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Report into illegal adoptions estimates there are thousands of 'suspicious' files, but advises against inquiry

Minister Roderic O’Gorman says “deep ethical issues” arise in relation to illegal birth registrations, and an inquiry may still happen.

Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo)
Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo)
Image: PA Images

CHILDREN’S MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has asked the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection to “consider the very significant complexities and challenges, including the deep ethical issues” which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations.

O’Gorman made the request of Professor Conor O’Mahony on foot of the publication of an independent review report into incorrect birth registrations.

The review 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.

However, the review has recommended against an inquiry being held, saying it is unlikely this “would provide clear information”.

O’Gorman this afternoon acknowledged “significant concerns” remain and an inquiry may still happen.

The Special Rapporteur will be tasked with proposing “an appropriate course of action in terms of any further potential review, analysis or investigation”, according to the Department of Children.

Social workers have to date confirmed 151 cases of illegal birth registrations in the files of St Patrick’s Guild adoption society.

The report published today was commissioned by the then-Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, following Tusla’s confirmation in early 2018 that it had found evidence of illegal birth registrations in the files of the St Patrick’s Guild, years after the issue was initially flagged.

As part of this review, Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) separately examined records from more than 30 agencies, under the oversight of an independent reviewer. These agencies included adoption societies, nursing homes and boarded-out records. Between them, both agencies examined a total of 1,496 records.

In a statement released today, O’Gorman said: “Neither AAI nor Tusla was able to identify a unique marker which was suggestive of incorrect birth registration, similar to that found in the St Patrick Guild’s cases.

“While the sampling review of the files did identify some potential markers or wording suggestive of markers, both agencies reported that they were unable to establish clear evidence of incorrect birth registrations.”

However, he added that “significant concerns remain about the practice of illegal birth registrations”.

O’Gorman also noted that, in the opinion of the independent reviewer, “it is unlikely that a more comprehensive review of records would provide clear information relating to the existence of markers or wording suggestive of markers and the degree to which they may potentially be linked to incorrect birth registrations”.

‘Clear marker on files’

The minister added that this review has shown that the St Patrick’s Guild files “were unique in that there was a clear marker on the files which, when examined, correlated to illegal birth registrations”.

“The review of the sample of records referenced potential concerns about historic practices, including issues relating to informed consent, adoption to other jurisdictions, and child protection issues.

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“This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the many revelations, over many years, about how women and children were treated in Ireland in the past,” O’Gorman stated.

An illegal registration took place when one or both of the following happened:

  • the name of a person who is not a birth parent of the child is entered in the register of births as a parent of the child
  • the name of the birth mother of the child is not entered in the register of births as the mother of the child

Aside from the work of the Special Rapporteur, O’Gorman noted that an Interdepartmental Group is currently examining issues arising for people whose birth were illegally registered in the St Patrick’s Guild files, “including issues around inheritance, amending birth registrations, taxation and identity documents”.

This group is due to report to O’Gorman within two months before he brings proposals to the Cabinet.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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