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Monday 21 October 2019

Illegal adoption scandal to spark a raft of lawsuits as clamour for answers grows

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Several lawsuits are expected to be filed soon over the illegal adoptions facilitated by St Patrick's Guild.

The State is set to be a co-defendant in the cases due to the alleged failure of the now-dissolved An Bord Uchtála, the old adoption board, to intervene.

It had long been feared many babies were incorrectly registered as the biological children of their adoptive parents.

But an insight into the scale of the practice emerged in May of last year when Children's Minister Katherine Zappone announced at least 126 babies adopted from St Patrick's Guild were falsely registered as the biological children of their adoptive parents. That number has since risen to 148.

The people affected were born between 1946 and 1969.

One Dublin law firm, Coleman Legal Partners, said it had 15 clients among the 148 affected and would be filing the first of a series of lawsuits in the coming weeks.

A scoping review was commissioned by the minister last year to see whether similar evidence of false registrations exists in the files of other bodies involved in adoption, but the findings have yet to be revealed.

Speaking in the Dáil at the time, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologised to those affected, saying: "It was a historic wrong that we must face up to."

However, the remarkable story of Helen Maguire and Christine Skipsey, revealed in today's Irish Independent, indicates the irregularities in such institutions may also have included the swapping of babies.

Ms Maguire left her newborn baby at St Patrick's in December 1966 for six weeks and only discovered last year the child she was given back was not her biological daughter.

Their case is likely to fuel calls for a deeper inquiry into the activities of St Patrick's Guild and other adoption societies.

Solicitor Norman Spicer, of Coleman Legal Partners, said the lawsuits it was filing would allege An Bord Uchtála knew or ought to have known what was happening and should have acted.

He said that in a lot of cases people were simply looking for basic information and records in relation to their adoption.

"I think at the very outset, access to the records is vitally important," he said.

"These people are dealing with huge stress, having been informed, among other things, that some of them were illegally adopted.

"Some of them are not the people they thought they were. Some are finding out their birth certs are forgeries.

"So I think swift access to their entire records is essential in these cases."

St Patrick's Guild was set up as a fostering agency in 1910.

The Religious Sisters of Charity took over its management in 1943 and it operated out of an infant hospital in Temple Hill, Blackrock, a facility that eventually closed in the 1980s.

It has already been at the centre of one high-profile lawsuit, taken by a mother and her son, who was illegally adopted.

The High Court action taken by Tressa Reeves and her son Patrick Farrell was settled on confidential terms last July.

She alleged her son was wrongfully removed from her care and given to an older childless married couple.

The court heard claims that during a lengthy search for her son, she was given "the brush off" and told it was likely he was placed with a family in the US. He had actually been placed with a family in Carlow.

After a long battle for information, she was finally reunited with him in 2013.

The discovery of at least 148 incorrect registrations at St Patrick's Guild was made after its records were handed over to Tusla in 2016.

All of these cases were allocated to social workers who have been identifying those involved and offering them support and information.

Tusla has also been identifying and locating the birth mothers of the people affected.

Irish Independent

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