Annie Corrigan was in her mid-50s when she learned that she had two older brothers, one of whom had died while he was still a child, while the other has disappeared without trace.
The founder of the Tuam Babies Family Group, Corrigan said she will not learn anything from the Birth Information and Tracing Bill published on Wednesday by Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman.
Her brothers were taken from the Tuam mother and baby home in 1951, three years before laws permitting adoptions were introduced in the State in 1953 – from when adoptions were officially recorded.
John died later, but William has disappeared, though it is believed he was taken to the United States. Her aunt Mollie died in the industrial school in Loughrea, Co Galway when she was 13.
No one can say where she is buried. Corrigan said: “Yet, if I tried to use that Bill to find my aunt, I’d have to prove that she was inappropriately buried. How can I do that when I don’t know where she was buried? The nuns won’t tell me.
“And I have to provide evidence when they [the State] don’t have any evidence. The chances are I’m going to be shot down on that – this is the way it’s structured,” said Corrigan, who welcomed the fact that the legislation will help people who are aware that they are adopted.
However, she believes the legislation falls short of the transparency needed since thousands of people are “walking around” the United States and the UK unaware of where they come from.
Children born in mother and baby homes had "fought very hard" for the legislation, said the 72-year-old London-based campaigner Sally Mulready, a former member of President Michael D Higgins's Council of State.
‘No easy answer’
“The adoptees were well able to articulate their cause and fought very hard for this,” she said, though her experience with “all categories of survivors” from Ireland’s industrial schools and mother and baby homes shows that there is “no easy answer” that will appeal to everyone.
Some adoptees never lose hope that they will be reunited with their parents, she says, while some parents are worried throughout their lives that their identity will one day be revealed because they never told people about their early lives.
Her own brother Michael had been lucky in being able to trace his natural parents in later life and had a “wonderful experience” while in adoption, but she says that others have been less fortunate.
“It’s not a simple choice, but someone had to move on this point. I can’t stand hand on heart and say I would support either position – it depends on a case-by-case basis for me,” Mulready told The Irish Times.
Samantha Long, who was adopted as a baby in 1972, began searching for her birth mother in her early 20s. Back then, the process was not a "right, but a hope", she said. She was reunited with her mother, Margaret, in 1995.
But when they met, she says her mother, who was interned from the age of two to her death at 51, was “too institutionalised to be able to communicate” in a way that she and her twin sister could.
“We were raised in a loving family, with access to education and adequate resources, but she never had any of that. There was no equality in our lives – they were incomparable, actually.”
“As a mother now, who would do anything to help their kids, you realise the extent to which people like Margaret’s lives were snuffed out by the State,” she said.
She was supportive of O’Gorman’s legislation; however, she warned people that the search for their backgrounds can bring pain. “You may find the person you’re looking for is dead, or that they don’t want to meet you.
“I am hopeful that adoptees who are embarking on this search will be respectful of birth mothers’ privacy, as some of them have gone through their lives with this secret, and they should be allowed to be left in peace if that’s what they want.” said Long.
“While we were lucky, other people are coming across brick walls because they don’t even know their true date of birth, and they haven’t had help. We were legally adopted, so there was a paper trail to some extent and we were able to trace back where it all happened, who our mother was.
“But if you have any missing pieces, and you’re looking up suspected names and things like that, you’re really at a dead end sometimes. It takes a lot of time. It’s just another way that we can put our history in the past, hopefully, if people can find some resolution to their identity,” she said.