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Irish Examiner articles on adoption from April 2010

Illegal adoptions - A chance to make amends

Monday, April 19, 2010

THERE are few enough events in life as traumatic has feeling obliged to give up a newborn child for adoption.

Decades ago thousands of women felt they had little option but to follow this well-worn path.

They may have been heartbroken but they can take comfort in the fact that they enriched the lives of thousands who wanted a child to call their own.

These women, and their children, were sometimes denied the protection our laws promised and today, many years later, some still feel the wrench in a raw and deeply emotional way. Each of us longs for emotional stability and if the State can help those involved in this process the chance to establish a relationship with a child or a natural parent then it should do so.

Tortured journey

By Conall Ó Fátharta

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 legally adopted.

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 Adoption Board.

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 is palpable.

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.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, April 19, 2010

In search of a long-lost boy

By Conall O Fátharta

Monday, April 19, 2010

TRESSA REEVES was born Teresa Mary Donnelly in England to an Irish father and an English mother.

In 1960, at the age of 20 and unmarried, she became pregnant. She had been involved in a relationship with an older man which did not last.

Given the stigma which surrounded unmarried mothers and so-called "illegitimate" children at the time, Tressa’s mother made arrangements with nuns in their local convent in England and she was sent to Dublin to enable the birth to be hidden from neighbours and relatives and be placed for adoption.

Many years later in her home in Penzance in England, Tressa, now married and with other children and grandchildren, acknowledges that once she had left for Ireland, the topic of her son was never spoken of by her parents ever again.

"I never spoke to them about it, ever. I could have been gone shopping for four months. It was never talked about," she says.

To understand the stigma around births outside marriage at the time, one statistic is enlightening. In 1967, 97% of all children born outside of marriage in Ireland were placed for adoption.

Tressa had presumed her child was to be legally adopted like so many others. However, that was not the case.

When she arrived in Dublin, Tressa was told her child was to be adopted through an adoption agency called St Patrick’s Guild, then based in Middle Abbey Street in Dublin.

For the first while, she stayed in a private house in Howth along with some other unmarried pregnant girls. This house was run by Marie Norman, who also ran a nursing home called The Marie Clinic on the Howth Road in Clontarf in Dublin.

It was in this nursing home that Tressa gave birth to a baby boy on March 13, 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 came looking for him.

"Yeah, I gave him an exotic sounding name because I thought that when I came to look for him, he would be easier to find that way. Of course, that wasn’t to be the case," she recalls.

The morning after his birth André was taken away. She hasn’t seen him since.

Nine days later, a 21-year-old Tressa was brought by a Fr Moloney, who used to visit the girls in the house in Howth, to St Patrick’s Guild to sign the adoption consent forms. There she was told to sign the documents and never contact her son again. These forms also contained an address in Dublin where she had never stayed.

These documents, Tressa presumed, were signed in order to carry out a legal adoption. However, as became clear many years later, this was not what happened and Tressa, in essence, signed fraudulent documents.

In fact, her son was not going to be adopted but merely given by St Patrick’s Guild to a couple seeking a baby. This couple then took the boy and pretended it was their own child. To this day, Tressa’s son, now aged 49, has no idea he was adopted.

Mrs Norman, who ran the nursing home, then allowed the birth to be registered in the names of this couple, enabling André to appear as the natural child of the "adoptive" parents.

It would be more than 30 years before Tressa would discover all of this. However, her memories of the day she signed the so-called consent forms are vivid.

"I signed an address in Northumberland Road and I questioned it at the time. I was told something like: ‘Oh we always have to do that, it’s part of the form’. And I said: ‘Oh alright’. There was no solicitor there to my knowledge and the form when it was sent to me 30 years later was signed by a solicitor," she explains.

Tressa first went back looking for the son she presumed had been adopted in June of 1977. She was met with silence, obfuscation and a generally dismissive attitude by the very agency that allowed for her child to be illegally adopted.

Upon visiting St Patrick’s Guild, she was told by a nun that no file existed on her or her son and that she "must have imagined" she had given birth to a son. It would be a further 20 years before the agency finally admitted it had her file.

Upset by her treatment by the nun at St Patrick’s Guild, Tressa went to the nursing home where she gave birth, looking for answers. There she met the midwife who had delivered her son and with whom she was friendly with at the time she gave birth.

