‘As an adopted child the search for identity continues’
Dealing with State in pursuit of basic human right has been so frustrating
Eamon McGrane holds aloft a photograph of himself as a baby. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
When I was four my parents sat me down shortly before I was to start primary school and told me I was adopted.
“Other mammies and daddies had to put up with what they got. But you’re special, we picked you,” they told me.
The town where we lived – Swords, north Dublin – was a small place at that time and it was inevitable that my classmates would probably know or find out. But being told so young and that lovely explanation of what being adopted meant was enough for me.
I never gave it another thought. Someone had given birth to me but my mammy and daddy came in to collect me. I was their little boy and you could not tell me any different. As I got older thoughts about who my birth parents were started to intrude on my consciousness but I wasn’t ready to do anything about it and felt that exploring it would somehow be disloyal to my adoptive parents.
Fast forward to 2013. And I’m married with three children and the issue of the Magdalene Laundries and the apology to the survivors has generated acres of column inches and airtime. My adoptive mother died when I was nine and my adoptive father died in 2010. I was in my early 40s and started to think of what it might have been like for my birth mother.
So many questions
What did she go through? What forces made her give me up? How did she recover from her ordeal? Did she go on to have a happy life? And most saliently,
where was she now?
This was the beginning of an incredibly frustrating experience dealing with the State. An experience that is wrapped in secrecy masquerading as privacy, red tape and bureaucracy.
I was adopted from St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road, Dublin in late 1971 after being born in St Kevin’s hospital on April 14th 1971. The agency that facilitated the adoption was St Louise’s and those records were now held by the HSE in Blanchardstown.
I wrote to them and gave them my details and was told it would be a year before I would even be seen by a social worker to discuss the case and initiate, if I wanted, a trace. I had lost so much time already that a year seemed an eternity. Six months later I rang the HSE in Blanchardstown again and asked if there was a time slot for me in the next six months. They told me it would be, at least, a year maybe two. They explained how under-resourced they were trying to deal with thousands of requests for tracing.
I had hit the proverbial brick wall. These people had my file, knew my details but I was not entitled to see it. I was expected to wait probably two years before I could see someone to discuss what to do next.
I decided that I could not wait or rely on the HSE. I needed to take matters into my own hands. With the help of the campaigning group Adoption Rights Alliance I began to look into ways of piecing together who my birth mother was.
Using public records available in the General Register Office I was able to get a copy of my birth cert. Up until that point I only had my adopted birth cert with the names of my adoptive parents on it. But here before me was my birth mother’s name, where she was from, Waterford, and the name she gave me at that time – Dermot. It was an emotional moment.
My search continues as it does for tens of thousands of other people in Ireland. I don’t know when it will conclude but I do know that legislation around adoption needs to change. We are nearly 40 years behind the UK in this regard.
As I explained on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 on Wednesday when an adopted person in England reaches 18 they are given their file with information about their birth mother and father.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald has been making soundings on this but the Government continues to hide behind “complex legal issues” meaning that that retrospective legislation (for people like me over 18) is in danger of not happening.
Support from other political areas has been sporadic. The right to your identity is a most basic human right.
Right to know identity
It is also something that gnaws at you as Alex Ha
ley author of Roots said: “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.”