Legal snags hit plan to link adoptees with birth mothers

 

AN undertaking by Mr Dick Spring in March that Irish children adopted in the US would "quickly" be helped to contacts their birth mothers has encountered legal problems.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is understood to have received legal advice that to give the name of a person such as a birth mother to an adoptee without the birth mother's consent may breach the National Archives Act. It may also breach a constitutional right to privacy.

The Department has confirmed to individual adoptees in the US that it has a file on them and has confirmed details put to it by the adoptees.

The overall task of dealing with the information issue has been given to the Department of Health. The Minister of State, Mr Austin Currie, announced some weeks ago that a contacts register would be established though no further details have been released.

It is understood a single official in the Department has been given the task of working his way through thousands of files, a process which is expected to take several more weeks to complete.

Birth mothers anxious to make contact with children whom they say they had no option but to hand over for adoption have told The Irish Times they are angry at the delay.

Meanwhile, Mr Spring's announcement has generated considerable interest in the US media and two news networks, ABC and NBC, have been carrying out research in Ireland.

Two months ago Mr Spring announced that files on 2,000 "illegitimate" babies and toddlers sent to the US up to the early 1960s had been discovered in the" national archives.

"It is my hope that the existence of these files may be of some help in healing the pain caused all those years ago, he said.

He hoped "we can quickly arrive at a point where it will be possible to make information available to people who want helps in being reconciled and reunited, with each other."

The implementation of Mr Spring's promise rests mainly with the Department of Health, which is seeking information from the Department of Education, health boards and adoption societies to supplement the information in the Department of Foreign Affairs files. The process seems set to be an extremely lengthy one, particularly since a single official is carrying out this work.

"All we can say at the moment is that an official in the Department is examining files to determine the extent of the practice of sending children abroad and where they were sent to," the Department said yesterday. "Then we will be able to decide what steps need to be taken next."

Two birth mothers whose children were sent to the US in the 1960s and who are anxious to contact them, have told The Irish Times Mr Spring's original announcement had raised their hopes. They said they feel angry and frustrated that nothing has happened since.

The women, who said they felt at the time that they had no choice but to hand over their children, said they have suffered ever since. They had bonded with them in a mother and child home run by an order of nuns and their children were over a year old when they were removed, at less than 24 hours' notice.