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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In April 2015, the Irish Examiner  revealed that an Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) delegation told the DCYA in June 2013 that there were “at least 120 [confirmed] cases” of illegal registrations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audit uncovered approximately 99 cases, while a further 20 were identified in the following years. In a report prepared for the department in June 2011, the AAI said it considered carrying out a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered, but because of the transfer of senior personnel and the “pressure on resources of the imminent establishment of the Adoption Authority no further action was taken”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It stated that it “does not hold a register of suspected illegal/irregular adoptions” but that, in mid to late 2016, it did “consider tracking anomalies/issues of concern” as they were notified to the National Manager for Adoption to ensure procedures were being followed.

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

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

The Irish Examiner revealed in 2015 that an Adoption Authority (AAI) delegation told the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2013 that St Patrick’s Guild was “aware of several hundred illegal registrations”, stating that the agency “are not seeking the people involved” but were, rather, “waiting for people to contact them”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a report prepared for the department in June 2011, the AAI pointed to the need for a more comprehensive audit of the cases it uncovered, but because of the transfer of senior personnel and the “pressure on resources of the imminent establishment of the Adoption Authority no further action was taken”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The scandal the State fears – illegal adoptions

The focus on one institution — Tuam — and one issue — baby deaths — has proved to be convenient for the Government but the spotlight needs to shift to the glaring elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. The issue will simply not go away.

It’s been just over three years since the Mother and Baby Homes Commission began its work examining 14 mother and baby homes and a selection of county homes.

Despite having terms of reference that include crucial issues like adoption practices and vaccine trials, its focus in that time has been almost exclusively on one institution — Tuam, and one issue — infant deaths.

This may be by accident or design but, either way, it suits the Government. It keeps the narrative focused on historic deaths in an institution in the west of Ireland and away from a key issue — the huge and glaring elephant in the room that no one likes to mention — the scale of forced and illegal adoptions and the State’s role in same.

The irony of all of this is that an inquiry into all of these matters could have happened long before the Mother and Baby Homes Commission was set up in 2015. Like the Magdalene laundries inquiry before it, the Government was dragged kicking and screaming into an investigation.

The research of Catherine Corless relating to infant deaths at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and the subsequent international media attention the story generated forced the Government to examine these institutions.

We have since learned, through numerous revelations in this newspaper, that the State was well aware of these issues long before Tuam hit the headlines in 2012.

Indeed, calls for an inquiry into how thousands of adoptions have been contracted across decades have been bouncing around since the 1990s. Every government since then has told activists that there is nothing to see here — despite mountains of evidence stating otherwise.

So three years into the inquiry, what has been the progress of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission? In a word — slow.

That was to be expected. No one with a grasp of the scale of the task facing the Commission expected it to issue its final report by the initial deadline of February 2018. It will now issue its final report in February of next year.

However, given it has just recently moved its focus away from Tuam to examining another institution — Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork — this also looks ambitious.

The Commission was established in February 2015. From then until July 2016, very little emerged as to its progress or how it operated.

In that time, a number of investigations by this newspaper revealed that both Tuam and Bessborough had been examined by the HSE prior to Catherine Corless’ revelations.

Senior management in that organisation, as well as two government departments — the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health — had been made aware of serious concerns raised about practices in at least one of these institutions.

In June 2015, just four months after the Commission was set up, the Irish Examiner revealed that two separate reports on Tuam and Bessborough were prepared by the HSE, while it was preparing material for the McAleese investigation into Magdalene laundries.

These reports not only explicitly reference infant mortality rates, but also expressed serious concerns about the possible trafficking of children from the institutions. They also mention that these issues needed to be investigated as a matter of urgency.

In the case of Tuam, a note of a teleconference call on October 12, 2012, revealed that senior management in the HSE felt what had been discovered needed to go to the minister so that warranted a state inquiry.

The call involved then assistant director of the Children and Family Service at the HSE, Phil Garland, and then head of the medical intelligence unit, Davida De La Harpe.

During the call, concern was expressed that as many as 1,000 children may have been trafficked from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in what could “prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State”.

These concerns had been 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”.

The archive contained 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 might have been prolonged by the order for financial reasons. It also contained letters to parents asking for money for the upkeep of some children who had already been discharged or who 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”.

Those on the conference call raise the possibility that if there is evidence of trafficking, “it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers, etc, and a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system”.

The note concludes by stating that, due to the gravity of what was being found, an “early warning letter” be written to 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.

