Incorrect Birth Registrations: Statements

We are here today to speak about the identification by Tusla of the fact that the births of 126 individuals from St. Patrick's Guild were registered illegally. A cruel and inhuman past rises up again with a vengeance in Ireland. It is about the shaming of women. It is about the shaming of mothers. It is about how this shaming has been inherited by their children. I am truly sorry that this has happened. It is also about how lies, secrets and silences, allowed and accepted by Irish society and Irish churches in the past, continue to block access to information on one's identity and to restorative justice in the present. I hope and believe that we can change this and that we have a moral imperative to do so. From where does this moral imperative come? It comes from the voices of the people who were and continue to be impacted upon by the illegal practices surrounding birth registration and adoption practices in the not-too-distant past.

I had the opportunity, along with my officials and advisers, to meet several of those to whom this matter relates and their advocates at the beginning of this week. We listened to their stories and to their analyses and recommendations on the changes required. One of the women, a survivor of Bethany, spoke about her arduous and painful search for her birth mother and how her desire for information was blocked at every turn. One day, she finally found her mother buried in a pauper's grave. With great dignity and courage, she purchased the grave, as an act of claiming identity without shame and to do the right thing where others had failed. Her story - and those of the people in the 126 cases identified and the countless others whose lives and rights have been violated because of past practices - demands that we act in multiple ways, to enable the right to information and the knowledge of identity for those who do not have it. These people's stories also demand that the right things are done about their records and that they are supported appropriately in the process, to recover who they are and the relationships that have been lost. We also need ways to enable truth-telling and remembering, so that we can make a transition to a new way of valuing women, mothers and children.

Following on from my announcement of 29 May, I want to clearly outline the evidence and share with Deputies what we know to date. I will then outline the processes Tusla has in place and my plans to establish whether the practice is more widespread, either in the remaining St. Patrick's Guild files or in the files of other adoption societies. Finally, I will address the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 and the mother and baby homes commission of investigation.

The issue that has arisen regarding certain Saint Patrick's Guild files is evidence of illegal birth registrations. In effect, babies were given to couples and registered as the children of those couples and not of the birth parents. There were no adoption orders. While there have been suspicions about illegal registrations for many years, it has been extremely difficult to uncover clear evidence because of the deliberate failure of those involved to keep records. On 25 May 2016, the records of the guild were transferred to Tusla. In the course of scanning the records, the issue of illegal birth registrations was identified. Tusla informed An Garda Síochána, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and my Department. Tusla validated the information against the records of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, AAI, and the General Register Office, GRO, which resulted in the identification of 126 cases. I moved immediately to inform Cabinet and to announce, on 29 May, that a process has been put in place to deal with these cases, led by experienced social workers. An illegal birth registration is potentially life-changing, so the State has a responsibility to reach a high level of certainty before it contacts the individuals concerned. This threshold has now been reached in the case of these 126 files. The information I put into the public domain came to light because the index cards contained the words "adopted from birth". This phrase raised suspicions and the cases involved were analysed further in conjunction with the AAI and the GRO. It has been concluded that these were illegal registrations.

Of these 126 cases, 79 have never had contact with Saint Patrick's Guild or with Tusla. In the remaining cases, there has been some contact by the individual or a relative. In addition to these cases, Tusla continues to examine a further 16 in which there is not enough evidence at this point to determine whether illegal registrations took place. While I am making every effort to ensure that the numbers are accurate, I must caution the House that they will change as more records are examined. In particular, the AAI is aware of approximately 140 cases in which existing suspicions regarding illegal registration must now be revisited. A validation exercise is under way.

We must reflect on the impact our actions will have on the people involved. In addition to possible psychological issues of identity, there are potentially serious issues regarding the correction of birth records and inheritance. We may well be called on to address further issues as they emerge. Neither Tusla nor the AAI is out to destroy, upset or split families. Their job is to provide information and support. The 126 cases have already been allocated to experienced information and tracing social workers. They will work in a measured and sensitive way and at the pace of the individuals concerned. The process will be respectful if those who have been illegally registered choose not to engage. It is also the case that there are people we will never be able to contact, as files may have been deliberately designed to conceal identities or people could be deceased. Once Tusla identified the issue arising from the index cards, it informed the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and An Garda Síochána. The records were scanned, they were shared with the commission and the Garda sought and have been given a sample of ten files. Let me be absolutely clear: a false registration is an offence. The Garda must review the evidence and make a judgement with the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, on how to proceed. I have no role in these investigations, nor should I.

We need to know if there is further evidence of illegal registrations. I have appointed an independent reviewer to oversee a further analysis of relevant records held by Tusla and the AAI. Ms Marion Reynolds is a former deputy director of social services in Northern Ireland. She has been asked to report to me within four months of the work commencing. There are some 150,000 records at issue, of which 100,000 are currently in the custody of Tusla and the AAI and accessible to the reviewer. First, we need a well-planned analysis of the Tusla and AAI records to see if a major trawl is likely to give us hard evidence of illegal registrations. We must judge the likely incidence of cases that could actually be identified through the analysis and the scale of such cases. Then, I will be in a position to judge next steps. Some are calling for a full audit of all files and while I appreciate the motivation, our limited resources must be used as effectively as possible.

