SURVIVORS AND CAMPAIGNERS have criticised how the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes deals with the issue of adoption.
The long-awaited report – which was published on Tuesday and can be read here – said the commission found “little evidence” of forced adoption.
The document, spanning 2,865 pages, details the experiences of women and children who lived in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes between 1922 and 1998.
It acknowledges that mothers often had little choice in terms of adopting their children, but also states that women and girls had “time after the initial placement for adoption to reassess the situation”.
The report notes that private adoption placements were not illegal in Ireland until the late 1990s but such practices “facilitated illegal registrations of birth”. In many cases, a person’s adopted parents were listed as their birth parents on the cert.
Many women have spoken out about their babies being taken from them forcibly and having to sign consent forms under duress. In some cases signatures were forged, while in other circumstances consent was never sought in the first place.
During the week, survivors shared harrowing stories of their children being taken away.
One woman told TheJournal.ie that a nun in an institution physically pulled her daughter from her arms, “both my baby and I screaming”. Another spoke of still having nightmares about her child being taken, decades later.
The issue was raised by independent TD Catherine Connolly in the Dáil on Wednesday, saying: “Either we believe the women or we do not. I absolutely believe the survivors who have come forward despite these difficult memories.
“The commission tells us there was no evidence of compulsion or forced adoption. All of the evidence given confirms there was.”
The Coalition of Mother & Baby Home Survivors, an umbrella group of survivors from different institutions, on Tuesday said the report threw people who were illegally adopted “under a bus”.
“This report is fundamentally incomplete as it ignores the larger issue of the forced separation of single mothers and their babies since the foundation of the State as a matter of official State policy.
“While much of this policy was implemented in mother and baby homes, tens of thousands who were born outside the institutions investigated by this inquiry, have been excluded; particularly those who were illegally adopted.”
The statement also stated that illegally-adopted people are given “false, misleading and potentially lethal family medical histories”.
“This Government and Commission has essentially thrown them under a bus and walked away.”
‘Significant exit pathway’
Legal adoption was introduced in Ireland by the Adoption Act 1952 which came into effect on 1 January 1953. However, ‘informal’ adoptions still took place in the decades before this.
Many children were taken from institutions and maternity hospitals and sent to foster families or adopted. Adoption societies were often involved.
“Adoption, whether informal prior to 1953, or legal from 1953, or foreign, was a very significant exit pathway for children in the institutions being investigated,” the commission notes.
Ads appeared in newspapers looking for “good Catholic parents” to take in a child, or a parish priest might have a word with a married couple he knew wanted children.
In many cases, the child’s adopted parents were registered as the birth parents. Some children who were adopted only found out later in life, and others still don’t know.
The report describes how Ireland was late, compared to many other countries, in introducing formal legal adoption – a delay largely influenced by the Catholic Church not fully supporting such legislation.
Once formal adoption came into effect, it became the “most significant exit pathway for children” in mother and baby homes, the report notes. Many children from these institutions also ended up in industrial schools.
Several adopted people and campaigners have been very critical of the final report. They say forced adoptions were widespread, and that a much wider conversation is needed about people who never entered mother and baby homes or county homes, but were illegally or forcibly adopted.
‘Signing consent forms while under sedation’
Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance and a member of the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum, is heavily critical of the commission’s report, saying many of its conclusions contradict the testimonies given to it.
“It’s almost impossible to follow the train of thought because there are so many contradictions – you find yourself reading back pages and going, ‘Didn’t they just say the opposite of that a few pages ago?’.
She says conclusions that there is a lack of evidence of forced adoptions, and women being forced into the homes by Church and State, are “ridiculous” and a “betrayal” of survivors.
Susan says the report is very “hurtful” to survivors of the institutions, as well as the “tens of thousands” of women it did not include because they weren’t in a mother and baby home, but were still forced to give their child away.
Yesterday, Susan shared her personal story of being adopted with TheJournal.ie.
Susan recalls hearing stories of how nuns and social workers visited some State-run maternity hospitals in decades past, “preying on unmarried mothers and tricking them into signing forms while they were actually under sedation”.
“The experiences of so many people have been ignored … we were taken for forced adoption or we were illegally adopted, which of course, is the end game of these homes.
