Shame and guilt hang over people caught up in adoption scandal – solicitor
CLP’s Norman Spicer said State redress scheme could help avoid prolonged litigation
Norman Spicer, of Coleman Legal Partners (CLP), which is representing about 15 people affected by the St Patrick’s Guild false adoption contorversy. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell
Many people whose births were falsely registered by the St Patrick’s Guild adoption society have been made to feel they were part of an illegal and shameful scheme, a solicitor representing several of those affected has said.
Norman Spicer, of Coleman Legal Partners (CLP), which is representing about 15 people affected by the controversy, also said a State redress scheme would be the best solution to avoid prolonged litigation.
It emerged last summer that 126 births were falsely registered by the society between 1946 and 1969, with the names of adoptive parents being recorded as birth parents in many cases. The number of cases is now thought to be at 148.
CLP has sent legal letters to the Attorney General in relation to three cases with more set to issue in the coming weeks. The Adoption Authority of Ireland and St Patrick’s Guild, now in liquidation, will also be included in the proceedings.
Mr Spicer said CLP was now considering various experts to assess the potential psychological impact on those affected by the revelations, many of whom were not aware they were adopted and whose parents have since died.
“A lot of them feel, strangely enough, that they are part of some sort of illegal act,” he said. “A lot of them feel a bit of shame as well in that they have been told that who they thought were their parents actually engaged in something illegal, you know, they were involved in some sense. There is an awful lot of guilt.”
Mr Spicer said compensation levels that may arise from High Court proceedings were difficult to predict and could vary for each case.
“Some of them are putting a brave face on it but they are very traumatised by the whole thing,” he said. “Some of them told me that they look at people now when they are on the bus or the train and they think does that person look like me. Is that my mother? Is that my father?”
Tusla, the child and family agency, has been trying to contact all of those involved in the controversy. However, Mr Spicer was critical of the process – one of his clients was contacted by the agency and given no details until a meeting took place two weeks later.
“You can imagine what that two-week period was like for that woman,” he said. “If they are going to contact them and tell them that something significant is up, they should at least have people on standby immediately ready to go and travel to meet these people and give them the news as soon as possible.”
Tusla previously said that tracing people was often slow, labour-intensive work that involved trawling through old records. Those contacted are offered counselling.
At least half of Mr Spicer’s clients have two birth certificates – the original accurate one that was never registered and the replacement one encouraged by nuns at St Patrick’s Guild.
“So they have been calling themselves John Jones all their life but actually they are not,” he said.
In addition to compensation – High Court damages begin at €60,000 – CLP is seeking a State apology and full access to its clients’ records, the contents of which are often heavily redacted due to data protection laws.