Action by State ‘far short’ of what was expected after discovery of illegal adoptions

Commission saw no evidence of illegal registration of births in homes under investigation

The actions of State authorities fell “far short” of what was expected after illegal adoptions were discovered in one private nursing home, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has found.

The report examined “informal” adoptions before 1953, legal adoptions, foreign adoptions and illegal adoptions as part of its work.

The report details how in November 1962, public welfare authorities in Wisconsin asked the Department of External Affairs to verify the birth certificates of two children who were supposed to have been born in Ireland to a Wisconsin resident.

Gardaí investigated this case, where a baby girl was born to an unmarried mother in a nursing home in Dublin and then illegally registered to a relative of an American couple in order to get the baby to America.


While the nursing-home owner was convicted in this case, the commission’s report says that it saw no evidence that further inquiries were made into 43 other births at the home that were also considered to be illegal adoptions.

“Following her conviction the Department of Health enquired as to whether or not the nursing home was still registered as a maternity home under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934 and whether any action had been taken or was contemplated by the Dublin Health Authority. The DHA replied that its chief medical officer had the matter examined and that no further action was contemplated. The nursing home continued to operate for many years afterwards,” the report says.

Beyond this the commission said it had not seen evidence of illegal registration of births which occurred in the mother and baby homes and county homes under investigation.

“Of course it is not possible to say that this did not occur but neither the institutional records nor the Department of Health records reveal any such evidence.”

In a separate part of the report, it is detailed how in the early 1950s there were a large number of applications for passports to enable so-called “illegitimate” children to be brought to the USA for adoption.

‘Quite a reputation’

One official said that he had recently interviewed an adopting parent who was the wife of an American airman in Britain, who said Ireland enjoyed “quite a reputation” among US air-force personnel there “as a place where one can get children for adoption without much difficulty”.

Separately, there has been controversy since the publication of the commission’s report on Tuesday after it found “very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers”.

The commission accepted “that the mothers did not have much choice but that is not the same as forced adoption. Mothers did have time after the initial placement for adoption to reassess the situation.”

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said on Wednesday: “Either we believe the women or we do not. I absolutely believe the survivors who have come forward despite these difficult memories. The commission tells us there was no evidence of compulsion or forced adoption. All of the evidence given confirms there was,” she said.

Multiple women who spoke to the commission’s confidential committee said they felt they had no choice but to give their children up for adoption. One woman said her son had “been taken without her knowledge or consent and she is still engaged, she told the committee, ‘in a lifelong battle’ to discover how this came about and who was responsible.” Another said her sister signed the papers authorising the adoption.

A number of women said they were illiterate at the time they had allegedly signed adoption papers.

Many mothers also told the committee “that their most searing memory of their time in a mother and baby home was that of the screams of women looking through a window, through which she could see her child being driven away to a destination unknown; for many, there had not been a chance to say goodbye.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times