Up to 100 'illegal adoptions' uncovered
State authorities have uncovered about 100 cases of children who were born to unmarried women and may have been illegally transferred to adoptive parents as recently as the 1970s.
These informal adoptions were conducted outside the law and have left the children in circumstances where it may be impossible to trace their real birth parents.
In many cases the children are believed to have been given at birth to other families who then falsely registered these children as their own.
Gardaí have investigated whether adoption agencies and doctors were involved or acted illegally by falsely registering the births.
However, there have been no prosecutions to date due to a lack of evidence and the lapse of time since the events.
Well-placed sources believe there are likely to be hundreds more of these informal adoptions which have not yet come to the attention of authorities.
Legal experts last night said the issue also raises legal question marks, such as those over inheritance or succession rights.
Following the introduction of the 1952 Adoption Act, it became an offence to adopt a child without a formal adoption order.
This legislation also included safeguards aimed at protecting the mother, such as ensuring that a child be at least three months old before an adoption is authorised.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland is aware of in excess of 100 cases where there are no records for people who say they were adopted. This indicates their birth registration records may have been falsified.
However, some cases took place before the 1952 legislation, when there was no law against informal adoptions.
In a statement last night, the Health Service Executive advised anyone who believes they were “illegally adopted” to contact the Adoption Authority of Ireland or its tracing services. However, it warned that if children were placed in families without any reference to formal adoption procedures, authorities may be very limited in the assistance they can provide.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald asked the HSE to conduct a review into illegally registered births. This identified a small number of cases, which were passed on to adoption authorities.
“These cases are a sad legacy of the culture and the practice of the time,” a spokeswoman for the Minister said. She was unable to say whether the Minister or the Government would request any further investigations into the actions of adoption agencies or doctors who may have facilitated these illegal birth registrations.