Minister for Housing, Roderic O'Gorman

O’Gorman identifies new problem: “Birth Mothers” is an offensive term

Amidst a crime crisis, an electricity crisis, the likely loss of our keystone corporation tax rate, the aftermath of the longest lockdown in the western world, record waiting lists, record homelessness, and record house prices, it really comforts the soul to know that Ireland’s political leaders are focused on the issues that matter to each and every one of us:

CHILDREN’S MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has said the term “birth mother” is “reductive and hurtful”, adding that an alternative term should be used.

O’Gorman is set to discuss the Birth Information and Tracing Bill at a meeting of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee this afternoon.

The long-awaited legislation will enshrine in law a right for adopted people to access their birth certificates, and birth and early life information.

The Bill will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny before an Oireachtas vote.

In his speech at the committee meeting, O’Gorman is expected to address “the deeply sensitive issue of the term ‘birth mother’ which is used in the Heads of Bill”.

Is “birth mother” offensive? It’s a conundrum, to be sure. After all, what are the alternatives? “Natural mother” might be one, but that has real problems, because it implies that adoptive motherhood is not “natural”. What about “Genetic mother”? Well, that might pose problems for people born of surrogacy, aside from the fact that it is horribly cold and clinical. “Mother who gave you up for adoption”? Well, that is just a constant reminder of a painful fact.

Of all the potential choices, “birth mother” is probably a phrase we use for a reason. It refers to a real phenomenon, which is that some women historically put – or were forced to put – their child up for adoption. It refers to the important role that those women played in their children’s lives. It does not denigrate, in any way, adoptive mothers. It is hard to see what is offensive about it to any normal person, unless that person is actively seeking reasons to be offended. Which is, of course, more and more common these days.

But aside from the issue at hand, it also speaks to a wider and more troubling trend in politics, which is the almost obsessive focus on small, symbolic, utterly unimportant issues, at the expense of dealing with big problems. The Irish Government devotes immense energy to such issues: Consider, for example, the now three year long, fruitless struggle to ban protests outside abortion centres. Or the constant attention given to a potential referendum to remove the constitutional reference to the role of women in the home. Or the very great political weight attached to legislation around gender quotas.

All of those issues matter to a small, loud, usually privileged, sect. They do nothing whatever to alleviate the many victims of Ireland’s real problems – the homeless, the unemployed, the victims of crime, or those who face the prospect of electricity blackouts.

They all speak, very strongly, to the dominance in Ireland of left wing NGOs and pressure groups which, in order to justify their existence, must constantly find new problems to campaign on, and new ways to make Ireland “more compassionate and kind”. The Government seems powerless to resist.

Indeed, such frivolities are very attractive to politicians: Changing “birth mothers” to something else, or passing a law about gender quotas, or proposing a referendum, are all very easy. There is no financial impact. They generate public debate. They result in oodles of praise, and it is very likely that some fool will call you “brave” for “tackling a thorny issue”. Over the past 20 years, Irish politicians have become addicted to issues like these. That’s one explanation for why the country is in its present, somewhat unhappy, state.

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