The mother and baby homes commission of investigation is also examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in the specialised institutions within its terms of reference. It is reasonable to anticipate that this examination will provide an insight into any potential irregularities involved. The commission is committed to investigating any such cases it comes across. During the week, I met people directly affected by illegal registrations, advocacy groups and members of both the Dáil and the Seanad. Many Members were part of a very useful and productive meeting yesterday, which also included colleagues from the Seanad.

The focus has been on progressing the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. Deputies will be aware that this Bill has passed Second Stage in the Seanad. The Bill seeks to respect the rights to identity and privacy. This is proving challenging because they sometimes conflict with each other. The Bill also creates offences of destroying, mutilating, concealing or falsifying records. All of the people I met this week, including Members of this House, all agreed on one thing, namely, that the Bill is urgently required.

Everything changed on 29 May. What happened informed the wider public, the body politic and the media of the need to act. My intention is that the Bill will be enacted by the end of the year.

At the centre of this are people who were lied to and denied information about their true identity. They need answers and explanations and the choice or opportunity to meet their birth parents. It is a matter of profound regret to me that safeguards put in place by the State were circumvented. My responsibility now is to oversee a sensitive process which seeks to give them finally the information withheld from them all these years. I thank the House for its attention and I look forward very much to the debate.

I thank the Minister for her statement. Everybody was horrified with the outcome of the press conference she held regarding the 13,500 files. What was astounding for most people was the falsification of birth certificates. Up to that stage, while people might have been suspicious, once it was proven and demonstrated, that brought a new focus and spotlight on this issue. Prior to that many people on both sides might have been fearful about the declaration of a birth mother, but many did not suspect there was falsification, lies and untruths. It has now shifted to a different place.

People now want the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 brought forward and I welcome the Minister's commitment, which she has reiterated numerous times, to do this before the end of the year. Following a weekend when there was a great deal of joy nationwide, a serious damper was put on that on the Monday evening. There was a touch of reality that while we might have come a long distance, we were brought back again. It was not good for adoptees to realise they might be getting a phone call to tell them they might have been falsely adopted and that the names on their birth certificate might not be their parents. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have received that call. It must have been life shattering.

The Minister referred to Tusla and social workers supporting these people, but the rug has been pulled from under them and their families on many levels. I worry whether Tusla has the resources and capacity to deal with this. While all of this is going on, there are also accountability issues because a criminal act has been committed and lies and untruths were told. As the Minister said, it is important that An Garda Síochána is subject to the scoping exercise and the work undertaken with Tusla because we need to know how this happened and why people in positions of authority allowed it to happen. We need accountability in this regard. The 13,500 comprise only one segment of the files because there are more than 150,000. How will Tusla approach this to select a reasonable sample to see where the agency will go from this? Many people will have doubts in the back of their minds.

We must also acknowledge adoptive parents in all of this, some of whom have contacted me. They feel hurt because, in some cases, this revelation makes them look like they have done something wrong but they may not be in that cohort at all. They adopted for the right reasons at a point in time and they feel hurt and let down.

The junior and leaving certificate exams commenced the week the announcement was made and adopted children felt a certain amount of pressure and hurt. While the truth was welcome, at all times we have to be sensitive about our language and how we discuss this. To be fair, everybody has been.

The only way we can move this forward is through the legislation. Only yesterday I said that my party and I were prepared to work with the Minister to give her the support she needs. I am fearful regarding how we will marry the two. I do not know how we are going to do it. I attended the meeting the Minister mentioned. The advice of the Attorney General to her is that everything will be addressed in the amendments she will table. There will be a good robust discussion here and in the Seanad when the legislation is brought forward. Given the hurt experienced by people as a result of this, it would be unforgivable for us not to address the issue. It is important legislation, given Vótáil 100 and everything else.

It might be uncomfortable to move this forward but we have to do so because it is the right thing to do. The minimum to which people are entitled is the truth. The Minister will be heading into the budget and making representations on funding for Tusla. We will have to consider how we will support these families because it is not just individuals who need support. The people affected are aged between 19 and 50 and possibly older. They have families. There are various cohorts who will need support and we, as a State, owe it to the affected people to give them this support. The Minister wants to do this at all times.

I do not know what it would have been like to have received the phone call to say a birth certificate had been falsified. These people have gone through their lives not knowing the truth and then finding out that those whom they thought were their parents were not. That must have been devastating for them. We will be there to support whatever needs to be done over the coming months. Bringing forward the amendments is crucial. The Adoption (information and Tracing) Bill 2016 is essential. The time for talking has to stop and we just need to get on with it. I look forward to the Minister tabling the amendments on Committee Stage.

I wish to share time with Deputies Kenny and Ó Caoláin. I thank the Minister for her statement and for all the work she has done to date on this issue. As I said during Question Time yesterday, we were not surprised by the scandal of the illegal adoptions by St. Patrick's Guild because survivors and many journalists have been telling us the stories for years. Anybody who has met women incarcerated in mother and baby homes has heard these stories far too frequently. Now we finally have the evidence regarding what was going on. We need to start by not using the term "incorrect registrations". That term makes it sound like it was an accident or a mistake. Clearly, it was no accident. Using that language is insulting to the mothers whose children were taken off them and to those illegally adopted. This was a blatant attempt by adoption agencies to cover up what I believe was child trafficking.

