Just how much information had the DCYA about illegal birth registrations before 2018?

By 2015, the department was being told by adopted people, campaigners, and even by its own regulatory body that a full-scale audit was needed, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.

Since news broke in May that 126 cases of illegal birth registrations were found by Tusla in the files of the former adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been sticking rigidly to a certain line on the matter.

The line is a very simple one — while it knew there were suspicions about illegal registrations, the 126 found in May “represent the first time this threshold of a high level of certainty has been reached”.

The department said when these 126 cases came to light, they were confirmed as illegal birth registrations “once a rigorous process was completed”.

However, the department has failed to answer a simple question.

If such a rigorous process was set in motion after Tusla stumbled upon the cases in 2018, why was a similar course of action not taken in 2015 when the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) sent a detailed spreadsheet of 90 cases it felt were illegal registrations?

If the word of Tusla was good enough to launch an investigation into illegal adoptions in 2018, why wasn’t the word of its regulatory body for adoption good enough in 2015?

Or in 2011 and 2013 when it also raised the issue?

These 90 cases, which have subsequently risen to more than 130, are the very cases Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone referenced in June when she said “a validation exercise is under way” with respect to illegal registrations reported to her department by the AAI.

She declined to state that the vast majority of these cases were reported to her department years ago.

Why was nothing done at the time?

This newspaper has reported about St Patrick’s Guild going back to 2010 and specifically about its involvement in illegal birth registrations when it broke the story of Tressa Reeves, who had evidence of her son’s illegal registration since 1997.

The AAI, in its previous incarnation as the Adoption Board, knew of her case as far back as 2001, as did no fewer than three ministers for children.

Tressa even had evidence in writing from the agency itself.

On November 22, 2001, a letter from Sr Francis Fahy admitted that illegal registration arrangements had been made for numerous children.

“As I explained to you previously, I do not know the reasons for the particular arrangement that was made in regard of André. In the course of my work here I have found that there were a number of babies for whom this arrangement was made,” wrote Sr Fahy.

Despite this, the department continues to insist that the 126 cases from May are the first time the State has obtained evidence “of a high level of certainty”.

The AAI committed to the first-ever audit of its records in 2010 on foot of Ms Reeves’ case appearing in the Irish Examiner.

It uncovered approximately 99 cases. A further 20 were identified in the following years. This has subsequently risen to 131.

The regulatory body for adoption has notified the department about the issue on multiple occasions ever since.

Yet the department is determined to say that everything it was told about illegal registrations before May of this year were “suspicions”.

It is worth examining just how much information about these illegal practices was reported to the department prior to the Tusla discovery this year.

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”.

Clearly, the regulatory body for adoption in this country felt the number of cases it uncovered in its own files warranted further investigation and “a more comprehensive audit”, and it had notified the department of its opinion.

This wouldn’t be the first time it would stress the need for further investigation into the matter.

In April 2015, the Irish Examiner revealed an AAI delegation told the department in a June 2013 meeting that there were “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”.

The AAI delegation also named a well-known former private nursing home — St Rita’s in Dublin — where women went to give birth to their children before having to place them for adoption, as a “huge source of illegal registrations”.

The AAI went further, stating its belief that this could well be the tip of the iceberg and that there “may be thousands” more.

In short, the AAI was admitting there might be thousands of Irish adults with no idea that their birth certs are fraudulent and that the people they believe to be their natural parents are, in fact, their adoptive parents.

Of note from the record of the meeting was an acknowledgement that none of these people had been informed of the circumstances of their births.

However, no audit or investigation was announced on foot of this meeting.

Five months later, then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all [adoption] files” and also claimed that all adoptions “which the Irish State has been involved in since 1952 have been in line with this [Adoption Act 1952] and subsequent adoption legislation”.

This claim was repeated on two separate occasions by her successor, Charlie Flanagan.

Both made the claim despite the fact that no State agency ever examined all the records.

Now, the department may feel the warnings from the AAI in 2011 and 2013 were not sufficient to launch an investigation, but the staggering level of detail supplied to the department by the regulatory body in 2015 seems hard to ignore.

This third notification from the AAI contained not only two reports on illegal birth registrations but also included a detailed spreadsheet outlining some 90 specific cases.

The names of the individuals affected were redacted.

