The former adoption agency at the centre of the illegal adoptions scandal has gone into voluntary liquidation — just months after hundreds of illegal birth registrations were found in its files.
St Patrick’s Guild (Incorporated) gave notice of its intention to be wound up via a voluntary liquidation on December 17 last. Anthony Weldon of KR Professional Advisors has been appointed as liquidator. As of October 31, the firm had total assets of €265,847 and total liabilities of €26,876.
News of the liquidation comes just seven months after the Department of Children and Youth Affairs revealed in May that Tusla had discovered 126 cases in which births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 in the records of St Patrick’s Guild. The records were transferred to Tusla in 2016 after the agency ceased offering an information and tracing service at the end of 2014.
The Irish Examiner also revealed that Tusla has raised concerns about a further 748 adoption cases from the former adoption agency which contain evidence of names being changed, cash payments, and other “irregularities”.
Just two months later, Tressa Reeves and her son, Patrick Farrell, settled their action against the State and St Patrick’s Guild over Patrick’s illegal adoption.
The Irish Examiner first revealed Ms Reeves’ case in an exposé in 2010 and has raised concerns about the practices of the former adoption agency ever since.
Following the settlement of the case, Ms Reeves encouraged other victims of illegal birth registrations to come forward and sue over forced and illegal adoptions.
Given that St Patrick’s Guild has gone into liquidation, it is unclear where this will leave any legal cases that may have been taken or are about to be taken against the former adoption agency.
Following the discovery of the 126 illegal birth registrations in May, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone announced a “scoping exercise” to see if the extent of illegal birth registrations is widespread and requires a full, forensic examination of all records. The final report was due in October but has been delayed until April.
The department has refused to reveal the sample size of the 150,000 records to be examined in the review or the methodology involved. The scoping exercise has also been criticised for being focused only on illegal registrations and not all forms of illegal adoption.
The department has steadfastly claimed that the 126 cases revealed in May represent “the only cases in which clear evidence of incorrect registrations has been found”.
However, the Irish Examiner has revealed documented cases of illegal adoptions and illegal birth registrations as far back as 2010, including the fact that the Adoption Authority (AAI) warned the department about the scale of the problem on three separate occasions in 2011, 2013, and in 2015.
The AAI specifically cited “several hundred” cases at St Patrick’s Guild. In 2015, it sent the department a detailed spreadsheet containing 90 cases that it felt represented illegal registrations. This information was not acted upon at that time.
In 2015, the Irish Examiner also revealed a 2014 note of a meeting between Tusla and two nuns from St Patrick’s Guild which acknowledged the agency’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.
The State has been accused of being more concerned with managing the “potential scandal and legal liability” of illegal adoption, birth registration, and other coercive adoption practices than helping victims.
The claim has been made by James Gallen, the expert appointed by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone to advise on a transitional justice model to the issue of Mother and Baby Homes.
It highlighted the case of Jackie Power (not her real name), who was told to sign a bogus name on an adoption consent form in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in 1974. As a result, all the documentation that followed — including her son’s birth certificate and adoption order was falsified.
In February 2017, instructions were issued via email to a Tusla staff member dealing with Jackie’s her case to refer to it and others like only as “possible” illegal registrations.
A later email to the staff member indicates that the language choice was because of the concern that “stuff is FOI-able… and it could be used against us if someone takes a case… the AAI [Adoption Authority of Ireland] are only ones to determine if registration is illegal or not so we hold our powder, that’s the thinking anyway so”.
Mr Gallen said the case demonstrated that the State was more interested in managing a potential scandal than helping families.
“The documents obtained by Jackie under FoI requests demonstrate that State authorities remain uninterested in serving the needs of assisting families in receiving information about their members and instead privilege the management of potential scandal and legal liability in cases of potential illegal adoptions, false registrations or other coercive adoption practices,” he said.
“The failure of State authorities to act in a case as well documented and egregious as Jackie’s misses a critical opportunity to demonstrate that the State has changed, that it is willing and able to redress cases involving its potential prior wrongdoing,”he said.
Mr Gallen said “the State simply doesn’t get it” and pointed to the fact that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has committed to a “transitional justice” approach to the Mother and Baby homes scandal.
“Talk of transitional justice is fundamentally undermined when the ongoing relationship between citizens and the State is one where the interests of an individual are countered by the desire to maintain the reputation of institutions,” said Mr Gallen.
Dr Gallen said the lack of reporting about the modern day awareness of illegal adoptions revealed “an invidious discrimination in how victims-survivors of historical wrongs are treated”.
“It took Ireland over 10 years of investigating child abuse in the Ryan Commission to commit to a mandatory reporting of allegations of child abuse.
“Yet it has not led to a culture where allegations of wrongdoing elsewhere in the State apparatus leads to a mandatory disclosure to the individuals concerns and relevant authorities, but instead demonstrates attempts to minimise wrongdoing and make it as difficult as possible for individuals such as Jackie to have effective rights to truth, information and family life,” he said.
In a statement, the department said it “cannot comment on individual cases” and pointed out that a scoping exercise into illegal registrations is ongoing.
*This name has been changed to protect the identity of the woman involved
A mother whose child lost her child to adoption through a Mother and Baby Home, Maternity Hospital and adoption agency been refused access to her personal records by the State inquiry investigating the issue.
When the woman applied to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission for access to the records under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it told her that they held a range of records concerning her. The Commission said that they had received the records from TUSLA. It then refused to give the woman any of these records.
Solicitor for the Commission Maeve Doherty wrote to the woman’s legal representatives on 14 September stating that the reason for the refusal was to ensure the effective operation of the work of the Commission and the cooperation of witnesses” and pointed to an amendment made to Sec 39 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.
