A report carried out by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Professor Conor O’Mahony (pictured) has called for the establishment of a non-statutory State inquiry into illegal adoptions.
The report said that the probe should adopt the truth-commission model to investigate such cases, where the people named on a child’s birth certificate are not in fact the child’s birth parents.
While backing many of the recommendation contained in the report, the Government said that it would “need to give further consideration” to this proposal.
State delayed action
Roderic O’Gorman (Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth) had asked the Special Rapporteur to report on the issue after the publication of an independent review that estimated that up to 20,000 adoption records could potentially relate to cases of illegal birth registration.
The report said that every person had a legal right to have their identity – including their parentage, and date and place of birth – accurately recorded, and that the State was obliged to take measures to ensure that this occurred.
The Special Rapporteur said that the State had known of the possible existence of the practice of illegal birth registrations since the early 1950s, but had failed until 2010 to take steps to prevent it or investigate its scale.
Professor O’Mahony backed proposals contained in the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 to set up a Register of Acknowledged Identity, which would allow a person affected by illegal birth registration to have the details of the registration of their birth corrected, while also continuing to legally use the identity that they had used all their life.
He called for adoption-tracing legislation to be enacted as quickly as possible, to provide people with “unqualified” access to birth certificates, adoption files and other early-life information.
The report also urged the State to acquire adoption records that are currently in private hands, and to hold these in a centralised archive.
Another recommendation is for a specialist tracing team to conduct a full trace on files flagged as suspicious by Tusla.
The report adds that, if necessary, the proposed bill on birth information should provide for legal authority for the tracing team’s work, as well as any similar future activity by either Tusla or the Adoption Authority of Ireland aimed at investigating historical irregularities in adoption practices.
Professor O’Mahony also calls for the bill to ensure that DNA evidence can play a full part, both in tracing and in the provisions governing the correction of the register.
He recommends an amendment to the Status of Children Act 1987 to allow for mandatory DNA testing of relatives other than potential parents in appropriate cases, “with suitable safeguards included to ensure that this power is used in a proportionate manner”.
Minister O’Gorman welcomed the report’s backing for proposals contained in the 2022 bill, adding that he would be introducing more measures into the bill – including a plan to address the recommendations for a specialist tracing service.
In response to a call in the report to cover the legal costs of persons affected by illegal birth registrations, the minister also announced a plan to make once-off payments of €3,000 to individuals affected by confirmed illegal birth registration in the files of St Patrick’s Guild.