By Claire O’Sullivan and Conall Ó Fátharta
Thousands of Irish people „must have been“ illegally adopted, with many taken out of the country, the Adoption Authority (AAI) has admitted.
The controversial claims clash with statements from the then children’s minister and now justice minister, Frances Fitzgerald, who told the Dáil last year that every adoption carried out by the State was legal.
Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said she was “astonished” the AAI revealed the figures, as her organisation has campaigned for years for an investigation into the alleged practice. No audit of adoption records held by the AAI, HSE or religious adoption agencies has ever being carried out.
Illegal adoptions arise in different ways, but one of the most controversial is when a child’s birth certificate falsely states that its adoptive parents are its birth parents. It’s believed this practice often followed the forced handover of children from unmarried mothers.
The AAI says there are two groups of illegally adopted people:
– Those who’ve been told they’re adopted, even though an official adoption process never took place.
– Those who wrongly believe they were born to their adoptive parents, as this is what their birth certificate states and what their families have told them.
“There must be many thousands out there, who in their positions might not know they are [not] adopted and their registration is illegal or irregular,” AAI chief executive Kiernan Gildea told the Dáil Committee on Health and Children last week.
Mr Gildea said some people who have contacted the National Contact Preference Register, which is used by adopted people and their birth parents to contact one another, are aware of their “irregular” status.
“We have 100 applications on the National Adoption Contact Preference Register (NACPR) for those people who are lucky enough to know they have a birth certificate but they were [not] adopted,” he said in response to a question from independent TD Clare Daly.
Speaking in the Dáil in November, Ms Fitzgerald said the Australian state apology on forced adoption was due to government policies at the time in that country, before stating that every adoption carried out by the Irish State has been legal. “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,” she said.
The minister also stated last year that illegal adoptions referred only to illegal birth registrations, which meant the State was not involved as no formal adoption took place.
Ms Lohan says falsified birth certificates are “the tip of the iceberg”. “Illegal birth registrations are a small part of the illegal adoptions that need to be investigated. We also need to examine those rendered illegal as the mother was under the age of consent, where surrender forms were signed before babies had reached the legal date of six weeks, where adoptions were signed off to couples who were not ordinarily resident in the State, and where signatures were routinely forged and consent not freely given.”
The Adoption Rights Alliance discussed the need for a broad interpretation of illegal adoptions with Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan, when they met him last week about the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. Ms Lohan said he told them he wanted a “once and for all” investigation into all of the issues they brought to his attention.
She also warned if cases where children were handed over illegally can be proved, it could lead to an onslaught of legal actions.