The Commission has determined that it necessary and proportionate to refuse access to the personal data it holds relating to your client in order to safeguard the effective operation of the Commission and the future cooperation of witnesses,” said Ms Doherty.
In May of this year, Section 198 of the Data Protection Act 2018 amended Section 39 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 to provide that: “Article 15 (Right of Access) of the Data Protection Regulation is restricted, to the extent necessary and proportionate to safeguard the effective operation of Commissions and the future cooperation of witnesses in so far as it relates to personal data (within the meaning of that Regulation) provided to a Commission.”.
Prior to this, the original Section 39 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 made the Commission immune from the application of the right to personal data under Section 4 of the Data Protection Act 1988.
Ms Doherty confirmed that Tusla had sent personal data relating to the
women to the Commission. This data included:
– Date of Birth
– Date of admission and discharge
– Next of kin
– Social history
– Antenatal records
– Name and Place of Birth of child
– Two letters from certain individuals
Principal of FP Logue, specialising in information law Fred Logue said refusing someone access to their own data on the basis that it would potentially hinder the work of the Commission was “logically impossible”.
“The thing is they are refusing access to information that is available from other data controllers like the HSE and the Department of Social Protection, on the basis that refusal is necessary to protect the Commission. I don’t understand how release of information that is available from another source can harm the Commission, this is logically impossible,” he said.
Mr Logue also criticised the Commissions of Investigation model as it operates in Ireland.
The other point is that the whole Commission of Investigation idea is to protect the good name of people under investigation, and save on massive legal fees, but there is absolutely no regard to people who have been wronged and how they can vindicate their rights if there is a secret investigation and they cannot even find out what information about them is informing that process. This is a breach of a whole slew of rights. In fact one of our clients didn’t even know, until she filed a subject access request, that the Commission had taken receipt of her files,” he said.
Senior researcher and policy officer at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and director of the voluntary Clann Project Dr Maeve O’Rourke said: “The Commission’s refusal to tell people what personal information it holds on them, without giving individualised reasons, appears to be in breach of the GDPR. The Commission’s blanket insistence on secrecy also seems to contravene the right to an effective investigation under the European Convention on Human Rights where grave human rights violations are alleged.”
JACKIE Foley was just 16 years old in 1974 when she signed a consent form in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home form to have her son adopted. She didn’t sign her own name.
Instead, under instruction from a nun, and in the presence of a solicitor and her mother, she was forced to write a different name — Micheline Power* — a woman who does not exist.
As a result, all of the documentation that followed in the wake of this act was deliberately falsified.
In the furore surrounding the recent discovery of 126 cases of illegal birth registrations among St Patrick’s Guild’s records, the line pushed by the State is that all illegal registrations involved a birth being recorded in the names of the “adoptive” parents.
As a result, no adoption order was made and the couple would pass the child off as if born to them.
However, in the case of Jackie’s son, the birth was not registered in the name of his adoptive parents.
She had requested he be called Dermot Foley*.
Instead, he was given a bogus name and his birth was illegally registered as John Power*, born to Micheline Power, neither of whom exist. Both invented. Both ghosts.
An adoption order, issued by the State’s regulatory body, the Adoption Board, was contracted on the basis of these false identities.
Documents seen by the Irish Examiner reveal, and indeed name, individual nuns who worked at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and the affiliated Sacred Heart Adoption Society (SHAS) who were party to this.
It is clear from these records that the documentation required by the Adoption Board was falsified. It is unclear why this was done.
Jackie’s son is now 44. If he was to access his original birth certificate, he will spend years searching for his mother under the wrong name. He will be looking for Micheline Power — a woman who does not exist.
But the historic treatment of Jackie replays in the present. Almost half a century later, the attitude of certain State agencies — the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), and Tusla — to her case is as cold-hearted as the nuns who forced her as a 16-year-old to sign away both her and her son’s identities.
Instead of offering support or offering assistance, emails between staff members show the attitude of Tusla to be one of institutional self-preservation.
Just last year, staff handling Jackie’s case were instructed in emails not to refer to situations like hers as “illegal” but instead as “possible illegal registrations”. Reference is made to having to “hold our powder” because “that stuff is FOI’able… and it could be used against us if someone takes a case”.
Staff are told that the AAI are the only ones that can make a determination as to the legality or illegality of any adoption.
Remarkably, a principal social worker with the AAI wrote to Tusla in February 2017 stating categorically that in the case of Jackie’s son, “the adoption is a legal adoption”.
Given that the entire tranche of legal documents used to secure the adoption relies on the false name of a woman and child, and that the AAI has known that fact for over a decade, this is an astonishing position for an employee of the State’s regulatory body to take.
The DCYA said in May that discoveries by Tusla in the St Patrick’s Guild records represent “the first time this threshold of a high level of certainty has been reached” in terms of evidence relating to illegal registrations.
However, Jackie’s case is one of the most egregious examples of an illegal registration resulting in an unlawful adoption. It is fully documented and the AAI’s predecessor, the Adoption Board, was notified as early as 2005.
Neither agency reported the case to the gardaí, not in 2005 when first notified, and at no point since. As a result, Jackie herself reported the details of what happened to the gardaí earlier this year.
Ten years later, Jackie’s case was forced onto the AAI and Tusla’s radar when she sought access to her records in 2015. Again, no one in either agency reported the matter to gardaí.
In fact, Tusla would not even release to Jackie the first name of her son — despite the fact that it was aware that the nuns had already provided her with that detail.
The details of this case — what happened in the past, and the State’s response in the present — begs the question: Has the attitude of official Ireland to women who were forced to give their children up for adoption changed over the past half century?
