The Government-appointed Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has called for the Taoiseach to offer an apology in the Dáil to people affected by illegal birth registrations.
Professor Conor O’Mahony’s comment followed an apology by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman on behalf of the Government in the Seanad on Tuesday evening. The Minister said what had happened “was a historic wrong with deep and enduring impacts”.
Illegal birth registrations occur where a birth certificate is falsified to register a child as having been born to their adoptive parents. The practice has been a criminal offence since 1874, but a series of reports said the State was aware of the practice for decades before any serious action was taken.
Prof O’Mahony said 24 hours’ notice given ahead of Mr O’Gorman’s apology was “less than ideal”.
While the idea of an apology was good, the short notice was unfortunate as people wanted an opportunity to prepare and to attend, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Some felt that the apology in the Seanad was a “lesser form of apology” and was not of the same stature of previous apologies by the State which had been delivered by the Taoiseach in the Dáil, he said.
Prof O’Mahony said that the people involved had experienced wrongdoing for a long time. Illegal birth registrations could take a variety of shapes and forms, and people who felt that their birth may have been illegally registered should have an opportunity to pursue the matter.
DNA had an important role to play in filling in the gaps of evidence, he said. Prof O’Mahony said he was in favour of court orders compelling family members to provide DNA evidence, but the Government did not accept that.
When asked why a one-off payment of €3,000 had been agreed for people registered at St Patrick’s Guild, he said that cases at St Patrick’s Guild had been confirmed, and he felt that the scheme should be extended and made available to all on an equal basis.
'Missed the mark'
Meanwhile, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance Susan Lohan said the apology by the Minister for Children “missed the mark” for a number of reasons.
Ms Lohan told Newstalk Breakfast that the Minister appeared to have failed to grasp the enormity of the State’s inaction on the issue of illegally registered births. There had been too much reference in his speech to the Seanad on “correcting the official record.”
“He referred to how children had been deprived of their right to an accurate birth registration - that's missing the elephant in the room entirely. They were deprived of the love and nurture and knowledge of their own family of origin - that's really what matters to people.”
The issue remained of what the Government was going to do to redress the issue, she added. Putting forward Tusla “as some sort of white warrior is not going to cut the mustard.”
“The HSE - from which they are derived - have proven themselves inherently disinterested, under-resourced, under-skilled, unsuitable to manage any sort of professional tracing or information system,” she said.
He didn't seem to know what he was apologising for.
Ms Lohan described the Minister’s speech as “very disappointing”. The apology should have been issued by the Taoiseach, she said, and a lot of things remained unsaid.
“He didn't seem to know what he was apologising for. He left a lot of things unsaid, there was a lot of dissembling.
“There was a pretence that 'the Government only became aware of these issues due to the recent publication of three reports'. Successive governments have known about the scandal of illegal adoptions for many decades.”
The language of the Minister’s speech was wrong, Ms Lohan said. It was not a State apology. She questioned if the language had been deliberate. “Normally we're used to hearing 'I apologise on behalf of the State' - I think this is deliberately somewhat downgraded.”
There had been no reference to the people who had been “knowingly involved” in the illegal registration of births. Ms Lohan said she was also concerned about the involvement of the Adoption Authority, historically the Adoption Board, who had regulatory and monitoring responsibility for private adoption agencies.