This week we have read that there are concerns regarding a further 700 cases at St. Patrick's Guild. These concerns relate to the changing of names on records, cash transactions and other practices.

Many of those affected are also unlikely to be citizens of this State. Many may have been illegally adopted by families in Britain or the United States and are probably unaware of their links to Ireland. I hope we will see an investigation with a greater scope.

This brings me to the sampling exercise announced by the Minister, which I welcome, albeit with major concerns. A sampling exercise will not cut it. It may be an acceptable approach in the short term but we must recognise that we are investigating the illegal adoption of children. It needs to be a thorough investigation. That is the only way to ensure that those who were illegally adopted but are unaware of it can get the full truth and support from this State. We cannot leave people behind. Many of the records of the illegal adoption of these children are still being held by religious organisations. Yesterday, the Minister stated that there are over 100,000 records in the possession of the State, with an estimated 50,000 still in the possession of these societies. These societies know that a sampling exercise is under way and I am concerned about the potential to tamper with records. I urge the Minister to act to ensure that every single item of documentation is handed to Tusla immediately. The Government must ensure that all necessary resources are provided for a thorough investigation into this scandal. We are at a point where we could be losing something in this debate. St. Patrick's Guild and other involved agencies were regulated by the State so the State allowed this to happen. It is now up to the State to do everything in its power to right these wrongs.

I will briefly touch on the Adoption (Information and tracing) Bill 2016. The Minister has spoken with many of us in the House and we know she is enthusiastic about getting the Bill through. This must be done right despite all the emotion. We have heard groups talking about concerns and we must ensure everybody's concerns are addressed in this Bill. We will support the Minister in whatever way we can to get this Bill through the House and finally ensure that adoptees have the information they need.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic. I acknowledge the work of the Minister to try to advance matters. The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 needs further work and amendment. It must ensure there is unfettered access to all records for all people involved, which is the key in all of this. Standing back and thinking about how we came to this and many other scandals, it is about a hidden Ireland in the past. In many ways, it was an oppressive place.

These children, whether coming from mother and baby homes, orphanages or wherever else, were treated almost like a commodity rather than the human beings they were. I will use today's opportunity to speak about a part of this group of people that has not been mentioned in the debate so far. Where I come from in Country Leitrim, a rural area of which the Acting Chairman might be aware, we had people called "home boys". There was a man in Carrigallen when I was growing up who had long whiskers and a long coat; he was always the butt of a joke and he lived in a little house in Drumbreanlis. I knew another man, Mr. Johnny Golden, who came to a very sad end, unfortunately, and he was also a home boy. There were many of them. They came from these homes and lived with farmers when they were perhaps 12 or 13. They had grown up in an institution and had no clue of family life or rural living. They had no clue about anything. They were very poorly educated and many of them could hardly read or write. In many places these people were treated very well but, sadly, in many places they were not treated well at all. In many homes they were treated very poorly. It is another sad reflection on the society in which we lived. There was another man called Paddy McLoughlin who lived in the same parish as me.

My parents are both in their 80s and they tell me that when they grew up in the 1930s, nearly every second house had a home boy. It was society's way of dealing with the issue. My mother went to England in the 1950s and said she often met these home boys after they had emigrated and she saw them in dance halls and Irish clubs around London. When they went to England, there was an equality that they did not have at home. I use this opportunity to state that such people and so many more were legitimate citizens of this State. This State is proud of them and how they rose above everything that was against them. They had the strength to live and survive in that terrible position. We must be proud of the contribution they made to our society and country. It should be acknowledged and the best way to do this is by ensuring we do right by them in legislation that we bring forward.

Week after week we are being exposed to the horrors of very dark periods from our past that were either overseen or facilitated by several arms of the State that should have been protecting its citizens rather than treating them as disgracefully as it did. The adoption of children into loving, welcoming and caring homes in situations where all criteria set down by regulations are met and adoption is in the best interests of the birth parent or parents and the child should always be promoted and appreciated. The history of adoption in Ireland until recent years is tarnished by lies, cover-up and deceit. We are all now too aware of this history, and it has again come to the fore in recent weeks. We must ensure such nightmarish occurrences never happen again. It is my belief that to deny a person access to the very information that records their entry into this world is to deny them a very basic human right. Birth certificates were altered and disappeared, while in some cases they were destroyed. Children were taken illegally from parents. These actions were disgraceful and wrong in the extreme.

There are difficulties in striking a balance between the right to one's identity and an expectation of privacy. I know the Minister has demonstrated a deep interest in addressing these historic wrongs. Foremost in her consideration must be those people who have grown up not knowing their birth parents, with many having been told blatant lies. Everything that can be done to now right this wrong must be done to assist these people. The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 should be prioritised for the earliest possible through both the Seanad, where it is currently, and the Dáil. I welcome that the Minister referred to these false registrations as illegal birth registrations rather than incorrect birth registrations. My colleague also mentioned that point. Some people, including those in the media, have continued to refer to them as such even as recently as this week.

Everybody is entitled to the recording of both birth parents on a birth certificate, and if information not recorded at birth presents later in life and can be properly verified, the information should be added to the incomplete record so a new birth certificate can be issued accordingly.

I know this matter is of particular interest to Deputy Burton.

