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Judgements Affecting Irish Adoption

(Note this is not a comprehensive list and we are constantly adding to it)

I'OT vs B & The Rotunda Girls Aid Society 1998 Supreme Court judgement
I. O’T. & M.H. were two adult women (informally adopted in 1941 and 1951) who sought the release of all documents concerning their births, identities of their natural mothers and their placing from the Rotunda Girls Aid Society and a Fr Gerard Doyle. 

The 1998 I O’T v B Supreme Court judgement stated that the child has an un-enumerated constitutional right to know the identity of his/her natural parents.  The court said however that the right was not absolute and had to be balanced against the natural mother’s right to privacy and anonymity.  However,
the Supreme Court stated that neither set of rights was absolute and went on to suggest a list of questions a Circuit Court judge may wish to consider when determining which right would prevail in any given case. They included 

1.    The circumstances giving rise to the natural mother relinquishing custody of her child;

2.    The present circumstances of the natural mother and the effect thereon (if any) of the disclosure of her identity to her child;

3.    The attitude of the natural mother to the disclosure of her identity to her natural child, and the reasons there for;

4.    The respective ages of the natural mother and her child;

5.    The reasons for the natural child’s wish to know the identity of her natural mother and to meet her (our emphasis)

6.    The present circumstances of the natural child; and

7.    The views of the foster parents, if alive  

The effect of the I O’T v B Ruling on adopted people seeking information
On foot of this case, the Adoption Board claimed to have sought legal advice (from a source unknown to Adoption Rights Alliance) which advised that the I O’T v B case could be applied directly to adopted people seeking information on their natural parents. The Board rewrote the list of questions to apply to adopted people so e.g. that questions 5 and 6 refer to “the adopted child” and question 7 refers to “adoptive parents”.   

Significantly, although Hamilton CJ stated that the list was not, nor was it intended to be exhaustive, it has been treated as such by the Adoption Board and subsequently by the Adoption Authority; fairly obvious questions, which could have been considered have never been added including;  

“Is the natural mother still alive?”  
To adopted people, this would rank as the most obvious omission.  It seems bizarre that neither the original Supreme Court ruling nor the Adoption Authority have considered this particular scenario.  Common sense would dictate that all files should revert to the adopted person on the death of a natural mother.  During 2004/2005, when meeting as part of an Advisory Group to the Adoption Board (appointed by then Minister for Children, Brian Lenihan) repeated demands were made by the AdoptionIreland representative and Natural Parent’s Network of Ireland representative for the Adoption Board to seek legal advice on these questions. The group never had sight of how the questions were posed nor the official response – nor any confirmation that formal channels of enquiry were opened.   

“What if the natural mother cannot be located?” 
Equally, neither the original ruling nor the Adoption Board had the foresight to consider that some natural mothers would not be found and that their views could not be ascertained at a meeting with the Chairman and CEO of the Adoption Authority on August 2nd, 2011 at which we posed these questions.  

“The circumstances giving rise to the child losing the guardianship of his mother” 
This is particularly relevant in light of all that has been known about illegal adoptions since 1996, f
ollowing the broadcast of RTÉ’s Prime Time ”The Secret Baby Trail” on June 20th, 1996 and the publication of “Banished Babies” by Mike Milotte in 1997, when it was made abundantly clear that large numbers of children (particularly those trafficked to the US) were removed without the consent or knowledge of their natural mothers.  

“The present circumstances of the adopted adult and the effect thereon (if any) of the non-disclosure of her mother’s identity to him/her” 
None of the Adoption Authority’s own questions actually place the adopted person’s feelings at the centre of the debate, this question would.

“The attitude of the adopted person to the non-disclosure of information on all other family members – father, siblings etc)” 
Any equitable system would surely wish to consider the impact on an adopted person of a natural mother not revealing a father’s name or details of an adopted person’s siblings.

“The attitude of all future generations to being denied their family history?” 
The limited questions posed by Hamilton CJ never considered the impact on the children of an adopted person on being denied their lineage.  

Hiding behind the I O’T v B judgement
Adoption agencies, in particular those backed by religious congregations, about whom the current Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, correctly said in 1997
 that they:  

“…were established to place children for adoption and to conceal their origins. It is very difficult for some of these societies now to lift the aura of secrecy when they have no guidelines from the State which established the system”  

Adoption agencies have much to gain from the continued secrecy of adoption records.  They have seized the I O’T v B judgement as a rationale for a blanket non-disclosure of any identifying information to adopted people. This allows agencies involved in illegal practices to conceal their past activities from any inspection regime and from the individuals affected by those activities.  

