The High Court has dismissed a damages action against the Adoption Authority of Ireland brought by a 56-year-old woman who claims she was coerced into having her baby daughter adopted nearly 40 years ago.
The woman sued both the Adoption Authority (AAI) and an accredited adoption agency, Cúnamh, for personal injuries and an alleged breach of constitutional rights arising out of the adoption of her baby in 1979.
The woman, who gave birth when she was 16 years of age, also claimed the authority had failed to ensure that she was in a position to give informed consent to the adoption of her child.
In a pretrial motion, the authority sought to have her action struck out on grounds including that the case was statute-barred and over the lengthy delay by the woman in bringing the proceedings.
It claimed the delay meant they could no longer have a fair trial as a number of critical witnesses to the adoption were either dead or no longer available. The events at the centre of the claim dated back to 1979-80, it said.
In opposing the AAI’s motion, the woman’s lawyers argued the statute of limitations did not apply from the date of her becoming an adult, in 1984 because the woman was effectively not of sound mind as a result of her age and the trauma she suffered.
Her trauma was reopened in more recent years as a result of a lot of coverage of the topic of enforced adoptions, it was further submitted.
Rejecting claims there had been a delay, it was argued that the woman wrote to the authority in 1989 claiming it was an enforced adoption. The defendant was aware from back then that she might have a claim and should have looked into it, it was argued.
In his judgment on Wednesday, Mr Justice Garrett Simons said he was satisfied to strike out the woman's claim against the authority after finding there was "a real risk of an unfair trial and an unjust result" should the action be allowed to proceed.
He said the absence of relevant witnesses by the defendants would have the effect that a trial could be one-sided and would not meet the constitutional requirements of a fair trial.
There was also a real risk that the judge hearing the trial “would be unable to reach a just verdict” in circumstances were that court would not have the benefit of all the relevant evidence.
The judge said he was also satisfied that the delay in bringing the proceedings, which were commenced in 2015, was both inordinate and inexcusable.
The judge said it would be inappropriate at this stage of the proceedings to rule on the issue of the claim is statute-barred without the benefit of oral evidence and cross-examination of relevant parties.
The judge added that his judgement was “not about the underlying merits of the case,” but was focused on the two delay-related issues.
The woman’s claim against Cúnamh remains in being.
However, it is understood that Cúnamh has brought a pretrial motion, also aimed at having her action dismissed on grounds of delay, which has been adjourned generally.
The woman claimed that she became pregnant at 15 years of age. The child was born in July 1979 in Mount Carmel Hospital, Dublin, where three days later the baby was taken from her against her will.
She says she went alone to Cúnamh, then known as the Irish Rescue and Protection Society, looking for assistance and accommodation.
She was told it was an adoption service and it was too late for her to object because she had already signed the consent papers.
It is claimed that as a child herself, she was not in a position to give proper consent. As a child, she could have been taken into care or a guardian appointed to protect her interests, she claimed.
She claimed that what happened to her affected her mental health. She eventually coped by blocking it from her mind so that it was not real to her and later married and had two more children.
However, she continued to suffer psychological trauma, panic attacks and sleep disturbance, it is alleged. She claims she suffers from post-traumatic stress as a result of unresolved issues around the adoption.
Her claims are denied and the defendants have argued that she was made fully aware of her rights at the time of the adoption and given ample opportunities to reconsider before she signed the adoption consent form.
The matter will return before the High Court after the sides have considered Thursday’s judgment, next month.