It is now over 20 years since Mike Leigh's movie "Secrets and Lies" explored the kind of tensions that a hidden adoption story can create in a family.

In more recent years, the book and the film of the story of Irish woman Philomena Lee have evoked much debate about the sordid history of the trade in babies that was a common but a secret feature of Irish life for decades. In one sense it was surprising that the controversy over the faking of numerous birth certificates should have generated such an intense emotional reaction. The basic facts of these and other dubious practices have been known for quite some time. In another sense it is right and proper that the public should get to know again and again the personal histories of families torn apart, babies exiled and lives damaged forever by the actions of both church and State.

The core political issue is one of fundamental human rights. A person should have the right to his or her personal history and should be allowed full tracing rights. I know there are many people buried in the Irish systems of administration and politics who think the sky will fall in if these rights are realised, but we have provided referendums on gay marriage, reproductive rights and divorce. This is the only issue still outstanding. Adopted people are still the only people who do not have fundamental human rights in this country. Our laws are quite deficient in protecting the exercise of this human right and all attempts to reform the law have come up against entirely unreasonable and sometimes just mysterious barriers that do not exist in other societies that have similar legal systems to ours. I have experienced these barriers as an adopted person in my own search for identity and contact with my birth family and as a politician - as Deputy, Minister and Tánaiste - advocating reform. Therefore, as someone who was adopted, I stress that it is absolutely urgent that we provide for legislation which allows people the right to their personal information.

We need to implement the adoption tracing legislation as a matter of urgency in order that adult adoptees in Ireland can access their own records concerning their birth families. This Government has been stalling on this for two years. I know the Minister herself is committed to the issue, but the Government overall is inhibited by some mysterious barriers that, frankly, I have never been able to understand. I am really concerned that the will of the Government is lacking on this issue and that the legislation will stall further as birth parents die and adopted people age, so we will "age out" of this issue.

From all the revelations of recent decades in respect of mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries and other institutions, including adoption societies, we know there is a great deal of hidden information concerning adopted people's birth parents and families that rightfully belongs to those adopted people. By the way, I wish to stress to the Minister a point that relates to the scoping exercise and why I think many people have professed some unease about it. As the Minister knows, the commission on mother and baby homes does not include St. Patrick's Guild, it does not include the Rotunda Girls Aid Society and it does not include, I reckon, at least 30 or 40 other organisations, not to mention all the freelance nuns and priests who privately arranged adoptions. Just this morning, I sat with someone who was born in Holles Street and handed over to a loving adoptive family - no doubt about that - but as she traced her history, she discovered her adoption was not registered until years later, when the family was adopting another child. This is multilayered and multifaceted and really needs to move before, as I said, most of the people involved die.

In the period from the introduction of adoption in the early 1950s up to the 1980s, when the number of adoptions decreased dramatically, more than 40,000 people were adopted. Most of these people are still alive; many of their parents are not. As the Minister herself has said, we are talking about up to 150,000 records or more if we go back to the foundation of the State. In one of the last denials of personal freedoms in Ireland, many adopted people are still locked out of access to their own files. It is difficult to understand this when we know that the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia for close to half a century have allowed access to information once an adopted person becomes an adult. This is one of the last veils of secrecy and it sometimes seems that adult adopted people will be the last people to get personal rights in this country.

I said to the Minister yesterday, and I say it again today, that I can give an example of legislation which was worked on by all parties in this House, about which many people were concerned at the time and which was difficult to progress. I refer to the transgender legislation. We came back again and again to that legislation. I did so as Minister. People started off with very grave doubts, as many people have, though they will not say so now, about the right of adopted people to information. We worked that out, and the Minister herself was very involved in that debate. Will the Minister therefore take courage that she can actually do this? She is a member of a Government comprised almost entirely of Fine Gael Members. It is a fascinating insight to go back to the contributions of some Fine Gael Members to the debates on adoption and the fears of strangers walking onto big farms. They are in the records of the Library, though they may not be accessible at present. It is a compliment to the children, particularly boys, who were farmed out as labourers once they hit the age of 14 and the girls who went to work as maids and servants in doctors' practices and middle-class homes all over Ireland. It should be borne in mind as well that when families gave children up for adoption, the minimum fee for St. Patrick's Guild, from all the records I have seen and the personal stories I know, was £100 at the time of the Act for a baby plus £5 for clothes. With that, people who were often in desperate circumstances were given assurances that the baby would be well adopted.

If I had an anthem for tracing on adoption, I would definitely use the Frances Black song "All the Lies That You Told Me" because that is what this is about. It is about secrets and lies, and we have not rooted them out yet. So many people who have been adopted have brothers and sisters from whom they were separated. I know myself from working with people on this issue that many people who ended up giving up children for adoption were in long-term relationships. That was not always acknowledged. In some cases these people went on to marry. The social mores and church mores of the time made them give up the first babies they had, and that baby then went on, hopefully, to be adopted by a good family. Pretty much anything was preferable to living one's life permanently in an institution. Of course, this was known very widely except to the adopted person. Very often the story gradually came out at family functions - weddings, funerals and suchlike - at which people said, "Do you not know you are adopted?" There was a kind of tap on the shoulder to tell the adopted person some particular feature of the adoption and of the family relations.

