In 2001, the then-Minister for Children, Mary Hanafin, introduced the first Adoption Information and Tracing Bill to Dáil Éireann. The Bill would attempt to criminalise adoptees by imposing a term of imprisonment (up to one year) and a fine of IR£5000 for those who had breached a contact veto. This was not the first attempt by the Government to cover up a long history of forced adoptions and to shame the victims into silence.
In mid-20th Century Ireland, having a baby outside of marriage resulted in rejection by family and community. The situation reached an all-time high when, in 1967, 97% of all children born outside of marriage were adopted. The stigma attached to having a child outside of wedlock was so detrimental that many women sought to have their “illegitimate” children in a Mother and Baby Home away from friends, family and society.
These homes were ran by the Catholic Church, and funded by the Government. Even some women who were married chose to give up their children so they could carry on a career path; the Civil Service imposed a “marriage bar” which meant that women who chose to get married – as recently as the 1970s – had to resign.
The Mother and Baby Home would take the pregnant female into their care in the early stages of her pregnancy, and when the time came for her to give birth, she would sign a “consent form” which would include a stipulation that she would never try to get in contact with her child. Some women were refused pain medication during the birth so they could “suffer for their sin”.
Legal adoption was first introduced into legislation in 1952, yet many of the adoptions that took place in the following 40 years did not meet the criteria necessary to be considered legal. In many cases, the woman or girl would not have been fully informed.
Susan Lohan is a co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, a non-governmental organisation that campaigns to ensure the Irish government are doing enough to protect and help both the adoptees and the biological parents of adopted children. She believes the history of stigma created by the Catholic Church and imposed onto mothers who weren’t married has produced, “the greatest example of Stockholm Syndrome the world has ever seen”.
Adoption rights campaigners have estimated that over 45,000 adoption records exist, and a large majority of these could be illegal. A practice of “exporting” children to America during the 60s and 70s existed, even though the 1952 legislation stated that children could not be adopted outside of the State.
Consecutive governments for the last 60 years have refused to audit the records that are in custody of the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI).
In 2011, the AAI claimed they performed an audit on the 45,000 files in their custody and uncovered 50 illegal adoptions. However, no independent audit party was involved, no report was ever published regarding their findings, and it was never revealed how they acquired the funds for such a big audit. In fact, there is no evidence that this audit ever took place.