At the time, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) denied this information was ever forwarded to the then minister Frances Fitzgerald.

A week later, in a separate report sent by Mr Garland to Mr Crowley, and which CC’d then national director of Children and Family Services, Gordon Jeyes, and Ms De la Harpe, Dr Declan McKeown, of the medical intelligence unit, also outlined concerns about death rates at both Tuam and Bessborough.

Dr McKeown notes that the infant mortality rate for Tuam was “approximately 20%-25%, similar to that recorded in Bessborough”. He also raised questions as to the veracity of such death rates.

“Queries over the veracity of the records are suggested by causes of death such as ‘marasmus’ in a two-and-a-half-month-old infant; or ‘pernicious anaemia’ in a four-month-old. These diagnoses would be extremely unusual in children so young, even with the reduced nutrition of the time,” he said.

A separate report into Bessborough not only revealed that the deaths of hundreds of children were recorded in the order’s own register which was handed over to the HSE in 2011, but that, similar to Tuam, the operation was aimed at making money. This report was seen by both the DCYA and the Department of Health yet no action was taken on foot of the concerns.

It is understood that these revelations and what was known by key personnel within the HSE prior to the 2014 revelations is currently being examined by the Commission.

However, throughout 2015, there was no word emanating from the Commission as to the progress it was making. Indeed, even the most rudimentary of press queries were met with terse responses.

In August 2015, the Commission declined to answer any questions as to how its Confidential Committee — set up to gather testimony from survivors — operates.

The Irish Examiner asked a series of questions:

• Will all interviews with the Confidential Committee be recorded, unless a witness does not consent to this?

• Will a transcript and audio copy of the recording be provided to the witness?

• What is the area of expertise of the experienced person taking notes when a witness is being interviewed?

• Will a copy of those notes be sent to the witness?

• Will the witness have an opportunity to clarify anything s/he believes does not reflect her/his testimony?

• Will witnesses be given a copy of the general report of the Confidential Committee?

However, a statement issued by Commission director Ita Mangan simply said: “All aspects of the Confidential Committee are confidential including its procedures. People who wish to be heard by the committee are given detailed information in advance about how the meeting will be conducted.”

In fact, some information on this Committee was one aspect dealt with when the Commission finally published some information on its progress in July 2016 — well over a year after it was set up. The Commission’s first interim report ran to just five pages and was primarily a request to extend the timeframe for the completion of its Confidential Committee report and its Social History Report. These were due to be submitted in August 2017.

The Commission asked for these to now be submitted along with the overall final report in February 2018.

At the end of September, the Commission announced it was carrying out a test excavation at the site of the children’s burial ground for the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Site work began in October and was expected to last five weeks.

Then on 3 March, 2017, and somewhat out of the blue, the Commission dropped a bombshell that thrust Tuam back into the worldwide media glare. It confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains” had been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined as part of the excavation works.

The Commission said it was “shocked” by the discovery and that it was continuing its investigation into who was “responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.

It requested that the relevant State authorities take responsibility for the “appropriate treatment of the remains” and notified the coroner.

In response, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the coroner for north Galway would take the steps he deemed necessary and stated that Galway County Council would engage with the Commission in relation to the next steps to be taken at the site.

In June, Ms Zappone commissioned an Expert Technical Group (ETG) to outline to Government as to what options were available in terms of managing the burial ground.

Almost a year and a half year later, there has still been no decision made as to what to do with the site.

The reason for the delay is clear. Given it is known, and indeed the State has held the evidence since at least 2011, that similarly high infant mortality rates were prevalent in other mother and baby homes — most notably Bessborough — it would appear that any decision taken at Tuam will have to be replicated in other sites of suspected infant burials.

Delays were also attached to the publication of the Commission’s second interim report.

Completed in September 2016, it was not published by the DCYA until April 2017 — one month after the discovery of infant remains in Tuam.

Running to 16 pages, the report has three main sections — on redress, its terms of reference, and on the issue of the false registration of births.

The Government managed to get its message out ahead of the second interim report’s publication, when the Irish Times reported in advance of its publication the Government’s view that it “not possible” to implement the report’s main recommendation that the 2002 Residential Institutions Redress Scheme be reopened in order to compensate those who were in mother and baby homes as children.

The report stated that the Government should re-examine the exclusion of children who lived without their mothers in mother and baby and county homes from the 2002 scheme and that “other redress options” for those involved.

