Woman’s case over alleged forced adoption of son dismissed

Court told nun insisted woman would be ‘put out on the street’ if papers not signed

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a woman’s case against a religious order over the alleged forced adoption of her four-month-old son 46 years ago. Her case against a second religious order and the HSE is still pending. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a woman’s case against a religious order over the alleged forced adoption of her four-month-old son 46 years ago. Her case against a second religious order and the HSE is still pending. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a woman’s case against a religious order over the alleged forced adoption of her four-month-old son 46 years ago. Her case against a second religious order and the HSE is still pending.

The appeal court on Wednesday upheld a High Court decision to dismiss the woman’s claim against the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. The claim was halted on grounds it was statute-barred (brought outside the legal time limits). It would also have been struck out over inordinate and inexcusable delay in bringing it, the court added.

No one who heard the woman’s narrative in this case could be other than deeply moved “by the poignant and tragic facts”, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said. However, the action against the Daughters was “plainly statute-barred”.

The 68-year-old woman claimed she was raped in 1968 and became pregnant at the age of 21. She was then sent to St Patrick’s mother and baby home on the Navan Road in Dublin.

She had to give the baby up for adoption as she was also a resident/worker in the Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin, she claimed. She said she was warned by a nun there, if she didn’t sign the adoption papers, she would be “put out on the street”.

No freedom

The Court of Appeal heard the woman had no freedom, was physically abused, frightened and forced to work very hard for no pay. In 2008, with the assistance of one of her other children, she set about trying to locate her adopted son but found out he had died in 2004. She sued in 2013 claiming duress, illegality and fraud over the adoption.

While those involved in the adoption process impliedly represented to her what was being done was routine, they should, when viewed objectively, have realised the practice was totally irregular and unlawful, she claimed.

She also claimed, because there was a breach of a six month statutory period before an adoption can be made, the Statute of Limitations did not apply.

Her action was against the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, who she said managed St Patricks; the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, who operated the Magdalene Laundry; and the HSE as successor to the original health authority for Dublin. All denied liability.

The Daughters of Charity argued the health authority, rather than them, managed St Patricks. They also argued, because of a 44 year delay in bringing the claim, important witnesses and information relating to the events of 1969 when the adoption took place were no longer available and the case should be dismissed due to delay.

After the High Court dismissed the claim in relation to the Daughters of Charity, the woman appealed to the three-judge Court of Appeal.

Doomed to fail

Giving the appeal court’s judgment unanimously dismissing the appeal on grounds it was statute-barred, Mr Justice Hogan said the claim against the Daughters was doomed to fail and it was therefore unecessary to consider the issue of delay.

The judge said he was prepared to allow new evidence, found after the High Court decision, be admitted as part of the appeal. This evidence was a letter found in a bundle of documents left unattended in a solicitor’s writing room in the Four Courts and later sent on to the woman’s solicitor. 

The letter was dated September 26th, 1969 and sent by St Louise Adoption Society to the sister in charge of St Patrick’s Home. It stated the woman’s son had been discharged to the care of a named couple “with a view to adoption”. 

Mr Justice Hogan said, taken at face value, the letter would indeed tend to support the woman’s contention the Daughters of Charity were actively involved in the adoption process even after she had left St Patrick’s.

However, the High Court, in considering whether to dismiss this case, also proceeded on the presumption the Daughters were involved, he said. The letter added “nothing new” from the woman’s perspective as it would simply help prove a fact which the courts had already assumed in her favour for the purpose of deciding whether the case was statute-barred.

The evidence did not establish any concealment of the alleged wrongful conduct or that the Daughters of Charity failed to disclose relevant facts known only to them which, if disclosed, would demonstrate existence of a cause of action, he held.