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Illegal adoption investigator says she was treated 'disrespectfully and in an unprofessional manner' by Dept

She lodged a complaint about the department’s ‘failure to comply with the assurances’ provided to her.

Ahead of the report's publication, the author Marion Reynolds strongly objected to the names of institutions being redacted from her final report.
Ahead of the report's publication, the author Marion Reynolds strongly objected to the names of institutions being redacted from her final report.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE INDEPENDENT REVIEWER tasked with examining Irish birth registrations as part of a probe into potentially illegal adoptions told the Department of Children that she felt she was treated “disrespectfully and in an unprofessional manner”. 

Ahead of its publication, the author Marion Reynolds strongly objected to the names of institutions being redacted from her final report. 

The Journal previously reported how Reynolds made it clear that if redactions were made ahead of publication, she wanted her name removed from the document.

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

Reynolds’ name remained on the report, following a Cabinet meeting at which ministers decided her name would be published, despite her objections. Instead, her name did not appear in the Department’s accompanying press release.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Reynolds stated she wanted to make a complaint about the way in which she was treated. 

In correspondence seen by The Journal, Reynolds was reassured several times, including the day before the report was published, that her name would be removed from the final report, in accordance with her wishes. 

When she was informed that the decision had been overturned by Cabinet, Reynolds noted her dissatisfaction, stating that she wished to make a complaint. She was directed to the Department of Children’s customer service section to complain. 

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.

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 9 March this year.  

At the end of February, Reynolds was informed the Department of Children wanted to make a “few minor changes” which “the minister has decided upon”.

In an email, she was told that a list of the changes could be provided to her.

She told the department official that should the minister wish to make changes to her final report she wanted her name “removed from the report”. 

The principal officer in the department said she would like to discuss the matter with Reynolds as it was going to Cabinet the following week.

Redactions made

The list of changes to the report were provided to Reynolds on 22 February.

One document stated that once the report was received, it was sent to the Attorney General and a “small number” of changes were made, following receipt of advice from the AG. 

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.

adoption Explanation given to Renolds on redacting the names of institutions.

Responding to the list of changes, Reynolds said she did not agree with removing the names of the institutions from the Tusla appendix or making other suggested changes.

“As you are aware the draft report was provided to the agencies and the Department for
accuracy checks prior to its completion. I also understand that Departmental solicitor’s
office also scrutinised the report,” she said in an email.

She referred to a debate in May 2019 in which Minister Zappone contributed in the Dáil, and stated that the report had been scrutinised legally, due to protection concerns, but she told the Dáil that these had been overcome.

“I appreciate that one Minister cannot bind the hands of another. As an independent reviewer I do, however, see no reason to make any changes to the Final Report especially given the processes completed prior to it being finalised. I hope you will understand and accept my position,” said Reynolds.

The department official responded by stating that they wanted to reassure Reynolds that the changes proposed were not editorial in any way, but were “minimal redactions” which anonymised the names of the institutions so as to anonymise the individuals involved, and also removed any reference to legal advice of the AG, and to two named individuals.

The department maintained that the changes did not in any way undermine the report or change its substance. In an email to Reynolds, the department official said she hoped this  “allayed any concerns regarding your name remaining on the report”.

Removal of name

However, Reynolds said her position remained unchanged and she did not want her name associated with a report that would be modified by the department. 

“I do not wish to have my name associated with the report, should the proposed changes go ahead,” she said.

“It is my view that the Minister and the Department has a responsibility to respect my professional integrity in this regard.

“As you know I am committed to openness and transparency. When I undertook the
sampling exercise I was aware of concerns related to transparency, particularly from those impacted adversely by illegal birth registrations.”

She said given her position, she would now not be able to respond or deal with any
queries arising from the report.

In addition, she noted that such correspondence could be released under the Freedom of Information Act, as it has been in this incidence. 

“Finally, I wish to place on record my concerns about the handling and publication of the
findings. In the event of a Freedom of Information request I appreciate that my views
could become public,” she said.

The department official then said she wanted to clarify if Reynolds wanted her name on the report or not. Reynolds confirmed she did not want her name on the report if the changes were made. 

In an email sent on 5 March, Reynolds was told that the Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman was intending to seek Cabinet approval for publication of the report on 9 March.

She was told in the email that the minister had noted her request that her name be removed from the report, and that her request would be respected.

“Your name will be removed from the report as published,” said the department official.

On 8 March, Reynolds asked for clarity that all identifying information be removed, and this was confirmed by the department. 

However, on 9 March, Reynolds was told that Cabinet had approved the publication of the report. She received an email stating:

“I must inform you of the decision of the Cabinet that your name should remain on the report. Your name will not appear on the related press release.”

‘Unease’ at Cabinet 

It is understood there was some “unease” at the 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  “weren’t happy” with the request to omit the author’s name from the report.

Following the news that her name would not be omitted from her modified report, Reynolds said in an email to the same department official that her request not to be identified with the sampling report “was not respected, despite repeated confirmation from you that this would be the case”.

“As you know I did not agree to redactions in the report or its Appendices. I am committed to openness and transparency. I regard these values as essential to my professional integrity,” she said, stating that it was for this reason that she wanted her name and any identifiable information removed from the report, which she said she no longer wished to be associated with.

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“I feel I have been treated disrespectfully and in an unprofessional manner. Today, no
attempt was made to contact me to advise of the Department resiling from its agreement
with me. This lack of openness meant I was denied an opportunity to take action to prevent the use of my name. I further note that no information was provided on the Department’s website to distance me from the changes made to the report without my consent,” she added.

Complaint

Reynolds said she wished to lodge a formal complaint about the department’s “failure to comply with the assurances provided to me”.

She said her personal information was used without her consent, stating that it was now a data protection issue, and asked for details on the department’s complaints procedure.

The department said Reynolds name was not included in the press release on the sampling review and no contact details were provided by the Department.

However, Reynolds said the removal of her name from a press briefing did not, in her opinion, adequately address the fact that her information was used by the Cabinet without her consent.

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

In a following email, Reynolds was directed towards the department’s customer service, section, where complaints procedures and contact details for the complaints officer are held. 

Further correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act show that in July 2019, in a meeting with the then Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, Reynolds said the process of examining a sample of files for this process was “so resource intensive that it almost closed down the AAI and Tusla and that this meant that people had been denied access to current services from those organisations”.

In her view, the best way forward following the publication of her report, that rather than a full examination of all files, and given the age and vulnerability of the individuals concerned, that people with suspicions that their birth is illegal registered, or that their child’s birth has been illegally registered, should come forward and be fast tracked for a
tracing service.

However, during that meeting Reynolds said it is important to recognise that many people do not realise their birth was illegally registered.

Reynolds confirmed that trawling through all of the records would not best serve people today, given the impact it would have on current services.

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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