Barnardo's seeks truth for adopted Irish children

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The Independent Online

MPs and childcare workers have called upon the Irish government to investigate how hundreds of Irish children were sent to adoptive parents in the United Sates under falsified birth certificates.

Yesterday in the Dail, Allan Shatter of the Fine Gail party, an expert in family law, set an adjournment debate after it emerged that the adoption agency Barnardo's had been approached by more than 200 Irish people who were sent to the US up to 40 years ago, as young children. When they attempted to trace their origins using America's Freedom of Information Act, they found in many cases that parental names on their birth certificates were false.

Barnardo's is lobbying the government to make Eire's 15 remaining adoption agencies disclose how many children were sent to the US during the 1950s and 1960s. "The state handed over its responsibility for children who needed care to various institutions," said Norah Gibbons of Barnardo's. "We need to know how these children were chosen to go overseas and what happened to them." She added that it did not appear that there was a centralised policy of falsifying birth certificates, but because of the stigma attached to illegitimacy at the time either the mother or the agency may have changed names to protect both mother and child. Some childcare workers also suspect falsifications may have been made to make it impossible for adopted children to trace their mothers.

"We're asking that the Department of Health, who now has responsibility for care, should set up a contact register so that a mother who gave false information could put the record straight," Ms Gibbons said, adding that Barnardo's had been contacted by a number of Irish birth mothers. "They're old now, often in their 70s, and sometimes members of their families don't know," she said.

Ms Gibbons said agencies often promised the mothers that their identity would never be known. But she said that the government also had a responsibility to the disinherited. "These people are now adults. It's like saying: 'you could be president of the United States but we wouldn't trust you to have the information about who you are'," she said.

A spokesman for the Irish Department of Health Press Office said last night: "The Health Strategy contains a commitment to introduce changes in adoptive law and procedure to provide arrangements to facilitate contact between adopted persons and their birth parents."