Instead of seeking to right a wrong, to privilege and protect the human rights of the individual citizen, the primary concern of the State agencies involved has been to insulate themselves from blame, to never admit liability, to delay access to records and information, and all in case a victim attempts to take legal action.
Where women like Jackie were once ignored, now they are feared.
Jackie’s baby boy
Jackie was just 15 in 1974 when she fell pregnant. Little more than a child herself, she had no idea that she was pregnant or what it entailed.
Unsurprisingly, her family was not happy and it was quickly decided that the pregnancy would be concealed and an adoption arranged. Her aunt was the central figure in making sure Jackie was taken to Bessborough and her son put up for adoption.
“I got pregnant. I knew very little about the whole mechanics of it. I had an idea but I didn’t know all of it and how you could end up, very fast, being pregnant. I didn’t know I was pregnant.
“I didn’t feel anything different or strange but I was obviously getting bigger and my mother said to me one day, early in May, she said: ‘Are you pregnant?’ And I said: ‘I don’t know.’ She became quite distraught but I begged her not to tell my father.
“The next thing was there was a phonecall made and my aunt was brought on the scene and I then was brought to a doctor in a very small street in Cork where I was put through an extreme examination confirming that I was pregnant.
No one explained to Jackie where she was going or what was going to happen to her and her unborn child.
Under the cover of darkness, she was driven up that long, winding drive that leads to the front door of the imposing building that housed the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.
It hasn’t changed much since Jackie was there as a frightened teenager.
“I arrived outside the door. There are a few steps up. I was 15 years of age. A nun opened the door. There was a room to the left and a room to the right and, to the best of my memory, I was brought into the room on the right.
“I was told to stand in there while my aunt spoke to the nun in the hall. I crouched in behind the door because I didn’t know where I was or what was happening. I am not religious but I did pray. I was absolutely terrified. You know how you can shake from fear? Well, that was going on inside of me. My breath was shaking.
“I was afraid to look around and I had nearly a dowager’s hump rolling on myself because I was so afraid. I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I just remember praying that whatever was going to happen that it would be soon. I didn’t know when I was due, nothing like that.”
From that point on, she was alone. When Jackie emerged, her aunt was gone. A nun took her to another room where a group of other women was sleeping. She was given the house name “Joan”* and told not to speak to anyone or mix with anyone.
However, Jackie was asked for her correct name and address. Given what was to happen later, the fact that a note was taken of her true identity meant the unlawful nature of her son’s adoption could be uncovered years later.
Jackie was only in Bessborough for five days but she remembers it in almost minute-by-minute detail.
She went into labour in the early hours of the second night of her stay. Her son was born the following day.
She never saw her baby’s face. She tried, but was physically restrained.
Kindness was in short supply. She begged to be told the sex of her child and, in hushed tones, one nun let it slip to her that she had had a baby boy.
Two days later, Jackie was instructed to put on the same clothes she had arrived in, and was sent home. Her son stayed in Bessborough for just six hours.
The records reveal his fate after birth: “Foster care 6 hours after delivery, awaiting adoption.”
Another states: “Baby — Sent to Mrs Green on same day of delivery.”
Jackie has been searching for her son ever since.
Jackie was brought back to Bessborough some five months later to sign a consent form to allow her son to be adopted.
This is where things begin to take a more sinister and illegal turn.
In short, Jackie was told to sign a false name on the consent form — and all of the paperwork, including her son’s birth certificate, was subsequently falsified in this name.
It remains unclear as to why a bogus identity was constructed in the paperwork. Was this a service — one which effectively obliterated Jackie’s identity and that of her son from official memory — one offered by the nuns as an extra layer of secrecy?
The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary declined to answer questions on Jackie’s case but said it rejected “any suggestion of impropriety by any of our sisters, some of whom are still alive, in regard to adoptions in Bessborough in 1974 or at any other time”.
The order said that it was dealing directly with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission “on all related matters” and urged anyone with information about mother and baby homes to pass it on to the commission “immediately”.
Jackie’s memory is crystal clear. Although members of her family were present when she signed the consent form, the instruction to sign the name Micheline Power instead of her own name did not come from them.
Rather, it came from those working on behalf of the SHAS at Bessborough. Jackie had never heard the name. Her mother had to spell it out for her as she signed it on the consent form.
The Irish Examiner has seen this consent form and it is clearly signed in a false name. It is also dated in May — just four days after the birth of her son. However, Jackie’s admission records show she was not present in Bessborough on that date.
In fact, she did not sign the consent form until the following October. The witness to the signing of this bogus name was a nun from Bessborough.
As for the consent being free and informed, Jackie points out that no one explained anything to her. She was so frightened, her overriding memory is trying to stop herself from visibly shaking.
“I was terrified. I remember my behind twitching and sticking my knees together to stop my ass twitching. And that was it. I was put into the car and brought home. I don’t remember anyone saying to me: You’re signing a baby away. You are never going to see your baby again. Nobody ever explained anything to me.”
The Supreme Court judgment in G v An Bord Uchtála is a key ruling on what constitutes a valid consent. It states that “a consent motivated by fear, stress or anxiety…does not constitute a valid consent”.
A record from September 1974 entitled “Particulars Concerning Child” is signed by a named nun of the Sacred Heart Convent, Blackrock, Cork.
Known as a Form 2 document, along with the consent form, it is a link in the chain of paperwork to be furnished by an adoption society to the Adoption Board to contract a legal adoption order. It is supposed to detail the correct names of both the natural mother and her child. However, in Jackie’s case, it is made out in the false names.
The furnishing of false information to the Adoption Board was a criminal offence under Section 43 of the Adoption Act 1953, punishable on conviction by one year in prison or a fine not exceeding £100, or both.