The former Rotunda Girls Aid Society (RGAS) in Dublin and the former Sacred Heart Adoption Society in Cork generated huge numbers of complaints from adopted people but only closed when the religious orders backing them decided to cease their operations and not as result of any sanctions imposed by the Adoption Board.   

One Dublin based agency’s (St Patrick’s Guild) illegal activities were condemned by the current minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, in Leinster House in 1997:

“It is unacceptable that an adoption society such as St. Patrick's Guild has deliberately misled people by giving grossly inaccurate information, both to adopted persons and to birth mothers, with regard to the background to their adoption. It is almost beyond belief that an adoption society deliberately set out to tell adopted persons the wrong names, wrong dates of birth and the wrong ages of the birth mothers. That behaviour must be totally condemned by Members of this House”.  

Incredibly, St. Patrick’s Guild Adoption Society was accredited by the Adoption Authority in March 2011 to offer information and tracing services to adopted people.  It also continues to receive HSE funding and to date has never been sanctioned by the Adoption Board nor by the Adoption Authority.  It appears to make up the rules as it goes along – on the one hand refusing to make contact with an illegally adopted person on his natural mother’s behalf despite her decade’s long explicit requests to do so while on the other hand, it also withholds all “identifying information” from adopted applicants until it has explicit permission from a natural mother to do so.  Where the natural mother cannot be found (as is often the case where the Guild persists in writing to a 40 year old temporary address), it refuses to hand over the information being sought. Equally, this agency will not disclose information, where a natural mother is deceased.  

Criticism of the IOT v B Judgement
The AAI and adoption agencies’ interpretation of the I O’T v B judgement appears to us to be founded in the false presumption that all natural mothers actively sought and were given signed guarantees of confidentiality, when they were largely forced to relinquish their children to adoption.  In fact, Adoption Loss (also known as NPNI – the Natural Parents Network of Ireland) also confirm this and they say that no agency has ever been able to produce such a guarantee. We also contend that agencies cynically project an image of cringing natural mothers living in fear of being contacted by their now adult children to continue their cover-up of illegal adoptions, child abduction, child trafficking and illegal non-consensual infant vaccine trials, which they carried out with impunity at least until the 1970’s.

The judgement although out of touch and widely condemned did not propose a blanket ban on the release of information to adopted people but it has been used to justify precisely that by certain agencies and also by the former Adoption Board and now the Adoption Authority itself, who refuse to release birth certificates or make contact with siblings without obtaining a natural mother’s permission when there is no basis in law for them to do so.  

Thankfully, Ireland as a society has moved on considerably since 1998, when the I O’T v B judgement was made.   Frustratingly however, Irish adoption legislation has not progressed at the same pace.  The I O’T v B case, and more significantly the interpretation of this judgement, has created a huge obstacle for adopted people in obtaining the information that is rightfully theirs.  In the absence of legislation, the only other avenue open to adopted people is the possibility of mounting a legal challenge; however this in itself creates a barrier to obtaining a remedy because of the danger of losing such a case thereby causing a genuine fear of financial ruin.  Therefore it is imperative that adoption information rights are given statutory footing without delay.

Download the judgement here

"Baby Ann" Judgement 2006
"Baby Ann" was born to unmarried parents and was subsequently adopted.  Her natural parents later married and during the adoption process withdrew their consent to the adoption.  The High Court had originally ruled that "Baby Ann" should remain with the prospective adoptive parents.  The Supreme Court later overturned that judgement and she was returned to the custody of her natural parents.

Adoption Rights Alliance asserts that the "Baby Ann" case is a sad example of the dire need for the voice of the child to be heard in all matters relating to adoption.  This case also demonstrates the need to sufficiently inform natural parents prior to the adoption taking place and the need to offer more support rather than rushing towards adoption as a (very permanent) solution to a temporary problem.  We also believe that separate social workers should be allocated to the child, the natural parents and the prospective adoptive parents as having one social worker for all three will inevitably result in human emotions taking over in an impossible tug of war.

Download the judgement here

“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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