The Minister needs to take her courage in her hands and talk to those other people in the Cabinet. We have gone through a full five years, since I was last in government, of talking about it.

Deputy Enda Kenny proved persuadable that he should issue an apology to those who were in the Magdalen laundries. It is the Minister's job to persuade this Taoiseach that he should lift the veil of secrecy. He and others have benefited from our acknowledgement in full of other rights, but this Dáil still has not acknowledged the rights of adopted people to their personal histories and information.

The next speakers on the list are Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Mick Barry. They have very kindly allowed Deputy Mattie McGrath to come in before them.

Then we will speak after him.

I thank Deputies Boyd Barrett and Barry for allowing me to speak before them as I have an appointment. I appreciate it.

I am happy to make a few brief remarks on the issue of adoption. What has emerged in light of the illegalities and forced adoptions in this State is a scandal that cries to heaven for justice. The idea that young babies and children were forcibly removed from their parents without their consent is something that should cause the most serious and sustained reflection on our part. It is a betrayal of the ethos that I and many hundreds of thousands of others in this State believe which says that every human life is precious and of infinite value. It should never have happened regardless of the intention or the motivation.

A mother’s love is something sacred and utterly unique. The bond between her and her baby is like nothing else in the natural world. We should have cherished that love. Instead we betrayed it and there is no hiding from that plain fact.

I have listened to the stories of those who were caught up in the facts emerging about St Patrick’s Guild and in particular to one story of how a young mother came back to her room to find her baby had been removed. Who can imagine the terror and horror that that young woman experienced? How can I or any one of us speak to the pain of such a horrible event? We cannot. All we can do is walk with these people and offer them the kind of compassion and friendship that they ought to have received all those years ago.

Yesterday, my staff and I attended the briefing which the Minister provided which was most informative and helpful and I thank him for that. As the Minister observed, recent events have utterly changed the legislative landscape in terms of how we approach this issue. There was a definite sense that what we want to achieve is the greatest possible outcome for those caught up in scandals like that of St Patrick’s Guild. It is an issue that I hope will rise above party squabbles and be treated with the kind of respect and dignity it deserves. I know there are issues relating to the adoption register in terms of data protection and so on, but those can be addressed in the fullness of time during the debates that will no doubt take place in this House when the adoption Bill comes before us.

We must address the wounds of the past. We cannot ignore them but we must deal with them fairly. In the heat of debate, and I am sure the Minister will agree, we cannot lose sight of that fact that justice must be extended to all those religious who genuinely gave their lives and their love to the children in their care. While there are stories that horrify us, they are not the full picture. Not long ago, my office was contacted by the relative of two aunts who were nuns from the 1940s until very recently. They both gave their lives in establishing medical and orphanage care to thousands of young children in this State. For many years before they died, people would come to them and thank them for the only instances of human warmth they ever received. Their generosity of soul cannot be airbrushed out of history.

Our top priority must be about establishing urgent redress for those caught up in the recent adoption scandal. As Deputy Clare Daly noted at yesterday's briefing, age is not on the side of many of those seeking justice and the truth about their children. Anything we can we do in terms of access to records must be done to help speed that process along. Archbishop’s House has indicated that it will assist in this matter, and that is to be greatly welcomed. Subjecting these people to trauma at the beginning of their lives was bad enough but to do it to them again at the end of their life would be unforgivable.

We are discussing something that was an illegal practice. It is was the falsification of birth certificates. To my knowledge, only one person has ever been prosecuted for this crime in the history of the State, a woman named Mrs. Keating who ran an illegal adoption agency or racket from her private nursing home, St. Rita's, in Ranelagh. Her activities were first brought to the attention of the gardaí in 1954, yet she was not prosecuted until 1964, ten years later. She was sentenced to the probation Act. After her sentencing, a priest went to visit the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, to plead her case so that she would not lose her nursing home licence. While he waited in the corridor to see the Taoiseach, he bumped into the Minister for Agriculture, Charles Haughey, who asked what his business was. When the priest told him, Haughey laughingly replied that "half the babies born in St. Rita's were fathered by members of the Dáil".

As Mike Milotte, reporting this quote, observed in a recent article:

A gross exaggeration, no doubt, but a timely reminder that for every crisis pregnancy there was a putative father in the wings, often men in positions of authority, employers, respectable members of society, other women’s husbands, priests even, and, yes, politicians – all of them equally protected from disclosure by the practice of falsifying birth records.

Is it any wonder it has taken so long for the State to face up to the truth?

It is a point well made. It is often suggested that this is something that was done as a favour to the woman or to the child, but the protection of men, including powerful and wealthy men, was also behind this particular racket.

This debate is situated within a wider debate of church-State relations and the historical injustices to women. The recent referendum was passed by a landslide. People were repelled by the misogyny of the No side, but on top of misogyny there was also hypocrisy in that it could be seen that it was never a question of loving both but rather of loving neither when it came to women and their children born out of wedlock. This is another case which makes a powerful argument in favour of the separation of church and State.

I think it was yesterday when I engaged with the Minister in the House on this issue. I asked her if this issue of hundreds, and potentially thousands, of illegal adoptions had been brought to the Department's attention in 2011 and again in 2013. I pointed out that the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, assured the Dáil that all adoptions in the State since 1952 had been in accordance with the law, namely, the Adoption Act 1952 and subsequent legislation. This position was restated, not once but twice, by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, when he took over the reins in the Department of Justice and Equality. That is false. It was not the case.