"She knew me when I came back all those years later and even told me that she knew I would come back. She said there was traffic from Ireland to America in those days and that was where he probably went and, because I was quite shocked, I didn’t say that I remembered her telling me he was going down the country to a family. She said that I wouldn’t be able to trace him as you couldn’t trace them when they went to America," recalls Tressa.

Indeed, "traffic" was the right word as, many years later, it was uncovered that St Patrick’s Guild, along with many other religious run agencies, was to the forefront of exporting Irish babies to America.

Done with full official sanction and facilitated by the state, by 1967, when the practice finally ended, the agency to which Tressa entrusted her son, had dispatched a total of 572 children across the Atlantic, more than any other adoption society.

After hitting brick walls with the nuns in St Patrick’s Guild and with the midwife in the nursing home, a devastated Tressa resigned herself to putting her search on hold.

By this time she had married and went on to have four other children, all of whom were told about their older brother, who they hoped they would meet in the future.

Tressa next tried to contact St Patrick’s Guild by letter throughout 1995 and 1996 but received no reply. She finally received a response when she phoned then director of agency Sr Gabriel directly. The nun suggested her file might have been "lost in a fire".

The following year, after St Patrick’s Guild had hit the headlines for giving adopted people false and misleading information about their natural parents, Tressa decided to try the agency yet again for information about her son.

It was at this point that new director Sr Francis Fahy finally admitted to Tressa, over the phone, that it indeed had a file on Andre and that he was adopted through the agency.

LATER that June, Tressa received her first letter from Sr Fahy at St Patrick’s Guild which stated that the family with which André was placed "appears to have taken him as their own and there was no formal adoption order made. The family had another child adopted in the same way".

Tressa did not realise the significance of this statement at the time but gradually the murky affair was to come to the surface.

Sr Fahy eventually made contact with the "adoptive mother" who told her that neither of the two boys she had obtained through the agency had ever been told they were adopted and she was not about to tell them now.

Since then, and despite numerous correspondence, St Patrick’s Guild has refused to tell André the truth about his identity, nor about the fact that his natural mother would like to meet with him, subject to his agreement.

Sr Fahy did mention attempts could be made to bypass the ‘adoptive’ mother but nothing was ever forthcoming on that front.

By this time Tressa had been in contact with the Adopted Peoples Association and the Natural Parent’s Network of Ireland, the latter of which continue to assist her with her case.

Representing natural parents, the group advised her to seek André’s birth certificate from the General Register Office (GRO), as well as to seek out the original consent and surrender forms from St Patrick’s Guild, and which she should have been given copies of at the time.

When the GRO responded to Tressa, it was with the news that they did not have a birth certificate for her son André on the register.

Shocked by this revelation, and how it could have occurred, a letter from St Patrick’s Guild on November 22, 2001 shed light on the story.

In the letter, which also included the original surrender and consent forms Tressa signed, and which she should have been given at the time, Sr Fahy admitted the birth registration had been falsified and also that the agency was involved in placing numerous other children in the same way.

"As I explained to you previously, I do not know the reasons for the particular arrangement that was made in regard of André. In the course of my work here I have found that there were a number of babies for whom this arrangement was made.

"Generally speaking, in these cases, the birth of the child is registered under the name of the ‘adoptive parents’ and this was usually done from the Nursing Home, Sr Fahy wrote.

Later in the letter she admitted: "André was placed with a married couple in March 1961. His birth was registered by Mrs Norman from the nursing home in their names."

Such activity occurred routinely prior to 1952. However, the very reason for Adoption Act of 1952 was to regulate adoption so as to prevent such murky activity from occurring.

Even more troubling, Sr Fahy admits in her letter that there were numerous other cases on file at St Patrick’s Guild, with the tone of the letter suggesting the practice was not out of the ordinary.

Despite this, the Adoption Board has said it is only aware of one such case as ever having occurred post 1952. Given that the Board refuses to discuss specific cases, it is safe to assume that the one case it is aware of is Tressa’s.

Although St Patrick’s Guild has admitted its involvement in such practices and the Adoption Board’s awareness Tressa’s case, the agency nonetheless remains fully accredited by the Adoption Board.

Following this letter, the Adoption Board wrote to Tressa in December 2001 noting it "had no record of an adoption application or order having been made in respect of your son".

