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St Patrick's Guild

'It's an insult': €3,000 payment for people who were illegally adopted criticised

The payments will only apply to people whose illegal adoptions were facilitated by St Patrick’s Guild.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Mar 2022

A REPORT BY the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has recommended that a State inquiry into illegal adoptions be established.

Professor Conor O’Mahony has also called for a State apology to be made to the people affected. His report was completed in September 2021 but was published today after being reviewed by the Government in recent months.

In response to O’Mahony’s report, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman confirmed that the Government will set up a scheme whereby people affected by illegal birth registrations will receive one-off payments of €3,000.

However, the payments will only apply to people whose illegal adoptions were facilitated by St Patrick’s Guild, not all organisations which engaged in the practice.

These payments will represent a contribution towards costs which may arise in relation to DNA testing or legal fees which may be incurred in respect of seeking information on the implications of their birth registration in the context of their particular individual circumstances.

Illegal birth registrations were not limited to St Patrick’s Guild, with a number of other organisations believed to have also engaged in the practice.

The official Government response has not committed to a State apology.

Kathleen Funchion, Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Children, today called on the Government to immediately implement recommendations from the report.

Funchion also said the €3,000 once-off payment to a selection of the people affected is “an insult”.

“This, accompanied by the deeply flawed Birth Information and Tracing Legislation currently before the Children’s Committee, is for many another disappointing blow, and all too familiar for many survivors.

“For decades now, adopted people have been calling for a full and comprehensive investigation into the practices of agencies and individuals involved in the adoption trade in Ireland. They also called on the State to take responsibility for the part it played.

“However, it wasn’t until RTÉ Investigates brought some heat on the issue late last year that the Government took some action.

“The State was aware of this criminal practice; they knew for decades and did nothing,” Funchion said.

Illegal registrations occurred when a birth certificate was falsified to register a child as having been born to their adoptive parents. It is believed that up to tens of thousands of children in Ireland were illegally adopted in the twentieth century.

O’Mahony was tasked with reviewing the situation after a report published in March 2021 found that up 20,000 files related to adoptions carried out via St Patrick’s Guild Adoption Society may contain “suspicious” markers that indicate an irregularity occurred.

The previous review, carried out by independent reviewer Marion Reynolds, found a significant number of files with “suspicious” markers within the sample examined, with the report estimating that between 5,500 and 20,000 files may have similar issues within the wider archives.

On foot of Reynold’s review, O’Mahony was tasked with considering “the very significant complexities and challenges, including the deep ethical issues” which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations.

The 38-page report, seen by The Journal, will be officially published at 3.30pm today.

In the report, O’Mahony notes: “Every person has a legal right to have their identity (including their parentage and their date and place of birth) accurately recorded.

“The Irish State is obliged to take measures to ensure that this occurs; to mitigate risks that birth registrations may be falsified; and to investigate and remedy instances of incorrect registration.”

O’Mahony states that, “in spite of having knowledge since the early 1950s of the possible existence of a practice of illegal birth registrations, and having received an actual admission of the practice as early as 1992, the State failed until 2010 at the earliest to take sufficient steps to prevent the practice; to investigate its scale; or to remedy its effects.”

He continues: “These failures exacerbated the impact of illegal birth registration on the persons affected and amounted to a violation of the right to identity under domestic and international law. It is incumbent on the State to take all practicable measures to remedy these violations without further delay.

“It is a matter for persons affected by the practice of illegal birth registrations to indicate whether they wish to receive a State apology. Should such an apology be requested, it should be forthcoming. However, apologies carry little weight unless backed by practical measures to remedy the rights violation in question.

“As such, the State should implement measures aimed at the identification, so far as possible, of cases of illegal birth registration; informing individuals affected; and correcting the register of births.”

Violation of human rights

The report notes that successive Irish governments were aware of the practice of illegal birth registration and failed to adequately remedy the related human rights violations.

This inaction has exacerbated the impact on affected individuals and denied many people the opportunity to find and meet biological family members.

The practice of illegal birth registration has been a criminal offence in Ireland since 1874.

“It violates the right to identity of the children affected, and often results in considerable trauma when adults learn that they were adopted by (rather than born to) the parents who had raised them,” O’Mahony nbtes.

In 2018, Tusla confirmed to the Department of Children that at least 126 children adopted through St Patrick’s Guild Adoption Society had been the subject of an illegal birth registration. The number of confirmed cases has since risen to 151.

An independent review commissioned by the then-Minister for Children Katherine Zappone reviewed a sample of records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland. In 2019, Reynolds reported that it was extrapolated from this sample that up to 20,000 adoption records could potentially relate to cases of illegal birth registration.

Reynolds’ report was finally published on 9 March 2021, two months after the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Her review also identified files involving suspicions of a range of other illegal practices, including the use of false names or false dates of birth; the absence of valid consent to adoption; or profiteering from adoptions. It was recommended that the potential scale of irregularity merited further investigation.

On 3 March 2021, a documentary by RTÉ Investigates entitled Who Am I: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions was broadcast. The programme provided evidence strongly suggesting that the practice of illegal registrations was not limited to St Patrick’s Guild. A follow-up programme will air on RTÉ One this Wednesday.

Birth Information and Tracing Bill

O’Gorman met with people affected by illegal birth registrations prior to the publication of O’Mahony’s report.

