Illegal adoptions: Government seeks advice on next steps

Department to engage with Prof O’Mahony to set ‘broad’ terms of reference for report

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said a forthcoming report into the next steps for the State in investigating illegal adoptions will have a “broad” terms of reference, which will be agreed in the coming weeks.

The rapporteur for child protection, Prof Conor O’Mahony, has been asked by the Government to recommend a path towards any potential future inquiry after an independent report found that as many as 20,000 files could contain markers indicating potential incorrect registrations or illegal adoptions.

Speaking at Government Buildings on Thursday, Mr O’Gorman said there are “incredibly complex” and “incredibly ethically difficult issues” to address.

“My department will be engaging directly with Prof O’Mahony in setting the terms of reference for the work he will undertake in the next six months but we are very clear it will be a broad terms of reference. We are asking him to provide advice to Government on what are the next steps here. We have the sampling review, which said it did not advise a review of every single file. We are asking Prof O’Mahony to consider that and to consider any other issues he feels are relevant.”

“We are not ignoring the issue, that is why we are asking special rapporteur to provide advice to Government on the next steps.”

Prof O’Mahony earlier warned that “doing nothing is not a credible option” for the State in relation to investigating potential illegal adoptions.

Independent review

"I welcome the Government's decision to explore further the options for investigating the practice of illegal adoptions in Ireland. The independent review published yesterday has highlighted that there may be up to 20,000 records that warrant further investigation, as well as a further substantial archive of records in private ownership that was not included in the sample examined.

“Illegal adoptions were criminal offences and human rights abuses, and the State has an onus to make every reasonable effort to establish the extent of the practice and take steps to make information available to those affected and to rectify records where appropriate.”

Prof O’ Mahony said, while it is important to acknowledge the considerable challenges presented, he will take every step to ensure that the truth is “uncovered.”

The review team examined 1,496 records from 25 adoption agencies and found that there were specific phrases called “markers”, or language that could indicate an improper registration or a “suspicious practice” on 267 records – nearly 18 per cent of files.

Based on the prevalence of these “markers” within this sample, the review estimates that between about 5,500 and up to 20,000 files may have similar indicators within the wider State archives, consisting of about 100,000 records.

Both the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and Tusla warned they had found limited direct evidence of further illegal adoptions, with AAI saying its search for indicators of incorrect registrations “did not yield any meaningful information”.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times