Thousands may have been illegally adopted

A scoping exercise into hundreds of thousands of the State’s adoption records may reveal thousands of people who have no idea they were illegally adopted.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone revealed that Tusla had identified 126 cases where people had their births illegally registered between 1946 and 1969.

The cases were identified during an analysis of some 13,500 adoption records that were transferred to Tusla by the former adoption society, St Patrick’s Guild.

Illegal birth registrations occur where a child is placed with a couple or individual that are not the parents or parent, but the birth is then registered as if the child had been born to that couple or individual.

Following an initial examination, Tusla identified the illegal registrations because there was a marker specifying ‘adopted from birth’ on the individual file.

Having cross-checked the records with those of the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and the General Register Office (GRO), Tusla identified 126 incorrect registrations as follows:

  • Nine people who have had no contact with St Patrick’s Guild and may be entirely unaware of the true circumstances of their birth;
  • 14 people where a relative had contact with St Patrick’s Guild, but where it is not clear whether the person affected are aware of the incorrect registration;
  • 31 people who have had previous contact with St Patrick’s Guild and who may or may not be aware of the incorrect registration;
  • Two people who, though later adopted legally, were the subject of an illegal registration initially;
  • In the case of a further 16 people, Tusla found insufficient evidence to determine whether an illegal registration had taken place.

Of the 126 cases, it was confirmed 20 children were placed outside of Ireland. Seven went to the North, 11 to Britain, and one to the US. 

Tusla is expected to publish details soon of how they will contact people. It has notified the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes, and transferred relevant records to it. Gardaí were first contacted in February about the cases and on their request, 10 sample files were sent on.

The Irish Examiner revealed in 2015 that an AAI delegation told representatives of the Department of Children and the GRO in June 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was aware of several hundred cases of illegal birth registrations.

At that time, the department said an audit of adoption records “would yield little useful information”, as there would be “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” on the files.

However, Ms Zappone yesterday committed to a sampling exercise of the approximately 150,000 adoption records held by the State to ascertain if a full audit is required. 

This will be carried out in the first instance by Tusla and the AAI and will be overseen and quality-assured by an independent reviewer, Marion Reynolds, a former deputy director of Social Services in the North.

Ms Zappone said more victims of illegal registrations may be identified.

“I have tried to put myself in the shoes of those who are going to be given this news,” she said.

“Quite frankly, it is impossible. Our identity goes to the heart of who we are. For people who are in middle age or older, to be told at this stage in their lives that their parents are not their birth parents and that their births were deliberately falsely registered, this will be nothing short of traumatic for them and those around them.

“It is hard to estimate the true extent of incorrect registrations of birth because this practice was concealed.”

AAI chairman Geoffrey Shannon said it was crucial the scale of illegal registrations was “comprehensively addressed”.

“The sampling exercise its an exercise that will determine the scale and the extent of any illegal registration process, that involves a process that will be overseen by an independent person which will ensure transparency and public confidence in that system,” he said. 

“It’s very difficult at this stage to determine whether the practice was systemic practice or it was confined to an agency, but I think a robust process has been put in place to determine that issue.”

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