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I had no birth cert so why was my adoption allowed?

By Conall O Fátharta

Irish Examiner, Saturday, August 14, 2010

CAROL O’KEEFFE has known from a young age she was adopted.

However, last December she was horrified to discover the Adoption Board granted her adoption in July 1972 without one key piece of documentation – her birth certificate – and in the knowledge that her birth had never been registered.

After further questioning, Carol was informed her birth was never registered by the nursing home where her mother gave birth.

Last December, the Adoption Board also admitted to Carol by letter that her birth had never been registered. It also acknowledged it granted her adoption in the absence of a birth certificate, instead taking a baptismal certificate as sufficient evidence of her existence.

"Further to your request of 8/12/2009, I would like to confirm that your birth was not registered. A statement confirming this was received by the Adoption Board from the General Registry Office on the 29th May, 1972. The Adoption Board accepted this statement with your Baptismal Certificate as sufficient proof of identity in finalising your adoption. Your Adoption Order was made on the 20th July, 1972," the letter read.

One of the key pieces of documentation required to formalise an adoption is a birth certificate.

It is a criminal offence not to register or to falsely register a birth. Despite this, the Adoption Board admitted it allowed Carol’s adoption to be granted without the very basic piece of documentation to prove that she had, in fact, been born – her birth certificate.

What happened in Carol’s case was a clear breach of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child to which Ireland is a signatory and which states that "States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference".

It goes on to say that where a child has been "illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity".

Even more surprisingly, despite this evidence being on record at the Adoption Board, it never informed Carol nor her adoptive parents that her birth had not been registered.

In fact, once Carol had discovered no record of her birth existed at the GRO, she had to inform the Adoption Board that something was amiss with how her adoption was granted.

Although reunited with her natural mother through the Adoption Board’s National Contact Preference Register at this point, for Carol, the discovery that her birth was never registered threw that whole process into doubt.

"I suppose initially it wasn’t so easy psychologically because you did have this feeling that everyone else in the country has a registered birth and what was so different about me? It didn’t make me feel part of things. I felt a little bit less worthy. I felt different. I also felt worried that this may not be my mother that I was matched with. However, I know that she is now so that was a relief.

"I also felt angry because it fed into other feelings that maybe if there was a census that I don’t exist. I know that’s not true because I function quite well with my documents and I have a passport so I know I am an Irish citizen. It didn’t make me feel too proud of being Irish though," she says.

Carol also detailed a number of phone calls with the Adoption Board. When she first relayed her concerns about how her adoption was arranged, she was told this was not possible as it would not have been legal. However, the second call was radically different.

"Over a period of time I phoned the Adoption Board and the contact preference register people there. I was initially told that, for definite, my birth was registered. Eventually, in fairness, I was phoned back and told that in my case it wasn’t registered and that they couldn’t explain that. I was told to go back to the agency and ask them to explain it.

"Actually, in the first phone call, when I was being convinced by them that my birth was registered, a remark was made to the effect that if my birth wasn’t registered that it would not be legal. In the second call, I was apologised to, and there was no further reference to the illegalities of it," explains Carol.

Although extremely upset by the revelation her adoption had been granted in the absence of a birth certificate, it’s her adoptive parents that Carol feels most hurt for.

Her parents told her at a young age she was adopted and always encouraged her in her quest to seek out her natural mother. However, the revelation concerning her birth registration left them stunned.

"Both my father, and of course he didn’t mean to hurt me, and one or two close friends asked me: ‘Does that mean you don’t exist?’ Initially, I have to say, I had that feeling myself, it was a real insult. It was like how much more can you insult someone if you don’t even bother to log their birth?

"One other aspect of finding out that my birth was never registered was that my adoptive mother was completely stunned by it. She actually said things like ‘Should we have asked at the agency when we were adopting you?’ and ‘Is it our fault?’ My poor mother being almost implicated in this charade really. My parents are upstanding people. They go by the law, they are good people. To even think that they were somehow implicated in something that wasn’t regular, it’s just not fair on them. They are good, decent people," she says.

For Carol, the Adoption Board’s answer – to ask the agency and her natural mother about what happened are not good enough. The Adoption Board granted her adoption and should be able to explain why it allowed it to be done in the knowledge her birth had not been registered and in the absence of her birth certificate.

"I was told that they couldn’t explain how that could have been but the answer that I got was that in the absence of my birth cert, my baptism cert and a statement from the GRO saying my birth had not been registered was accepted in lieu of a birth registration. A baptismal cert is not a legal document, it just shows you had a bit of water poured over your head. I can’t walk into an airport without a passport and just hand in my baptism cert. I’d be laughed out of it."

The Irish Examiner put a number of questions to the agency, Cúnamh, concerning its knowledge of cases such as Carol’s. A response was issued by senior social worker Julie Kerins, who simply stated she had no "personal knowledge" of any cases.

"I do not have personal knowledge of cases arising post-1952. I cannot give you an explanation as to why such a practice may have occurred. The Adoption Board has not inspected all of our files," a statement read.

The Adoption Board declines to comment on individual cases.

The key question in all of this, as was the case with Tressa Reeves, whose story was highlighted by the Irish Examiner in April, is why?

Why did the Adoption Board allow for an adoption to be granted in the knowledge that the birth was not registered and therefore in the absence of a birth certificate?

Why did the adoption agency not correct the situation and allow for the birth to be registered correctly?

These are key questions to which Carol O’Keeffe is still awaiting answers.

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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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