Illegal adoptions report delayed due to Seámus Woulfe’s concerns

Former AG raised issues around data protection, terms of reference and other inquiry

The publication of the review into the prevalence of illegal adoptions was stalled after a series of concerns were raised by the former attorney general Seámus Woulfe, The Irish Times understands.

After it emerged that there had been 126 illegal or incorrect birth registrations at the former adoption society St Patrick’s Guild, a review was commissioned which was overseen by Marion Reynolds, a former deputy director of social services in Northern Ireland.

That review, which was published this week, found that up to 20,000 files could contain markers potentially indicating an illegal or incorrect adoption, but the report stopped short of recommending a full inquiry, although it did state that the issue cannot be ignored.

Mother and baby homes

It was delivered to former minister for children Katherine Zappone in 2019 but was not published for a series of reasons, including concerns raised by Mr Justice Woulfe, who now sits on the Supreme Court.


Ministers at this week’s Cabinet meeting were informed of the reasons why the report remained unpublished.

Sources confirmed the main concern was that it could impinge on the work of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which had just finished its investigation.

There was also a concern, sources say, that certain parts of the report made recommendations outside its terms of reference.

Reynolds report

A further issue around data protection was also raised. Given the advent of a new government, and a new attorney general, Paul Gallagher, the advice seems to have changed both about adoption legislation generally and more specifically about the Reynolds report.

Sources said that now that the mother and baby homes commission has reported, Mr Gallagher felt comfortable in publishing the Reynolds review into illegal adoptions.

Furthermore, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman believes that the issue of giving adopted people access to their own information can be addressed in legislation. The advice given to Ms Zappone when she was minister was that the right to information could not trump another person’s right to privacy.

At one stage, a referendum on the issue was mooted but that is no longer under active consideration.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times