In the cover letter attached to the reports, which were sent to the principal officer of the department’s Adoption Policy Unit on June 4, 2015, AAI chief executive Patricia Carey reiterates that the only way to get a handle on the scale of illegal adoptions is to fully audit all adoption records.

“As previously discussed, without a full review of each and every file related adoptions/placements, it is not possible to quantify what the actual number of illegal registrations may be,” she said.

The AAI provided the Irish Examiner with a summary of the information that is contained in the reports it sent to the department in 2015.

The first report, entitled ‘Illegal Registrations’, pointed out that “doctors, nursing homes, midwives, priests, and some adoption agencies” carried out the practice and that, in many cases, no records were available to the AAI.

As a result, the scale of illegal registrations and the numbers involved “are not possible to quantify”.

The second report, entitled ‘Report to CEO in respect of “illegal birth registrations” 1 May 2015’ is an analysis of information the AAI holds on illegal birth registrations and an overview of the National Adoption Contact Preference Register, which has been in operation since 2005.

“The report states that a list was compiled by the Information and Tracing Unit of cases where there were no adoption records and it appeared that the ‘person’s birth’ had been illegally registered,” states the AAI summary.

Finally, the report gives information on particular entities which have provided the Authority with information on illegal birth registrations and the practice of children being ‘adopted from birth’.

This phrase was found marked on the 126 cases discovered by Tusla earlier this year.

Indeed, the Irish Examiner revealed in May that Tusla had been recording illegal adoptions and birth registrations in 2016.

The agency had previously denied the existence of keeping a register of illegal adoptions and registrations in 2017.

As well as the spreadsheet of some 90 specific cases, the AAI also sent the department a summary of a small number of cases with names redacted, including correspondence to and from the person who was the victim of a suspected illegal birth registration.

Yet, no investigation was launched at that time.

In short, by 2015, the department was being told by adopted people, campaigners, and even by its own regulatory body that there was a need for a full-scale audit of adoption records to see how widespread the practice of illegal registrations and illegal adoptions was and how many agencies and individuals were involved.

Yet, it kept saying such an audit was not necessary.

It told this newspaper repeatedly that such an exercise would “yield little useful information” and was “of very limited benefit”.

Even now, the department response has been to launch a “scoping exercise” of a sample of records to see if a full audit is worthwhile.

It won’t say what the sample size or the methodology is.

However, we know a full audit is a worthwhile exercise.

The State’s own regulatory body for adoption has said so — repeatedly. Campaigners have said so — repeatedly.

Even the department itself has admitted privately the practice is across multiple agencies but would be an “onerous” exercise requiring “massive resources”.

One thing is for sure, without a full inquiry this issue will not go away.

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‘Illegal birth’ registration reports sent to DCYA by Adoption Authority in 2015

The Adoption Authority (AAI) sent three reports on illegal birth registrations — including a spreadsheet of 90 cases — to the Department of Children in 2015, three years before the St Patrick’s Guild scandal.

The revelation comes as the department claims the 126 illegal birth-registration cases discovered by Tusla in May in the files of former adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild represent “the only cases in which clear evidence of incorrect registrations has been found”.

The Irish Examiner previously reported that the department was told about illegal birth registrations by the AAI as far back as in 2011, and again in 2013.

However, it has now emerged that the regulatory body for adoption sent the department three separate reports on illegal registrations, including detailed information on 90 cases.

In a cover letter attached to the reports, sent on June 4, 2015, to the principal officer of the department’s adoption policy unit, Noreen Leahy, AAI chief executive Patricia Carey stressed the level of detail it was supplying.

Appendix 1 gives a redacted summary of a small number of cases. The final document [names redacted] gives a listing of specific cases the authority is aware of,” states the letter

The AAI told the Irish Examiner this final document contained the spreadsheet of 90 cases, with the names of the individuals redacted. In the letter, Ms Carey said the information had been collected on foot of a 2010 internal review and that “all information gathered at that time was sent to the department”.

She also indicated that the authority had told the department of the need for an audit of all adoption records.

Without a full review of each and every file related to adoptions/placements, it is not possible to quantify what the actual number of illegal registrations may be,” said the letter.

The department announced a “scoping exercise”, such as an audit of records in May of this year.

The AAI provided the Irish Examiner with a summary of the information in the two other reports it sent to the department in 2015. The first report was an overview of the historical context around illegal birth registrations and pointed out that the practice was carried out by “doctors, nursing homes, midwives, priests and some adoption agencies”.

