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.

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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.

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

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

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.”