The other day, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, told me there was not absolute proof in 2013. If the proof was not absolute, there were enough strong clues to warrant a full audit of all files in the State. That did not happen, however, and it is still not on the Minister's agenda. She spoke of a sample audit.

I put it to the Minister that, on the grounds of the health of the people involved and their records alone, that is not sufficient. There needs to be a full audit backed up with the proper resources for Tusla in terms of money and manpower to make sure we get to the bottom of this for once and for all.

There has to be a full audit because the State has failed potentially thousands of people whose identities and records were, in some cases, falsified. In other cases we do not know if they were. That can have very serious implications at so many different levels for the people affected in terms of their right to their identities, medical histories and heritages. There is simply no alternative but to give the full audit that has been requested by those who have been campaigning for many years to bring this issue properly into the light and to have a full audit of the files carried out.

This scandal arises from the fact that the Catholic Church and religious bodies were given control over adoption services in this country and that control was exercised in a story of secrets, lies, cover-ups and, in many cases, almost certainly illegal activity. We have to get to the bottom of that. The saga has gone on for too long. The consequences for some can potentially be awful. It is not a story that is over. It is not past history for huge numbers of people but one that continues to work its way through their lives and existences now and which can have all sorts of implications.

In my case, as one who was adopted during that period, having talked to both my birth family and my adoptive family, both insisted that things were done correctly at the time at both ends of the process. The adoption papers are therefore in order and the original names went on the birth certificate. What none of them know, however, is what happened in between. That is the point over which neither the biological family nor the adoptive family, which would have acted in good faith, had any control. They would have had no control over what the church and its institutions were doing in the middle of the process and what was motivating them. As Deputy Barry said, in many cases their motivations were to protect the identities of prominent people, to hide more generally the reality of Irish society and to provide cover for an atmosphere and regime which they created and generated which in many cases forced women who had children outside marriage to give those children up, either by generally creating an atmosphere or often by directly physically pulling children out of the hands of their mothers.

In my case I was very lucky. I was adopted by a very loving family and was then lucky enough for my biological mother to also come and find me. I have two families, which is brilliant, but for many people the adoption may not have worked out so well. Perhaps they cannot find their biological families and they are blocked at every hand's turn. The absence of accurate records in many of those cases means that they may be frustrated and may never find out. There was absolute falsification in some cases. I am aware of some of those cases. There was absolutely blatant falsification to protect particular people. I do not believe there is any alternative but to have a full audit to do justice for those who are caught up in this crisis.

The last point I make is that this is, yet again, a reminder of the urgency of separating out church and State in all sorts of services, whether adoption, the welfare of children in our schools, or our hospitals. What is at the centre of this? It is that religious morality trumped people's rights and that the institutions to which the State had outsourced these absolutely critical services, as it continues to do in the cases of health and education, believed that their particular morality was more important than the law and than the rights of individual human beings. That lesson has to be learned and that separation has to be achieved. That is not a statement against people's religious faith by the way. I want to stress that. It is not an attack on people's Catholicism or whatever. It is about saying that religion is a private matter and that those institutions should not have control over vital services and over the lives of individuals.

I welcome the fact that the title of the Minister's speech today is "illegal birth registrations" and the fact that she has used that strong terminology. I understand from the person who works in my office that is not what is going out. The term "incorrect" is going out, but the title of the speech is "illegal birth registrations" and I welcome that. I also welcome the Minister's announcement on 29 May. That is the day on which my mother died many years ago. I cannot imagine coping with a false registration of the death or birth in addition to the grief. I will be coming back to that in a minute. Having looked at the documents St. Patrick's Guild had given her quite some time before, which is a point I will also come back to, the Minister announced on 29 May that there were 126 cases of illegal registration in the period between 1946 and 1969. Nobody was shocked by that. The shock came because it had taken so long. My additional shock came because she made that announcement through a press conference rather than coming into the Dáil, the democratic forum, and presenting her findings in context. I have a difficulty with that. I want to work with the Minister and believe in her bona fides. I would have been helped in that if she had come in and explained the situation to us. I understand that the documents from St. Patrick's Guild had been with Tusla since 2016. The Minister then made an announcement in 2018 without putting it in context to explain the delay.

As I have done every time I have stood up on this subject, I will again quote from briefing papers that were given to the highest officials in the HSE with a note that said they should go all the way up to the Minister. In respect of the mother and baby home and Bessborough, and in the context of the Magdalene laundry, where information came up the people in charge said that it was beyond their scope. This is what they highlighted. In both of these cases, that is, in both mother and baby homes, of concern "were interference with birth and death certification which requires further investigation". This was written in October 2012 with a note to send it up to the Minister. This is as a result of the Martin McAleese report and his investigations. "Children, if not the mothers who passed though these systems are likely to still be alive and at the very least" this should be investigated. It goes on and on to say that this is a serious issue. In addition I will quote one more little thing from one of the notes on 12 October 2012. It is easy to remember the 12th of the month in the 12th year:

This may prove to be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State, because of the very emotive sensitivities around adoption of babies, with or without the will of the mother.

