By Conall Ó Fátharta
Irish Examiner, Monday,
April 19, 2010
TRESSA REEVES stares at
the framed piece of paper on the wall.
The birth cert takes
pride of place in her home. After a battle with the state lasting almost
50 years, she finally has official recognition that she gave birth to a
boy in 1961.
Following a journey
involving religious secrecy, denial, an illegal adoption and a false
birth registration, she registered André as her own last October. She
was 70. He was 48.
But it was a something
of an empty victory. She has never seen André since the hours after his
birth nor does she know where he is.
October 14, 2009, is
the closest she has come. It was the day the state recognised what she
had battled for.
She admits being given
the piece of paper that day overwhelmed her.
"I was very moved
actually. I didn’t think I was going to be. It was a piece of paper I
had been trying to get for a long time. We went into this office and we
talked to this very nice lady and I signed something. She went out and
brought this piece of paper in and I burst into tears.
"It was amazing.
It actually hit me then that the whole thing wasn’t just something
that is going on over there in Ireland but that this is my life. It’s
difficult to explain. I was very shocked and disturbed by it, that all
this really happened."
Tressa firmly believes
hers is not the only case involving illegal adoption authorities here
are aware of.
André was born in
1961, when Tressa was just 21. Just hours after giving birth he was
placed in the care of a religious run adoption agency St Patrick’s
Guild in Dublin.
In its offices she
signed consent forms which, she presumed, would allow for her son to be
However, in 1997, more
than 30 years later, she discovered the agency had allowed for her son
to be illegally adopted. In short, a couple seeking a child was given
the baby boy by the agency to take as their own and no formal adoption
order was ever made.
It took another four
years for St Patrick’s Guild to inform Tressa that André’s birth
was falsely registered through the nursing home where she gave birth.
This had the effect of
removing all legal evidence that Tressa ever had a child and was done
without her knowledge or consent.
Even though the
Adoption Act of 1952 was introduced to ensure such activity did not
occur, St Patrick’s Guild admitted to Tressa it allowed other children
to be placed in the same way, including another boy to the same family
that took André.
Despite this, St
Patrick’s Guild remains a fully accredited adoption agency through the
The Adoption Board, as
well as two previous ministers for children Mary Hanafin and Brian
Lenihan are aware of the case.
In response to queries
from the Irish Examiner, the Adoption Board said it is aware of
"only one case" of an illegal adoption. This is despite the
fact St Patrick’s Guild admitted in correspondence with Tressa to
having placed numerous other babies in the same way.
Director of St
Patrick’s Guild Sr Francis Fahy declined to answer a series of
questions put to her concerning the exact number of cases of illegal
adoptions on file at the agency but said it dealt with every matter
"to the best of its ability".
"No matter what
the circumstances surrounding arrangements made however many years ago
the guild deals with each and every matter to the best of its ability
and does all it can to assist in any case no matter what the
circumstance. We recognise that ‘one size does not fit all’ and thus
work with everybody to assist where we can," she said.
Chairperson of the
Council of Irish Adoption Agencies (CIAA), Sheila Gallagher acknowledged
agencies had engaged in illegal adoptions but said it was "very
unclear" as to how many cases were on agency files and that she did
not believe such practice was widespread.
"CIAA are aware
that situations did occur in the past where a child was placed with a
family and the legal process of adoption was not adhered to, it is very
unclear how many children were placed in this way. It is extremely
regrettable that these situations occurred in the past and as far we can
understand there was a strong motivation of secrecy for all of the
parties involved," she said.
Tressa’s sense of
grievance over what was done to her and her child without their consent
She feels by telling
her story, more women who have lost children to adoption might come out
and start to ask questions about the manner in which it was done.
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