It stated that former residents of the Bethany Home and other mother and baby homes like Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey, Castlepollard, Tuam and Dunboyne all had “a strong case” that they should have been included in the 2002 scheme.

“It is clear to the Commission, from its work to date, that the decisions on which institutions to include in, or exclude from, the redress scheme are not consistent,” stated the report.

However, the Government had already got its point across that this option was out of the question. It was repeated by Ms Zappone on the day of publication. The Commission had not yet made any findings to date regarding “regarding abuse or neglect” and it “would not be appropriate” to deal with the question of redress in advance of the final report, she said.

Indeed, successive governments have been aware that the thorny issue of redress for mother and baby homes would arrive some day.

The Irish Examiner revealed in March 2017 that concerns were expressed at Cabinet as far back as 2011 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.

The concerns are in a memorandum for Government seeking permission to establish what became the McAleese committee.

The observations of the then minister for education and skills Ruairí Quinn state that, although he was supportive of the approach outlined in the memorandum, “there may be demands for enquiries [sic] into other situations”.

“Following the publication of the ‘Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report)’, there were renewed demands for the Redress Scheme to be extended to include other institutions, such as Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, psychiatric hospitals and foster care settings,” he said.

It went on to state that, while Mr Quinn recognised the demands being made on behalf of the women who had been through Magdalene laundries were for a separate redress scheme, “he is conscious of the implications of any move towards redress, for the Residential Insititutions Redress Scheme”.

The Commission’s second interim report acknowledged calls for an extension of its terms of reference to examine private nursing homes/maternity homes and a range of adoption societies but said such a decision could not be made until the current investigation is concluded. At that stage it “may be in a position to make further recommendations”.

Given a major part of its remit is to examine practices in relation to how adoptions were contracted, the second interim reports section on illegal adoption is remarkably lukewarm. In fact, the relevant chapter of the report is titled “False registration of birth” — a rather euphemistic term favoured by government departments. The false registration of birth, which was often facilitated by registered adoption societies, is after all, a serious criminal offence.

The report notes that illegal adoptions cover a “wide variety of situations including actions taken (or not taken) prior to the adoption and illegality in the adoption orders made”.

However, it makes no effort to highlight any of these. Instead, the focus of the section is on illegal birth registrations.

These occurred where the birth was registered in the name of adoptive parents and — crucially, from the State’s perspective — no formal adoption order was ever made.

In short, most of these cases can’t be called illegal adoptions as no formal adoption order was ever granted by the Adoption Board. The State is off the hook.

While the Commission acknowledges that the false registration of a birth is a criminal offence, it speculates that those involved in such practices may have been engaging in a crime for what they thought were the right reasons.

“It is possible that such registrations were carried out for what were perceived to be good reasons (this does not change the fact that it was an offence). Formal legal adoption did not become available in Ireland until 1953.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that, prior to the availability of formal adoption, “adoptive” parents may have falsely registered the birth in the belief that they were conferring legal status on the child.

This narrative, offered without anything other than “anecdotal evidence”, indicates that such activity was done by ordinary, well-meaning couples rather than being facilitated by any other power structure such as a religious order or, indeed, the State.

However, what about the possibility that the opposite of this scenario may also be true? Namely, that such activity may have been facilitated for less than well-meaning reasons?

In December 2017, the Commission published its third interim report. The prime focus of the four-page report was to seek permission to push back the deadline for submitting its final report until February 2019.

However, as with the second interim report, some of the language seemed to seemed to be dampening expectations in terms of what the investigation could achieve.

The key line in the report is the Commission’s belief that it will be “difficult to establish the facts” surrounding the burials of children who died in all of the homes it is investigating.

It noted that that while there are “detailed death records available” in relation to mother and baby homes, there are also “significant gaps” in the information available about the burials of babies who died in a number of the institutions it is examining.

“The Commission is continuing to make inquiries about burials and burial records but it appears that this is an area in which it will be difficult to establish the facts,” stated the report.

Following the publication of the report, Ms Zappone announced other measures which would operate in parallel to the Commission’s work. Most notably, a collaborative forum would be established to support former residents of mother and baby homes. in developing solutions to the issues of concern to them.

One week later, the Government published the findings of the ETG report into the site at Tuam.

As with the second interim report, a very specific element of the report’s findings was leaked to the Irish Times in advance of publication.