A concern is that, if there is evidence of trafficking babies, that it must have been facilitated by doctors, social workers etc., and a number of these health professionals may still be working in the system.

It is more important to send this up to the Minister as soon as possible: with a view to an Inter-Departmental Committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State Inquiry.

That note is from 2012, this is 2018. It was six years ago so I hope the Minister will forgive me if I appear cynical. When one comes from a large family one inevitably encounters lots of problems and learns from them. I was not shocked by this nor were any of the other people I know. Indeed survivors have spoken about these illegal practices for years. Conall Ó Fátharta, who deserves an award, spoke about this back in 2010, eight years ago.

He has written about it practically month after month since. The story has arisen time and again and successive Ministers have either failed or refused to act. I cannot count the number of Ministers involved. There were at least three, but a lot more since the 1950s.

There is knowledge and evidence dating from as far back as the 1950s. In the 1990s, the national archivist, Catriona Crowe, revealed the extent of the problem and the fact that the Department responsible for external affairs had knowledge of the practice as early as the 1950s. Mike Milotte published his book Banished Babies way back in 1997, the year my second child was born. I am not sure whether the Minister read it. I understand it has been reissued lately. It added much to the detail of Catriona Crowe's discovery.

Since 2010, the Irish Examiner journalist Conall Ó Fátharta has revealed time and again the practice of forced and illegal adoptions carried out by the State and religious and private institutions. Furthermore, I understand that another article by the journalist this week reveals that Tusla has now raised concerns about a further 748 adoption cases from St. Patrick's Guild alone. It is extraordinary that we have to rely on journalists for our information. There is evidence of names being changed, references to payments being made - often of £100 - the placement of children with no corresponding adoption orders and other irregularities. What precisely is the nature of those irregularities?

Tusla has produced three interim reports. All preceded the announcement of 29 May. Where are they? Can we have sight of them? Can that be published? Why have they not been published? The third interim report was prepared on 10 May. It states that 611 children were identified as having been sent overseas and that a deeper review and analysis would be required to track the journey of each infant from birth to the point where he or she left the jurisdiction. I understand that Tusla revealed that, while dealing with tracing inequities since it took possession of St. Patrick's Guild's records in early 2016, it has discovered a significant number of suspected illegal registrations, dating as far back as June 2017. We know that the AAI informed the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2013 that St. Patrick's Guild was aware of several hundred illegal registrations. The response of the Department at the time was nothing short of insulting. It stated that an audit of adoption records was of limited benefit and would yield little useful information. Can one imagine that for a response?

We know this problem goes well beyond St. Patrick's Guild. It is only one of an estimated 180 institutions that facilitated adoptions in this State. Theresa Hiney Tinggal was illegally adopted from an agency outside St. Patrick's Guild. She has been campaigning on this for ten years. Her feeling is that she has been absolutely ignored by three Ministers, whom she names. They were in power prior to the current Minister.

Mr. Paul Redmond, the chairman of Adoption Rights Now, has said the practice in St. Patrick's Guild was far more widespread. Mr. Fergus Finlay stated on "Morning Ireland" recently that he believes every single agency in the State was involved in illegal adoptions. I hope I picked that up incorrectly because it is an extraordinary statement. I do not need to tell the Minister that everybody has a right to know his or her identity. We have an obligation to ensure people who want to know can find out where they come from. It has implications for everything, as the Minister knows. People far more articulate than I am have referred to this in respect of medical history and health implications.

It is imperative that there be a full and thorough investigation of all files concerning St. Patrick's Guild and all adoption agencies. We have no choice. If the Minister wants to start a new role, this is the only way to do it. If she reads the briefing notes from 2012 and still sticks with the old ways, we will be lost. This is a golden opportunity to do it right. Having a targeted sampling exercise is just not good enough. This cannot be a game of chance for the people involved such that some will be lucky enough to be included while others will not. We must include all survivors in a full investigation.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to pushing the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill and ensuring it will pass through the Seanad as expeditiously as possible. I must state, however, that I have a fundamental difficulty with the undertaking that is being asked for. I cannot see myself voting for it, much as I would like to do so. It is huge. It is being stated that there will be no penalty if the undertaking is broken but that sums up Irish society. We make people give an undertaking but if they break it, which is only human, we do not penalise them, thus bringing the law into disrepute. The law has been brought into disrepute on every level. Laws have been ignored and broken and laws have been made up to suit the Church. I cannot tell the Minister what my personal and professional experience and my having the privilege of being a Deputy have done for me. Institutions do not change. They simply lie, cover up and hide unless leadership is shown from the outside and unless they are pushed to do what is required so we can learn. None of this was accidental. This was a deliberate State policy, by and large affecting poor families and poor children. This is the subject of another day's discussion. For today, I ask the Minister never again to make an announcement such as that made at the press conference. If she wants us to work with her, she should set out in the Dáil how the information came to her attention and the nature of the delay from 2016 onwards when she had the information and knew the implications. If she does this, I will happily work with her and she will restore my trust in the system, which is at an all-time low.

I am very appreciative of the contributions of all the Deputies. They help me and my officials as we continue to work on issues that have been of such profound significance to so many people for such a long time, as Deputy Connolly just indicated. I am aware of this and of the various circumstances and research findings the Deputy has just shared in the Chamber. They are exceedingly helpful and we are listening. We are attempting to offer a way for 2018 under my leadership.

