Adoption campaigners and politicians have called on the Taoiseach to issue a State apology to people who had their births registered illegally.
An apology issued on behalf of the Government by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman in the Seanad on Tuesday night was criticised as not going far enough.
His remarks came ahead of a debate on the Birth and Information Tracing Bill 2022 – the proposed legislation to allow adopted people access to their birth records.
Mr O’Gorman said that in 2018, the long-suspected practice of illegal birth registration, was confirmed by Tusla after it found documentary evidence of specific cases of illegal birth registration in St Patrick’s Guild.
A later sampling review of just under 1,500 documents from 25 adoption agencies found language in the files that could indicate an improper registration.
It was estimated that 5,500-20,000 files may have such “markers” within the wider State archives, consisting of about 100,000 records.
Mr O’Gorman said: “The stigma experienced by unmarried mothers and their children was fundamentally wrong.
“The shame was not theirs. It was ours and it remains our shame.”
He said illegal birth registrations are a “historic wrong with deep and enduring impacts” and those who knowingly did it “committed a grave offence”.
‘Hurt and anguish’
He added: “I can only imagine the deep hurt and anguish that people must have experienced on learning of their illegal birth registration . . . For this I am truly sorry and I apologise on behalf of the Government.”
Mr O’Gorman said he had made the apology when he did to link it to the proposed legislation which he said is a “meaningful response to those who’ve been subject to illegal birth registration”.
He promised to “engage further with the Taoiseach in terms of ensuring there’s full parity of esteem between the group who were subject to illegal birth registration and others who have received a State apology – in particular those who were in Magdalene institutions and those who were in mother-and-baby institutions.”
Adoption rights campaigners last night called for a full State apology by the Taoiseach.
The In It Together – Who Am I? campaign group said it had been “a difficult day” and raised a number of ongoing concerns it had about the proposed legislation. “An apology should be given by the Taoiseach, with sufficient time for all to attend,” the group said.
Notice of Mr O’Gorman’s apology was only sent out on Monday.
The co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA), Susan Lohan, also questioned why it was not being made in the Dáil by the Taoiseach.
She said the planned Bill “further stigmatises all adopted people by introducing a system so complex it can never work”.
ARA later expressed “disappointment” at the timing and content of the apology, saying it was “inadequate” and excluded as many as 120,000 people who have been “forcibly separated from their families since the foundation of the State”.
In the Seanad, Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan said the apology from Mr O'Gorman was genuine but she did not think it was the appropriate day for it. She suggested there should be a standalone apology "to acknowledge the severity and the trauma that those illegal birth registrations have done".
Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery-Kearney said that people affected by the issue deserved to have the apology come from the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil, while praising the Minister's work on the issue.
Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell welcomed the Government apology but he wanted to see one from the State and it "has to come from the Taoseach himself".