This focused on the ETG assertion that it would be difficult to isolate individual remains at Tuam and that the Government should seek to ensure that expectations as to what is possible should be set at “realistic levels”.

However, a full reading of the report revealed other key points of interest in terms of what the State obligations may be in terms of investigating the circumstances of the burials at Tuam.

It outlined five options which the Government could pursue when managing the location.

These range from doing no further investigative work to a full forensic excavation and analysis of all human remains.

It also revealed Ireland may be bound by law to investigate the deaths to the fullest degree possible.

“These include human rights issues around the right of an individual to a respectful and appropriate burial,” said the report.

“There is also the possibility that there may be an obligation under international human rights law, including under the European Convention on Human Rights, arising from the right to respect for family life. This could arguably entitle living family members to know the fate of their relatives.

“There is an obligation on the State, pursuant to the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) and under human rights law, to fully investigate the deaths so as to vindicate the right to life of those concerned.”

As a result, Ms Zappone has asked Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, to examine these issues and to report to her on the matter.

If Mr Shannon finds that these rights exist, then it may influence which of the five options the Government chooses when dealing with the Tuam site, or indeed any of the other institutions where children are known to have died. His report is due next month.

In the meantime, we wait.

It would seem obvious that the fullest possible exhumation and analysis of the remains should be pursued. However, that would commit Government to the same course of action at every other potential site linked to a mother and baby home. This raises all manner of further issues — most notably cost.

In March, Catherine Corless hit out at the Government for focusing “on cost” rather than committing to a full forensic excavation, exhumation, and DNA testing of the remains at Tuam.

She expressed her anger at the “callous and cold voting system” put in place by Galway County Council as part of an independent consultation process on the five options presented by the ETG.

On forms issued by Galway County Council, interested parties were asked indicate their preferred option “by placing an X in the appropriate box” next to one of the five options.

Ms Corless’ intervention came just one month after the Irish Examiner uncovered evidence that children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and another State-funded and accredited former adoption agency in Cork were buried in unmarked graves in a Cork City cemetery as late as 1990.

Tusla, who now hold the records, declined to say whether they had informed the Commission of these deaths before the Irish Examiner revealed them.

Both the Commission and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs have also declined to say whether or not all of the burials found would be investigated.

Whatever the Government decides to do with Tuam is just one part of the picture. The Commission will publish its final report in February of next year.

What it says on adoption will be crucial. It is too big a scandal to be simply tacked onto a report.

The children who died in these institutions can no longer speak for themselves.

However, there are thousands of adoptees out there — many of whom have no idea that there adoptions were illegal or that their identities were falsified. The scale of this scandal and the State’s role in this needs to be fully examined.

It will not simply go away.

St Patrick’s finally hands over 13,500 adoption files to Tusla

More than 13,000 files from St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency have transferred to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency — almost three years after the agency ceased to operate.

The agency held approximately 13,500 adoption files — one quarter of all adoption files in the country. It closed in 2013, with the transfer expected to take between 12 to 18 months.

The Irish Examiner understands that issues around indemnity against any legal action taken by people seeking their records was a significant factor in the transfer delay.

Tusla declined to confirm it had been indemnified in respect of the records but it had “obtained the appropriate protection in respect of known potential issues”.

St Patrick’s Guild has been excluded from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, despite the Irish Examiner revealing that the government was in 2013 informed that the agency had knowledge of “several hundred” illegal birth registrations.

An Adoption Authority of Ireland delegation told representatives of the Department of Children and the General Register Office in June 2013 that the agency was aware of several hundred cases of illegal birth registrations.

“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. Must consider how revelations of this sort would affect a family unit,” states a department note of the meeting.

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

The agency was criticised by 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 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.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the fact the transfer of files overran significantly showed the “complete indifference” of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs towards the rights of adopted people and natural mothers.

“Both bodies are fully aware of the very significant numbers of illegal registrations on the files and, on the back of other scandals around child trafficking to the US, high mortality rates, mass graves, etc, are fearful of the potential scale of this operation becoming known,” she said.

Paul Redmond, chairman of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors, said the agency had been “exposed on numerous occasions” and called on Tusla to carry out a full audit of the files.

“If the HSE or Tulsa find suspicious issues in the files, the gardaí should be called in immediately and no one should be immune, including the nuns,” he said.

Kathy McMahon of the Irish First Mothers group said it was imperative that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission seek Government sanction to include St Patrick’s Guild in its investigation so it can fully audit all the files.