In a statement released this afternoon, O’Gorman said the report “makes clear that it is the right of all persons to have the details of their birth accurately recorded”.

“Since becoming Minister, I have engaged extensively with people whose births were illegally registered, and established an Interdepartmental Group to consider solutions to the difficult and complex issues which arise.”

O’Gorman said “the vast majority” of O’Mahony’s recommendations will be addressed in the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022.

“Progression of this Bill is a priority for me as Minister. I will now further develop the Bill to take account of key recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, such as the specialist tracing service to undertake an additional review of files.”

The Government’s Birth Information and Tracing Bill is currently being debating in the Oireachtas before a vote in the coming months. If passed as expected, the legislation will give adopted people the legal right to access their birth certs, medical records and early life information.

However, adoption rights campaigners have criticised certain elements of the Bill, saying it places too many conditions on people’s right to access their own information.

In his statement today, O’Gorman noted that he introduced new provisions into the Bill “to provide assurance to affected persons that acts undertaken and contracts entered into in good faith will not be undermined by reason of a person being the subject of an illegal birth registration”.

The minister also “introduced amendments to better recognise the false and fundamentally wrong nature of what occurred when these people had their birth illegally registered”.

In his report, O’Mahony states that it is incumbent on the State “to take steps aimed at mitigating the trauma that may be experienced by individuals who are affected by illegal birth registration, and to avoid doing anything that might add to that trauma”.

“Every care must be taken to ensure that individuals affected by illegal birth registration are informed in an ethical and sensitive manner; that the information provided is accurate; and that affected persons are provided with the necessary supports to assist them in dealing with the trauma that typically results.

The proposals contained in the Birth Information and Tracing Bill regarding a Register of Acknowledged Identity, which would allow a person affected by illegal birth registration to have the details of the registration of their birth corrected while also continuing to legally use the identity which they have used all of their life, are endorsed as striking the correct balance.

“Adoption tracing legislation providing for unqualified access to birth certificates, adoption files and other early life information, both for formally completed adoptions and for incomplete adoptions which resulted in an illegal birth registration, should be enacted at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Adoption records currently in private hands should be acquired by the State and held in a centralised archive. To avoid further lengthy delays in delivering a remedy to individuals affected, a targeted and focused approach should be adopted that builds on the report of the Independent Reviewer,” the report adds.

O’Mahony is also calling for the establishment of a Specialist Tracing Team which will “conduct a full trace on files flagged by Tusla as suspicious in the course of the independent review process, with a view to establishing which (if any) of these cases can be confirmed as cases of illegal birth registration, and identifying the potential for further targeted investigation of other adoption files”.

If necessary, O’Mahony says the Birth Information and Tracing Bill should provide for legal authority for the work of the Specialist Tracing Team, as well as any similar future activity by either Tusla or the Adoption Authority of Ireland aimed at investigating historical irregularities in adoption practices.

The special rapporteur adds that the legislation should ensure that DNA evidence “can play a full part both in tracing” and in how the State responds to illegal birth registrations.

O’Gorman today said he will introduce more new measures into the Bill “to address the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations for a specialist tracing service and, in conjunction with the Minister for Justice, to address succession issues arising for affected persons”.

Over 300 amendments rejected 

Holly Cairns, the Social Democrats’ Social Justice Spokesperson, today said the State “turned a blind eye to illegal adoptions for decades and must now establish an inquiry to finally determine the extent of this travesty”.

“Forced family separation, and the denial of access to one’s identity, are particularly cruel and dehumainisng forms of abuse, which were facilitated by the Irish State for decades. Religious orders, public bodies and other institutions conspired to destroy people’s sense of belonging and personhood from the day they were born.

To compound this wrong, the State subsequently did everything possible to deny adopted people and parents access to information. In doing so, the State denied wrongdoing, dismissed rights, infantilised survivors and further traumatised them.

Cairns said O’Mahony recommendation for a State inquiry into illegal adoptions “must be acted on immediately”.

“The State turned a blind eye to this abuse for decades. It is now time to shine a light on this dark practice. The Government cannot delay in this regard. We do not need another report or consultation – we need an inquiry. It is the least that adopted people, parents and their relatives deserve.

“A State apology, for this gross abuse, is also necessary. While illegal adoptions are interconnected with Mother and Baby Homes, there are many people affected who did not go through that system. As a result, they could not participate in the Mother and Baby Homes Commission and were not included in the Taoiseach’s apology last year.”

Cairns also said it is “simply untrue” for O’Gorman to state that the Birth Information and Tracing Bill will address many of the recommendations in O’Mahony’s report.

“This is simply untrue. Over the past two weeks, I have tabled and argued for over 300 amendments, based on engagements with human rights experts and survivors. Not a single amendment has been accepted by the Minister for Children.

“Adopted people have been denied access to their personal data for decades. They are therefore highly sceptical of the Government’s assurance it is acting in their best interests. Dr O’Mahony’s report provides a clear roadmap for action that must be followed immediately,” Cairns stated.

“I sincerely hope that the Government take these recommendations on board, and that they act to uncover any criminal activity including those responsible.”

For people affected by the issue of illegal birth registrations, the Department funds a therapeutic service, provided by Barnardos, on an individual and group basis. People who wish to avail of this service should contact for more information.

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