Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Ceisteanna (24)

Mick Barry

Ceist:

24. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason no audit or action was taken in view of the report submitted by the Adoption Authority of Ireland on illegal registrations in 2011 and which again reported the issue in 2013. [25613/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

I am conscious of claims that the State knew for many years about illegal registrations, and that successive Governments should have done more to address the issue. What has been lost in the debate is the fact that, while there seems to have been an awareness of this illegal practice, we had no clear proof of what happened, other than in a few individual cases where documentary evidence was found.

It is vital to point out that illegal registrations were deliberately concealed and that either no records were kept or else they appear to have been deliberately falsified. In these circumstances, it was difficult to find the truth.

The St. Patrick's Guild records were the first source of a considerable number of cases where clear written evidence was identified. I announced this on 29 May as soon as I was satisfied about the strength of the evidence in these cases.

While the AAI has previously reported concerns in relation to a number of cases it was aware of, the threshold of evidence of an incorrect registration, which is required if persons are to be notified, had not yet been reached.

While engaging with Tusla and the AAI on the evidence emerging from the St. Patrick's Guild files of illegal registrations, I requested that the authority revisit the cases about which it had concerns, and to conduct a validation exercise on them to establish if a high level of certainty could be reached that an incorrect registration had taken place. I await the outcome of this validation exercise from the authority. If further confirmed cases emerge, they will be added to the same process as the 126 confirmed St. Patrick's Guild cases.

In addition, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters is examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in the specified institutions within its terms of reference.

I thank the Minister for her reply but I challenge her assertion that prior to this there had been "no clear proof" of this criminal action other than in a handful of cases. In 2013, the AAI said that there may be thousands of cases, which is not clear proof, but it also said that there were hundreds of illegal birth registrations. The authority knew this from its own audit and work on the issue. This was brought to the attention of departmental officials. Given there was clear proof on more than a handful of cases from an authority no less than the AAI, which is the key body, why was more not done at that point?

When preparing a reply for the Deputy's important question, the information from the AAI was that, between 2010 and now, it has been contacted by 141 people looking for information that the authority did not have.

Who are these people? They are children who suspected they were adopted, mothers who gave their children up for adoption and relatives who were aware that family members were adopted but the AAI could find no official records or adoption orders relating to their cases. It checked with the General Register Office and discovered that in 75 cases the individuals concerned were registered as the children of the people who raised them. The AAI is now cross-checking with Tusla that other parties connected with the individuals in question, that is the 141 people, were not in touch with the latter regarding its information and tracing service. For example, a mother who had given birth may have contacted the AAI and a child may have contacted Tusla. I am indicating now that hundreds of people had come to it and that it did a certain amount of checking but could not establish the level of evidence needed in order to move forward.

I wish to ask Deputy Zappone, in her capacity as an Independent Minister, about her comment that successive Governments should have done more. I agree with her but it is a mild comment in the circumstances. She has sat at the Cabinet table with the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the current Minister, Deputy Flanagan. The former Minister said that all adoptions since 1952 had been carried out legally on the basis of the 1952 Act and subsequent legislation. That was a false statement. It was repeated twice by the current Minister. They could have easily verified the situation by having an audit of all the files. They consistently refused the request of adoption campaigners to the effect that such an audit be carried out. I ask Deputy Zappone, who is an Independent Minister, to make a further comment on the track record relating to this matter.

The Deputy has laid out his position on that commentary and it is on the record. On the matter of what I, as an Independent Minister, have done regarding the evidence presented to me in recent months, I moved as quickly as I could to ensure that they continued to do the research in which they were engaged and that the cross-checking took place. I also brought people, including representatives from Tusla, the AAI and my officials, to the table many times in order to determine that we had a level of evidence that was never the case previously. When they did that, I moved to facilitate the possibility that Tusla would be able to support and begin a process of contacting these people. This was in addition to the research we have identified and with which we are moving forward. That is what my job is as an Independent Minister in this Government.