Illegal adoptions: ‘Doing nothing’ not option for State inquiry

Scale and timeframe among challenges, special rapporteur for child protection says

The special rapporteur for child protection has warned that “doing nothing is not a credible option” for the State in relation to investigating potential illegal adoptions.

Prof Conor O’Mahony has been asked by the Government to investigate possible future actions after an independent report found that as many as 20,000 files could contain markers indicating potential incorrect registrations or illegal adoptions.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Prof O’Mahony said he wanted to recommend to Government a realistic way forward for the investigation of the files. Although there were “multiple significant challenges” including a large number of records, he said he believed the six-month timeframe he had been given would be enough.

“I welcome the Government’s decision to explore further the options for investigating the practice of illegal adoptions in Ireland. The independent review published yesterday has highlighted that there may be up to 20,000 records that warrant further investigation, as well as a further substantial archive of records in private ownership that was not included in the sample examined.


“Illegal adoptions were criminal offences and human rights abuses, and the State has an onus to make every reasonable effort to establish the extent of the practice and take steps to make information available to those affected and to rectify records where appropriate.”

Uncovering truth

Prof O Mahony said while it was important to acknowledge the considerable challenges presented, he would take every step to ensure that the truth was uncovered.

“The intention of those who falsified records was to conceal the truth, and it may be that they will have succeeded in this aim in a substantial number of cases. No review, however structured, would be able to claim to have identified every case of illegal adoption. There are also considerable challenges of scale, which must be balanced against practicalities and the imperative to conclude any investigation within a reasonable timeframe (particularly given the age profile of some of those affected).

“Nonetheless, I intend to make every effort to present recommendations to Government that will allow for the truth to be uncovered for as many people as reasonably possible.”

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said he is aware that “significant concerns remain” about the practice of illegal birth registration.

“For that reason I have also asked the special rapporteur on child protection to consider the very significant complexities and challenges, including the deep ethical issues, which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations, and to propose an appropriate course of action.”

Personal information

Meanwhile, adoption rights campaigners have said illegally adopted people must be given access to their personal information before their birth families die.

"Time is running out . . . there's a perception out there that the Department of Children are fiddling while Rome burns," said Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance.

“[Some of the] adoption agencies which facilitated illegal adoptions kept brilliant records. They were constantly reminding adopted parents of what a good turn they did; asking them for donations, and sometimes children were brought to visit.”

She said some medical professionals, such as GPs and obstetricians, also facilitated illegal adoptions. She believes there must have been patient records, but they may be held privately or have already been destroyed.

She said this information should be made accessible. “For many people, that will be the only source of information [on their birth parents].”

Ms Lohan said there should be a team of genealogists and DNA specialists working for the Department of Children. Because adopted people currently have such limited access to their personal records, DNA matching was often the only way they could find their birth family, she said.