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Legacy of illegal adoption

By PJ Coogan, Cork Independent, 22nd April 2010

When I wrote for a previous incarnation of this newspaper a number of years ago I used to touch regularly on the topic of adoption. Some time around the year 2000, through a series of coincidences, I found myself involved with adopted people and birth parents. I was not impressed with what I learned. Much of it not only saddened and angered me, but made me somewhat ashamed to be Irish.

Ireland's first adoption legislation was signed into law in 1952. Dev was Taoiseach and Sean T O'Kelly was President. Neither of these men, however, influenced that legislation in the way that the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid did. The Archbishop (and this is now widely acknowledged, in fairness) insisted that he be consulted on the content of the law, so that it would "reflect Ireland's Catholic ethos and the constitutional position of the family." Dev, tough nut that he may have been at the time of the Civil War, cowered like a puppy when John Charles wielded the crozier, and so, as they say, it came to pass.

Over 40,000 people were subsequently adopted under the terms of that legislation. They were, I have no doubt in my mind, adopted, in the main, by good people, with lots of love to give a child, and who were unable to have children of their own. I have many adopted friends, and I would find it hard to think of any of them, who don't love their adoptive parents to bits. The legislation worked well. However, when these children grew up to be adults, and began, as is completely natural, to wonder "who gave birth to me, and where is she now", or when the mothers (yes, and fathers too) wondered "I wonder where my little baby is – is he happy? Is she healthy? Is she loved?", there were no answers. There were only secrets and lies.

Mothers, fathers, and people who had been adopted, were, for decades, at best given the brush-off, and more often than not, fed a tissue of untruths, half truths, and not putting a tooth in it here – bullshit – as they set out to try to find out that which the rest of us take purely for granted. They were systematically denied the human right to know who they are. Thankfully, there is now a network of organisations in place across the country, including 'Know My Own' here in Cork, where help, support, guidance and friendship are available. The skills of tracing have been perfected and honed to a point where there is very little that can't be tracked down or found out.

However, there's a large group of adopted people, for whom even the expertise that's out there might not be enough. In adoption circles, we call them the 'de factos'. They are people who were illegally adopted, with no proper paperwork, no proper file, and who were raised in the belief that they had actually been born to their adoptive parents. This scurrilous carry-on was regularly facilitated by men and women of the cloth, and even went on behind the closed doors of licenced adoption agencies. I have been given solid evidence of a 'de-facto' taking place here in Cork in the mid 1980s, so we're not talking ancient history, either.

A brilliant young journalist, Conall O'Fatharta, told the story this week of Tressa, a woman still searching for her son, who was illegally adopted 48 years ago. Sadly she may never find him. Even more sadly, there are many more Tressas, and many more sons. It's believed there may have been 60,000 'de facto' adoptions.

Even the very best searchers find it agonisingly difficult to help. There's no paperwork. You can rely on nothing, not even a date of birth. Illegal adoption has left tens of thousands of people in a terrible limbo. Those of us working with adoption have known about it for years. It now seems as if the lid has finally been lifted, and the hidden truth is beginning to emerge. Trust me, folks, I hope you have a strong stomach, because Ireland’s legacy of illegal adoption, will turn it.

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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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