Finally, Ireland is listening to long-ignored campaigners

Speaking to adoption campaigners in the last 24 hours about the St Patrick’s Guild revelations, you are met with a mixture of bemusement and amusement.

They’ve been around this block many times before. They’re wondering why everyone is so shocked.

They have spent years bringing St Patrick’s Guild and other agencies to the attention of numerous ministers.

They got nowhere.

For years, they have raised the issue of illegal registrations and, crucially, other forms of illegal adoption.

Nobody listened.

They have called for an audit of adoption records for the best part of decades.

They were told it would be of little benefit.

Yet, here we are. We now have an official acknowledgement that not only did illegal registrations occur in St Patrick’s Guild. We now have the audit that we were told would be of little benefit.

However, it has to go beyond a mere scoping exercise and become a full audit of all adoption records held by the State. It also has to look for other forms of illegal adoption beyond illegal birth registrations.

Adoptions were contracted on the basis of extremely questionable consents, sometimes in false names.

They were also granted where the mother consenting was a minor.

They were granted in the absence of birth certificates of any kind and in the case of children whose parents were married.

Illegal registrations are convenient for the State as no adoption order took place and, in a sense, the State is off the hook. However, a point lost in the debate over the last 24 hours is that St Patrick’s Guild and, indeed, other adoption agencies like it, were State-regulated and accredited.

The Adoption Board — the precursor to the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) — had the power to inspect and copy all files held by agencies it accredited.

When the Adoption Act, 2010, came into force, St Patrick’s Guild was the very first agency accredited by the AAI under the legislation.

At that point, St Patrick’s Guild had already admitted that it allowed Tressa Reeves’ son to have his birth illegally registered and admitted that it had placed another child in the same way. The AAI carried out an audit in 2010 on the back of that case and found some 120 similar cases.

Were St Patrick’s Guild files ever inspected and copied in the years between 2010 and it’s closure in 2014? Were any cases connected to it ever reported to the gardaí. It would appear not.

Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay described the illegal adoption scandal as “one of the stones that we didn’t want to turn over in Ireland” and that as many as 15,000 illegal adoptions could be uncovered.

He could well be right. People have been trying to turn over that stone. Finally, they are being listened to.

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