The Adoption Board also then requested the consent and surrender forms Tressa had already received from St Patrick’s Guild and also advised her to take legal advice if she believed her son had been "directly registered".

THE obvious question in all of this is why St Patrick’s Guild allowed such an illegal adoption to be carried out when legislation providing for legal adoption was in place for almost a decade?

Such a scheme had many benefits. By falsely registering the birth, the couple could have obtained a child without having formally adopting them.

By having the birth registered in their names, a serious offence in itself, the couple could maintain the child was born to them and the child would never know he or she had been adopted.

Through this pretence, any stigma they may have faced as a result of being infertile would have also been removed as far as friends and neighbours were concerned.

Such a system was also perfect for those who may have been refused permission to adopt a child by a social worker for whatever reason.

Throughout 2002, Tressa received correspondence from the Adoption Board informing her it was "actively pursuing" the matter with the agency.

However, in May 2002, the board wrote to inform her it had received and considered legal advice in relation to her case and apologised for delays in dealing with the matter.

On March 20, 2002, Tressa also received a letter from St Patrick’s Guild informing her it had sent the contents of her file to the Adoption Board "with the exception of the name and address of the adoptive mother".

Despite this admission, chief executive of the Adoption Board John Collins assured Tressa by letter in 2004 that the Adoption Board was also given the name and address of Andre’s "adoptive parents" on the same date.

In July of 2003, Tressa took a legal case against St Patrick’s Guild, The Registrar General and Ireland and the Attorney General. Her Senior Counsel (SC) outlined she has an "arguable case" in seeking information relating to her son.

Any hope of a solution to her case being offered by the law was dashed however. Despite battling for five years, Tressa was eventually forced to withdraw her case. Her SC, while initially confident in 2003, put forward a far more pessimistic opinion in 2008.

In the five years she had battling her case, St Patrick’s Guild failed to file a defence of any kind.

On advice that she would lose her case and possibly her home if she had to pay costs, Tressa reluctantly withdrew the case.

However, her battle was not fruitless. On her wall now in her home in Penzance in England is a small framed piece of paper. It is André’s birth certificate. Denied to her in 1961 through the actions of others, André’s birth was correctly registered for the first time on October 14, 2009. 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," she explains.

Tressa’s sense of grievance over what was done to both her and her child without their consent is palpable. Her anger towards the legal system which offered her no sense of justice is also raw and close to the surface. However, despite all this, she has refused to lose hope.

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.

There may be many other cases like hers languishing in adoption agency files, gathering dust due to the lack of legislation surrounding tracing and information.

"I remember when he was coming up to 40 and being sad that he would never see me with red hair because I used to have red hair. I remember thinking that he would never know he had a red headed Mum. Now he’s nearly 50. I hope I live long enough to see the end of this. I never really lost hope. I did a bit when the court case ended and I didn’t think I could fight anymore but I am fired up again." 

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, April 19, 2010

Read more: http://www.examiner.ie/ireland/in-search-of-a-long-lost-boy-117627.html#ixzz0lVC8VqRj

A hidden heritage

By Conall O Fátharta

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"OUR whole social history as a nation is in those files and some of it is not pretty but it’s my heritage and it’s the heritage of 42,000 other people."

The words of Angela Murphy, an adopted person, who like so many adopted people and natural parents is deeply frustrated at what are felt to be woefully inadequate tracing and reunion services.

Despite years of lobbying on the issue, Minister for Children Barry Andrews deems what is currently in place "an effective administration system" for tracing and information for adopted people and natural parents.

Although tracing, information and reunion services are provided by adoption agencies, the HSE and the Adoption Board, such services are not provided for in current legislation, nor will they be in the new Adoption Bill 2009.

This is despite a national public consultation process in 2003, under Mr Andrews’ predecessor Brian Lenihan, recommending tracing and reunion services on a legislative footing.

This consultation led to a controversial Adoption Bill which sunk without trace after the government had suggested criminalising adopted people for tracing their natural mother without consent.

Out of this process came the Standardised Framework for the Provision of a National Information and Tracing Service. These are essentially guidelines for information and tracing providers.

However, as Mr Andrews has acknowledged, they are being implemented on a "consensus" basis and the Adoption Bill "does not make any specific provisions in this regard".