Remarkably, the entire falsification of the documents is fully detailed in the original records which Jackie has obtained over the years.
A contemporaneous handwritten note taken from her records shows an instruction to falsify the birth register in a false name — a criminal offence. It simply states: “Please register Baby John Power.”
Another document from 1974, outlining details of Jackie’s labour, contains the following entry: “I wasn’t given any information re this baby — Mothers name was changed -? reason.”
The handwritten document confirms both Jackie’s and her son’s names were registered in different names, and it is signed by a named nun.
A medical record from St Finbarr’s Hospital Departmental of Haemotology also contain results for Jackie’s bloods in the false name.
An internal tracing document prepared by staff in Bessborough in 1994, upon a request for information from Jackie’s son, also clearly acknowledges that names were changed in the records.
The document states that a named nun is “looking after this” but asterisked at the bottom of the page is: “Reg & baptized (sic) in wrong name — NB not Power. I wrote details out for Sr.”
The records reveal that Jackie’s son’s baptism certificate was also falsified. This certificate came from the Church of the Descent of the Holy Ghost [now Spirit] in Dennehy’s Cross in Cork City in June 1974.
The endpoint for this paper trail is the falsified birth certificate — an illegal birth registration. The informant listed on the birth certificate is a named nun of the Sacred Heart Hospital at Bessborough.
It is unclear why all of this was done. However, it is clear from another record that Jackie’s family had paid money to the nuns to give to Jackie’s son on more than one occasion. A handwritten, undated document released to Jackie shows that one of her relatives went to Bessborough “on more than one occasion” and that this person “wanted to leave him [Jackie’s son] money”.
The birth cert was, in fact, issued in Cork. However, the above suggests that money was paid by Jackie’s family to the nuns on more than one occasion since 1974 with the instruction for it to be sent to her son.
Jackie didn’t set foot in Bessborough for another 30 years, when she visited the agency in person in 2004, looking to start tracing her son. By then, Jackie had married and had further children. Her son had previously made an inquiry about finding her in 1994.
She received a call back from a nun, who told her no boy was born in Bessborough on the date of birth she had supplied for her son, or indeed on any day that week.
A short time after visiting Bessborough, Jackie received another call to tell her that a nun from the agency — Sr Sarto — had been to visit her home town and was trying to contact her. She eventually received a call from the nun.
Jackie describes the meeting as not a cordial one, but that she was told she could write to her son through the agency. So, she sent a letter and received a “lovely” response from her son. She sent another letter but heard nothing back.
Jackie had issued an instruction to the agency, enclosed with this first letter to her son. It was to request that it not give her son any information about her because she wanted to do that herself. She also gave permission for him to write letters to her through SHAS.
Material released to Jackie many years later show her son signed a typed document prepared by the SHAS which stated: “I understand that Sr Sarto has been instructed by my birth mother not to give me any information.”
By this point, Jackie decided that she would find her son herself. She didn’t need or want any help from the nuns.
In 2005, she had obtained her son’s birth certificate after contacting the Eastern Health Board. There, in black and white, on an official State document, the fraud was revealed.
Armed with this evidence, she called the Adoption Board in 2005 and informed them of her son’s unlawful adoption. She was told it would look into it.
However, the regulatory body never reported the illegal birth registration. No one was held accountable. SHAS continued to be an accredited adoption agency for another seven years until it voluntarily decided to close and transfer its records to the HSE in 2011.
And there it lay. Jackie was left waiting, like countless other women. Like Tressa Reeves, whose case was settled in the High Court in July, Jackie received no help.
She had had to drag every piece of information she could from the nuns. Now she had to do it from the State body that held the SHAS records — Tusla.
By 2015, it was well aware of Jackie’s case. It had not gone unnoticed and, clearly, Tusla was concerned about the contents of her file.
Months passed with no progress. Jackie was told her file contained anomalies. She got some records, but not her antenatal records.
After another phone call telling her how busy they were, Jackie had had enough.
Shortly after the call, Jackie received another 56 pages in the post. Unwilling to go away, she got what was hers.
However, frustrated by the lack of progress in arranging a meeting with her son, Jackie stopped engaging with Tusla. Tired of pleasantries and social workers whispering to her about the “elephant in the room” — the issue of false names, she had had enough.
However, privately, Tusla and the AAI had quite a lot to say about Jackie.
Jackie’s case had initially been flagged in August 2015 by a Tusla FOI officer who wrote to a senior social worker about her concerns about the case.
“The significance of this is evident in the fact that the child’s birth registration form is recorded under the fictitious (sic) names, and worryingly, the adoption documents including consent to adoption were filed with the Adoption Authority under the false names.
“I should think that this renders the adoption illegal. I trust you will report this information along to the Commission of Investigation [into Mother and Baby Homes] or whomever you feel is the appropriate body,” states the email.
Tusla sought and received records from the AAI relating to Jackie’s son’s adoption, in August 2015. The letter sent by the AAI to Tusla confirms that the false name Jackie was instructed to sign on the consent is also that on the adoption order.
Emails between Tusla’s national manager for adoption, Siobhán Mugan, and other Tusla staff, show Jackie’s case was still being discussed and recorded on a register of illegal and suspected illegal adoptions over a year later.
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,” states the email.
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.”
Curiously, Tusla has always denied it kept a register of illegal adoptions. In May 2017, the Irish Examiner asked Tusla if it held a register or database where adoption cases that raised concerns are noted. It stated: “No, there is no database or register held.”
The Irish Examiner asked Tusla a series of questions on the above register — including why its existence has been 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 also indicated it would no longer be making “any further comment on the issue of incorrect registrations of birth”.
