The Irish Examiner first wrote about Tressa Reeves in 2010. Her case sparked the first-ever audit of records by the then Adoption Board and highlighted again Ireland’s murky adoption history.
Now, almost a decade later, the issue of illegal birth registrations and the agency at the heart of her son’s illegal adoption — St Patrick’s Guild — are finally coming under the Government’s spotlight.
Following a journey involving religious secrecy, denial, an illegal adoption and a false birth registration, Tressa registered her son as her own in October, 2009. She was 70. He was 48.
In 1960, at age 20 and unmarried, she became pregnant. She had been involved in a relationship with an older man that did not last.
Given the stigma at the time, Tressa’s mother made arrangements with nuns in their local convent in England and she was sent to Dublin to enable the birth to be hidden from relatives and for the child to be placed for adoption.
Her son André was born in 1961, when Tressa was just 21.
She baptised him alone in a room of the Dublin nursing home she was staying in. She called him André because she felt the name would be unusual enough
to be able to find him again.
Just hours after giving birth he was placed in the care of the St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency in Dublin. In its offices she signed consent forms which, she presumed, would allow for her son to be legally adopted.
However, in 1997, more than 30 years later, she discovered the agency had allowed for her son to be illegally adopted.
In short, a couple seeking a child was given the baby boy by the agency to register as if he was born to them and no formal adoption order was ever made.
It took another four years for St Patrick’s Guild to inform Tressa that André’s birth was falsely and illegally registered through the nursing home where she gave birth. This was done without her knowledge or consent and had the effect of removing all legal evidence that Tressa ever had a child. Her son would have no idea that he was even adopted.
Even though the Adoption Act of 1952 was introduced to ensure such activity did not occur, St Patrick’s Guild admitted to Tressa that it allowed other children to be placed in the same way, including another boy to the same family that took André.
Despite this, St Patrick’s Guild remained a fully accredited adoption agency by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) under the new Adoption Act in 2010. The agency finally closed in 2014 and its records transferred to Tusla in 2016.
For Tressa getting André’s birth certificate in October 2009, (pictured bottom left) was the day the State recognised what she had battled for.
“I was very moved,” she says. “I didn’t think I was going to be. It was a piece of paper I had been trying to get for a long time. We went into this office and we talked to this very nice lady and I signed something. She went out and brought this piece of paper in and I burst into tears. It was amazing. It actually hit me then that the whole thing wasn’t just something that is going on over there in Ireland but that this is my life.
“It’s difficult to explain. I was very shocked and disturbed by it, that all this really happened.”
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