Due to become law later this year, the latest Adoption Bill, is primarily focused on ratifying the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation and consolidating previous adoption legislation. It avoids giving adopted people and natural parents any legal rights relating to tracing and information.

Mr Andrews has said in the Dáil that the reason there are no tracing and information rights provided for in the new bill is that the issues are "complex, not very easily resolved, and it is not easy to legislate for them".

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 – 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.

The current system allows for people to contact the adoption agency and trace the person from information on the adoption file. People can also put their name on the National Adoption Contact Preference Register (NACPR) and hope that the person you are looking for has done the same.

Run by the Adoption Board, the NACPR has been in place since 2005 but its success has been somewhat limited.

However, guidelines are just that, guidelines and without services being provided for in law, adopted people and natural parents are left to depend on the goodwill of nuns and social workers to help them with accessing information. Such goodwill is not always felt to be forthcoming.

Angela Murphy is one of the lucky adopted people who have managed to trace their natural parents. However, this was not before she had to watch her five-year-old son fight for his life while the adoption agency which held her file refused to release crucial medical information requested by doctors treating her son.

Angela’s son was in for a routine one-day operation for adenoids in Temple Street Hospital in 1999 when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to anaesthetic causing much of his lower body to go rigid and seize up.

Needing both parents’ medical histories to treat what was a serious allergic reaction, Angela quickly realised she had no knowledge of her medical history – information most people take for granted.

"My husband got all his information and could make calls to confirm certain things but, of course, I couldn’t. I just sat there with a blank look on my face. I didn’t know. I rang the adoption agency and told them about my son and said I needed immediate information concerning my medical history.

"At this point his life was on the line. I wasn’t looking for the name and address of anybody, just my medical background. I was told my file was closed and they couldn’t do anything. I was in the consultant’s office at the time and he even spoke to them but they had less to do with him than me," she recalls.

A frantic Angela, as well as doctors, were stunned by the reaction. However, under legislation, including the current Adoption Bill, adopted people and natural parents have no right to copies of all material held in their files. Natural mothers do not even have the right to read their own adoption files.

"I couldn’t believe one human being could do that to another human being. The doctors couldn’t believe anybody could leave a child in that situation. They told me they didn’t know if he would last the night. I was in bits, I can’t tell you how agonising it was. All the agency said was to write a letter and I would go on the waiting list. That was the response," Angela recalls.

Doctors were forced to take a muscle biopsy from both Angela and her other two children to get to the root of the allergic reaction and her son made a full recovery.

However, the trauma of the event made her realise just how little information she had about her past and how it potentially could have damaged generations of her family.

When she eventually traced her birth mother, she discovered the vital medical information she needed that day in Temple Street hospital and which the agency refused to release, was on the file.

"When I did the trace, it turned out they had that information on file. Yet, my adoptive mother was never told it at the time I was adopted. It could have killed me.

"Now, nothing has changed in legislation since then so it could happen again to someone else. The agencies regulate themselves. They do what they do because they can."

Angela’s story is just one example of how adopted people struggle to gain access to basic information concerning their past.

Groups such as the Adoption Rights Alliance and Adoption Loss – Natural Parents Network talk of countless stories of agencies and social workers refusing to implement the 2005 guidelines.

There are other stories of religious agencies providing false or inaccurate information or failing to put adopted people and natural parents in contact with each other even though both parties have contacted the agency seeking a reunion.

In the case of Tressa Reeves, the agency has refused to inform her son that he is adopted, even though a legal adoption never took place, and that his natural mother would like to meet him subject to his agreement.

Instead, the agency spoke only to his "adoptive mother", who declared she had no intention of telling him of his origins.

Despite the best will in the world, without being placed on a statutory footing guidelines can be ignored and agencies will essentially regulate themselves in terms of tracing and information.

This system is the one Mr Andrews deems "effective" and will be allowed to continue under the new Adoption Bill when passed.

In practically every other western democracy, such rights are provided for in legislation.

In Britain, the 1975 Children’s Act allowed for adopted people to receive unhindered access to their original records and adoption files on turning 18.

The same rights were extended to Northern Ireland in 1987. Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand and Germany all offer similar rights.

To ascertain just how "effective" search and reunion services are in this country, a look at the NACPR is revealing.

Launched in 2005, the register is designed to assist adopted people and their natural families to make contact with each other, exchange information, or to state their contact preferences.

