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‘I want my son to know he was adopted’

By Conall Ó Fátharta

Irish Examiner, Monday, August 22, 2011

TRESSA REEVES, whose son was illegally adopted and registered as the natural child of the adoptive parents, says she has received no assistance from the Adoption Authority more than a year after her case was exposed.

The Adoption Authority has been aware of the full details of the case since 2001, as have three former ministers for children: Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin and Barry Andrews.

Yet, despite the publicity surrounding her case since it was revealed in the Irish Examiner in April last year, the authority has yet to assist her in tracing her son. It has also declined to inform her son about his origins.

Ms Reeves, 72, along with members of Adoption Loss — The Natural Parents Network of Ireland, met with Adoption Authority chief executive Elizabeth Canavan on 9 August, where it was confirmed that the authority had received legal advice on the case and would write to her in September. This is 17 months after the authority said it would examine Ms Reeves’s case.

The Adoption Authority has the identity of the couple who took Ms Reeves’s son as well as the details of his illegal birth registration since 20 March, 2002. This was confirmed to Ms Reeves in a letter from former chief John Collins in a letter on February 25, 2004.

Ms Reeves is not asking that the Adoption Authority reveal her son’s identity or location to her, but merely that he be told the truth about his parentage in the presence of an independent social worker, who would merely observe and report back to her.

To date, the Adoption Authority has refused to facilitate this request.

Ms Reeves was 21 when her son was born in a nursing home called The Marie Clinic on the Howth Road in Clontarf in 1961. She called him André and baptised him herself, alone in her room. Innocently, she thought that by giving him an exotic sounding name, he would be easier to find when she went looking for him.

Just hours after being born, 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 legally adopted. She was told to never contact her son again. These forms also contained an address in Dublin where she had never stayed.

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 made.

It took another four years for St Patrick’s Guild to inform Ms Reeves 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 Ms Reeves 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 Ms Reeves it allowed other children to be placed in the same way, including another boy to the same family that took André.

After a battle with the state lasting almost 50 years, she finally succeeded in correctly registering André as her own in October 2009. She was 70. He was 48. He has no idea he was adopted and that the parents named in his birth cert are not his real parents.

Speaking in May last year, after Ms Reeves’s case was exposed by the Irish Examiner, chairman of the Adoption Authority, Geoffrey Shannon, gave a personal commitment that any cases where irregular or illegal practices occurred would be brought to the attention of the Adoption Board and the gardaí if necessary.

Mr Shannon also said he would recommend that any agencies found to have engaged in wrongdoing be deregistered.

"The board has at its disposal the power to de-register an adoption society... it would be my recommendation to the board where wrongdoing has been found on the part of an adoption society, that the board... deregister the adoption society," he said.

Yet, despite St Patrick’s Guild’s involvement in facilitating at least two illegal adoptions and the Adoption Authority’s knowledge of this, it became the first agency accredited by the authority under the new Adoption Act which came into effect last November.

Speaking about the lack of help she has received from the Adoption Authority, Ms Reeves said she felt the Irish authorities were hoping that natural mothers such as her would die so the full truth of Ireland’s adoption record would never be exposed.

"I just find the situation very sad. I really hoped that something would come of it last year but nothing has. I think they just want me to die so all of this hassle would go away for them.

"What happened to me and many others like me was wrong and they should acknowledge that and help us and hold people accountable for what they did," she said.

After Ms Reeves’s case became public, the then Adoption Board announced it would carry out an audit of its information and tracing service records to identify any cases involving illegal activity. However, more than a year later, the authority has still not offered a timescale for its completion or said if the findings will be made public.

Groups representing adopted people and natural parents have pointed out that the audit covers just the authority’s own files rather than those of the various religious adoption agencies. They say there could be thousands more cases like Ms Reeves.

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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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