Minister Roderic O'Gorman is examining alternatives to the term "birth mother" as part of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill.

It follows a meeting between the Minister for Children with a group of mothers affected who feel the term is "reductive and hurtful".

The Minister confirmed at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth that the term "birth mother" needed to be amended.

He told the committee that some mothers find the term "natural mother" more appropriate and others prefer the term "first mother".

Roderic O'Gorman added that he received the results of a survey of adopted people, commissioned by the advocacy group Aitheantas, which indicated a preference amongst adoptees for the term ‘birth mother’.

The Minister said the differing viewpoints were indicative of "the challenge to find a term that is acceptable and works legislatively".

The Heads of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill are being scrutinised by the Joint Oireachtas Committee following meetings with stakeholders.

The Minister was before the Committee today to give his Department’s view of the legislation at this point.

Work on the Bill got underway following the publication of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report.

It proposes a right to access birth certificates, birth and early life information for people who have questions in relation to their origins, and also all people who were adopted, boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth and others with questions in relation to their identity.

The legislation also proposes the establishment of a Tracing Service and a statutory Contact Preference Register to support people wishing to make contact or share information.

On the question of information rights for mothers, the Minister said the clear objective of the legislation was to provide important origins information to adopted persons and
others, to vindicate their identity rights.

He said the legislation is essential for adopted persons to achieve full release of birth certificates and birth information in all cases.

He told the Committee that he wrote to representatives of mothers to advise that existing GDPR access rights are not impacted by this Bill and, therefore, mothers could continue to avail of their existing rights under the GDPR, data protection and freedom of information legislation to access information on records pertaining to themselves.

The Minister said they can also avail of the right to rectification which is enshrined in the GDPR which provides a route for mothers to rectify personal data held about them in historical files which they consider to be inaccurate or incomplete.

In order to achieve "a clear legal basis" for the full release of the birth certificate and birth information in all cases, he said the legislation had to contain a mechanism to balance "the constitutional privacy rights of the mothers with the constitutional identity rights of the children".

He said that failure to include that balance risked the legislation being found unconstitutional.

The bill includes a mandatory information session on adopted people whose birth parents have registered a "no contact" preference.

The Clann Project has previously described the proposal of these sessions as "deeply insulting".

In June, Co-director Claire McGettrick said its function appeared to be to ensure that adopted people understood the concept of privacy.

Today, the Minister said the information session was necessary and a "minimal mechanism" to achieve the full release of information to all adopted parents.

"I stand behind it as fair and compassionate way to communicate with an applicant that a parent has asserted a preference not to be contacted", he said.

He added that a written statement appended to the information does not adequately fulfil the State's obligation to convey the mother’s request for no contact and is not the correct way to communicate this type of information.

"Previous attempts to legislate were severely criticised for processes that were more adversarial that were viewed as pitting a mother and an adopted person against each other and not offering a guarantee of released information in every case", he said.

The Minister also told the Committee that there are some mothers who experienced a crisis pregnancy who had little or no choices or support and the Department had received anonymous calls from women in that position.

"There is a very human dimension to this that goes to the very core of this debate about balancing of rights. That particular group of mothers has lived with pain, hurt and fear."