According to the Adoption Board, some 5,916 adopted people and 2,628 relatives have to date signed up to the NACPR. It made just 77 matches in 2008 with the total number of matches since 2005 standing at 429.

To put that in context, there have been some 42,000 people adopted in Ireland since the introduction of legal adoption in 1952.

One adopted person Gráinne Mason, searching for her natural mother since 2002 and now conducting the trace herself after hitting numerous brick walls with the adoption agency, sighed when the NACPR was cited as an effective a tool for search and reunion.

"Look, I’ve been on the register since 2005 when it was set up and where has it got me. It only works if both sides are on it and can be matched. It can be helpful I’m sure but it doesn’t work for everybody," she said.

Gráinne eventually decided to handle the trace outside of the agency, whose records are now held by the HSE.

If the current system – a non-statutory set of guidelines and a contact preference register, is deemed effective by Mr Andrews, it was not deemed good enough by Minister for State for Health Austin Currie as far back as 1997.

"I have had detailed discussions on this matter with organisations representing adopted persons, adoptive parents, birth mothers and adoption agencies, and I have received a very clear message that the establishment of a contact register on its own would not be sufficient to meet the needs of adopted persons.

"The establishment of a comprehensive legal framework for access to birth records is a priority of the Government," he said.

More than a decade on adopted people, natural mothers and adoptive parents are saying the same thing.

Yet Government seems determined not to listen.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Tuesday, April 20, 2010

20th April 2010

Adoption Rights Alliance Opinion Piece in Today's Irish Examiner:

Unlike horses, we've no right to a birth cert

Adopted people have no legal rights to their birth certificates and will most likely remain ignorant of their natural parents, writes Susan Lohan and Claire McGettrick.

On 2nd March 2010, in response to a parliamentary question as to why the tracing and information rights of adopted people and natural parents had been excluded from the 2009 Adoption Bill, Minister for Children Barry Andrews said that there is ‘an effective administrative system in place to deal with the issue of adoption information and tracing’.  Had the Minister taken the trouble to read his predecessor, Brian Lenihan’s   recommendations following a costly national public consultation or any of the Adoption Board’s annual reports over the last two decades, he would not have made such a dishonest statement considering that Ireland’s 42,000+ adopted people have so far been unsuccessful in achieving the same level of family tracing as the country’s race horse stock.  

Those recommendations included the setting up a National Contact Preference Register, a National Adoption Records Index, a National Adoption Information and Tracing Service on a statutory basis and to grant the new Adoption Authority the power to seize adoption records where an agency was dilatory in carrying out traces or releasing information.  None of these provisions have been included in the proposed bill. 

Unlike racehorses, adopted people have no legal rights to their birth certificates and will most likely remain ignorant of their natural parentage for their entire lives. They also have no right to know that they are adopted, no right to information on their natural family members, no right (and more importantly no information) to make contact with those same family members; the sort of rights enjoyed by adopted people in the UK since the early 1970’s and in most other developed countries. 

Adopted people routinely experience year long waiting lists to even see a registered adoption agency staff member who is just as likely to be the society’s administrator rather than a qualified social worker.  They experience unconscionable delays in accessing vital information leading e.g. to the endangerment of a sick child’s life for want of medical information held on his mother’s adoption file.  These delays, whether by design, incompetence or convenience, by adoption agencies are used to cover up past illegalities, which in the worst cases prevent or delay reunions until a parent or child has died. Mike Millotte in the epitaph to his excellent 1997 book “Banished Babies” on the 2100+ Irish children trafficked to the US by church run Irish adoption agencies, more accurately describes this “effective” service as “deny till they die”. 

Those adopted people lucky enough to have a face to face meeting with an agency worker commonly experience dishonesty, intimidation, false and inaccurate information, bungled searches and breaches of confidentiality (where agency workers inform and seek the views of the adopted adult’s adoptive parents before releasing any information). 

In an unusual turn of events, a government department  – the Department of Health and Children – and its junior Minister – finds itself working in tandem with conservative church bodies, each striving to ensure that adoption files remain resolutely closed; the church backed adoption agencies for fear of revealing their involvement with illegal adoptions and Minister Andrews for fear of committing the State to expensive overseas search and reunion services as the first of the 4,500 children adopted into Ireland from overseas reach maturity over the next five years.  No qualms for Minister Andrews in allowing the church free reign over this area of social policy….. 