Just one day after noting Jackie’s case in its register, the attitude of Tusla to releasing information to natural mothers desperately seeking information was also laid bare. Its policy was to be even more restrictive than the religious orders that once held the files.
On September 20, 2016, the FOI officer dealing with Jackie’s case emailed a senior social worker, questioning the Tusla policy not to release first names of natural mothers or children to those tracing. This information was non- identifying and was routinely released by the religious orders. Indeed, Jackie had already been given her son’s name by the nuns.
Given that Jackie already had these details, the FOI officer said it seemed “pedantic (and cruel) to censor this detail especially since she has already been given it previously”.
Two days later, the senior social worker responded. It was blunt and to the point. This information was to be redacted.
“I was in Brunel again yesterday where this direction was reiterated, we are not to confirm info. That applicant may already have relating to identifying information like name etc…,” states the email.
By February 2017, direct instructions were coming from senior management to staff members dealing with Jackie’s case, instructing them to stop referring to her case as an illegal adoption but to instead reference it as a possible illegal registration.
One email to the FOI officer from the senior social worker states that she has been told “to ask you to refer to this matter and all such matters as possible illegal registrations for recording purposes”.
The following day, February 21, 2017, the FOI officer responded, stating that the “preference for the use of the terms ‘illegal registrations’ vs illegal adoptions, noted”.
In a later response, the FOI officer refers to the choice of language requested as “political correctness”.
However, the response from the principal social worker reveals that Tusla’s concern was that of protecting itself against any potential legal action.
“I think the concern is in fairness that stuff is FOI’able…and it could be used against us if someone takes a case… the AAI [Adoption Authority of Ireland] are only ones to determine if registration is illegal or not so we hold our powder, that’s the thinking anyway so…,” states the email.
Remarkably, on the very same day, the principal social worker at the AAI emailed Tusla and insisted that Jackie’s case was not an example of an illegal registration, nor was her son’s adoption illegal.
The email confirms that the mother was “falsely” named “on the original papers, but the adoption is a legal adoption and not an illegal registration”.
The AAI also confirmed that Jackie had told the AAI’s predecessor, the Adoption Board, of her case as far back as 2005, “confirming the use of a false name at the time”. It would appear that neither the Adoption Board nor the AAI reported the matter as a criminal offence in the intervening period.
In a statement, Tusla said it does not comment on individual cases but if issues of concern arise in the processing of adoption information and tracing requests, they report them to the necessary authority — the AAI, a child protection team/retrospective abuse teams or An Garda Síochána.
Tusla also said that national manager for adoption Ms Mugan asked staff to use appropriate language in relation to cases of concern.
“In relation to cases where there may be a possible incorrect birth registration, we have consistently referred to these situations as possible incorrect birth registrations, as no adoption took place and therefore they should not be referred to as an ‘illegal adoption’.
“The use of appropriate language also assists in ensuring consistency and clarity for staff while communicating with members of the public on these sensitive matters,” said a statement.
The Irish Examiner asked the AAI a series of questions, including if the opinion expressed to Tusla by its principal social worker was the formal legal opinion of the authority.
It said it could not comment on individual cases but that “in this case that no request for a formal review by the board or complaint has been received by the authority from the individual in question”.
“Where a specific request for a review or complaint is made to the board and where there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate irregular or illegal adoption practices, including meeting with and talking to the complainant, the board, having considered the matter, will refer the complaint to the gardaí or other third party, as it has done in other cases,” said a statement.
So despite Jackie having contacted the Adoption Board in 2005 and the AAI itself providing records to Tusla confirming what happened in Jackie’s case in 2015, the attitude of the regulatory body seems to be that it is up to the victim to ensure it carries out an investigation into irregularities.
Informing it via a direct phone call wasn’t enough — she should have ensured the Board of the AAI was directly informed.
The onus is on the victim and not the regulatory body to ensure something is done.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has stated on the record that where it has proof of an illegal birth registration, the State has a duty to “inform the individuals concerned”.
The State has been aware of what happened to Jackie’s son since 2005.
When can he expect a knock on his door?
* These names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved
Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions — Taoiseach Leo Varadkar listed them all out to the Pope in Dublin Castle this summer.
He told the Pontiff that the sorry litany of scandals “are stains on our State, our society and also the Catholic Church”.
In doing so he trod a well-worn path of previous governments of treating all these issues as if they are distinct and separate scandals, instead of part of the same story.
Instead of examining and investigating the bigger picture of how unmarried and vulnerable women and children were treated in a sprawling network of interlinking institutions, private agencies and state authorities, we break it down into separate scandals.
Focus on the narrow and obscure the broader picture. It’s a well-worn path by successive governments.
Identifying all of these issues as individual scandals deflects from what this is really about — namely the collusion of Church and State in the construction of a system of confinement of single women and the removal of their children.
What flows from this are the related practices which have shocked the world — like Tuam — but also the spectre of forced and illegal adoption, infant trafficking, alteration of identities and records, medical and vaccine trials, infant mortality and the use of infant remains for anatomical research.
Mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, industrials schools — these not are not individual aberrations. They are one story, one scandal which, when seen in their totality, tell us about the fundamental character of the State — right from its very foundation.
Narrative, and the controlling of a narrative, has always been an important method of limiting the impact of this story.
Scandal is a word used in relation to the treatment of women and children in Ireland for decades. The reaction to scandal hasn’t changed much down the generations.
The research of Catherine Corless and the shocking revelations at Tuam were the match that lit the touchpaper. We had the usual procession of TDs and ministers expressing shock and outrage about this latest “scandal”.
