The first of potentially dozens of cases over illegal adoptions in the Republic has been formally launched in the High Court.
The initial case involves Belfast man Patrick FitzSymons whose parents, unable to deal with the stigma of a child born out of wedlock, handed him to the Catholic church agency St Patrick’s Guild in the 1960s, which then arranged for him to be adopted by a couple in Co Antrim.
His case is one of more than 25 being dealt with by one Dublin legal firm alone, although it has been estimated it could be more than three years before the legal proceedings are concluded.
Mr FitzSymons, an actor who has appeared in the television series Game of Thrones and Line of Duty, has hit out over the envisaged lengthy timescale.
His statement of claim, lodged last Friday, shows he is statement of claim shows he is seeking damages for personal and psychological injuries, mental distress, anguish, nervous shock and loss “suffered by reason of negligence and breach of duty including statutory duty”.
He is further seeking exemplary damages for “actionable conspiracy, deceit, malicious falsehood and infringement of constitutional rights” – relating to the alleged forgery of birth documents – and a declaration of incompatibility with the European Convention of Human Rights.
A total of 148 people are now involved in the adoptions which involved falsifying of birth certificates and other baptismal records – more than the 126 announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 20 months ago. And the Dublin firm of Coleman Legal Partners predicts the numbers will rise even further.
One of its solicitors, Norman Spicer, said it did not envisage applying for a “class action” order because of the complexity of the individual cases.
“There is no provision for the North American-style of ‘class action’ under Irish law. However a court has discretion to grant an order which may mirror to some extent the other system for a specific case or set of cases,” he told The Irish Times.
“We do not envisage making such an application. These are complex cases involving many different defendants, as a result it is difficult to say how long these cases will take as it depends on all of the parties involved and how quickly responses, replies and motions, and so on, can be turned around.
“Three years would not be an unreasonable timeframe but this is dependent upon many factors and is really only a ‘ballpark’ estimate,” Mr Spicer added.
‘Pain and trauma’
Speaking to The Irish Times last year, Mr FitzSymons said he had decided to go public about his story in the hope the Catholic Church would admit its role in the illegal adoptions and "the widespread pain and trauma caused by the subsequent cover-up of the facts".
His biological parents were an accountant from Ennis, who asked not to be identified, and Eileen O’Connor, a teacher from Kerry. His adoption was arranged for John FitzSymons, a pharmaceutical chemist from Warrenpoint in Co Down and Patricia Bradley, a qualified social worker from Co Tyrone.
Mr FitzSymons said his adoptive parents, both now dead, “had loved me and provided for me as best they could”. At the same time, “my natural parents, my birth mother in particular, had endured the institutional shaming and disapproval of Ireland at that time to do what she thought to be the right thing”.
He said: “I want to live in a society that openly admits its past failings and makes whatever information it possesses promptly and freely available to those it concerns.”
Speaking in the Dáil in May 2018, Mr Varadkar said the disclosures of the adoptions amounted to “another chapter from the very dark history of our country” which had “robbed children – our fellow citizens – of their identity”.
A spokesperson for St Patrick’s Guild which has been wound up was uncontactable.
* This article has been corrected to say the case has been initiated in the High Court in Dublin, not Belfast. The error occurred in the editing process.