as grandparents, etc. But if this is about the child’s needs being paramount, then in some cases, ongoing contact with the natural family will be in the child’s best interests. Sure, a social worker can propose and an adoptive family can agree to access or ongoing contact or updates prior to adoption – and then shut it down once they have the adoption order.

* Where is all the other legislation that is so blatantly, obviously missing? Still no law on donor-assisted human reproduction, for example. It’s still legal to buy anonymously-donated sperm. Nothing on surrogacy. either. Despite pleas for regulation in these areas going back years, including from the government’s own Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, there is still nothing even on the horizon.

(In the meantime, though, we’ve managed to conclude another bilateral adoption agreement with a country that has an appalling track record in adoption corruption and that still has no domestic adoption department. But hey, it’s all about the kids.  Right?)

* What about all the existing constitutional provisions and their total lack of implementation? Free education? Never existed. The right to have your children educated in the ethos of your choice? Still doesn’t exist, unless the parents live in the right area and have their name down a couple of months prior to conception. The right for a raped, suicidal 14-year-old to access safe abortion? Sure, that’s in the constitution, but no, here’s your Ryanair ticket, because we’ve not managed to pass a law yet, it’s only been 20 years. (But here’s one on blasphemy to be going on with, because the constitution says we need to have one, won’t someone please think of the gods!)

The nub of the issue for me, though, goes back to that Adoption Information & Tracing Bill. The same minister is responsible for both the referendum and that bill.

How can she propose both and not be a hypocrite?

She’s either read all of the background material and recommendations and said to herself “It doesn’t matter what’s in the child’s best interests, some anonymous natural mothers might be put out, and some poor adoption agency might be revealed to have lied” – in which case, what happened the “child is paramount” argument?

Or she genuinely believes that adopted people shouldn’t be able to know their origins, in which case she presumes to have better expertise than all of the professionals and advocacy organisations, and clearly shouldn’t be trusted. She can’t have it both ways.

I’m sorry.  I’d like a child-centred referendum that actually means something.  This isn’t it.