Department officials refused to share illegal adoption files with Ministers, Dáil told

No delay should be allowed into inquiry of up to 20,000 ‘suspicious’ cases

Opposition parties have called for a full investigation into illegal adoption practices after the publication of an independent examination of historic files, but some have warned against a further delay while another report is completed.

And the Dáil heard allegations that investigation of illegal adoptions had been rejected and obstructed repeatedly within the Department of Children and that officials had refused to share files with successive Ministers.

The allegations came as the Dáil debated a Sinn Féin Bill to give adopted people the right to access their birth certificates. Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman is to bring the heads of a Bill in the “coming weeks” on adoption and tracing, which would allow adoptees access to their full early life personal files, as well as their birth certificate.

The report on illegal adoptions looked at a sample review of historic files from adoption agencies and found no additional confirmed cases of illegal birth registrations but it indicated that up to 20,000 “suspicious” cases exist.


Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has asked special rapporteur on child protection Dr Conor O’Mahony to examine the report and make recommendations within six months.

Sinn Féin spokeswoman on children Kathleen Funchion said the review raised serious questions about the part the State played in facilitating these adoptions. She welcomed the work by Professor O'Mahony, but said "we need to get to the bottom of this for one and for all".

Her party leader Mary Lou McDonald went further and said “delay is not acceptable”.

Labour spokesman Sean Sherlock warned however that Prof O'Mahony might come to the same conclusions as the sample review. "The only solution to this is a full public inquiry" where all files could be investigated and not just a sample, and "everyone can be satisfied and no doubt about the State's reaction to this very important information" and the issue "will not be left to be dealt with by future TDs and Senators".

Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín said the review was commissioned in 2018 and completed in 2020 but only published after the broadcasting of the RTÉ Investigates documentary into illegal adoptions.

Mr Tóibín said he was “worried that the Minister for Children has been captured by his department” and he asked if the Minster was going to be a “passenger or driver” in this and that department officials had to be held to account

He said “I understand that there are some people in the department who do not want to investigate these illegal adoptions”.

Mr Tóibín also claimed that the information and tracing legislation was being “outsourced” and that this could cost up to €250,000.

‘Forensic investigation’

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said "there has to be a forensic investigation" into all illegal adoptions "in order to uncover the criminal actions that were done and discover as best as possible the culprits and mechanism through which that was done".

He said he was lucky he did not have to go through any of the barriers as an adopted person that so many adoptees were going through as his mother “actually came and found me but encountered extraordinary barriers” when the “institutions of State such the door and said she wasn’t entitled” to information.

Ms Funchion said there were so many stories of people “being pushed to the point of becoming emotional wrecks in other do obtain simple information about themselves” and being treated like criminals.

“The State and its agencies continue to take a punitive and reprehensible approach to providing adopted people access to their birth certificates. It literally can come down to who you get to speak to on the day,” she said.

She highlighted the case of one woman social workers “retrospectively attempted to build up a fortress around her adopted file and information it contained” even though she had already met her birth mother and they knew that.

She acknowledged that her Bill was only a first step but she said it would be allow access while the Minister’s more comprehensive legislation is being developed.

Mr O’Gorman said the Government would not oppose the legislation because “at its heart is a mechanism to unlock access to weird parts of birth information for adoptees”.

But “the Bill does not cover other important pieces of the jigsaw to ensure full accessibility of identity rights”.

He said the Sinn Féin legislation would not help those whose birth certificates do not record the birth father’s name or those whose births were illegally recorded or for the needs provide for an effective and robust tracing service for all categories of people.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times