The State has been aware illegal birth registrations were carried out to arrange illegal adoptions for decades.
Documented cases of illegal registrations relating specifically to St Patrick’s Guild have been reported by this newspaper since 2010.
It is worth revisiting just what the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), and numerous ministers have known about this issue before now.
Let’s take it back 20 years, for the purposes of brevity.
In 2010, the Irish Examiner broke a story about Tressa Reeves — how in 1960, St Patrick’s Guild facilitated the illegal adoption of her son through an illegal birth registration.
St Patrick’s Guild has admitted this in 1997. In 2001, Sr Frances Fahy of the agency admitted to Tressa in writing that: “In the course of my work here, I have found that there were a number of babies for whom this arrangement was made.”
So St Patrick’s Guild was admitting to these cases at least as early as 2001.
Tressa’s case sparked the first-ever audit of records by the then Adoption Board. The audit uncovered approximately 99 cases, while a further 20 were identified in the following years.
In a report prepared for the department in June 2011, the AAI said it considered carrying out a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered, but because of the transfer of senior personnel and the “pressure on resources of the imminent establishment of the Adoption Authority, no further action was taken”.
At a meeting with representatives of the department and the General Registration Office in June 2013, the AAI again told the department it was aware of “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations.
It specifically named St Patrick’s Guild in Dublin as being “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, stating that the agency “are not seeking the people involved” but were, rather, “waiting for people to contact them”.
This newspaper specifically asked about St Patrick’s Guild in 2015 — would the people who had their births illegally registered be informed; would an audit of records be carried out?
The department said any investigation into the issue would have to be cognisant of the impact it would have on the victim. It also said “the wider impact on families that may have sought to surround the identity of a child in secrecy must also be considered”.
It said, on more than one occasion, that an audit of adoption records would be “of very limited benefit” and would “yield little useful information”.
This paper then revealed earlier this week that Tusla kept a register of suspected illegal adoptions and illegal birth registrations in 2016. When asked about the existence of such a register in May 2017, it denied one was kept. This week, it again denied it holds such a register, but said that, in mid- to late 2016, it did “consider tracking anomalies/issues of concern” as they were notified to the national manager for adoption to ensure procedures were being followed.
Tusla said it would not be making “any further comment on the issue of incorrect registrations of birth”.
And here is the scary bit.
St Patrick’s Guild is just one agency.
For example, the Adoption Rights Alliance has compiled a list of 182 institutions, agencies, and individuals that were involved with unmarried mothers and their children. This list includes 57 private homes or facilitators, and the location of the records associated with these institutions remains unknown.
Illegal registrations are just one way in which illegal adoptions were contracted. This will only get bigger.