Seventy years earlier, in 1945, the same word was used by parliamentary secretary to the then minister for local government and public health, Dr Con Ward, in relation to an 82% infant death rate at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. That rate had been reported to state inspectors.
It briefly led to the government of the day banning pregnant women being sent to the home and led Dr Con Ward to write to then Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, to express fears about a “public scandal” over the figures.
The key word here is “public”. A scandal is one thing to an Irish Government, a public scandal is a very different animal.
Even in Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone’s letter to Pope Francis, she stressed that the issue of mother and baby homes only came to “public attention” in Ireland during the summer of 2014.
In short, for the Government’s narrative, the start date for dealing for the “Mother and Baby Homes scandal” was 2014. With a start date of 2014, it looks like the reaction to revelations at Tuam was swift.
Of course, there is a different narrative which focuses on institutional rather than public knowledge. This narrative reveals that whether it’s magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes or illegal adoptions, the State reaction is marked by deny, delay and when an issue becomes “public” in a manner that can no longer be controlled, launch an inquiry— but a limited one. A redress scheme which buys silence with compensation usually follows.
MOTHER AND BABY HOMES
Three years before Catherine Corless’ revelations about a mass grave in Tuam sent shockwaves around the globe, the Cabinet was grappling with how to deal with another part of this story — the Magdalene laundries.
Even in 2011, the issue of mother and baby homes — and how to limit calls for inquiries into such institutions — were on the agenda of the Cabinet.
In a memorandum for Government seeking permission to establish what became the McAleese Committee, concerns were expressed that if there was an inquiry into Magdalene laundries, it could lead to calls for inquiries into abuses in mother and baby homes, psychiatric institutions, and foster care settings.
Controlling the narrative and limiting the scope of the Magdalene inquiry was the order of the day. Some seven years later, the mother and baby home system and the treatment of more than 40 vulnerable adults in a foster care setting are now the subject of State inquiries.
By 2012, the HSE was expressing stark concerns about the mother and baby home records it had uncovered.
The McAleese Committee had requested records relating to the 10 Magdalene Laundries be examined by the HSE.
Permission was granted to include two mother and baby homes in this trawl — Bessborough in Cork and Tuam in Galway. This decision was “based on potential pathways references by the advocacy group Justice For Magdalenes (JFM)”.
Prof Jim Smith of Boston College and JFM group had written to the chairperson of the inquiry, then-senator Martin McAleese on February 21, 2012, outlining a circular he had discovered relating to a 1948 Government survey which revealed “disturbing” infant death rates in excess of 50% at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.
Within eight months, HSE staff in Cork and Galway had turned up enough shocking material that concerns were being expressed about whether or not these issues warranted a State inquiry in and of themselves.
By October 2012, such was the level of consternation the material was causing, an internal memo was prepared by Dr Declan McKeown — consultant public health physician and medical epidemiologist of the medical intelligence unit in the HSE — and relayed the details of a teleconference with then assistant director of children and family service Phil Garland, who was co-ordinating the HSE project for the McAleese Committee and then head of the medical intelligence unit Davida De La Harpe.
The note outlines concerns raised by the principal social worker for adoption in HSE West who had found “a large archive of photographs, documentation and correspondence relating to children sent for adoption to the USA” and “documentation in relation to discharges and admissions to psychiatric institutions in the Western area”.
It notes there were letters from the Tuam mother and baby home to parents asking for money for the upkeep of their children and notes that the duration of stay for children may have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons.
It also uncovered letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children that had already been discharged or had died.
The social worker, “working in her own time and on her own dollar”, had compiled a list of “up to 1,000 names”, but said it was “not clear yet whether all of these relate to the ongoing examination of the Magdalene system, or whether they relate to the adoption of children by parents, possibly in the USA”.
At that point, the social worker was assembling a filing system “to enable her to link names to letters and to payments”.
“This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother.
The report ends with a recommendation that an “early warning” letter be written for the attention of the national director of the HSE’s quality and patient safety division, Philip Crowley, suggesting “that this goes all the way up to the minister”.
“It is more important to send this up to the minister as soon as possible: with a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry,” concludes the note.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has said the minister was never made aware of the issues surrounding Tuam in 2012.
In tandem with this, in September 2012, a 20-page report had been prepared on Bessborough. It revealed that the HSE was in possession of a death register maintained by the Order that ran the institution between 1934 and 1953.
The report outlined that the almost 500 deaths recorded in this period were “shocking” and “a cause for serious consternation”.
It also expressed concern that death certificates may have been falsified so children could be “brokered into clandestine adoption arrangements, both foreign and domestic” — a possibility the HSE report said had “dire implications for the Church and State”.
The report notes that the records reveal a culture “where women and babies were considered little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders” and that they were “provided with little more than the basic care and provision afforded to that of any individual convicted of crimes against the State”.
It also highlights the “intricacies of Bessborough’s accounting practices”, and that “detailed financial records and accounts were not handed over to the HSE by the Sacred Heart Order”.
This report was seen by both the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Given the level of concerns surrounding what was being found in relation to both institutions, Dr McKeown began work on a briefing paper on the situation for Mr Crowley. This was also forwarded to the then national director of children and family services at the HSE, Gordon Jeyes on October 19, 2012.
In one of the drafts of this paper, marked “strictly confidential”, Dr McKeown states that the records show that one child was sent to a US couple in 1957 in return for a cash payment.
Dr McKeown also said that the adoption records contained in the archive showed clear examples of multiple illegal adoptions which were not processed by the Adoption Board — then the regulatory body for adoption at the time.
Dr McKeown also revealed that letters from “senior Church figures requesting the nuns to identify babies for adoption to the USA” — indicating that the Catholic Church hierarchy was also directing this practice.
“The archives need to be examined for clinical, accounting and ethical irregularities, of which there are numerous clues in the material already uncovered.
“Additionally, there may be legal or criminal issues underlying the documentation, and it is critical that these potentials are outruled as soon as possible, given the increased public interest in the issue of adoption practice in Ireland, particularly in the 1950s,” he wrote.
None of these concerns appear in the final HSE submission to the McAleese Committee which was only concerned with the institutions in so far as referrals from to and from Magdalene Laundries.
In a cover letter attached to a draft of the HSE report sent to principal officer at the DCYA and member of the McAleese Committee Denis O’Sullivan on November 1, 2012, Dr McKeown states that that “adoption, birth and registration and the recording of infant mortality” in relation to the mother and baby homes were issues that may require “deeper investigation” and had been referred to Mr Crowley.
As a result, they would “no longer form part of the core investigation into the Magdalene system”.
Six days later, Mr O’Sullivan emailed Gordon Jeyes on November 7, 2012, to advise that any issues around mother and baby homes were outside the remit of the McAleese Committee.
“Material included beyond that is beyond the scope of our work — eg, the scope does not extend to an examination of other places of refuge eg mother and baby homes, other than in the context of referrals from Magdalene laundries.
It’s unclear where the HSE investigation went from here, if anywhere.
No investigation was launched. Nothing happened.
The McAleese Report was published. It included none of the concerns around mother and baby homes as they were outside its remit.
Within two years, Tuam was making headlines around the world. The Government launched another inquiry into the treatment of women and children — this time it was to be called the Mother and Baby Homes inquiry.
From the outset, it was criticised for being too narrow and limited only to institutions labelled mother and baby homes. Calls for the probe to be widened to include adoption agencies and other institutions went unheeded. Adoption would be addressed in so far as it related to the 14 named mother and baby Homes. Calls for the inquiry to focus on the scale of forced and illegal adoptions across the board fell on deaf ears.
Three years later, in May of this year, illegal adoption was to become the newest “public scandal”. Once again a piece of the same story was viewed in isolation.
It was announced in a blaze of publicity at a press conference in May with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone — 126 cases where births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 had been discovered in the records of former religious-run adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild.
The media followed suit declaring the discovery Ireland’s “adoption scandal” like this had come out of the blue.
Of course, the issue of not just illegal birth registrations, but all forms of illegal adoptions has been around for years. That such issues had happened with St Patrick’s Guild had also been known for years.
You can go back more than 20 years and find references to St Patrick’s Guild in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Of course, the minister rightly acknowledged that the issue of illegal birth registrations had been known before the Tusla discovery.
However, we were quickly given the new narrative, this time was different, whereas previously we had suspicions, now we had facts.
“The 126 cases announced by the minister on 29th May represent the first time this threshold of a high level of certainty has been reached,” the DCYA told this newspaper in June.
The DCYA went even further and said that where such evidence is found, the State’s responsibility, “is to inform the individuals concerned.” This is a unique statement for the DCYA in the sense that it is both untrue and quite the U-turn all in one.
Firstly, the 126 cases are not the first time we have found evidence of illegal registrations. The DCYA and multiple ministers have been aware of the issue for years and have chosen to do nothing.
Take the case of Tressa Reeves — who recently settled a case against St Patrick’s Guild and the State — on this very issue.
Tressa’s son, was the victim of an illegal registration facilitated by St Patrick’s Guild. Her story first appeared in the Irish Examiner in 2010. Tressa had evidence of this since 1997. The former Adoption Board, now the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), knew about her case since 2001. In the years that followed, three former children’s ministers were informed of Tressa Reeves’ case.
If, as the DCYA says, the State had a responsibility to tell those victims of illegal registrations the truth about their identity, why didn’t it see fit to do this for her son?
After all, all Tressa asked for, for more than a decade, was that the State tell her son the truth. It took until 2012 — and a threat of further negative publicity — for this to happen.
Remarkably, despite full knowledge of St Patrick’s Guild’s involvement in such practices, it was the very first adoption agency accredited under the Adoption Act 2010.
However, if Tressa’s case wasn’t enough evidence for the DCYA, its own regulatory body had been telling it about the issue for years also.
Following the Irish Examiner’s story on Tressa Reeves, the AAI committed to an audit of its records. It found approximately 99 illegal registration cases, while a further 20 were identified in the following years. This has subsequently risen to 131. Not all of these cases refer to St Patrick’s Guild.
In a report prepared for the DCYA 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”.
In June 2013, an AAI delegation told the DCYA again of there being “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations found as the result of the 2010 audit.
It even name-checked St Patrick’s Guild for the department, stating that the agency was “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, and that it was “not seeking the people involved” but were, rather, “waiting for people to contact them”.
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 2015, the DCYA was again notified by its regulatory body about the issue of illegal registrations. This time the AAI sent three reports — including a spreadsheet of 90 specific cases it believed were likely illegal registrations.
Clearly, the department has been put on notice about this issue and, indeed had been told about specific cases, for years and has chosen to do nothing.
The department has defended the lack of action on the 90 cases it was notified about in 2015. It said these were 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.
Why were three separate reports — including a spreadsheet of some 90 cases — sent by the very body that regulates adoption not subjected to the same “rigorous process” that Tusla’s cases were? Do the concerns of the AAI, the regulatory body for adoption, count for nothing?
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”.
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 had ever examined all the records.
This claim is also supported by the AAI, which said that “to its knowledge”, all adoptions carried out by the regulatory body “have been conducted in accordance with the relevant legislative framework for adoption”.
“Certain illegal birth registrations have been found to have occurred but these were conducted outside the legislative framework for adoption and can therefore not be classified as adoptions,” said the AAI in a statement.