The second report is an analysis of information the AAI holds on illegal birth registration and an overview of the National Adoption Contact Preference Register, which has been in operation since 2005.

“The report states that a list was compiled, by the Information and Tracing Unit, of cases where there were no adoption records and it appeared that the ‘person’s birth’ had been illegally registered,” states the AAI summary.

Finally, the report gives information on particular entities, which have provided the authority with information on illegal birth registrations and the practice of children being ‘adopted from birth’.

This phrase was found marked on the 126 cases discovered by Tusla earlier this year.

In June, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said that “a validation exercise is underway” with respect to 140 cases of illegal registrations reported to her department by the AAI. These include the 90 cases reported in 2015.

Her department said the information supplied to it by the AAI in 2015 related to cases “where the appearance of irregular activity suggested the possibility of an incorrect registration having occurred”, before pointing out that the 126 cases found by Tusla this year were confirmed cases of illegal birth registration.

“The 126 cases currently being dealt with by Tusla were confirmed, once a rigorous process was completed to ensure that the State could be as sure as possible that these individuals’ births were, in fact, illegally registered,” said the department.

State has known of St Patrick’s Guild illegal adoption cases for years

Finally there will be a sample audit of all records held by the State, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.

The announcement by children’s minister Katherine Zappone that 126 cases of illegal birth registrations have been found in the records of the St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency should surprise no one.

The involvement of this agency in such practices has been known for years.

However, the fact that Ms Zappone has announced a sampling exercise to see if an audit of all adoption records held by the State is needed to ascertain the scale of the illegal adoptions scandal is welcome.

It’s also a complete U-turn by her department who for years have said such an audit would be a wasted exercise.

Ms Zappone deserves credit for finally committing to such a process. None of her predecessors had the courage to do so.

However, the irony of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) announcing a sampling exercise of these records should not be lost on anyone.

It has spent years telling this newspaper that such an audit was “of limited benefit” as looking at the records “would yield little useful information”. Ms Zappone’s own words yesterday show the folly of such responses.

Adoption campaigners have called for a full audit of records for years. All of these calls fell on deaf ears.

You can go back two decades to find St Patrick’s Guild hitting the headlines but let’s start a little closer to the present.

None of what Ms Zappone said yesterday should shock anyone. It was already known St Patrick’s Guild had large scale evidence of illegal registrations in its records, and the issue of illegal registrations has been on the radar of successive governments for many years.

In April 2015, the Irish Examiner  revealed that an Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) delegation told the DCYA in June 2013 that there were “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”.

The agency held 13,500 adoption files and those have been in the possession of Tusla since 2016.

Tusla paid the agency €30,000 to support the storage of the files while the transfer was being negotiated and to assist the agency with its closure.

The AAI delegation also named a well-known former private nursing home — St Rita’s in Dublin — where women went to give birth to their children before having to place them for adoption, as a “huge source of illegal registrations”.

However, the AAI went further, stating its belief that this could well be the tip of the iceberg and that there “may be thousands” more.

In short, the regulatory body for adoption in this country was admitting there may be thousands of Irish adults with no idea that their birth certs are fraudulent and that the people they believe to be their natural parents are, in fact, their adoptive parents.

Of note from the record of the meeting was an acknowledgement that none of these people had been informed of the circumstances of their births. Five years on, it would appear they continue to be in the dark about the fact they are adopted. And this refers to just one adoption agency. St Patrick’s Guild was by no means alone in these practices.

In 2015, AAI chief executive Patricia Carey said that the “may be thousands” comment made at the June 2013 meeting was “a throwaway remark” and was “not based on verifiable facts”.

However, the fact that the department had called for a meeting on the subject and that an AAI delegation was willing to speculate at all on such a large number, indicates the issue was firmly on the radar of the adoption regulator and the DCYA at least five years ago.

More than that, it also had concrete information that St Patrick’s Guild had knowledge of “several hundred” cases of illegal registrations.

However, no audit or investigation was announced. In fact, nothing happened.

It seems the revelations made little or no impact at the time. Just five months after the meeting, then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all [adoption] files”.

She also claimed that all adoptions “which the Irish State has been involved in since 1952 have been in line with this [Adoption Act 1952] and subsequent adoption legislation”. This claim was repeated on two separate occasions by her successor, Charlie Flanagan. Both made the claim despite the fact that no State agency ever examined all the records.

