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Adoption data at unaccredited agencies not legally protected

By Conall Ó Fátharta

Irish Examiner, Friday, August 05, 2011

TENS of thousands of adoption files, some exposing illegal adoptions and birth registrations, cannot be inspected by the Adoption Authority as a number of agencies have not applied to be accredited under new legislation.

Under the Adoption Act 2010, the Adoption Authority has the right to inspect and copy all files held by agencies which it has accredited.

However, it has emerged that two religious adoption agencies, the Sacred Heart Adoption Society (SHAS) in Cork and St Brigid’s Adoption Society in Dublin, have not applied for accreditation, and are not compelled to do so under the legislation.

The Adoption Authority has admitted that as these adoption files "were private property in private ownership", it had "no statutory role or function in the matter", meaning it has no right to inspect and copy the records.

By declining to apply for accreditation, these agencies must cease all operations relating to adoption. However, as they are not accredited, it also means their adoption files are closed to the very body charged with regulating adoption in Ireland.

It is believed that negotiations are taking place with SHAS about transferring its some 15,000 adoption files to the HSE for the purposes of preservation and in the use of adoption tracing and information.

This was supposed to have taken place by August 1 but has stalled. As the HSE is not an accredited body per se, the inspection of these documents can only be secured by the minister for children and the Government.

It is unclear as to what will happen the files of St Brigid’s Adoption Society. However, the Irish Examiner understands the agency is continuing to offer adoption-related services, despite not being accredited to do so by law.

Chairwoman of Adoption Loss — The Natural Parents Network of Ireland, Bernie Harold, said it had warned 12 years ago that all adoption records should be made the property of the state to prevent such a scenario.

"The adoption agencies which hold these records, and are now allowed to refuse access to Adoption Authority staff, have received considerable sums of funding from the taxpayer over many years," she said. "The previous adoption board had the opportunity, while those agencies were still registered with them, to make unannounced inspections of all their files and to copy all of their records. We called for this to be done."

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said it "beggars belief" that such a scenario was not seen when preparing the legislation.

"It beggars belief that the so-called policy-making experts of the Department of Health and Children and the then-adoptionboard both failed to notice the gaping loophole of moribund agencies not seeking accreditation under the new act and the impact that would have on the safeguarding of files," she said.

"These files are in many cases the only source of adopted people’s identities, particularly for those illegally adopted or trafficked to the US, and they also hold vital information on adopted people’s natural families, in particular details of siblings who may also have been adopted."

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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." 

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