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Press Conference

Remarks by Dr Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

Government Buildings

**Check Against Delivery**

 

Tuesday 29th May, 2018

INTRODUCTION
As a country we continue to deal with aspects of our past which persist and impact on the lives of our people today.

At today’s Cabinet meeting I informed colleagues about details of incorrect registrations of births.

These have been identified by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, from the records of a former adoption society, St Patrick’s Guild.

Tusla has identified 126 individuals in 13,500 records whose birth were incorrectly registered between 1946 and 1969.

INCORRECT REGISTRATIONS
At the outset let me say this is a highly sensitive issue. It has very personal and profound implications for those affected.

Behind each of these cases are intensely personal human stories.

There will be implications for people’s sense of identity.

I am keenly aware that many of those affected have no idea that the people they regarded as their parents were not in fact their birth parents.  

In many cases, as far as we are aware they have no reason to suspect.  

In other cases individuals appear to have had reason to be suspicious but have not had these suspicions confirmed.

In effect babies were given to a couple and registered as the child of that couple and not of the baby’s birth parents.  There is no adoption order and so, no record with the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of those that are going to be given this news.

Quite frankly it is impossible.  

Our identity goes to the heart of who we are.
 
For people who are in middle age and older, to be told at this stage in their lives that their parents are not their birth parents and that their births were deliberately, falsely registered will be nothing short of traumatic for them and those around them.

I do believe very strongly that we need to be truthful and honest about the information that is coming to light.

We’ve known about the practice of incorrect registrations for many years. However it has been very difficult to prove because those responsible have covered it up.  

The information I am putting into the public domain today came to light because the index cards on these 126 files contained the words adopted from birth.  

This phrase raised suspicions. They were analysed further in conjunction with the Adoption Authority, and it has been concluded that these were incorrect registrations.  

Of these cases, 79 may be entirely unaware of the true circumstances of their birth as they’ve never had contact with St Patrick’s Guild or with Tusla.  

A further 31 have had contact and therefore may know or suspect.

The relatives of 14 people who were incorrectly registered have been in contact at some point.  

We don’t know if these relatives told the person who was the subject of the incorrect registration.  

Two people were legally adopted but had been the subject of an incorrect registration initially.   

In addition Tusla continues to examine a further 16 cases where at this point in time, there is not enough evidence to determine whether an incorrect registration took place.

These numbers will change as Tusla and the Adoption Authority continue to examine various records.

For the purposes of clarity I would like to emphasise that our current information is that:

·    If you or your child has an adoption order you are not affected.
·    If you were born before 1946 and after 1969 you are not affected.
·    If you were born between 1946 and 1969 and were placed by St. Patrick’s Guild and do not have an adoption order, you may be affected.


RESPONSE AND SUPPORTS
Tusla has passed relevant records to the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes, and to An Garda Siochana.

As Minister responsible for both Tusla and the Adoption Authority let me state that we are not out to destroy, upset or split families.

We are there to provide information and support.

This will involve teams of social and care workers, trained to handle very complex cases.

In addition to possible psychological issues of identity there are also potentially serious issues relating to the correction of birth records and inheritance.

I’d like to emphasise that people have a right to know about their true identity.

We have limited information. Each file and each record is different in terms of the information that is available.  These records are more than 50 years old.  

There are people that we will never be able to contact.  People involved could be deceased while files involved were deliberately designed to conceal identities.

Clear information is now being posted on the Tusla website and a free-phone helpline is being established.

This will provide information in relation to what to expect if you are one of the people affected by the incorrect registrations that have been identified in the records of St Patrick’s Guild.  

There will be a social worker-led process of making contact with those affected that we can identify.

This includes the person who was the incorrectly registered (the children), the birth mothers and the people who participated in the incorrect registrations and subsequently raised these children as their own.  

There will be no sudden phone calls or unannounced visits to people’s doors.  The process of offering contact and then supporting those affected will be handled very carefully.  

It is a detailed, methodical process, and will take some time.  The process will be respectful if those who have been illegally registered choose not to engage.  

Those affected deserve space and time to absorb the information they will receive.  

Tusla has already allocated a social worker to each of the cases identified to date.


INDEPENDENT REVIEW
In view of what has been found in the St Patrick’s Guild records, we need to know whether there may be similar evidence of incorrect registrations in the records of other adoption societies.

I have asked an Independent Reviewer to oversee a targeted sampling process of relevant records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority in the first instance to see if we can establish clear evidence of incorrect registrations.  Marion Reynolds is a former Deputy Director of Social Services in Northern Ireland.  

I am asking her to report to me within four months of the work commencing.

There are some 150,000 records at issue.  We need a well planned sampling process first to see if a major trawl of these is likely to give us hard evidence of incorrect registrations.  

Tusla found evidence in the St Patrick’s Guild records primarily because of the marker adopted from birth on index cards.  If this had not been present it would have been extremely difficult to identify even the 126 cases that they have found so far.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in the specified institutions that come under its terms of reference.  

The Commission indicated in its second interim report that “When it completes its analysis of the adoption process in the cases of mothers and children in the named Mother and Baby Homes and selected County Homes, it may be in a position to make recommendations and further investigations”

In light of this and the planned sampling process, I believe our first steps must be as outlined.  We must first judge the likely incidence of cases that can actually be identified, and the scale of them.  Then we can judge next steps.  

CONCLUSION
While it is important today that I outline the process of how we are going to address yet another failure of our recent past - I would like to end where I began - and that is with the women and men that are at the centre of this.

The women and men who were lied to about who they were, these women and men in their seventies, sixties, fifties and forties who may not get the answers and explanations they want and need or the choice or opportunity to meet their birth parents.

It is hard to estimate the true extent of incorrect registrations of birth because this practice was concealed.  

There is little or no documentary evidence, reflecting the fact that this practice was, and still is, a criminal offence.  

They may have been motivated at the time, however misguidedly, by a belief that this was best for the child.  Today, as a society, we think very differently.

Those responsible were generally private adoption societies and private individuals who knowingly concealed the truth and deprived people of their true identity.  

The State had safeguards in place, including legislation enacted in 1952 to regulate adoption in the interests of children and their birth parents.  

It is a matter of profound regret to me that these safeguards were circumvented by certain individuals.  

To those who lost their true identity, and to the birth mothers who placed their children in good faith, thinking they would be legally adopted, I am truly sorry that this happened.

Ends//

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