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Illegal adoption investigator strongly objected to redaction of institution names in report

The report was published with the names of the institutions redacted.

Image: RollingNews.ie

THE INDEPENDENT REVIEWER tasked with examining Irish birth registrations as part of a probe into potentially illegal adoptions strongly objected to the names of institutions being redacted from her final report.  

Ahead of its publication, the author Marion Reynolds told the Department of Children she did not agree with anonymising the names of institutions involved in her sample review.

Following discussions and ‘unease’ at Cabinet this week, The Journal has learned how she made it clear that if redactions were made ahead of publication, she would like her name removed from the document. 

The report was published with the names of the institutions redacted. Reynolds’ name remains on the report, but did not appear in the Department’s accompanying press release.

Inquiry

Following the discovery of illegal birth registrations at St Patrick’s Guild in Dublin, the Government appointed Reynolds to conduct an analysis of other adoption records to determine how widespread the practice may have been.

Although the review did not find conclusive markers to confirm illegal birth registrations, it discovered a significant number of files with “suspicious” markers within its 1,496-strong sample. From there, it estimated that between 5,500 and 20,000 files in the wider archive could potentially be from illegal adoptions in at least 25 adoption agencies. 

The review recommended against a full comprehensive review of all records, saying, among other reasons, that it would impact service users of Tusla. However, it said that the State should correct birth certificates where possible and establish procedures to allow those affected by illegal registrations to access their records. 

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has acknowledged “significant concerns” remain in relation to birth records and illegal adoptions.

Independence

Reynolds, a former deputy director of social services in Northern Ireland, was appointed as the independent reviewer under the last government, by former minister for children Katherine Zappone in 2018.

She completed her work in 2019 but the final report was only published on Tuesday. 

A number of weeks ago, Reynolds was requested by the Department to make a number of redactions to the report to enable its publication. 

However, it’s believed she deemed the request inappropriate, taking particular issue with the suggested redaction of names of agencies which appeared in Tusla’s record sampling report (included as part of the overall report’s appendices). 

It is understood the reviewer’s practice is to avoid redactions where possible, and that she had advised the Adoption Agency of Ireland and Tulsa that she would publish their respective reports about the sampling process in full. 

Sources say she advised the Department of Children that she was unwilling to redact any of the information, and that if any changes such as this were made to the report – despite her objection – she would wish to have her name removed from it.

It’s believed the author was given written assurances by the department that this would be the case. 

Following a request for comment about the post-publication disagreement, Reynolds clarified to The Journal that she was able to act independently in producing the report but confirmed she did voice concerns about redactions. 

She noted that the draft report on illegal adoptions was checked for factual accuracy by the Adoption Agency of Ireland and Tulsa. It had also gone through all the requisite Departmental checks prior to it being finalised in May 2019.

She requested her name to be removed from the report as it was going to be amended without consent. It is thought that she believes this to have compromised its independence. 

It was the view of the investigator that the independent report should remain independent at all times. Issue was also taken that the department made no indication of what changes to the report were made, or the reason in each instance for doing so.

In July 2019, when Zappone and her officials met with Reynolds to discuss the final report, issues relating to redaction were not raised.

The publication of the report was delayed somewhat as the government deemed that it should be released after the publication of the Mother and Baby Home Commission report.

Cabinet

It is understood there was some “unease” at this week’s Cabinet meeting when ministers were informed that the author of the sample review of illegal birth registrations did not want to put her name to the report if redactions were made to her work. 

The discussion was had in the wake of a number of survivors criticising the Mother and Baby Home report for inaccuracies in relation to their testimonies. There was also controversy over voice recordings of their testimonies being destroyed, and copies of testimonies not being made available to the women. 

Senior government sources were of the view that the level of criticism of the Mother and Baby Home Commission may be having a “chilling effect” now on other authors covering similar issues. 

Reynolds has categorically told this website that this was not the case.

It is understood that those that expressed a view around the Cabinet table yesterday “weren’t happy” with the request to omit the author’s name from the report.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Children’s Minister told TheJournal.ie that prior to publication of the sampling review, three categories of “minimal, necessary changes” were made. 

According to the Department of Children, the changes were as follows:

  • Removal of one reference to an individual whose identity is uncertain, on legal advice;
  • Removal of a reference to legal advice, on legal advice;
  • Anonymising names of institutions, to protect the anonymity of the adopted persons whose files were reviewed.

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“The reviewer expressed her view that if the review was published with changes, she did not wish to have her name on the report.

“The Government took the decision to publish the report, including her name. However, in light of the concerns expressed, the name was not included on the press release,” the statement added.

Publication

The press release on the report issued this week does not mention the author, Reynolds, but instead mentions the ‘Independent Reviewer’ seven times. 

When asked this week if those who had their files reviewed had been informed of the suspicious markers found on files, a government spokesperson said: 

“The markers that were identified as suspicious did not necessary indicate an illegal adoption. The purpose of the review was to examine whether there were markers that suggested possible evidence of illegal birth registrations on files.

It was not to establish whether each specific case was an illegal birth registration, which would have necessitated further detailed work.”

A government spokesperson said: “The independent reviewer was Marion Reynolds and she was named on the cover page of the report published today by the department.”

Reynolds has said the important issue now is how the State now acts to secure all records and to work assiduously to bring resolution to the many people adversely impacted by illegal birth registrations, and anything that diminishes this focus would be extremely unfortunate. 

Focus should remain on righting the wrong done to mothers and their children as urgently as possible, she made clear to this website.

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