Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Questions (20)

Denise Mitchell


20. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the progress made by Tusla in contacting those who are known to have been affected by an adoption scandal (details supplied); and the scope of the targeted sampling exercise announced by her. [25738/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

This relates to St. Patrick's Guild. Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

On 29 May, I announced that Tusla had identified 126 cases where births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969. The cases were identified during an analysis of adoption records that were transferred to Tusla by the former adoption society, St. Patrick's Guild. As the information that an incorrect birth registration has taken place is life-changing, the State has a responsibility to reach a high level of certainty that this has happened before it contacts the individuals concerned. This threshold has been reached in the case of the 126 St. Patrick's Guild files.

We are all aware of the seriousness and sensitivity of this issue. People have the right to their identities. They have the right to know of their true origins and, where we have clear evidence, we have an obligation to tell those affected. Some may know, but for others, it will be entirely new and difficult information to receive and absorb.

There will be a social worker-led process of making contact with those affected who can be identified. This includes the birth mother, the person who was incorrectly registered - the child - and the people who participated in the incorrect registrations and subsequently raised these children as their own. Each of the 126 cases has been assigned to an experienced Tusla information and tracing social worker and work has commenced on tracing the individuals concerned. I emphasise that the process will be measured, sensitive and carried out at the pace of the individual affected. There will be no sudden phone calls or unannounced visits to people's doors. The process of offering contact and supporting those affected will be handled carefully and take account of the requirements of the individuals.

I am confident that Tusla is prioritising these cases and committing the necessary resources. However, I reiterate that the only information available at the commencement of the process was contained in records that were in most cases more than 50 years old. The process of tracing people will take some time, but it is expected that Tusla will be in a position to start making contact with individuals at the end of this month.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The sampling process will address the Tusla and Adoption Authority records to see if a major trawl of these is likely to yield hard evidence of incorrect registrations. Tusla found evidence in the St. Patrick's Guild records primarily because of the term "adopted from birth" that was placed on index cards. If this marker had not been present, it would have been difficult to identify even the 126 cases. We do not know if such a clear marker, or indeed any marker, will be found in other files.

It is my view that we must first judge the likely incidence of cases that can actually be identified, through the initial analysis, and the scale of them. I will then be in a position to judge the next steps that may be required.

I thank the Minister for her response. People were not shocked by the scandal. For many years, survivors have spoken about illegal adoption practices and many journalists have exposed those practices. To have proof finally is welcome, but we have read that, in addition to the 126 affected adoptions that it has reported, Tusla has raised concerns about a further 748 cases in St. Patrick's Guild alone where there were no adoption orders, changes had been made to names and cash payments were made to the guild.

While I understand that an additional sampling exercise is under way, I have concerns about it. It is only an initial exercise, but we would not accept a sampling exercise in respect of any other organisation accused of what I believe was child trafficking. Will the Minister confirm that Tusla will hold a full and thorough investigation into St. Patrick's Guild?

The Deputy referred to a larger number of cases. I understand that it was from this number that, following Tusla's deeper analysis and cross-checking with the Adoption Authority and General Register Office, GRO, with a view to ensuring a high threshold of evidence of illegality was reached, the 126 cases emerged.

Regarding a further analysis, I have asked the independent reviewer to oversee a targeted sampling process of relevant records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland, AAI, in the first instance to see if clear evidence can be established. I have appointed Ms Marion Reynolds to oversee this work. Ms Reynolds met Tusla, the AAI and officials from my Department yesterday to initiate the process. There are 150,000 records at issue, of which 100,000 are currently in the custody of Tusla and the AAI. That is where this work will start.

The Adoption Rights Alliance has stated that this is only the tip of the iceberg. How many people are affected? Are the records of other organisations or societies being investigated? Is Tusla committed to obtaining all of these records?

There is great concern that these files will go missing or be destroyed. Will the Minister commit to an investigation that will cover all agencies, individuals and homes involved in adoption in this State and also the estimated 2,000 children who were sent to the United States and supposedly illegally adopted there?

I am very open to a wider investigation into the issue of illegal registrations. There is no question about that. At the same time, I am also saying that it is critical to take this one step at a time. After it had identified the "adopted from birth" signifier on the index cards, it took Tusla a number of months to ensure, through the cross-registration process, that we had evidence of illegal registration. However, that is in regard to the records that are held, particularly those which fall within the jurisdiction of the State. As the Deputy has identified, there are other records outside of that and we need to get those into the possession of the State in order to move forward with further analysis. I am aware of that and those are issues at which we are now looking. We have an openness to moving forward in that regard. However, we must proceed one step at a time in order to do this right.