Wednesday 17 July 2019

'Dark chapter' saw advertisements in newspaper offering babies 'for no fees'

Philomena Lee, who never got to meet her son Michael Hess
Philomena Lee, who never got to meet her son Michael Hess
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Advertisements were placed in the classified sections of newspapers seeking parents to take on children around the time illegal adoptions were being conducted from St Patrick's Guild.

The small ads said the babies would be "fully surrendered" and were available to the right family for "no fee".

The Adoption Rights Alliance also told the Irish Independent many servicemen who took part in World War II stopped off in Ireland on their way home to collect children.

The country was known as a "happy hunting ground" for hopeful adoptive parents.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that clear evidence of illegal adoptions from St Patrick's Guild in Dublin has opened "another dark chapter of our history".

"These are events which took place 70 and 50 years ago when Ireland was a very different place. It seems like a foreign country to the one it is today," he said.

A special helpline set up by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, after it was revealed that 126 people whose births were wrongly registered received more than 85 calls yesterday.

Tusla declined to comment on the calls due to the "extreme sensitivity of this issue" other than to say they were dealing with all queries in a "respectful and compassionate way".

Social workers spent up to an hour discussing the situation with each caller. It is understood some callers raised suspicions they could be among the 126 secretly adopted from St Patrick's Guild, while others wanted to discuss their personal stories on the back of the revelations.

Tusla has begun the process of trying to contact the families affected, beginning with men and women who adopted children.

The agency's plan is to contact the people listed as the parents first in a bid to establish if they have told their children that they are adopted. They will then be asked if they want to share this information before Tusla tries to make direct contact with the child, who is now aged between 49 and 72.

It is expected that in many cases the parents will have already passed away. The Taoiseach said incorrect or illegal registrations "are not new". He said the "historical practice" was "probably commonplace".

"We all know the tragic story of the wonderful Philomena Lee and her son, Michael Hess, who she never got to meet. What is new is that we have clear documentary evidence because of the fact that St Patrick's Guild transferred its records to Tusla, which has been going through them over the past year or so.

"Evidence has been hard to find because what was done in the past was concealed. It is often the case that there are no records or that records were falsified," he said.

A targeted sampling of documents from other adoption agencies is now underway - but the Government is facing calls to probe all 150,000 records in Tusla's position.

Mr Varadkar said if the scoping exercise produces evidence of illegal registrations in other adoption societies then a full analysis of those records will be carried out.

"It is potentially a mammoth task if that is the case and it is potentially the tip of the iceberg," he said.

"What was done was wrong. What was done robbed children, our fellow citizens, of their identity. It was a historic wrong that we must face up to. On behalf of the Government, I am very sorry for it. We will never be reconciled with our past until we are truthful about it."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised the Government for delays in progressing the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, which was first published in 2016.

If enacted it will provide adopted persons' birth parents and relatives with a statutory right to an information and tracing service.

"Children born today do not have an automatic right to a birth certificate, to their identity and to tracing health information that could be vital to their well-being. We need to deal urgently with the present and future generations as well as dealing with the past," he said.

Irish Independent

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