The revelation that potentially thousands of people may have had their births falsified so they could be illegally adopted may have profound legal consequences — including for inheritance rights.
On Tuesday, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone revealed that Tusla had uncovered 126 cases where births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 in the records of St Patrick’s Guild. The records transferred to the agency in 2016.
Writing in this newspaper, solicitor Rossa McMahon of PG McMahon Solicitors says a redress scheme is likely to be needed to deal with the “appalling vista” of illegal adoptions. He writes that there could be “significant difficulties” with regard to inheritance.
“While a biological or legally adopted child is entitled to a share of the estate if there is no will, or has a right to seek provision from the estate if there was, the illegally adopted child has no such share and no such right,” states Mr McMahon.
“On the other hand, because no adoption order was made, the people involved remain children of their biological parents and if those parents died without making a will they were entitled to a share of the estate.
“The reality, given the time periods involved, is that it is probably too late for such children to take estate actions for these claims for parents already dead and the practical issues and costs involved raise a significant barrier for most.”
Mr McMahon says there are other legal consequences flowing from these cases.
“Tusla says it will give affected people the information they hold about them but that the amount of information shared will be decided on a case-by-case basis on principles of best practice,” he writes.
“It is not clear what best practice is involved or what legal basis exists for limiting the provision of information to the parties affected.”
“Because they were never adopted, the limitations on information sharing that apply to adoption cases do not arise.
"Social workers will deal with these cases but it is not clear that the information obtained from St Patrick’s Guild is social work data for data protection purposes and it might not be exempt from the disclosure requirements of the GDPR if sought by the parties.”
The Department of Children said it will consider giving support on inheritance “if it emerges as a significant issue”.
The Irish Examiner revealed documented evidence of illegal registrations at St Patrick’s Guild as far back as 2010.
This led to an audit by the Adoption Authority (AAI) which ultimately revealed 120 illegal registrations cases.
The AAI carried out a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered, but because of the transfer of senior personnel and the “pressure on resources”, no further action was taken.
This was notified to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2011.
The Irish Examiner revealed in 2015 that the AAI informed the department in 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was aware of “several hundred” illegal registrations in 2015.
At that time, the department advised that an audit of adoption records was of “limited benefit” and would yield little useful information”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved