Mother and Baby Commission yet to decide on extending inquiry

It is beyond comprehension how you can examine 14 Mother and Baby Homes while excluding adoption agencies like St Patrick’s Guild – particularly considering what it has admitted in terms of illegal birth registrations

 

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has yet to decide whether to ask for an extension of its remit to examine other institutions.
It comes as adoption groups have reiterated calls for a number of adoption agencies as well as a range of State and private maternity homes to be included in the investigation.
Under its terms of reference, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission will investigate how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 14 State-linked religious institutions.
The three-year inquiry — which has a €23.5m budget — will examine mother and baby homes, county homes, vaccine trials on children, and illegal adoptions where babies were trafficked abroad.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner, the Commission said it “not yet made any decision about recommending any extension of its terms of reference”.
St Patrick’s Guild has been commonly cited by campaigners as a glaring omission from the inquiry. The agency holds 13,500 adoption files — one-quarter of all adoption files in the country.
Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed that the agency was excluded from the scope of the inquiry despite the Government being told in June 2013 by an Adoption Authority (AAI) delegation that the agency was aware of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.
A note of a meeting between two nuns from the agency and representatives of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, on February 3 last year also revealed that  St Patrick’s Guild’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.
The AAI also named St Rita’s private nursing home – also excluded from the inquiry – as a “huge source of illegal registrations”.
Claire McGettrick of the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said she expected the Commission to add to the current “short list” if institutions it is examining.
“The legislation makes an express provision for the Commission to add to the initial list and it has resourced the Commission very well with a team of historians led by Prof. Mary Daly, President of the Royal Irish  Academy.”
“Historians realise there were many institutions and agencies involved in the Mother and Baby home sector in Ireland – JFMR and ARA have given a list to the Commission of some 170 institutions, agencies and individuals which our organisations and academic historians are also investigating,” she said.
Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes (CMABS) said it was a “national disgrace” that so many people were being excluded from the inquiry when so little effort is required to include everyone.
“If the Inquiry ‘sampled’ as little as four or five further institutions and a home birth, then all survivors would be included. The sample would include a holding centre such as Temple Hill, a public Maternity Hospital such as Holles Street, a so-called orphanage such as Westbank or Saint Philomena’s, a private nursing home such as St Rita’s and a home birth where the baby was forcibly removed by a social worker or a member of the religious acting on behalf of an adoption agency which would be investigated,” he said.
Kathy McMahon of the Irish First Mothers group said the Commission needed to adopt a “fully inclusive model”.
“Otherwise, we are on track to cherry-pick the truth so as to exclude the majority of women from consideration,” she said

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No probe into illegal adoption files – 2010

I wrote this in 2010 – almost five years before we get a State inquiry. It also came years before I obtained material showing the Adoption Authority of Ireland was warning the Government that there could be “thousands” of illegal adoptions. The HSE took three months to issue me a response. It answered none of the questions I asked.  The full audit of all adoption records, which I have written about so many times before and since, has yet to happen

 

THE Adoption Board has said it has no intention of inspecting all adoption files held by the HSE and private adoption agencies, despite the HSE admitting some files contain evidence of illegal birth registrations.

The revelation comes after the Irish Examiner queried the HSE concerning an entry on its website.

“After the introduction of legal adoption in Ireland in 1952, some children’s births were registered directly into the name of the ‘adoptive’ parents. This practice had the effect of removing all reference to the natural parents from the official record and also meant the Adoption Board had no record of the case, as there had been no legal adoption. Some adoption agencies have records in relation to these,” states the entry.

It is a crime to falsely register a birth. The result of such practices meant some children were raised believing they were the natural child of their ‘parents’ when, in fact, they were falsely registered and illegally adopted.

In some cases, this was facilitated by adoption agencies, some of which remain accredited by the Adoption Board to this day.

The Irish Examiner asked the HSE if any of the files showing illegal birth registrations were now in the possession of the HSE and, if so, had it informed the Adoption Board about such files.

A response was issued by the HSE after three months, in which it failed to answer any of the questions put to it.

“The HSE did receive files from a number of agencies when they ceased to operate. These files have been stored and are available to be reopened, as required. If the HSE receives a request to access the file from an individual who was adopted, this can be facilitated. Similarly, if information comes to light to suggest that an adoption was illegally registered this can be investigated further. However, it is important to note that if an adoption was illegally registered, this fact is not normally noted in the adoption file,” a statement read.

Despite its knowledge that some adoption files contain evidence of illegal registrations, the Adoption Board said it had never contacted or inspected any files held by the HSE.

The Adoption Board also said it has “no plans” to inspect the files of all adoption agencies and the HSE “within its current work schedule”.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the Adoption Board’s response to the issue was grounds for every member of the authority to resign.

“The fact that the HSE knows the details of adoption agencies which participated in illegal adoptions and that the Adoption Board has no intention to inspect these files to even quantify the extent of the problem is surely grounds for every single member of the board to resign,” said Ms Lohan.

Chairwoman of Adoption Loss – The Natural Parents Network of Ireland, Bernie Harold, called for a full audit of all the files in each of the private and HSE adoption departments in the State to discover the extent of such practices.

“The only body which has the right to inspect every single file in any registered adoption agency is the Adoption Board. We hereby call on the Minister for Children Barry Andrews to issue an instruction to the board to carry out a complete audit of all the files in each of the private and HSE adoption departments in the state,” she said.

 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/icrime/no-probe-into-illegal-adoption-files-133262.html

St Patrick’s Guild accredited under 2010 Adoption Act

The very first agency accredited by the Adoption Authority of Ireland under the much heralded Adoption Act 2010 was was St Patrick’s Guild – despite all that is known about its actions. Since this story ran in 2010, it has closed but adopted people are left waiting years for it to transfer its 13,500 files to Tusla. They are being offered no tracing service while they wait. It told the AAI in 2012 (see blog for more on this) it had “several hundred” illegal birth registrations on its books but was not telling the people involved. Guess what? Nobody decided to do anything on

It told the AAI in 2012 (see blog for more on this) it had “several hundred” illegal birth registrations on its books but was not telling the people involved. Guess what? Nobody decided to do anything on foot of this revelation and St Patrick’s Guild was kept out of the Mother and Baby Home inquiry. No reason was given for this exclusion, which beggars belief.

 

A RELIGIOUS-run adoption agency which facilitated a number of illegal adoptions and which exported over 500 “illegitimate” children to the US has been re-accredited by the Adoption Authority.

St Patrick’s Guild was last month accredited to assist adopted people and natural parents through tracing, counselling and mediating.

This is despite the fact that St Patrick’s Guild facilitated the illegal adoption and false birth registration of the son of Tressa Reeves — a case exposed by the Irish Examiner last year.

The agency allowed a couple to take the child without a formal adoption order being made. The couple then falsely registered the child as their own.

In letters to Ms Reeves, the agency admitted it had placed at least one other child in the same way.

Between 1947 and 1967, St Patrick’s Guild also arranged for the export of 572 “illegitimate” children to the US for adoption.

The agency dealt with more than 10,000 adoptions here and holds more than 13,000 files on children who were fostered or adopted.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said she was “astounded” St Patrick’s Guild had been re-accredited given the volume of complaints levelled at it over a period of decades.

“In our experience, it is one of the most unhelpful adoption agencies to deal with, whether the adoption was illegal or not… We sincerely hope that now St Patrick’s Guild is accredited, they will be submitted to rigorous inspection by the new Adoption Authority.”

In a statement, the Adoption Authority said the decision to accredit St Patrick’s Guild came after “a detailed examination of the body’s current policies, procedures and practices in terms of compliance with the 2010 Act and the Adoption Act 2010 (Accredited Bodies) Regulations 2010”.

 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/adoption-agency-re-accredited-149734.html

Mother and baby homes: Plenty of information about adoption records to be found if State wishes to look

The Government says an audit of adoption records held by the State is of very limited benefit, but recent revelations prove otherwise, writes Conall Ó Fátharta

 

Records reveal that children — some as young as 12 and pregnant as a result of rape — were in Bessborough into the 1980s.

 

THIS Government has consistently repeated the mantra that an audit of adoption records held by the State was “of very limited benefit” — despite revelation after revelation from this newspaper.

An examination of just a fraction of these records revealed that a religious order reported significantly higher levels of infant deaths to the State than it recorded privately, and that child victims of rape were present in mother and baby homes right into the 1980s.

There are tens of thousands of files in the hands of the State in relation to how unmarried women and their children were treated in state-licensed and funded mother and baby homes and adoption agencies. It seems nobody wants to take a look at them.

 It’s not like they haven’t been asked. Adoption campaigners have called for an audit of all records for years. The Government and the Adoption Authority have ignored all requests.

 

It’s not as if they don’t know what these files contain. In April, this newspaper revealed the adoption authority informed the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2013, there “may be thousands” of cases of illegal adoptions.

It 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 [birth] registrations”.

The authority also named religious-run former adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild as being “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”.

A record of a meeting between two nuns from the guild and representatives from Tusla in 2014 states the agency’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and, crucially, that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

The Government’s reaction to this? St Patrick’s Guild was excluded from the remit of the of the Commission of Investigation to Inquire into Mother and Baby Homes.

Five months later, the then children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she “had no plans to initiate an audit of all 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.

More bizarrely still, the department’s response to queries relating to any audit of all State adoption records is that such an exercise would “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,” said the department.

However, an investigation of those records has shown such a statement to be patently untrue.

In June, this newspaper revealed that an internal HSE report prepared after an examination of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home records expressed concerns that death records were falsified at the institution so children could “be brokered in clandestine adoption arrangements” at home and abroad.

 

An examination of the order’s own death register revealed a higher infant death rate than Tuam, two years before the Tuam babies scandal broke.

The HSE also expressed concerns in 2012 that up to 1,000 children may have been “trafficked” to the US from the Tuam Mother and Baby home in “a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

The warning is contained in an internal note of a teleconference in October 2012 with then assistant director of Children and Family Service Phil Garland, and then head of the Medical Intelligence Unit, Davida De La Harpe.

It ends with a recommendation that that “this goes all the way up to the minister” so that “a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry” could be launched.

All of these concerns were raised by a social worker looking at the records the Government deem not worth auditing.

An investigation by this newspaper revealed last month that the order which ran the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home reported significantly higher levels of infant deaths to State inspectors than it recorded in its own Death Register. The order declined to offer an explanation for the discrepancy.

Yet again, this information was uncovered following an examination of records all of which are in the hands of the State.

Similarly, the records reveal that children — some as young as 12 and pregnant as a result of rape — were in Bessborough into the 1980s. The order declined to answer whether or not they reported any of these crimes to the gardaí.

All of this evidence is contained in records held by the State and which an audit could have put into the public domain before now.

Let’s hope the commission doesn’t view State’s own records as being “of limited benefit”. The women and children on those files deserve better.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/analysis/mother-and-baby-homes-plenty-of-information-about-adoption-records-to-be-found-if-state-wishes-to-look-369318.html

No appetite to uncover scale of illegal adoption scandal

Calls for an audit of all the files held by accredited adoption agencies and by the State, so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered, have always fallen on deaf ears, writes Conall Ó Fátharta

You really have to wonder how big a scandal needs to be before an Irish government decides to do the right thing and investigate the matter.

The latest revelations — that the Government was informed by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) almost two years ago that there “may be thousands” of cases where people had their birth history falsified so they could be illegally adopted — poses a very simple question: Why was this not investigated?

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs was told by an AAI delegation in June 2013 — more than a year before the mother-and-baby home scandal — that there were “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations. Not an insignificant number from the sample examined.

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. It 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”.

It specifically named one religious-run former adoption agency — 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 holds 13,500 adoption files — one quarter of all adoption files in the country

In a statement to this newspaper, AAI chief executive Patricia Carey said that the “may be thousands” comment made at the 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.

With all of this information, you would imagine that someone in Government would think that this warranted investigation. Instead, five months later, 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 the full-scale audit of adoption records held by the State and accredited adoption agencies which could prove the claim has ever been carried out.

To adoption campaigners, this came as no surprise. They have long called for an audit of all adoption files held by accredited adoption agencies and the State so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered. These calls to both the department and the AAI have always fallen on deaf ears.

However, it has now emerged that the decision not to order such an audit was made in the knowledge that the department was informed by the very body charged with regulating adoption in Ireland — the AAI — that it believed there “may be thousands” of cases of illegal birth registrations.

Why? The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the department asking why it had not acted on this information and launched an investigation. Did it not feel 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,” said the statement.

However, the very body regulating adoption seems to think differently. The 120 cases mentioned by the AAI in the June 2013 note refer to a 2010 audit it carried out of its records on foot of an Irish Examiner story 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 who 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” is also contradicted by a record 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”.

The agency is in the process of transferring its records to Tusla.

Why was none of this immediately investigated by the State?

Despite being aware of this almost two years ago, no full audit has been carried out of adoption records nor is one planned. Despite loud and repeated calls from a range of adoption groups, St Patrick’s Guild was also excluded from the mother-and-baby home inquiry.

The agency has been making headlines for decades. In 1997, former justice minister Alan Shatter said the behaviour of the agency in relation to how it dealt with adopted people and natural mothers looking for information about their identity was “almost beyond belief”.

“It is unacceptable that an adoption society such as St Patrick’s Guild has deliberately misled people by giving grossly inaccurate information, both to adopted persons and to birth mothers, with regard to the background to their adoption,” he said. “It is almost beyond belief that an adoption society deliberately set out to tell adopted persons the wrong names, wrong dates of birth and the wrong ages of the birth mothers.”

Adoption, specifically forced and illegal adoption, has always been the elephant in the room for the State in relation to the mother-and-baby home inquiry. Adopted people and birth mothers are waiting decades for tracing and information legislation to grant them basic identity rights. They get told it is very “complex” but work is “progressing”. One wonders if offering tracing rights and opening up adoption files may open up another can of worms the State would rather stay firmly closed.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/no-appetite-to-uncover-scale-of-illegal-adoption-scandal-323556.html

Excluded agency ‘aware of illegal birth registrations’

The Government excluded an adoption agency from the mother-and-baby home inquiry despite being told almost two years ago that it had knowledge of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.

An Adoption Authority (AAI) delegation told representatives of the Department of Children and the General Register Office (GRO) in June 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was aware of several hundred cases of illegal birth registrations, a department note of meeting released under Freedom of Information reveals.

“St Patrick’s Guild are aware of several hundred illegal registrations but are waiting for people to contact them; they are not seeking the people involved,” the note read. “Must consider how revelations of this sort would affect a family unit.”

Illegal birth registrations were usually done to facilitate an illegal adoption. No adoption order was made and the child was taken and registered as if born to the adoptive parents.

St Patrick’s Guild has hit the headlines on numerous occasions — most notably when the Irish Examiner revealed its role in the illegal adoption of Tressa Reeves’ son.

 

The agency was also criticised by former justice minister Alan Shatter in the Dáil as far back as 1997, when he hit out at it for having “deliberately misled” people by giving “grossly inaccurate information” to both adopted persons and birth mothers. He said such behaviour by an adoption agency was “almost beyond belief”.

The Government has repeatedly resisted calls by adoption campaigners for an audit of all adoption files held in the State so that the full scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations can be uncovered.

It also refused to include St Patrick’s Guild in the upcoming Mother and Baby Home inquiry, despite calls from a range of groups representing adopted people.

In a statement, the department said an audit of adoption records “would yield little useful information”, as there would be “little, if any, supporting information in relation to these arrangements” on the files.

However, a note of a meeting between two nuns from the agency and representatives of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, on February 3 last year directly contradicts this statement.

It acknowledges that St Patrick’s Guild’s records contained “some illegal registrations” and that “full details are available on the majority of cases”.

St Patrick’s Guild announced its intention to cease offering a tracing and information service in 2013 and is currently in the process of transferring its approximately 13,500 adoption records to Tusla.

In a statement, chief executive of the AAI Patricia Carey said it currently has “no quantitative evidence of exact numbers [of illegal registrations], and comments made at meetings are not verifiable with any current evidence”.

In a statement, Sr Francis I Fahy of St Patrick’s Guild said the agency had no comment to make on any of the AAI claims and refused to answer any of the questions posed by the Irish Examiner.

“St Patrick’s Guild is not in a position to comment in any way on what AAI might have recorded. St Patrick’s Guild is no longer in a position to respond to the questions that have been raised.

“It is now engaged solely on the task of preparing for the transfer of all of its records to Tusla,” it said.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/excluded-agency-aware-of-illegal-birth-registrations-323568.html

In search of a long-lost boy

TRESSA REEVES was born Teresa Mary Donnelly in England to an Irish father and an English mother.

In 1960, at the age of 20 and unmarried, she became pregnant. She had been involved in a relationship with an older man which did not last.

Given the stigma which surrounded unmarried mothers and so-called “illegitimate” children at the time, Tressa’s mother made arrangements with nuns in their local convent in England and she was sent to Dublin to enable the birth to be hidden from neighbours and relatives and be placed for adoption.

Many years later in her home in Penzance in England, Tressa, now married and with other children and grandchildren, acknowledges that once she had left for Ireland, the topic of her son was never spoken of by her parents ever again.

“I never spoke to them about it, ever. I could have been gone shopping for four months. It was never talked about,” she says.

To understand the stigma around births outside marriage at the time, one statistic is enlightening. In 1967, 97% of all children born outside of marriage in Ireland were placed for adoption.

Tressa had presumed her child was to be legally adopted like so many others. However, that was not the case.

When she arrived in Dublin, Tressa was told her child was to be adopted through an adoption agency called St Patrick’s Guild, then based in Middle Abbey Street in Dublin.

For the first while, she stayed in a private house in Howth along with some other unmarried pregnant girls. This house was run by Marie Norman, who also ran a nursing home called The Marie Clinic on the Howth Road in Clontarf in Dublin.

It was in this nursing home that Tressa gave birth to a baby boy on March 13, 1961. She called him André and baptised him herself, alone in her room.

Innocently, she thought that by giving him an exotic sounding name, he would be easier to find when she came looking for him.

“Yeah, I gave him an exotic sounding name because I thought that when I came to look for him, he would be easier to find that way. Of course, that wasn’t to be the case,” she recalls.

The morning after his birth André was taken away. She hasn’t seen him since.

Nine days later, a 21-year-old Tressa was brought by a Fr Moloney, who used to visit the girls in the house in Howth, to St Patrick’s Guild to sign the adoption consent forms. There she was told to sign the documents and never contact her son again. These forms also contained an address in Dublin where she had never stayed.

These documents, Tressa presumed, were signed in order to carry out a legal adoption. However, as became clear many years later, this was not what happened and Tressa, in essence, signed fraudulent documents.

In fact, her son was not going to be adopted but merely given by St Patrick’s Guild to a couple seeking a baby. This couple then took the boy and pretended it was their own child. To this day, Tressa’s son, now aged 49, has no idea he was adopted.

Mrs Norman, who ran the nursing home, then allowed the birth to be registered in the names of this couple, enabling André to appear as the natural child of the “adoptive” parents.

It would be more than 30 years before Tressa would discover all of this. However, her memories of the day she signed the so-called consent forms are vivid.

“I signed an address in Northumberland Road and I questioned it at the time. I was told something like: ‘Oh we always have to do that, it’s part of the form’. And I said: ‘Oh alright’. There was no solicitor there to my knowledge and the form when it was sent to me 30 years later was signed by a solicitor,” she explains.

Tressa first went back looking for the son she presumed had been adopted in June of 1977. She was met with silence, obfuscation and a generally dismissive attitude by the very agency that allowed for her child to be illegally adopted.

Upon visiting St Patrick’s Guild, she was told by a nun that no file existed on her or her son and that she “must have imagined” she had given birth to a son. It would be a further 20 years before the agency finally admitted it had her file.

Upset by her treatment by the nun at St Patrick’s Guild, Tressa went to the nursing home where she gave birth, looking for answers. There she met the midwife who had delivered her son and with whom she was friendly with at the time she gave birth.

“She knew me when I came back all those years later and even told me that she knew I would come back. She said there was traffic from Ireland to America in those days and that was where he probably went and, because I was quite shocked, I didn’t say that I remembered her telling me he was going down the country to a family. She said that I wouldn’t be able to trace him as you couldn’t trace them when they went to America,” recalls Tressa.

Indeed, “traffic” was the right word as, many years later, it was uncovered that St Patrick’s Guild, along with many other religious run agencies, was to the forefront of exporting Irish babies to America.

Done with full official sanction and facilitated by the state, by 1967, when the practice finally ended, the agency to which Tressa entrusted her son, had dispatched a total of 572 children across the Atlantic, more than any other adoption society.

After hitting brick walls with the nuns in St Patrick’s Guild and with the midwife in the nursing home, a devastated Tressa resigned herself to putting her search on hold.

By this time she had married and went on to have four other children, all of whom were told about their older brother, who they hoped they would meet in the future.

Tressa next tried to contact St Patrick’s Guild by letter throughout 1995 and 1996 but received no reply. She finally received a response when she phoned then director of agency Sr Gabriel directly. The nun suggested her file might have been “lost in a fire”.

The following year, after St Patrick’s Guild had hit the headlines for giving adopted people false and misleading information about their natural parents, Tressa decided to try the agency yet again for information about her son.

It was at this point that new director Sr Francis Fahy finally admitted to Tressa, over the phone, that it indeed had a file on Andre and that he was adopted through the agency.

LATER that June, Tressa received her first letter from Sr Fahy at St Patrick’s Guild which stated that the family with which André was placed “appears to have taken him as their own and there was no formal adoption order made. The family had another child adopted in the same way”.

Tressa did not realise the significance of this statement at the time but gradually the murky affair was to come to the surface.

Sr Fahy eventually made contact with the “adoptive mother” who told her that neither of the two boys she had obtained through the agency had ever been told they were adopted and she was not about to tell them now.

Since then, and despite numerous correspondence, St Patrick’s Guild has refused to tell André the truth about his identity, nor about the fact that his natural mother would like to meet with him, subject to his agreement.

Sr Fahy did mention attempts could be made to bypass the ‘adoptive’ mother but nothing was ever forthcoming on that front.

By this time Tressa had been in contact with the Adopted Peoples Association and the Natural Parent’s Network of Ireland, the latter of which continue to assist her with her case.

Representing natural parents, the group advised her to seek André’s birth certificate from the General Register Office (GRO), as well as to seek out the original consent and surrender forms from St Patrick’s Guild, and which she should have been given copies of at the time.

When the GRO responded to Tressa, it was with the news that they did not have a birth certificate for her son André on the register.

Shocked by this revelation, and how it could have occurred, a letter from St Patrick’s Guild on November 22, 2001 shed light on the story.

In the letter, which also included the original surrender and consent forms Tressa signed, and which she should have been given at the time, Sr Fahy admitted the birth registration had been falsified and also that the agency was involved in placing numerous other children in the same way.

“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.

“Generally speaking, in these cases, the birth of the child is registered under the name of the ‘adoptive parents’ and this was usually done from the Nursing Home, Sr Fahy wrote.

Later in the letter she admitted: “André was placed with a married couple in March 1961. His birth was registered by Mrs Norman from the nursing home in their names.”

Such activity occurred routinely prior to 1952. However, the very reason for Adoption Act of 1952 was to regulate adoption so as to prevent such murky activity from occurring.

Even more troubling, Sr Fahy admits in her letter that there were numerous other cases on file at St Patrick’s Guild, with the tone of the letter suggesting the practice was not out of the ordinary.

Despite this, the Adoption Board has said it is only aware of one such case as ever having occurred post 1952. Given that the Board refuses to discuss specific cases, it is safe to assume that the one case it is aware of is Tressa’s.

Although St Patrick’s Guild has admitted its involvement in such practices and the Adoption Board’s awareness Tressa’s case, the agency nonetheless remains fully accredited by the Adoption Board.

Following this letter, the Adoption Board wrote to Tressa in December 2001 noting it “had no record of an adoption application or order having been made in respect of your son”.

The Adoption Board also then requested the consent and surrender forms Tressa had already received from St Patrick’s Guild and also advised her to take legal advice if she believed her son had been “directly registered”.

THE obvious question in all of this is why St Patrick’s Guild allowed such an illegal adoption to be carried out when legislation providing for legal adoption was in place for almost a decade?

Such a scheme had many benefits. By falsely registering the birth, the couple could have obtained a child without having formally adopting them.

By having the birth registered in their names, a serious offence in itself, the couple could maintain the child was born to them and the child would never know he or she had been adopted.

Through this pretence, any stigma they may have faced as a result of being infertile would have also been removed as far as friends and neighbours were concerned.

Such a system was also perfect for those who may have been refused permission to adopt a child by a social worker for whatever reason.

Throughout 2002, Tressa received correspondence from the Adoption Board informing her it was “actively pursuing” the matter with the agency.

However, in May 2002, the board wrote to inform her it had received and considered legal advice in relation to her case and apologised for delays in dealing with the matter.

On March 20, 2002, Tressa also received a letter from St Patrick’s Guild informing her it had sent the contents of her file to the Adoption Board “with the exception of the name and address of the adoptive mother”.

Despite this admission, chief executive of the Adoption Board John Collins assured Tressa by letter in 2004 that the Adoption Board was also given the name and address of Andre’s “adoptive parents” on the same date.

In July of 2003, Tressa took a legal case against St Patrick’s Guild, The Registrar General and Ireland and the Attorney General. Her Senior Counsel (SC) outlined she has an “arguable case” in seeking information relating to her son.

Any hope of a solution to her case being offered by the law was dashed however. Despite battling for five years, Tressa was eventually forced to withdraw her case. Her SC, while initially confident in 2003, put forward a far more pessimistic opinion in 2008.

In the five years she had battling her case, St Patrick’s Guild failed to file a defence of any kind.

On advice that she would lose her case and possibly her home if she had to pay costs, Tressa reluctantly withdrew the case.

However, her battle was not fruitless. On her wall now in her home in Penzance in England is a small framed piece of paper. It is André’s birth certificate. Denied to her in 1961 through the actions of others, André’s birth was correctly registered for the first time on October 14, 2009. She admits being given the piece of paper that day overwhelmed her.

“I was very moved actually. I didn’t think I was going to be. It was a piece of paper I had been trying to get for a long time. We went into this office and we talked to this very nice lady and I signed something. She went out and brought this piece of paper in and I burst into tears.

“It was amazing. It actually hit me then that the whole thing wasn’t just something that is going on over there in Ireland but that this is my life. It’s difficult to explain. I was very shocked and disturbed by it, that all this really happened,” she explains.

Tressa’s sense of grievance over what was done to both her and her child without their consent is palpable. Her anger towards the legal system which offered her no sense of justice is also raw and close to the surface. However, despite all this, she has refused to lose hope.

She feels by telling her story, more women who have lost children to adoption might come out and start to ask questions about the manner in which it was done.

There may be many other cases like hers languishing in adoption agency files, gathering dust due to the lack of legislation surrounding tracing and information.

“I remember when he was coming up to 40 and being sad that he would never see me with red hair because I used to have red hair. I remember thinking that he would never know he had a red headed Mum. Now he’s nearly 50. I hope I live long enough to see the end of this. I never really lost hope. I did a bit when the court case ended and I didn’t think I could fight anymore but I am fired up again.”