State ‘prioritising liability over adoption rights’

Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

The State has been accused of being more concerned with managing the “potential scandal and legal liability” of illegal adoption, birth registration, and other coercive adoption practices than helping victims.

The claim has been made by James Gallen, the expert appointed by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone to advise on a transitional justice model to the issue of Mother and Baby Homes.

It highlighted the case of Jackie Power (not her real name), who was told to sign a bogus name on an adoption consent form in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in 1974. As a result, all the documentation that followed — including her son’s birth certificate and adoption order was falsified.

In February 2017, instructions were issued via email to a Tusla staff member dealing with Jackie’s her case to refer to it and others like only as “possible” illegal registrations.

A later email to the staff member indicates that the language choice was because of the concern that “stuff is FOI-able... and it could be used against us if someone takes a case... the AAI [Adoption Authority of Ireland] are only ones to determine if registration is illegal or not so we hold our powder, that’s the thinking anyway so”.

Mr Gallen said the case demonstrated that the State was more interested in managing a potential scandal than helping families.

“The documents obtained by Jackie under FoI requests demonstrate that State authorities remain uninterested in serving the needs of assisting families in receiving information about their members and instead privilege the management of potential scandal and legal liability in cases of potential illegal adoptions, false registrations or other coercive adoption practices,” he said.

“The failure of State authorities to act in a case as well documented and egregious as Jackie’s misses a critical opportunity to demonstrate that the State has changed, that it is willing and able to redress cases involving its potential prior wrongdoing,"he said.

Mr Gallen said “the State simply doesn’t get it” and pointed to the fact that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has committed to a “transitional justice” approach to the Mother and Baby homes scandal.

“Talk of transitional justice is fundamentally undermined when the ongoing relationship between citizens and the State is one where the interests of an individual are countered by the desire to maintain the reputation of institutions,” said Mr Gallen.

The process of how citizens are treated matters as much as the outcome. This desire is especially evident in the current practices in disabling individuals from obtaining access to their adoption files and treated as a problem to be solved instead of a citizen to be served.

Dr Gallen said the lack of reporting about the modern day awareness of illegal adoptions revealed “an invidious discrimination in how victims-survivors of historical wrongs are treated”.

"It took Ireland over 10 years of investigating child abuse in the Ryan Commission to commit to a mandatory reporting of allegations of child abuse.

"Yet it has not led to a culture where allegations of wrongdoing elsewhere in the State apparatus leads to a mandatory disclosure to the individuals concerns and relevant authorities, but instead demonstrates attempts to minimise wrongdoing and make it as difficult as possible for individuals such as Jackie to have effective rights to truth, information and family life,” he said.

In a statement, the department said it “cannot comment on individual cases” and pointed out that a scoping exercise into illegal registrations is ongoing.

*This name has been changed to protect the identity of the woman involved

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