At least 14 illegal adoption cases at ‘advanced stage’ in High Court

Belfast man launched proceedings against St Patrick’s Guild in January 2020

More than 20 High Court cases in relation to illegal adoptions have been launched and are at “an advanced stage”, it has emerged.

Dublin solicitors Coleman Legal Partners has now issued 14 cases in total, while Navan-based firm Cosgrave Solicitors represents clients in nine other cases.*

Cosgraves secured substantial damages for Tressa Reeves and her son Andre Donnelly in 2018, while Coleman Legal Partners lodged a case last year for Belfast man Patrick FitzSymons, whose parents handed him to the Catholic church agency St Patrick’s Guild in the 1960s, which then arranged for him to be adopted by a couple in Co Antrim. Mr FitzSymons’s case was formally launched in January 2020.

He sought damages for personal and psychological injuries and exemplary damages for “actionable conspiracy, deceit, malicious falsehood and infringement of constitutional rights”, relating to the alleged forgery of birth documents.


St Patrick’s Guild has so far declined to nominate lawyers to defend the case. Norman Spicer of Coleman Legal Partners said his firm has secured a judgment in default of appearance against St Patrick’s Guild in four cases of the 14 so far and more are due before the courts in the coming weeks..

Further motions

He said that if the former adoption society continues to default in appointing solicitors then further motions will be granted against them. This means the trial will be solely for the assessment of damages as judgment has or will be already obtained. St Patrick’s Guild is currently in the process of being wound up.

When notice was given of the society’s intention to wind up in late 2018, the firm only had assets of €265,847. This has raised questions over what level of damages can be obtained and if the State may have to step in.

It emerged in 2018 that 126 births were falsely registered at St Patrick’s Guild between 1946 and 1969, with the names of adoptive parents being recorded as birth parents in many cases. The number of such registrations is now thought to be at least 151.

After the revelations, the former minister for children Katherine Zappone commissioned a sampling review into illegal birth registrations to identify whether there were markers on files to indicate a practice of illegal birth registrations in the records of other adoption agencies like those that were found on the St Patrick’s Guild files.

Put on hold

The publication of that review was put on hold until the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report was released.

It is understood that further files indicating illegal adoptions beyond those in St Patrick’s Guild have been discovered as part of that independent review, which will be brought to Cabinet next week.

A senior source said that while the review has stopped short of recommending a full inquiry, it is widely accepted amongst members of the Cabinet that such an inquiry will be needed. Ministers are understood to differ on what type of inquiry would work best, but a non-statutory inquiry is viewed as a potential option.

*This article was amended on March 10th, 2021

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times