The analogy I use is, by not looking at the big picture and looking at the raison d’etre of these homes is like if, after World War II, The Hague court of human rights only looked at the day-to-day conditions in the concentration camps and had not looked at the raison d’etre of the camps, which was to exterminate the Jews.
“Or in our case, they wanted to take away the children who were coming from morally-contaminated mothers, as far as they were concerned.”
Susan notes how there are examples on the Dáil record where TDs referred to so-called “illegitimate” children as having “double original sin”.
Original sin is a Catholic belief that humans are born sinful and with a proclivity to sin.
“We had double original sin because we were born illegitimate to unmarried mothers, so they actually regarded us as kind of seditious forces.”
Susan says unmarried women and girls who were pregnant were hidden away because if they “were seen out in society, they would contaminate the morals of that society”.
“That’s why they were locked up behind walls, and the dogs in the street know that.”
‘It changed my life’
Theresa Hiney Tinggal, now 66, only found out she was adopted when she was 48 years old. This was, understandably, a huge shock.
“It changed my life. I thought I was the only person who this had happened to, but there are a lot of us,” she tells TheJournal.ie.
Theresa is from Dublin but now lives in Bournemouth in England.
She recalls how, about 18 years ago, her uncle broke the news. Theresa’s mother told her that one day her father met an acquaintance in Dublin who was with a little girl. The man said he and his wife got the little girl, “but not in the legal way”.
Theresa’s father said he and his wife were interested in having another child but unable to conceive. The man took his details and said someone would be in touch.
Soon afterwards a woman called to their home in Cabra and informed them that a young woman would be giving birth soon if they wanted a baby. They agreed and received a telegram when Theresa was born and went to a house on Collins Avenue to pick her up.
They patised her immediately and registered her as their own child six weeks later.
Theresa says she tried for years to get information about her birth mother from the HSE, to no avail. She was told that the Eastern Health Board, the precursor to the HSE in that area, had no records on her.
She later found out that a social worker from the Eastern Health Board regularly visited her home until she turned 16, to check up on her progress. When growing up she presumed the social worker was there about her younger sister, who was fostered, but she was actually there about Theresa herself.
In 2018, she eventually found out she had relatives in Tipperary through online research. Sadly, her mother had died a few years beforehand so they never got to meet.
“I was stonewalled by them so much that I went on ancestry.com and through DNA, I found I had family in Tipperary.
“Unfortunately, my mother had passed eight years before that. She was a good age, she was 87.”
Although she never got to meet her mother, she has bonded with her cousins and they have given her information about her birth mother, who was 30 when she got pregnant.
Theresa believes countless other people are adopted and don’t realise because they were illegally registered.
She noted how, in 2018, an investigation was launched after Tusla discovered at least 126 cases in which births were illegally registered in the records of St Patrick’s Guild from 1946 to 1969.
An “incorrect registration” takes place when one or both of the following happens:
- the name of a person who is not a birth parent of the child is entered in the register of births as a parent of the child
- the name of the birth mother of the child is not entered in the register of births as the mother of the child
Theresa, who was not adopted through St Patrick’s Guild, believes this is “the tip of the iceberg” and many more children were illegally registered – with many coming from institutions like mother and baby homes.
Theresa says her adopted parents “thought they were helping” her birth mother and their family. Her adopted parents were given £46 to look after her, but she notes that some people who organised illegal adoptions “got very very rich through it”.
“They put their hands in people’s pockets” and “sold babies”, she says.
When asked by TheJournal.ie on Tuesday about adopted people’s reaction to the report, Minister Roderic O’Gorman said “the government is very much aware” of people’s concerns.
He again stated that the government will bring forward information and tracing legislation this year, adding it is “absolutely crucial” that people who were adopted or fostered can find out information about their birth and early life.
In terms of false registrations of birth, he said his department intends to publish the sampling review of illegal adoptions and registrations which was initiated by his predecessor Katherine Zappone.
“We couldn’t publish that report until the mother and baby home report had come out. And indeed, we provided the commission with that particular report.
“I’d be hoping to bring a memo to government soon to publish that sampling review of illegal adoptions. So again, it’s ongoing work in the area of adoption.”
Theresa says she is “luckily” very healthy but other adoptees are not – many want their medical records, as well as to find out who their birth parents were, before they die.
