Grave injustice as adopted people must continue fight for their rights

Grave injustice as adopted people must continue fight for their rights
Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane at the graveside at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, at a private memorial for her son Anthony Lee (Michael Hess) who was lost to her by forced adoption in the mid 1950s. Picture: Mark Stedman/Photocall.

For those of us who have been involved in adoption activism over the past two decades, it often feels as though the Government is engaged in a war of attrition against adopted people, writes Claire McGettrick.

Every day is like Groundhog Day; time and again we submit witness testimony and documentary evidence, as well as comprehensive analyses and legal arguments pointing out the flaws in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, but it seems to matter not a whit.

Instead, the Government is determinedly clinging to a paradigm which insists that adopted people and their natural mothers are on opposing sides: the needy adopted person versus the natural mother who is petrified of an adult child turning up on her doorstep unannounced.

The UK Children Act 1975 granted adopted people in England and Wales the right to access their birth certificates. Under the legislation, adopted people born before 1975 have to undergo a compulsory counselling session prior to obtaining their birth certificates.

Researchers Erica Haimes and Noel Timms found that the focus onconflating the right to identity with the presumption that the adopted person will insist on a relationship with their natural parents “unduly emphasises” a psychopathological image of the adopted person.

They argue that ‘instead of a picture of adoptees as “psychological vagrants” rushing around looking for a new set of family relationships, a more rational picture is available: that is, of adoptees seeking to place themselves socially.

The “psychological vagrants” paradigm permeates a discussion of adoption in The Irish Times of July 4, in which Dr Evelyn Mahon alleges that for many natural mothers, “their adoption decision was a deal with a guarantee of secrecy”.

In practice such a guarantee could never have been given as birth registrations have been public records since 1864. Indeed, Mahon’s own research on women in crisis pregnancy contradicts her claim.

The co-authored study, now 21 years old, included interviews with a cohort of 11 pregnant women who were considering adoption.

There is no evidence in Mahon’s findings to suggest that the participants sought secrecy from their own children. On the contrary, it appears that the possibility of having future contact with their children was a factor which led the women to consider adoption over other routes (such as abortion).

Mahon and her colleagues observed that the women considering adoption felt “encouraged” that it “offered [them] the opportunity to reinstate contact with their child at a later stage”. This does not tally with Mahon’s erroneous contention in her recent op-ed that the prospect of contact with their adult children would cause “suffering”to natural mothers.

Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and its predecessor organisations have repeatedly asked for documentary evidence that natural mothers were guaranteed secrecy from their children. The Government has yet to produce such evidence.

In fact, many natural mothers insist they were forced to swear not to make contact with their children in the future.

The multi-award winning Clann Project, was a joint initiative by ARA, Justice for Magdalenes Research and global law firm, Hogan Lovells.

The Clann Project spoke with 164 witnesses and completed over 80 sworn statements, which were submitted to the ongoing Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. The natural mothers who spoke to Clann vividly depict a system of forced adoption in Ireland, and many say they did not give their informed consent.

One woman says that her six-week-old son “was wrenched from my breast by one of the nuns whilst I was breastfeeding him and taken away for adoption”.

Another said she was “terrified” when a nun “dragged” her down to an office and “forced” her to sign the adoption papers.

The testimony of natural mothers is also corroborated by documentary evidence. For example, the adoption form signed by Philomena Lee is reproduced on the inside cover of Martin Sixsmith’s The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.

It reads: “I...undertake never to attempt to see, interfere with or make any claim to the said child at any future time”.

Natural mothers’ testimony is further validated in the literature used to advise on best practice by Irish social workers. In 1952, Fr Cecil Barrett, adviser to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, published a guide to adoption practice for Catholic social workers.

Barrett devoted an entire section to the issue of secrecy, which is discussed in the context of women and girls wishing to keep the news of their pregnancy from their parents. There is no suggestion that natural mothers wanted their children to be prevented from contacting them.

Instead, it is abundantly clear that the veil of secrecy was in place in order to ensure a “successful” adoption without interference from the natural mother:

“She must surrender her child completely to have himreared…by adoptive parents who will be absolute strangers to her…She will never see her child again…she must give him up forever: she may never claim him back.”

Contrary to the dominant paradigm, a significant number of natural mothers wish to seek out their adult children but feel powerless to do so, and when they do, they are confronted by numerous obstacles.

Furthermore, in all cases ARA is aware of, when a natural parent makes an enquiry, social workers have contacted the adoptive parents rather than the adult adopted person themselves.

Adopted people are not psychological vagrants demanding the right to a relationship; they are simply seeking the same rights to their personal data as every other Irish citizen.

The Government’s insistence on propagating the stereotype of natural mothers who are terrified of their own children is untenable; it represents a grave injustice against both mothers and adopted people — an injustice at the hands of the very State that failed to protect them in the first place.

Claire McGettrick is an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholar at the School of Sociology in University College Dublin and is co-founder of Adoption Rights Alliance and Justice for Magdalenes.

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