Adoption scandal: Shame and cover-ups blighting our nation

In her weekly column Colette Sheridan looks at the scandal involving Ireland's illegal adoptions
Adoption scandal: Shame and cover-ups blighting our nation

OUR PAST UNCOVERED: An image used in the programme ‘RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions’

SPEAKING on last week’s RTÉ Investigates programme, Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions, former CEO of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, said the country’s middle classes “wanted rid” of illegitimate children.

“To our everlasting shame, we turned a blind eye,” he said.

The documentary was unsettling viewing, with a number of unlawfully adopted people, now in their sixties and older, sitting in front of the camera, each holding a photograph of themselves when they were children.

Innocent children who were illegally registered on their birth certificates as if they were the natural children of their adoptive parents.

Even adoption was taboo. Women stuffed pillows or whatever up their jumpers to pretend they were pregnant, before taking home the babies.

Respectability was at the root of this societal phenomenon. But at what cost?

There’s nothing wrong with striving to be respectable, but unfortunately, in this country, not so long ago, it meant being subjugated to the church with its narrow-mindedness and misogyny.

Bishops and priests were almost bowed to. Nuns, doing the clergy’s bidding, were mostly harsh towards single mothers, blaming them for their unwanted pregnancies with nary a reference to the men that fathered the babies. No doubt, the nuns were of the belief that young women were temptresses, leading the poor lads on. 

The gossip must have been fierce, the judgements damning. All in the name of God, or at least, the Catholic Church.

And you also had the shameful involvement of some of Ireland’s most elite and powerful individuals, arranging the illegal adoption of babies. Among them was Professor Éamon de Valera Junior (a consultant gynaecologist at Holles Street National Maternity Hospital) whose father was a former president of Ireland. According to the RTÉ documentary, de Valera Junior arranged ante-natal appointments for women who were not pregnant, in order to facilitate illegal adoptions.

Yes, Ireland was very much a valley of squinting windows. A twitch of a net curtain signalled the taking up of a position in sterile parlours from which the street and the neighbourhood could be surveyed.

There would be tut-tutting at people who stepped out of line.

Respectability demanded disapproval, directed at unmarried pregnant girls and anyone else who broke the accepted codes for living a ‘holy’ life.

But priests, from the alcoholic to the abusive (with some good eggs in the mix too) were often far from holy themselves. But they would never be held up and found wanting, regardless of their behaviour. They were the untouchables.

Their handmaidens, the nuns, made sure their vestments were well cleaned, starched and ironed — with the labour coming from the accursed Magdalene laundries, run by the not very sisterly nuns.

You couldn’t expect any female solidarity from these ‘brides of Christ.’ It would make you weep in despair.

Now, when I’m out and about, I find myself wondering about the women and men I pass on the street. Were any of them illegally adopted? Are they trying to discover their real identities?

While 126 such cases have been revealed, experts say there could be more than 10,000 cases. You never know the back story of people that you see on the street.

You can never know the acquisitiveness of money-grubbing nuns either. Among the documents seen by the RTÉ Investigates programme was a demand for £85, the fee that St Patrick’s Guild charged pregnant women to care for their babies until they were adopted. That fee in today’s money is over €3,200.

But, when the mother of one of the women in the programme didn’t pay the fee, the Sisters of Charity (what a misnomer!) went after her.

Susan Kiernan’s birth mother struggled to pay the fee. The nuns began phoning Arnotts where she worked as a shop assistant. The balance due was £82.10s. A nun wrote: “If you do not send, my collector will call to see you. She would prefer not to have to do this as it might be embarrassing for you and we want to safeguard your reputation. We have not failed you; you have failed us.”

But Susan had been placed with her adoptive parents at just four days old. So why the demand for money? The whole business stinks.

Brenda Lynch, with her brother Brian, was one of four children illegally adopted into one house. The adoptions were facilitated by Éamon de Valera Junior.

These adoptions were concealed as fake pregnancies. An incensed Brenda said: “No-one is above the law, who does this person think that he is? That he can just decide that ‘oh yeah, here is a baby, we will take her from her and give her to a good family, middle class’.

It is incredible.”

Who, indeed, did Éamon de Valera Junior think that he was? Invincible, that’s what.

Shame on those people who were in powerful positions facilitating cover-ups.

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