When the Irish Examiner published this information in 2015, it asked the DCYA did it not think that the AAI’s belief that thousands of people in the country had their identities falsely registered — a criminal offence — warranted investigation?

The department declined to respond to the specific questions asked, but said a full audit of adoption records would be “of very limited benefit”.

It is important to note that the only way information generally becomes available is when someone with knowledge about the event comes forward… There is little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements… Accordingly, an audit of all adoption records would be of very limited benefit in establishing the number of illegal registrations that took place.

However, the AAI clearly disagreed. The 120 cases mentioned by the AAI in the June 2013 meeting refer to a 2010 audit it carried out of its records on foot of a story by this newspaper on the case of Tressa Reeves, whose son was illegally adopted and falsely registered as the natural child of the adoptive parents without her consent. This was facilitated by St Patrick’s Guild, which allowed the couple to take the child without a formal adoption order being made.

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”.

So clearly, the AAI felt the number of cases it uncovered in its own files warranted further investigation and “a more comprehensive audit”.

The statement by the department that there is “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” was also contradicted by a record obtained by this reporter of a meeting between two nuns from St Patrick’s Guild and representatives from Tusla, the Child And Family Agency, which states that the agency’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and, crucially, that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

In response, the DCYA said the record of the meeting had been “interpreted incorrectly”.

The Irish Examiner also asked if the department had any plans to inform those victims of illegal birth registrations from St Patrick’s Guild of the true circumstances of their births. In response, the DCYA said any consideration of an investigation into the issue of illegal registrations of births would have to be “cognisant of the impact the receipt of such information could have on the persons who were the subject of the illegal registration and were never aware of this fact”.

“The wider impact on families that may have sought to surround the identity of a child in secrecy must also be considered,” said a statement. It concluded by saying that the benefits of any audit of adoption records “are questionable”.

Three years on, it seems that opinion has changed. They will now tell the people affected by these illegal acts. They will now begin a sample audit of records. It is not before time.

Tusla was recording illegal adoptions and birth registrations as far back as 2016

Tusla was recording illegal adoptions and birth registrations in 2016 — two years before the agency’s revelation that it had uncovered unlawful registrations at St Patrick’s Guild.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday an independent review into the cases between 1946 and 1969 was ordered after Tusla said it recently uncovered 126 cases where births were illegally registered.

However, emails obtained by the Irish Examiner show Tusla was aware as early as 2016 of the illegal adoptions and registrations and was actively recording them.

The emails between Tusla’s national manager for adoption, Siobhán Mugan, and other Tusla staff, discuss an individual case where an illegal adoption occurred.

On September 19, 2016, a principal social worker emailed Ms Mugan under the subject title: “illegal adoptions” stating that a case had come to her attention “that might imply an illegal adoption”.

“I know that you asked to be made aware of all such cases. Can you let me know what you would like me to send you in the way of information.”

Ms Mugan forwarded the email to another staff member, asking her to “get the details of this for our register”.

This staff member then emailed the principal social worker: “Could you please complete the attached register. If there are any further details, please add them to the notes part of the register.”

A note of the National Business Adoption Managers’ Meeting on July 5, 2016, released separately under Freedom of Information, also contained the instruction: “Any illegal registration cases you come across, you must inform the national register in national office”.

A later email on September 29, 2016, under the subject heading “Illegal adoptions” and marked of “High” importance, show Tusla’s Longford/Westmeath Adoption Office, based in Dartmouth House in Dublin, forwarded details of cases of illegal adoptions. The personal details of those cases were redacted.

“Attached as requested the Dartmouth House illegal adoptions registrar,” the email stated.

In May 2017, the Irish Examiner asked Tusla if it held a register or database where adoption cases that raised concerns were noted. It stated: “No, there is no database or register held”.

The Irish Examiner asked Tusla a series of questions on the register — including why its existence was denied.

It stated that it “does not hold a register of suspected illegal/irregular adoptions” but 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.

“This was trialled for a short period but was discontinued. Tusla does not have a legal basis to collate this information. Tusla’s only formal basis for processing this data is for the purposes of providing an information and tracing service to applicants,” said a statement.

Tusla said it would not be making “any further comment on the issue of incorrect registrations of birth”.

