As the information that an incorrect birth registration has taken place is potentially life changing, the State has a responsibility to reach a high level of certainty that this has in fact happened, before it contacts the individuals concerned. This threshold has now been reached in the case of the 126 St Patrick’s Guild files.
This is a very serious and sensitive issue. People have the right to know of their true origins and, where we have clear evidence, I believe we have an obligation to tell the people affected. Some may know already, but for others it will be entirely new and very difficult information indeed.
As an immediate step, Tusla has put in place a Helpline, operating from 10 to 4 each day, Monday to Friday, and has also put significant information on its website. Both 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 can be identified. This includes the person who was incorrectly registered (the child), the birth mother and the people who participated in the incorrect registrations and subsequently raised these children as their own.
I would emphasise that the process will be measured, sensitive, and at the pace of the individual concerned. 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 very carefully and will take account of the requirements of the individuals.
In view of what has been found in a subset of the St Patrick’s Guild records, those index cards marked ‘Adoption from Birth’, 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, of which 100,000 are currently in the custody of Tusla and the AAI. We need a well-planned sampling process first of the Tusla and AAI records to see if a major trawl of these is likely to give us hard evidence of incorrect registrations. Hard evidence is necessary before individuals can be informed.
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. I would sound a note of caution to say that it may not be the case that such a clear marker, or indeed any marker, will be found in any other files.
We must first judge the likely incidence of cases that can actually be identified, through the sampling exercise, and the scale of them. Then we can judge the next steps that may be required.
It is also worth noting that 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 within its terms of reference.