Special to The Irish Gazette
Contributions from multiple sources
Irish people who were sent to Britain, the US and elsewhere for adoption when they were children as a result of decades-long Catholic hostility towards unmarried mothers will be entitled to unrestricted access to their birth certificates and other official records in Ireland for the first time thanks to a new law.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland, which has been charged with managing the scheme, has launched a campaign to reach adults who were adopted, formally or informally, overseas. It believes about 100,000 people will be affected by the new Birth Information and Tracing Act. The new law relates to all those born to parents within Ireland and adopted at home or abroad since the foundation of the state 100 years ago.
Anyone who wants to trace their birth information or that of their child or sibling can register with the AAI now and apply for records beginning October 1, 2022.
“Ireland is slightly late coming to this, which has been really disappointing and distressing for lots of people,” said Patricia Carey, the chief executive of the AAI. “It’s now recognized through this law that people have fundamental rights to information that’s held about them. It’s an identity rights issue.”
The new law will open the door to facts about the early lives of many people, but also close a dark chapter in Irish history when unmarried mothers were routinely forced into often brutal mother and baby homes run by nuns or sent to England or elsewhere to, according to one archbishop, “preserve their secret”.
Under the new law in Ireland, adoptees, siblings or parents have “legal entitlement to full and unrestricted access to birth certificates, birth, early life, care and medical information for any person who was adopted” or “boarded out” – a reference to informal adoptions that took place before 1953.
About 50,000 children were adopted since 1953, with thousands sent overseas, according to previous estimates.
In the first 10 days since the Birth Information and Tracing Act was passed, 470 people have registered. By the end of the year the AAI expects up to 4,000 to have come forward for records.
“We know already we are receiving a significant number of applications to join the register from the US and the UK,” said Carey.
While the AAI will not be able to provide records of Irish mothers who went to England or elsewhere to give birth, Carey said it had a good relationship with agencies in Britain where laws already exist to enable such tracing.
The authority believes most of those who register will be adopted children but they are also hoping those who suspect they may have a sibling and mothers come forward.
Records in Ireland show young mothers were among those who left the country. “We know from looking at our adoption files and records that, because of the traumatic experience they had maybe in relinquishing their child for adoption, they left Ireland shortly thereafter and never came back,” said Carey.
“We really want to reach people who may have left Ireland and may not have heard the message that this law has come in, and let them know that they can now register for contact; for no contact; or to share information.”
Before 1953 some children may have been sent to relatives or placed with other families through religious organisations under the “boarded out” system.
These informal adoptees and possibly siblings are all eligible to register for their information.
The act language is as follows: Ireland has recently passed the BIRTH INFORMATION AND TRACING ACT 2022 to make further and better provision in respect to access by certain persons to information concerning their origins and to provide for the access by adopted persons and those who have been the subject of incorrect birth registrations or certain care arrangements to their birth certificates and other information and items relating to them. Also, to provide, where such persons are deceased, for the access by their children or other next of kin to such information or items. The act also provides for making available, by the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Child and Family Agency, of a service for the tracing of certain persons. To provide for the establishment and maintenance of a register to be known as the Contact Preference Register; to provide for the safeguarding and transfer to the Adoption Authority of Ireland of certain records relating to the birth, adoption and care of certain persons; to amend the Succession Act 1965 to make provision in respect of persons who have been the subject of incorrect birth registrations; to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 to make additional provision in respect of persons who are the subject of incorrect birth registrations; to amend the National Archives Act 1986 and to amend the Adoption Act 2010; and to provide for related matters. The act was dated the 30th June, 2022.
The landmark Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 means that any Irish person who was adopted, boarded out or had their birth information illegally registered, or who otherwise had questions about their origin, now has a route to find out what information is available about their birth and early life. The Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) encourages those affected by this new legislation to register or update their preference for contact or no contact to the newly established Contact Preference Register ahead of Information and Tracing Services opening for applications on October 1, 2022. A dedicated website has been launched by the AAI where people can learn how to register or update their contact or no contact preferences. As part of its awareness raising campaign, the AAI has begun to distribute hard copy information leaflets to households in Ireland —leaflets will also be sent to organizations in the United States. For current information visit: https://www.birthinfo.ie/