The Irish Examiner revealed in 2015 that an Adoption Authority (AAI) delegation told the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was “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”.

In an audit it carried out in 2010 following the Irish Examiner exposé on the case of Tressa Reeves, the AAI turned up approximately 120 cases of illegal registrations.

In a report prepared for the department in 2011, the AAI said it considered carrying out a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered.

In a number of responses issued to the Irish Examiner in 2015, the department said an audit of records was “of limited benefit” and “would yield little useful information”.

In the Dáil, Independent TD Clare Daly reiterated calls for the immediate establishment of an inquiry and said a sampling exercise, as announced by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, was not sufficient.

Mr Varadkar said the fact that births were being were illegally registered by St Patrick’s Guild opens “another dark chapter in our history”. He also acknowledged the revelations about St Patrick’s Guild were not new, but that the issue was now being dealt with.

DCYA refuse to say how many adoption records will be examined in “scoping exercise”

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has refused to say how many adoption records will be examined as part of the “scoping exercise” investigating the scale of illegal adoptions.

The audit was announced at the end of May following the discovery by Tusla of 126 cases in which births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 in the records of St Patrick’s Guild. The records transferred to the agency in 2016.

It is being led by independent reviewer Marion Reynolds and will involve the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and Tusla.

Campaigners had called for the results of the scoping exercise to be based on a large sample of records.

It has now emerged that the number of records to be examined and the methodology used in the audit will not be made public and will only be revealed in Ms Reynolds’ final report, which is due at the end of September.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the Department of Children, asking for sample size and methodology, and whether the audit will involve examining records for other forms of illegal adoption outside of those clearly marked as illegal birth registrations.

The department declined to answer the queries and stated that any information on what the audit will examine and how it will examine records will not be made public until Ms Reynolds’ report is published.

“A number of challenges have emerged, including issues in relation to the condition and diversity of the records concerned, which are being actively addressed by the review group. Tusla and the Adoption Authority are committed to full participation in the review and significant work has been undertaken to date,” stated the department. “Details of the sample and the methodology will be set out in Ms Reynolds’ report.”

When the Irish Examiner sought more details, it stated it had “nothing further to add to the response”.

As far back as 2015, the Irish Examiner revealed that the AAI had told the department in 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was aware of “several hundred” illegal registrations.

Adoption campaigners have said they will not be satisfied if the audit is based on a small sample size, particularly in light of private admissions within the department that the scandal goes across multiple agencies and would require “massive resources” to investigate fully.

The revelation is contained in a note of an April meeting between representatives of the department and the AAI.

At the meeting, attended by department secretary general Fergal Lynch and prepared by the Department of Children adoption policy unit, there is an acknowledgment that evidence of illegal registrations was not confined to St Patrick’s Guild.

It was stressed that a full investigation of these issues would be “onerous, requiring massive resources”.

This newspaper revealed in June that Tusla had raised concerns about a further 748 cases from St Patrick’s Guild. These cases contain evidence of names being changed, payments being made to the agency, placements of children with no corresponding adoption order, and other “irregularities”.

Many of these children are believed to have been sent to the USA.

748 more cases of concern in St Patrick’s Guild adoption scandal

Tusla has raised concerns about a further 748 adoption cases from St Patrick’s Guild which contain evidence of names being changed, cash payments and other “irregularities”.

The revelation is contained in a note of a meeting between representatives of Tusla, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Adoption Authority of Ireland on March 13.

At the meeting, the recently revealed 126 illegal birth registration cases marked “adopted from birth” were also discussed.

However, Tusla also raises “concerns” about a further 700 cases from St Patrick’s Guild’s records — some of which involve children sent to the USA. The number of cases of concern rose to 748 in later correspondence.

These cases contain evidence of names being changed, payments being made to the agency, and placements of children with no corresponding adoption order. Reference is also made to “other matters that indicate irregularities”.

The report of the March 13 meeting said: “Furthermore, Tusla said that a further examination of the scanned index cards had raised concerns in that some 700 index cards contain references to placements with no Irish adoption order, change of names and other matters that indicate irregularities.

Some of these 700 index cards relate to children that went to the USA.

“Tusla also noted that many of the index cards made reference to payments (often £100) being made to the Guild.”

