Adoption Law, Legal Adoptions and Illegal Adoptions

Adoption Law, Legal Adoptions and Illegal Adoptions

Inter country Adoptions

Deirdre Moran has been involved in High Court proceedings in relation to the recognition of inter country adoptions. This is a very specialist area of law. She first became involved in it in 2014 when she was initially approached by two separate families to regularise their respective children’s inter country adoption. The adoptions were not being recognised by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (“AAI”) because there had been a change in the Adoption law in 2010. The 2010 Act ratified the Hague Convention on the protection of children and cooperation in respect of inter country adoption. However there was a lacuna left between the previous adoption legislation and the new adoption legislation which caused a problem for some families who had started the adoption process under the old Act only to find that under the new Act they did not fit the criteria to have their children’s adoption recognised in Ireland. To regularise this we had to take High Court proceedings which led to a judgement in the High Court before Judge Abbott and the judgement is on the courts website (MOC and BOC v Udarás Uchtála na hÉireann). It made law in both the area of inter country adoptions and on what is called ‘vested rights’. It is as a result of that, that Deirdre was instructed again in similar but slightly different inter country adoption cases that again had to go to the High Court and it was four days there in October 2019 which led to a very important judgement by Judge Jordan on the area of inter country adoption and vested rights . It was appealed to the Supreme Court who gave Judgement in favour of recognising the children’s adoptions on the 19th of October 2020

Because of Deirdre’s involvement in this area of adoption law, she has become aware of other new litigation in the area of adoption, not in relation to inter country adoptions but on what are called ‘illegal adoptions’.

The Adoption Act of 1952

Adoption was first introduced in Ireland by the Adoption act of 1952. There had been informal adoptions before that. To quote Charlie Haughey “they were an Irish solution to an Irish problem”. If a family, for example, had 7 children and there were relatives that were childless one child might be sent to live with that couple or indeed even sent to live with a spinster and/or bachelor uncle. But sometimes things went a step further than that and the childless couple registered themselves as the birth parents with the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths. This is what is called ‘illegal adoptions’. This continued after the 1952 Act came into force as did ‘forced adoptions’. These were where a birth mother was forced under duress to give up her child for adoption. The recent litigation before the High court is as a result of illegal adoptions mainly. While the Adoption Board were not involved in these cases, many private adoption societies such as the St Patrick’s Guild were.

There is a very good article in the Guardian dated the 2nd June 2018 which tells the story of a lady called Theresa Hiney Tinggal who is one of these children who was illegally adopted but not through St Patricks Guild .It took her 48 years to find this out and the article describes the effect that it had on her. This lady has set up the Adopted Illegally Ireland Organisation and campaigns for adoptees.

Another lady Tressa Reeves was the mother of a child that was illegally adopted. She gave up her child because she had got pregnant at 20 by an older man. She gave birth in Dublin in a house for unmarried mothers. She believed she was giving up her child to be properly adopted with all the safeguards that that would give, but in fact her son was given by St Patrick’s Guild to a childless couple seeking a baby, without the couple going through the proper procedures and assessment. The lady that ran the nursing home allowed the couple register the birth as if the child was their biological child. It took 30 years before Tressa discovered this.

It was her story in the Irish Examiner in 2010 that generated publicity in this area and led to the AAI auditing its records which uncovered 131 cases. Not all of these cases refer to St Patrick’s Guild but to other adoption societies. Theresa Hiney Tinggal believes that the figures could be greater than this. It affects adoptees between the periods 1946 to 1969.

The effect of finding out that you were illegally adopted could cause you to question everything that you know about yourself and would have a knock on effect of possibly causing psychological trauma and depression.

A case has been taken by a Patrick Fitzsimons, a Belfast man who is also an actor and who has appeared in Game of Thrones and Line of Duty, to the High Court. He decided to go public about his story to highlight the widespread pain and trauma caused by these illegal adoptions and the subsequent cover up.

In Ireland, family life is very important to Irish people. We talk about three degrees of separation. We love when we meet people to try and see how we are connected to them. Do they know members of our family, are they related to us. That is how we bond with them. We are still rooted in our communities and proud of our origins, but these illegal adoptions severed those children from all of that causing in some cases psychological trauma and damage as previously outlined.

Indeed, a portion of the children that were illegal adopted were placed in unsafe environments as there had been no assessment by a State body of the parents. They may have suffered harm and abuse in these environments.

Equally, the effect on the birth mothers would have been devastating when they found out that their children were illegally adopted. This can be seen from the story of Tressa Reeves. For each person their experience is deeply personal.

What can you do?

If you have been impacted by the practice of illegal adoptions, whether as a parent or a child, you have an entitlement to seek redress for that wrong. There is no doubt that the process of litigation in itself can be challenging and painful but it can also assist people in seeking answers, in achieving a recognition of the wrongs inflicted on them and while damages can’t take away the pain, it can offer some recompense and assist people in the struggles many people continue to face as a consequence of this particular wrong.

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Finally, we would say Talk to Tallans if you have been affected by this issue.