I will try to respond to the issues raised to the best of my ability. We will continue to come back to them, not least in the context of the Bill. Deputies Connolly, Boyd Barrett, Mitchell and others mentioned the investigation of other records and the specific further analysis I have asked for. I see that as a really important and sensible step in terms of the methodology of approaching the 100,000 files that are under the jurisdiction of the State. I have not said that is the end. I am very open to moving beyond that. We have tried to design the process in such a way that it will be relatively quick and so we will know that, after the first four months approximately, we will be in a better position to determine how we might move forward. Much of this concerns the issue of methodology, something of which, as a former researcher, I am aware. Officials are now identifying a methodology to ascertain whether they can consider some aspects of a huge number of files in the initial stage in order to determine whether something should be done next and, if so, what. From having listened to other stakeholders, in addition to Deputies here, I realise it may be recommended that we need to go further, in which case a methodology will be presented, but it strikes me that in order to move forward in this regard, we might also need to engage a wider group of stakeholders, particularly but not only inclusive of advocates, adoptees, archivists, relevant journalists - some of whom Deputy Connolly mentioned - and genealogy experts. Deputies have called for this. It may be that drawing on some the wider expertise, which seems to be what is needed, might help us to proceed more effectively than by using more traditional forms of research.

I have received, as have other Deputies, a number of representations from people who believe they are illegally registered. Those are people who have come forward as distinct from us examining the 100,000 records we have, and they are being examined in a particular way as part of the research. Those are a few examples that might impact on the methodology in terms of moving forward. I do not want to pre-empt any decision that may be taken but from listening to what is being said on the airwaves, this is an issue that runs very deep across many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people's lives. We have an obligation to find ways to ensure that we discover the evidence of illegal registrations to the best of our ability. That answers the question in terms of the initial investigative research.

In terms of the records, and people have identified this also, we have 100,000 cases that are under the jurisdiction of the State. An estimated 50,000 records, although the figure is probably more than that, are not in the possession of the State such as those in adoption societies where records have not yet transferred to either Tusla or the Adoption Authority of Ireland, AAI. I refer to PACT, Cunamh, St. Brigid's Adoption Agency, nursing homes, health professionals and private individuals. There are many more records that are not in our possession to allow us do something about it. As Deputies are aware, the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill would provide a statutory basis to acquire those transfers but there may be other ways to do that. I understand the urgency expressed by the Deputies about this issue. As Deputy Mitchell said, these things are going on. I could voluntarily request the transfer of records but there are potential difficulties with that. It may not be clear who has what records. A voluntary request could be ignored or complied with in part only. The holders may cite data protection issues. I am not saying that will not happen but there are difficulties with that also.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to capacity, particularly within Tusla, and conducting further research. The Deputy is right to raise that matte. In order to conduct further research and to underpin the information and tracing service, additional capacity will be required in order to eradicate waiting times for people - apart from the 126 or the others who are now suspect - and deal with the increased numbers that will come forward in light of the changing context. I am aware of that capacity issue. It is about money, but it is also about people. We need to find a solution urgently to that issue.

Deputy Burton said that we do not want to age out this issue. I agree with her. That is why I am trying to initiate and lead a way forward to ensure there is a deeper sense of urgency in light of what we have found in that high bar of evidence. She said that people have a right to their personal history, which is a very helpful way of expressing it, as well as a right to information and tracing.

Members referred to the fact that 740 other cases were identified by Tusla, and they may be added to the list. My understanding is that was part of the number it started with but it sifted through those and did the cross-referencing with the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the General Register Office, GRO. Some of those dropped out in terms of coming to a higher level of certainty in terms of evidence of illegal adoptions because, as the Deputies are aware, when we have that number of cases, we need first to move towards contacting the people. The State requires a high level of certainty, higher than would be required in terms of making those kinds of approaches. It is different if people are coming towards us or indicating that they would like us to investigate something.

In terms of the Bill, Sinn Féin Members believe that people ought to have a right and unfettered access to information. Deputy Burton and others are probably in agreement with that. I mentioned meeting Deputies and Senators yesterday with my officials. I would wish to pursue that in the context of the Bill. I want to push the boundaries as far as we can in terms what is constitutionally permissible but we hear what they are saying. As I said, we are operating in a changed context and I hope that gives us more possibility. I have not covered all the questions but we will have other opportunities to discuss them.

In terms of the number of actions that need to happen, I wonder if it is time to consider a process of telling and hearing the truth about the way women and children were historically mistreated in Ireland and expanding and correcting our national record of the development of the State and our treatment of one another in it. There is a social history model coming from the mother and baby homes commission. That will be helpful in that regard but I refer again to a mode of transitional justice. Moving from a legacy of human rights abuses requires us to acknowledge, record, accept and apologise for those abuses and our collective responsibility for them. It is a process that perhaps could be survivor centred and designed with the needs and the hopes of survivors in mind.

It may be time to consider a scope. We are living in a present that is still attempting to respond appropriately to the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes and the adoption illegality issues. We may need to reckon with our national history of gender and justice, inclusive of the ways in which it has impacted on boys. I take Deputy Martin Kenny's comments about home boys as well as men. These are other issues I will be considering as we move forward.