Nor too for the Adoption Board whose website section covering “(Agency) Standards and Inspection” has displayed the message “Nothing to display” for months. In a parallel move, the detailed document, Framework for a National Adoption Tracing and Information Service produced by an Advisory group of adopted people, natural and adoptive parents four years ago has also disappeared from the website and we have been told by some insiders that certain social workers are refusing to adhere to the standards set out therein – a perfect example of what happens when service is not placed on a statutory basis.  

In a recent debate on the proposed 2009 Adoption Bill, Minister Andrews informed a Joint Oireachtas Health and Children committee that he had excluded any statutory provision for Information and Tracing rights for Ireland's 42,000+ adopted people and their 80,000+ natural parents because the Adoption Board staff hadn’t yet learned enough about inter-country adoption aspects of tracing and they wanted to bring both aspects into legislation simultaneously.  What efficiency measure next?  Perhaps the Mater Hospital will suspend their kidney transplant programme until they have mastered the intricacies of combined lung, heart and liver transplants. 

Minister Barry Andrews has ignored the advice of most of the main players in adoption and children’s rights including adopted people, natural parents, adoptive parents, Barnardos, the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies, the Children’s Rights Alliance as well as the Ombudsman for Children – all of whom have called on Minister Andrews to include information and tracing in the proposed Adoption Bill.  This out-of-touch minister does not have to suffer the anguish of not knowing from which family he hails – he and his relatives have access not only to ordinary public records but also to the expertise of the professional family researchers on the excellent “Who Do You Think You Are?” programme, which recently traced the lineage of the Andrews and Tubridy families.

Adopted people also can’t enjoy the same level of genealogy services that are made readily available and advertised to the Irish Diaspora scattered around the globe – perhaps our histories and heritages are worth less or is that worthless? 

If this 2009 Adoption Bill is passed in its present form, the voluntary organisations, who have been picking up the slack for successive Irish governments due to the lack of legislation will be committed to a further twenty years dealing with the emotional fall-out of legislative failure and this time ignorance will be no defence.  It seems clear to us that Barry Andrews has no interest in doing the right thing and he therefore has no place in the office of Minister for Children. 

Susan Lohan and Claire McGettrick are co-founders of Adoption Rights Alliance, which campaigns to ensure that the rights of the adopted child and the rights of Ireland's 42,000+ adult adopted people are protected in legislation. 

If you suspect you were illegally adopted or for general information contact Adoption Rights Alliance at:  info@adoptionrightsalliance.com

21st April 2010

Surge in calls to adoption helplines

By Conall O Fátharta

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ADOPTION support groups have received a surge of calls to their helplines following the Irish Examiner’s special investigation into the issue of illegal adoption.

As part of the investigation we revealed the heartbreaking story of Tressa Reeves and her 50-year search for an illegally adopted son.

Chairwoman of Adoption Loss – The Natural Parents Network of Ireland, Bernie Harold, said the group’s helpline had been "extra busy" since the publication of the investigation.

"Most calls have been from women who were very reluctant to go back to the adoption agency through which their child was adopted because of the traumatic memories it evokes.

"They were glad to hear that they don’t have to – they can go to any agency of their choice. Those women were relieved to be able to talk about the loss of their child with someone else who’d been through the same experience."

Ms Harold also revealed how other calls were from adopted and fostered people who weren’t sure how to start their search.

The Adoption Rights Alliance, a group representing adopted people, also reported its website traffic and calls to its helpline had increased up to five times the dailyaverage following the publication of Tressa’s story.

Commenting on the increase in calls, Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said Tressa’s case was similar to others the group had encountered.

"When the truth about their origins is inevitably revealed, they discover that they have little or no chance of tracing their natural mothers as their birth certificates were falsified and their real names were never recorded," she said.

Ms Lohan criticised the new Adoption Bill and once again called on Minister for Children Barry Andrews to implement legislation that will allow for tracing and information rights.

"Twenty-first century legislation is urgently required because there is nothing to stop illegal adoptions from happening today. Barry Andrews’ proposed Adoption Bill makes no changes to the core 1952 Act on domestic adoption. It doesn’t allow for adopted people to know they are adopted, just like Tressa’s son, and persists in a closed, secretive system damaging to all involved," she said.


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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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