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Reilly: Scale of illegal adoptions is unknown

By Conall Ó Fátharta

Irish Examiner, Thursday, June 16, 2011

THE Government has admitted it has no idea as to the scale of illegal adoptions and birth registrations facilitated by more than 40 mother-and-baby homes which closed in 1972.

Largely Church-run, the 42 homes closed in 1972 when the Health Act was enacted.

In a response to a parliamentary question by Socialist Party TD Clare Daly, Health Minister James Reilly said the scale of illegal birth registrations and illegal adoptions facilitated by mother-and-baby homes was "unknown".

"The issues raised by the deputy relate to practices that were private arrangements which involved the birth of a child being registered as the child of those persons or families that took the child, rather than of the birth mother," he said.

"The issuing of birth certificates is a matter for the Department of Social Protection, and suspected irregularities should be investigated by that department. The scale of such illegal birth registrations is unknown."

He said the issue of historical documentation was a matter for "these private institutions" and his understanding was that, where such documentation existed, "the nature and secretiveness of the process means that any correlation of data is extremely difficult".

Given that successive governments have declined to offer tracing and information rights to natural parents and adopted people, files which may contain evidence of illegal activity remain closed.

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald caused outrage among groups lobbying for tracing and information legislation when she said recently that it would not be possible to offer such rights for adopted people and natural parents in historical cases.

The view is that it is a legally difficult area to legislate for and also because of a Supreme Court ruling — the I O’T v B and the Rotunda Girls’ Aid Society in 1998 — which held that the right to be told the identity of a natural mother is not absolute and must be balanced against the natural mother’s right to privacy.

However, groups representing natural parents and adopted people have consistently rejected the legal opinion of the Supreme Court, claiming adoption legislation does not guarantee confidentiality to either the adopted person or the natural mother.

Various religious groups ran mother-and-baby homes throughout Ireland. They were paid a per-capita sum by the state for the numbers they catered for.

The nuns provided a roof for these so-called fallen women and in return many of the women had to work in the laundries, kitchens and farms of these institutions.

On top of this, women were also made to care for their children daily until, often at more than two-years-old, they were then parted by adoption.


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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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