Released under Freedom of Information (FOI), the note indicates that Department of Children and Youth Affairs secretary general Fergal Lynch, who was present at the meeting, advised that “due to the sensitivity and importance of the matter” it had been the subject of “an early warning notification to Government through the Department of An Taoiseach”.

Tusla then prepared three interim reports for the department on the issue between March and May.

In the first of these on March 23, Tusla stated that 748 cases had been identified as containing “out of State placements” and “other possible anomalies” and that these files were being reviewed.

The third interim report, prepared on May 10, states that 611 children were identified as having been sent overseas and that “a deeper review and analysis” would be required “to track the journey of each child from birth to the point where the infant left the jurisdiction”.

In a table prepared on May 9 outlining the number of illegal registration cases found, reference is made to this larger tranche of 748 cases.

Alongside the “first tranche” of 126 cases outlined by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone at the end of May, Tusla also lists the “second tranche” of 748 cases which are recorded as “Anomalies including Adoptions overseas”.

In a presentation for Ms Zappone on May 10, Tusla also revealed that, while dealing with tracing inquiries since it took possession of the St Patrick’s Guild records in 2016, it had discovered “a significant number” of suspected illegal registrations — 25 such cases as far back as June 2017.

The Irish Examiner  has published documented cases of illegal registrations in relation to St Patrick’s Guild as far back as 2010. In 2015, this newspaper revealed that the AAI informed the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was aware of “several hundred” illegal registrations.

At that time, the department stated that an audit of adoption records was of “limited benefit” and would yield little useful information”.

Meanwhile, Ms Zappone has said the delay in bringing the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 into law is due to issues surrounding the natural parents’ right to privacy.

The legislation will create for the first time a statutory right for adopted people and people who have been the subject of an illegal birth registration to birth certificate information and certain other information.

Ms Zappone held a series of meetings yesterday to brief advocacy groups on the legislation. She will also brief them on the issue of illegal birth registrations.

DCYA admit illegal registrations exist in multiple adoption agencies but full audit would be “onerous”

Evidence of illegal birth registrations exists in the records of multiple adoption agencies but a full inquiry into the scale of illegal adoptions would be “onerous” and require “massive resources”.

The revelation is contained in a note of a meeting between representatives of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), Tusla and the Adoption Authority (AAI) held in April.

At the meeting, which was attended by department secretary general Fergal Lynch and was prepared by the DCYA adoption policy unit, there is an acknowledgement that evidence of illegal registrations was not confined to St Patrick’s Guild.

However, it was stressed that a full investigation of these issues would be “onerous, requiring massive resources”.

“It is feasible that illegal registrations exist in the balance of SPG [St Patrick’s Guild] records but only a comprehensive audit would verify this matter. It was noted that while individual cases of illegal registrations have been identified in other agencies any attempts to quantify the issue would be onerous, requiring massive resources,” said the note released under freedom of information.

The confirmation that a full audit of records would quantify the scale of illegalty contained on the records stands in contrast with the department’s publicly stated view for many years.

In response to numerous queries by this newspaper over a number of years, the DCYA has repeatedly stated that an audit of adoption records would be “of very limited benefit” and yield “little useful information”.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has said that “a validation exercise is under way” with respect to some 140 cases of illegal registrations reported to her department by the Adoption Authority.

However, the vast majority of these cases were uncovered as part of a 2010 audit carried out by the AAI following the exposé of the Tressa Reeves case by this newspaper. These cases were reported to the department at that time.

The authority has also reported concerns around illegal registrations, including hundreds of cases relating to St Patrick’s Guild to the department on numerous occasions since then.

In a report prepared for the department in June 2011, the AAI pointed to the need for 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”.

In 2015, the Irish Examiner revealed an Adoption Authority delegation again told the department, in June 2013, of there being “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations found as the result of the 2010 audit.

It specifically named St Patrick’s Guild as being “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, stating the agency is “not seeking the people involved” but rather, “waiting for people to contact” it.

The AAI said this could be the tip of the iceberg and that there “may be thousands” more.

Just five months after the June 2013 meeting, then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all [adoption] files”.

A 2014 note of a meeting between two nuns from St Patrick’s Guild and representatives of Tusla acknowledged the agency’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

Late last month, the Irish Examiner revealed that Tusla has raised concerns about a further 748 adoption cases from St Patrick’s Guild which contain evidence of names being changed, cash payments, and other “irregularities”.