Micheál Martin describes issue of illegal adoption as ‘shocking’

Adoption-tracing legislation needed, says expert, as case studies to go before Cabinet

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the issue of illegal adoption was “shocking” and said that those affected will be helped and supported.

He was speaking ahead of the broadcast of an RTÉ Investigates programme that examined the legacy surrounding the practice of illegal adoptions, including the falsification of birth records.

Mr Martin told the weekly private Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting that it was "critical" that there was access for people to their identity, and they would be helped by information tracing legislation the Government is working on.

He said heads of bill on that legislation is expected at the end of month.


Meanwhile, legislation to allow adopted people “unconditional” rights to get their birth certificates and adoption records must be brought into law “without further delay”, the State’s special rapporteur for child protection has urged.

Prof Conor O'Mahony's comments came ahead of the RTÉ programme. Meanwhile, the Cabinet will be briefed next Tuesday on the findings of a review launched by former minister for children Katherine Zappone into a sample number of potentially illegal adoption registrations.

The cases were drawn from about 150,000 records held by Tusla, the child and family agency, the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), and an assortment of adoption agencies, existing and past.

The sample was to contain about 13,500 cases but the final number is as yet unclear. The process saw an independent investigator examining a “targeted sampling” of files for signs of incorrect registrations as had been discovered in files from the St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency.

New evidence

The RTÉ documentary, which heard the stories of 10 affected people, provided new evidence of records falsification, said Prof O’Mahony: “The impact of this on the people affected is significant and ongoing. It is unsatisfactory that so little is known about the full extent of this practice.

“While the prevailing culture of secrecy and the passage of time may make it impossible to comprehensively identify all cases, it is vital that every reasonable effort be made to fill in the blanks in the lives of as many as possible of those affected,” he said.

Urging the enactment quickly of legislation to grant access rights to adopted people, he said the sensitive issue of providing contact information for birth parents could be handled separately to allay privacy concerns.

Efforts must also be made to secure all adoption records not yet in the State’s possession, as well as an “in-depth review aimed at identifying cases of illegal adoptions”, said the University College Cork academic.

On Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin described the historic events as wrong and completely unacceptable: “Enormous trauma has been placed on people as a result of this illegality,” he told the Dáil.

The Government is due to publish heads of Bills on legislation that would allow adopted people access to their birth certificates, a commitment made in the wake of the controversial mother and baby homes commission report.

The priority is to help those who were approached by Tusla “and essentially told they are not who they thought they were and their parents are not those who they thought they were. They cannot get access to the most basic information any human being should have,” he said.

‘Transparent’ investigation

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for a “transparent” investigation into Ireland’s adoption system as a whole, because this was yet another massive failure and abuse by the State in its treatment of women and children.

Sinn Féin will next table legislation to offer access rights: “It’s only one step, there’s lots more that we need to do,” spokeswoman for children Kathleen Funchion told The Irish Times. “The right to privacy can’t trump someone’s right to their identity.”

According to the text of the proposed Bill, it would require the officials to provide “such information as is necessary to enable [an adopted person] to obtain a certified copy of the record of his/her birth”.

Mary Flanagan, who was adopted illegally in 1961 but found out only in 2019, told the RTÉ programme: "I don't have an identity... I don't know where my roots are," she said. "All I can think is that it's like a tree fallen over and the roots are gone."

Campaigners for the rights of adopted people have been advocating for years for legislation, though previous governments have cited legal and constitutional difficulties, including the right of privacy of birth mothers. The Government has not yet decided its attitude to the Sinn Féin Bill.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times