She says long-promised tracing and information legislation, due to be debated in the Oireachtas this year, must be signed into law as quickly as possible.
“The government must step up to the mark – survivors are an aging population, and action is needed straight away.”
Under current legislation, adopted people are not entitled to their birth certificate or to information about their families of origin.
Citing previous advice from the Attorney General that “it was constitutionally unacceptable to allow unrestricted access”, the commission’s final report says it is likely that a referendum will be needed to change the Constitution in order to allow this.
However, constitutional lawyers have argued that a referendum is not required and that the Oireachtas could decide that the rights of adopted people need to be favoured above privacy rights.
After some confusion, on Friday it emerged that Attorney General Paul Gallagher had confirmed to the government that a referendum will not in fact be required.
“I don’t think they need a referendum, they know exactly what needs to be put in place. Who are the public to say that we can have our records? The people who are affected by this should be able to have their records,” Theresa tells us.
Susan Lohan agrees that a referendum is not required, adding that not allowing adoptees access to their information flouts international human rights law.
When asked about granting people access to their records, at the government press conference on Tuesday, the Taoiseach said: “The commission is very strong on the right of access to one’s personal identity, one’s birth cert and your entering into the world, and is quite clear on that.”
Micheál Martin said it’s the government’s view that, by applying GDPR principles, “we will be able to facilitate [access] through a legislative process”.
“We want to stretch this really as far as we can to make sure that people have that access. That’s the objective and that’s the commitment as of now, the formulation and development of an information and tracing bill.”
O’Gorman added that his department is “engaging on a sustained basis with the Attorney General” on the issue.
Theresa says the State apology by the Taoiseach during the week was “a form of lip service to shut us up” and doesn’t include people like her who were illegally adopted as the commission did not examine this area in more detail, as had been requested.
Theresa says different survivors need different types of support and they must all be helped via access to their personal records, monetary help, and medical cards and counselling, as required.
She says many people who lived in the institutions “went through shocking abuse” and the report’s publication was “not as bad” for her but still difficult.
“The report brings up an awful lot of anxiety, it opens old wounds. I was quite surprised by my reaction, by how much it affected me.”
The final report notes that the commission “has not conducted a comprehensive review of adoptions”.
“It is concerned only with the placement of children from the institutions under investigation and with the specific issues identified in the Terms of Reference (which can be read here).
“However, law on adoption and adoption practices do not distinguish between these children and all others placed for adoption.”
The report also states that, prior to the introduction of legal adoption in Ireland, the word ‘adoption’ was “often used to describe informal and non-legally binding arrangements whereby families took responsibility for children”.
“When formal legal adoption became available in Ireland (1 January 1953), a number of the first adoption orders were made in respect of children who had been informally adopted,” it adds.
Records examined by the commission show that between 1922 and 1998, 1,638 children who were resident in mother and baby homes and the four county homes under investigation were placed for foreign adoption.
The vast majority, 1,427, were placed for adoption to the United States.
A Passport Office record was found for 1,266 of the children placed for foreign adoption. A passport would not have been needed in respect of the 188 children who went to the UK.
A Passport Office record was found for an additional 265 children who were in the institutions but were not recorded as placed for adoption.
Why was Ireland so late in bringing in adoption legislation?
The report notes that, among common law countries, Ireland was relatively late in introducing formal legal adoption.
The Irish Courts System exists in what is called a ‘common law’ jurisdiction alongside countries such as the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The system originates from the English legal system.
As was the case with much legislation that would ‘modernise’ Ireland, adoption legislation was delayed for some time because it was not fully supported by the Catholic Church which exerted huge influence in the country.
The report notes that the introduction of legal adoption was “delayed by the reluctance of the Irish government to introduce legislation on the issue which was not fully backed by the Catholic church”.
A major concern of the Church was that children would be adopted by non-Catholic households.
Legal adoption was introduced in Ireland by the Adoption Act 1952, which came into effect on 1 January 1953.
It applied to adoptions within Ireland and did not regulate inter-country adoptions.
The legislation was amended by Adoption Acts in 1964, 1974, 1976, 1988, 1991 and 1998 (the period under review by the commission). The Adoption Act 2010 repealed all the previous acts.