Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald has said that "it is quite startling for the public in Ireland to hear" that inter-country adoption is now about older children with special needs.

The minister said that the children who are in institutions and orphanages around the world, who are in need of adoptive families, are "older children with special needs".

There is now a "mismatch" between the expectations of many potential parents, who have been assessed for adoption in Ireland, and the children who are currently available for adoption internationally, she said.

Her comments were made at the Oireachtas Health and Children Committee in response to questions from Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Independent Senator Jillian Van Turnhout.

Senator Van Turnhout said the reality is that "the children who are available for adoption have special needs and they are not being adopted".

Mr Ó Caoláin said he is deeply concerned about the whole situation in relation to inter-country adoption. He asked why it is the case that other EU countries, that are Hague signatories, are not having anything like the low-level of success that Ireland seems to be having.

There are only 11 post Hague adoptions affected in Ireland over the past three-and-a-half years, he said.

This is about the children, he said, who need the support of families internationally.

He said prospective adoptive parents were saying that they are not getting a sense of urgency, or empathy in relation to their particular cases.

He quoted the Ireland-India support group, who said: "We are citizens that have been fooled into a process that stripped our dignity and privacy for ten years and cost us financially and emotionally for the only purpose of justifying the existence of the AAI (The Adoption Authority of Ireland)."

He said that is "very, very worrying" and he asked the minister to take on board what they are saying.

Senator Van Turnhout said that the health committee is due to have a wider discussion about adoption, but it is necessary to put some facts out there.

She said she has a lot of concerns on how the issue is handled and that the AAI needs to be held under scrutiny.

Minister Fitzgerald said that Laura Martinez from the Hague was in Dublin this week and she spoke about the international situation regarding inter-country adoption.

The minister said that some of what Ms Martinez said is "quite startling" for the public in Ireland to hear.

Ms Fitzgerald said that there are children being adopted into Ireland who are finding loving families and she gave the example of the recent agreement Ireland signed with Vietnam.

Ireland has a good working relationship with Vietnam and other countries, she said, but added that the numbers are nothing like what they were before.

There was a very big increase in Ireland in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but that is not the situation now, she said.

Ms Fitzgerald she does "not want any administrative barriers or inefficiencies to be delaying adoptions in this country" and she "does not want people to suffer from poor communications from the Adoption Authority of Ireland or anybody else".

The minister said that India did close its inter-country adoption for a period and her understanding is that it is only open for special needs.

She said that there are a number of Irish parents who want to adopt from India and the AAI over the last few months has put an agency in place to deal with India.

She said she met with the Irish-India group a few weeks ago to try and deal with the outstanding issues and the upset that group felt about the delays.

The minister said that everyone agrees internationally that inter-country adoptions are taking longer than ever before.

She said it is also very striking that in India, Vietnam and China, there is far more domestic adoption in those countries than previously so young babies who are abandoned are now being adopted.

She cautioned that the numbers of adoptions are going to be low this year.

She said there is an automatic right to assessment for adoption in Ireland and she has asked the Child and Family Agency to be very clear with potential adopters about the current situation regarding inter-country adoption.

The minister added that she does not want their expectations raised and she does not want people in a process that is incredibly stressful for them if there is not going to be an adoption for them at the end of it.