There may be 15,000 illegal adoptions, Barnardos head claims

Charlie Flanagan says it is highly likely that other agencies were involved

There may have been up to 15,000 illegal adoptions in Ireland where adoptive parents were registered as birth parents, Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay has said.

His comment follows the announcement on Tuesday by the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is to contact 126 people to tell them their births were incorrectly registered.

“This was a crime against these people and their mothers. Mothers who were told that their babies had died,” Mr Finlay told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“I suspect every single adoption agency in the country is involved, that’s 150,000 babies, it would be amazing if at least ten per cent of them were not illegal.”


Mr Finlay said it was an absolute scandal, but it was not a new one and should not come as a surprise.

There needs to be a thorough investigation and redress, he said. He warned that any investigation will have to be sensitive and carefully handled with access to support provided for the people involved.


“The bottom line is these people need their identity. They have a right to their background, who they are, where they came from. That trumps everything else.

“People have an absolute right to know.”

The 126 people to be contacted by Tusla had their adoptive parents incorrectly registered as their birth parents on their birth certificates between 1946 and 1969. The youngest person affected is 49, Tusla said, and the oldest is 72.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she was “truly sorry” for what she described as “another failure by the State”.

The incorrect registrations emerged in the records of the St Patrick’s Guild adoption society. A sample of other records from other adoption agencies will now be examined to establish if the illegal practice of incorrect registrations occurred elsewhere.

It is “highly likely” other adoption agencies were involved in the practice of incorrectly registering children’s adoptive parents as their birth parents, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said.

“I feel the likiehood is other agencies were involved in similar practices but I await the evidence before any conclusive comment can be made,” he said.

“But I would find extraordinary if only one agency was engaged in these practices.”

Mr Flanagan said he wanted to reiterate the apology issued by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to the 126 affected people.

“I believe we should speedily set a process in train to allow for the harsh relaties and difficult truths to be uncovered.”

Ms Zappone announced the move on Tuesday at Government Buildings, having briefed her Government colleagues at the Cabinet meeting earlier in the day. She said there would be “personal and profound implications for those affected”.

Adoption Rights Alliance

Claire McGettrick of the Adoption Rights Alliance said something needed to be done, sooner rather than later to ensure every single adoption record is centrally maintains

“We have repeatedly raised this issue for many years. Finally there is movement. We accept the mammoth exercise this is,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“In the long term we cannot leave anybody behind in this process. Every single file must be retrieved.”

Ms McGettrick pointed out that the ARA was aware of 182 institutions or individuals involved in illegal adoptions, including 57 private homes.

The figures revealed by the Minister for Children yesterday are “a drop in the ocean,” she said.

“We have anecdotal evidence of ledgers in attics and of files being burned. Something needs to be done, sooner rather than later to ensure every single record is centralised.

“These are not ‘incorrect registrations’ they’re illegal adoptions,” she added. Describing them as such was providing a loophole for those private adoption facilitators.

“We’re deeply concerned that people are going to slip through the cracks.”

She said she would estimate that the number of illegal adoptions was in the “many thousands”. Ms McGettrick added “we can’t forget those who were trafficked to America. This was State sanctioned trafficking to another country”.

“This needs to be dealt with sensitively and openly.”

Part of the problem, she added, was that under the present system adopted people have no rights to their birth cert or files.