Bill would allow adoptees with false birth certs to register legal status

‘I need something now to tell me that I am my parents’ daughter, that I was properly adopted’

Barrister Anne O’Meara, who was one of the 126 people adopted through St Patrick’s Guild agency where children were given false birth certificates that did not record their adoption. Photograph: Alan Betson

Barrister Anne O’Meara, who was one of the 126 people adopted through St Patrick’s Guild agency where children were given false birth certificates that did not record their adoption. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Anne O’Meara always knew she was adopted. It was only when she happened to catch a TV news bulletin last year that questions around her origins began to emerge.

At a press conference in May, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone revealed 126 people adopted through the St Patrick’s Guild agency between 1946 and 1969 had been given false birth certificates that did not record their adopted status. Ms O’Meara was one of them.

“I watched and I waited for the Minister to say something about how she was going to give some legal status to these people who had no adoption order,” she said. “And I heard nothing.”

A barrister by profession, Ms O’Meara wrote a long, emotional letter to the Minister early the following morning, outlining concerns about the need for legal clarity.

However, the “infuriating” response three months later prompted her and her legal colleagues to draft legislation that would allow those affected to remedy their birth certs. Such was its focused simplicity, she said, it took them just an afternoon.

The Informal Adoption (Regulation) Bill would allow those affected to make an application to the Circuit Court to register their legal adopted status.

Unveiling the Bill on Thursday alongside its sponsor Labour TD Joan Burton, who was also adopted through St Patrick’s Guild, Ms O’Meara explained the impact of the problem.

There are concerns over legal complications that might arise in inheritance cases and in any other area where birth certificates are required to prove identity. An adopted child only has the rights of a natural child where their adoption is officially recorded, Ms O’Meara said.

Deeply rooted

But the issues are more deeply rooted. Following her adoption in the 1960s, Ms O’Meara enjoyed a normal, happy childhood with loving parents who made no secret of her origins.

“I don’t remember not knowing. My mum used to tell me a bedtime story about going into a room with all these babies ... and then, she said, ‘we saw you and you were happy and smiling. I said, this is my baby girl,’” she recalled.

The failure to officially record her adoption has the effect of meaning “my connection to them has now been taken away”.

She was angered by Ms Zappone’s response to her letter which had asked what remedies the Government might pursue. In a response three months later, the Minister told her it was a serious and sensitive issue.

“This is my life; I don’t need to be told it is serious and sensitive,” Ms O’Meara said, adding that the letter was non-committal in terms of how the situation might be addressed.

‘Entitled’

“It’s hurtful and insulting of the Minister to say that she will leave the legal issues and she will deal with them whenever she wishes or when she thinks it’s the right time.

“I can’t wait. I need something now to tell me that I am my parents’ daughter, that I was properly adopted. I am entitled to this.”

Ms Burton said last year’s revelations were “very distressing” for many of the 126 affected. She believes there may be many more and that the Minister had remained silent on the issue.

“We still don’t know how widespread the practice [was] but we do know that in many cases children who were adopted were registered as the birth children of their adoptive parents meaning there was no adoption order,” she said.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs did not immediately comment.