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A New Ireland with a lot to learn

by Claire McGettrick, 16th March 2010

The extract from Nell McCafferty’s book (Irish Times 8th March 2010) is an excellent depiction of the Ireland into which more than 42,000 adopted people – including myself - were born into.

Nell McCafferty’ is correct when she says that we are “not fully healthy yet” though, mercifully, the scenario that played out in the Kerry babies case is unheard of in this day and age.  While we may
have moved on significantly from those dark days, the Irish state, the Roman Catholic church and Irish society all choose to brush the ensuing legacy under the carpet.

The Magdalene Laundries were a sad and shameful product of Ireland’s past.  Though the last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996, there are a considerable number of women who are still living behind convent walls, so institutionalised that they will never be capable of living in the real world.  Instead, though they no longer work, they are frozen in time as if the laundries were still open.  These women, along with the women who died behind laundry walls and the survivors who managed to get out of the laundries are all still marginalized by the Irish state and church because of the absence of a distinct redress scheme to acknowledge that what happened to them was wrong.

In the era prior to the Kerry babies case, over 42,000 Irish women were forced to relinquish their children for adoption and that number does not include illegal adoptions.  Many of these women have been coming forward for many years to seek out the now adult children they lost.  An even greater number of those adult adopted people have sought out their original identities and wish to establish contact with the natural families they were separated from.  Astonishingly, in Ireland today there is no statutory right to an adoption information and tracing service and even more incredibly, adopted people continue to be denied automatic access to their birth certificates.  These rights were afforded to adopted people in the UK in the 1970s and frustratingly there are no plans to include these rights in the proposed adoption legislation.

Thankfully, unmarried Irish mothers are no longer forced and coerced into relinquishing their children for adoption, however the demand for adoptable children has not diminished and childless couples now travel abroad to seek out children for adoption.  The exploitation has now shifted from vulnerable unmarried Irish mothers to their counterparts in Vietnam, Guatemala and other developing countries.  Given our dark history it is incredible that most people don’t wonder about where all of these internationally adopted children come from and if they have mothers willing to raise them, just like we know now was true of most of the 42,000 Irish mothers forced to relinquish their children.

By ignoring the faceless international natural mothers, by not affording equal rights to the children they have lost and Ireland’s 42,000 adopted people and by not providing redress for Magdalene survivors – as long as people are still living unnecessarily with the aftermath of Ireland’s shameful legacy, we can never stand proud and say we have moved on.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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