However, as the Irish Examiner revealed last week, we now know that some illegal registrations also resulted in adoption orders.
Jackie Power (named changed to protect identity) was instructed as a 16-year-old in Bessborough to sign a false name on an adoption consent form. All of the paperwork that followed — including her son’s birth certificate and the adoption order — are made out in false names.
St Patrick’s Guild could have been included in the Mother and Baby Homes inquiry in 2014 on the back of the AAI’s notifications to the DCYA but it was not. However, the cases found by Tusla were reported to the Commission this year. Once again, the inevitable was delayed.
When the Irish Examiner published details of the 2013 meeting 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”.
“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,” said a statement.
Recently, Ms Zappone has acknowledged the cases found by the AAI and says “a validation exercise is underway” in relation to them. However, she didn’t say that these cases had been found as far back as 2010. This action could and should have been taken years ago.
The DCYA’s view that an audit of the records would be of little use has also been shown up as without foundation. Indeed, the 126 cases Tusla found were specifically marked “adopted from birth”. No detective work was required.
The DCYA has now committed to “a scoping exercise” led by independent reviewer Marion Reynolds and involving the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and Tusla. This exercise will clarify whether or not a full audit – which up to now was deemed a waste of time — is necessary.
The DCYA has now declined to reveal how this scoping exercise will work. It won’t say what sample of records will be examined or what methodology is being used.
Of course, the real point of the scoping exercise is to delay and buy time. Like the decision at Tuam, we all know there is no real decision to be made. These matters require a full and thorough investigation.
The report of the scoping exercise originally due at the end of October, won’t be with us now until mid-December. Word is the December deadline won’t be met either.
Everyone knew the right call was the fullest possible exhumation at Tuam and other sites like it. As with illegal adoptions, everyone knows that the fullest audit of adoption records is also the right decision.
Even the DCYA knows this. A note of a meeting between representatives of the department and the AAI and prepared by the department’s adoption policy unit, contains 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”.
Indeed Tusla itself has 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”.
So everyone knows — the DCYA, Tusla and the AAI — that this is an issue that requires a full investigation of all adoption records held by the State. Yet it persists with a scoping exercise that the public has been given no information about and which will please no one.
Another tale of denial and delay is yet another arm of the same story — the Magdalene laundries. It’s now taken as fact that the State was directly involved in referring large numbers of women to the Magdalene laundries and, indeed paying the religious orders for the privilege.
That the State was involved in the laundries was taken as accepted fact by a number of groups and survivors who spent decades campaigning on the issue. As with much of this story, their voices went unheard.
In the early 2000s, the then-government refused to include the Magdalene laundries in the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the resulting redress scheme.
This stance was defended by then education minister Michael Woods in 2002 on the grounds that the laundries were “entirely private institutions, in respect of which public bodies had no function”.
This was the line of the Government and it was stuck to rigidly.
By 2009, the country was reeling from the revelations of the Ryan Report and the Government was again facing down calls to examine the Magdalene laundries. The line remained the same.
This time, then education minister Batt O’Keeffe said categorically that the “State did not refer individuals to Magdalen laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them”.
He also said that they “were not subject to State regulation or supervision”.
Of course, survivors and campaigners knew this was categorically untrue. In 2010, Justice For Magdalenes (JFM) made an application to the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) seeking an inquiry into the State’s failure to protect the human rights of girls and women detained in the Magdalene laundry system.
Later that year, the IHRC issued a recommendation to government to immediately launch a statutory inquiry into abuse in the laundries.
With the Government failing to respond, JFM went to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), which in June 2011 recommended the same course of action to the Government as the IHRC.
The Government finally relented and launched an interdepartmental committee to look into the issue — the McAleese Committee.
The McAleese report was published in February 2013 and confirmed what everyone knew. Indeed it said that over one-quarter of all referrals to Magdalene laundries were made or facilitated by the State.
Despite this, an apology took two weeks to come.
The report itself and the redress scheme put in place in the aftermath of the State apology have been subjected to enormous scrutiny and criticism in the five years since.
It took until 2018 for the Department of Justice to allow a small cohort of women access to the redress scheme. They had been wrongfully excluded. Some had gone to the High Court to fight for access, while revelations by this newspaper and a scathing report by the Ombudsman following a year-long investigation eventually led the Department of Justice to grant them access.
However, campaigners say women are still not getting the full range of healthcare provisions promised to them.
When Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the Pope and asked him to use his “office and influence” to ensure that “justice and truth and healing” is granted to survivors of institutional and clerical abuse, he specifically name-checked the Magdalene laundries.
However, at the same time his Government recently told the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) that there is “no credible evidence of systematic torture or criminal abuse being committed in the Magdalene laundries” and that it has no intention of setting up a formal state inquiry into the matter.
Indeed the Government has been accused of “walking back” the state apology offered by then taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2013, now claiming, repeatedly, that the report made “no finding” in relation to state liability with regard to Magdalene laundries.
It continues to cite the McAleese Report as the de facto narrative of how the Magdalene laundry system operated in Ireland.
That would be fine if researchers could access any of the material in order to challenge the findings of the McAleese Report. However, they can’t.
The archive has been held in the Taoiseach’s own department for “safekeeping” since 2013. It is exempt from Freedom of Information and the department told the Irish Examiner it has “no plans” to open it up to public inspection. We must simply accept that the McAleese Report as we find it.
So while Mr Varadkar is quick to call on the Pope to use his “office and influence” to offer “justice and truth and healing”, he declines to use his own office to open the archive so people can challenge or confirm the findings of an investigation into the Magdalene laundry system.
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.
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.
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.