‘No one is above the law’: New documentary exposes Ireland’s cruel illegal adoption system,
A NEW DOCUMENTARY set to air on RTÉ tonight will shine further light on Ireland’s illegal adoptions and how those in power were able to facilitate it.© RTE
RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions will show how religious orders, which ran most agencies, created a pathway for the illegal trade.
The documentary uncovers:
- More evidence of how Professor Eamonn de Valera, a son of the former president, faked medical appointment documents to facilitate illegal adoptions
- Tusla is to apologise to illegal adoptees for insensitive meetings
In January, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes published its long-awaited report. However, it was largely silent on illegal adoptions despite Government promises for action in 2018 after it was revealed that 126 adoptees had been illegally registered on their birth certificates as the natural children of their adoptive parents.
Groups such as the Adoption Rights Alliance and the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum were formed to shine a light on Ireland’s chequered adoption history.
The forum was set up in 2018 by then-Minister Katherine Zappone to help inform the Department of Children of survivors’ wishes on legacy issues related to the homes as the commission carried out its work.
The extent of the scandal only began to emerge when the former St Patrick’s Guild Catholic adoption society run by the Religious Sisters of Charity transferred its files to the Child & Family Agency Tusla and it was decided those who had illegally adopted would be informed.
Case studies© RTa Susan Kiernan.
Dublin woman Susan Kiernan received a letter from Tusla in 2018 informing her that she was one of the 126 illegally adopted children and that the agency wanted to set up a meeting with her.
She managed to sneak copies of some of her documents during the meeting but was later provided with redacted records when she went through official channels.
Among the documents seen in the RTÉ Investigates programme was a demand for £85, the fee St Patrick’s Guild charged pregnant women to care for their babies until adopted – the equivalent of over €3,200 in today’s money.
When Susan’s birth mother did not pay her fee, the Sisters of Charity went in pursuit. Two months on, they threatened to send the child back to her. The documents show how, a year on, Susan’s birth mother was still struggling to pay the nuns and they began phoning Arnotts, where she worked as a shop assistant.
“The balance due is £82-10s… If you do not send, my collector will call to see you. She would prefer not to have to do this as it might be embarrassing for you and we want to safeguard your reputation. We have not failed you; you have failed us,“ they said.
However, Susan’s birth mother was unaware the letters about returning her baby were nothing more than idle threats. Because Susan could not have been returned – she had in fact already long since been placed with her adoptive parents – when she was just four days old.
The elite and powerful
The documentary will also show the involvement of some of Ireland’s most elite and powerful individuals who were involved in repeatedly arranging the illegal adoption of babies.
Among them was the son of a President of Ireland, Professor Eamonn de Valera Junior – a Consultant Gynaecologist at Holles St National Maternity Hospital.
De Valera Junior arranged antenatal appointments for a woman who was not pregnant in order to facilitate an illegal adoption.
Effectively what happened was known as a fake pregnancy – where a woman would enter a hospital on her pretend due date and leave with an illegally adopted baby.
This is what happened in the case of the Lynch family. © RTE Brenda Lynch© RTE Brian Lynch.
Brenda and Brian Lynch were two of four children illegally adopted into the one house over the space of five-and-a-half years.
The four adoptions were facilitated by Eamonn de Valera Jr. Their adoptions were concealed as fake pregnancies. Brian’s adoptive mother went to St Brendan’s Nursing Home on Dublin’s Percy Place on her pretend due date, only to emerge with Brian, the child of an unmarried mother.
Fearing her children would face the stigma of adoption, their adoptive mother never told them the truth.
In response to De Valera’s actions, Brenda Lynch told RTÉ Investigates: “No one is above the law, who does this person think that he is? That he can just decide that oh yeah here is a baby, we will take her … and give her to a good family, middle class. It is incredible.”
The Lynch family were not the only people for whom Professor Eamonn de Valera Junior facilitated illegal adoptions.
Mary Flanagan was born in March 1961 – she never knew she had been adopted. She was told a story as a child about her much-wanted miraculous arrival.© RTE Mary Flanagan
In October 2019, she and her sister Anne were told by Tusla they and their late brother Séamus were not the biological children of the people they’d always believed to be their parents.
“Prof de Valera was mum’s gynae and he was her gynae for years because of the fact she had so many problems and she went to see him privately, it must have cost her a fortune you know and like we weren’t a wealthy family by any means.”
RTÉ Investigates said it has spoken with dozens of people from around the country who were illegally adopted. Many of those describe the shock of learning for the very first time, in their 60s and 70s, that they were adopted. This is then compounded by the fact that their adoptions were illegal. Others describe being given the news by Tusla in insensitive ways.
When Mary Dolan contacted Tusla in 2018 to see if they had any information on her adoption they arranged a meeting in a hotel.© RTE Mary Dolan
“I was really, really panicking about going to that meeting because I just didn’t know what she was going to present to me so I turned up to the meeting and in the lobby of a hotel, a lady got up and introduced herself as a social worker from Tusla and then she proceeded to open a file in front of me and she took out 3 or 4 pieces of paper.
It was just the most unprofessional place you could possibly give anybody information which was so sensitive and so confidential in the public lobby of a hotel and it just really added insult to all the pain that I was going through.
Tusla said since receiving correspondence from RTÉ Investigates, it has “… identified a small number of cases where meetings have taken place in venues that would fall outside our own guidance and best practice”. It intends to “engage with these people again and apologise directly to them”.
There were dozens of other organisations and private individuals involved in arranging adoptions in Ireland – many of whom also facilitated illegal adoptions and whose files have never been handed over to State authorities.
Over 180 institutions, agencies and individuals were involved in arranging adoptions in Ireland – just how many also facilitated illegal adoptions is unknown. Some experts say it will be impossible to know the true figure of illegal adoptions, but they believe it could be more than 10,000.
In a statement to RTÉ Investigates, Tusla said current legislation here only allows it “to share personal information with those affected that relates directly to them“. It accepts this is “a huge source of distress and upset”.
It said it is “fully supportive of new legislation that is urgently required to facilitate adopted persons”.
The Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman, told RTÉ legislation “to allow access to birth information, including birth certificates, will be prepared by end March/early April”.
RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions airs tonight at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player worldwide.