A sample review of adoption agency records in which births were registered illegally will be published by the Department of Children in the coming weeks.

It includes findings of illegal adoptions from St Patrick's Guild in Dublin between 1946 and 1969. 

The Department has confirmed that 151 cases of illegal birth registrations have been discovered.

This is an increase in the original finding of 126 cases when the review began three years ago. 

Some of those whose births were illegally registered and who were adopted from St Patrick's Guild have recently been informed.

Anne O'Connor was born in Dublin in 1964 and grew up with an older sister and a younger brother. 

She describes her childhood and family life as "normal". 

Her parents saw the importance of education in their children’s lives and they worked hard to provide for their three children. 

They were devoted Catholics. Mass, the Rosary and the Angelus were incorporated into the day. 

Anne celebrating her First Holy Communion
Anne O'Connor at her graduation from UCD with her parents

After securing a Bachelor of Science in UCD, Anne went to London which eventually became her home. 

In 2011, she retrained to become a psychotherapist. She now works for herself.

In October 2019, Anne was leaving for work, when a letter arrived. Initially, she thought it was a scam. 

It was from an organisation called Tusla, which wasn’t in existence when she left Ireland. It requested that she call a number. On the receiving end was Tusla’s adoption services. 

They needed to see her in London and they would be in contact on Monday to arrange a meeting. 

Anne says when she put the phone down her brain went into overdrive. 

She spent the weekend Googling Tusla in an effort to find out why the Child and Family Agency’s adoption services were travelling to meet her.

Her thoughts turned to her younger brother who died in 2012.

Perhaps he had a child that had been adopted and perhaps that child was seeking its birth family. 

However, when she read that Tusla were contacting people whose births were illegally registered in Ireland, she questioned if she was adopted. 

In May 2016, a process was put in place to deal with 126 cases that were discovered.

Anne saw that a review that had been instigated by the then Minister for Children Katherine Zappone after records of St Patrick’s Guild were transferred to Tusla in 2016.

The Minister told the Dáil that illegal birth registrations were identified. 

The reason they came to light was because the index cards on the files contained the words "adopted from birth". 

This phrase raised suspicions and the cases were analysed further by the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the General Register Office. 

It was confirmed they were illegal registrations.

In May 2016, a process was put in place to deal with 126 cases that were discovered. It was led by a team of social workers - two of whom travelled to London to meet Anne - five days after she received the letter in October 2019.

Anne says she was not advised by Tusla to bring anyone with her to the meeting, but she contacted a friend who is a former Magistrate to join her. 

At 54 years of age, Anne was told that she was not the birth child of her parents, her birthday was not on the day she’d been celebrating all her life, she had not been born in St Rita’s in Dublin as she was led to believe, but in Sorrento, Cabra Park. 

Anne's birth certificate turned out to be fake

Anne says she was refused any further information and left in shock, without an identity. 

Tusla has said it provided access to any personal information it held in line with the current legislative provisions under GDPR.  

It says these situations are exceptionally personal and complex matters for the people involved and it has acknowledged that sometimes an individual’s experience might not be all that they would want it to be for them.

There was comfort in Anne knowing that her oldest friend in Dublin could help her come to terms with the news. 

Anne and Susan became friends at the age of four when they both attended Irish dance classes. They went to the same secondary school, attended college together, moved to London together, Anne was Susan’s bridesmaid at her wedding. 

Two years on, she's still dealing with the grief. "I wasn’t who I thought I was, but I don’t know who I am," she says.

Susan was adopted and it was something both girls were aware of growing up together.

They lived in an area where there were a number of families with adopted children.

Anne’s friend is also the well-known advocate for adopted people in Ireland and a spokesperson for the Adoption Rights Alliance, Susan Lohan.

When she received the call from Anne informing about Tusla, it rocked her to her core.

"I’ve heard so many awful adoption stories over the years, but this was so close to home, I was actually grief stricken for her because I knew her family growing up, her parents, her sister her brother," Susan says. "You could have knocked me over with a feather."

Susan felt helpless as Anne tried to come to terms with the news. 

Two years on, she’s still dealing with the grief. 

"I wasn’t who I thought I was, but I don’t know who I am," she says.

However, due to hard work and determination, she has discovered more than what she learned from Tusla two years ago.

Anne moved to London after graduating from college

She managed to get a copy of her real birth certificate dated 25 February 1964 - it contained her true identity. 

The fake version was issued a day later with a new name, and listing her adoptive parents as her birth parents.

She says her parents "would never have snatched babies out of a hospital or a home".

The Sisters of Charity ran St Patrick’s Guild at the time. 

The Congregation says it recognises the hurt and emotional distress those who were adopted are experiencing. 

Unfortunately, Anne’s parents passed away before she was told she had been adopted all her life. She, her sister and brother are not biologically related. 

Anne wishes her parents were still around to talk to them.

"I’d love if they had told me, that they felt they could," she says. 

She is now developing a new relationship with her sister because while they share a history, they are not biologically related. 

Her extended family were also informed and have been very supportive.  

"It’s sort of trying to grapple with everything, when people (her parents) are dead, you’re left with more questions than you have answers, but I have to move forward and get on with my day-to-day life and function," she says. 

When she speaks about her parents, she gets emotional. 

"I love them, I still love them, I can’t stop that. They’re still Mum and Dad."

Anne (R) describes her childhood and family life as "normal"

In Anne’s view adoption is based on loss. 

"My parents' loss of not having their own children, mine, my brother and sisters’ loss of not being with our own mothers. There’s loss everywhere and there’s something about not knowing this....I’m 56. It’s too long," she says.

Despite the loss and the grief; Anne is glad she knows the truth even at this stage in her life.

"You know, there’s something about the truth that settles your system. Truth. My body feels settled with knowing this. It’s like I can start to become me, myself, who I am." 

Anne is not alone in finding out that her birth was illegally registered.

Since the examination by Tusla into 126 cases first began in 2016, the Department of Children says the figure there are now 151 cases of illegal birth registration from St Patrick’s Guild. 

Tusla Adoption Services are continuing to work to inform these people that their births were registered with the incorrect birth parents recorded.

For those who want to find their birth parents time is running out according to Susan Lohan. She says the Department of Children needs to set up a dedicated unit to deal with all the people who have been "refused information by Tusla".

Ms Lohan says cases like Anne's are an example of why the Government needs to examine adoptions in the past.

Tusla says the current legislation permits it only to share personal information with those affected, that relates directly to them. 

It says it has advocated for and is fully supportive of new legislation that is urgently required to provide both adopted persons, boarded out and those illegally registered at birth access to information about their identity. 

It welcomes Minister Roderic O’Gorman’s recent commitment to providing a new legislative framework. 

Ms Lohan says cases like Anne's are an example of why the Government needs to examine adoptions in the past - something she says was not addressed by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity would also welcome an examination of adoption practices.

In a statement it has said it would support the establishment of an inquiry into the adoption practices in the State since 1922. 

This, it says, will hopefully bring to light the truth and transparency to how adoption services in the State were conducted. 

It says it will support and participate in such a State inquiry.

The publication of the sampling review in illegal birth registrations was temporarily deferred so as not to encroach on the work of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes. 

A copy of the review was provided to the Commission. 

Now that the Commission has published its final report and is now dissolved, it is the Department’s intention to publish the sampling review into illegal birth registrations in the coming weeks.

An RTÉ Investigates documentary - Who Am I? Ireland's Illegal Adoptions - examining how thousands of Irish babies were illegally adopted and how decades later those children, now adults, are still battling against bureaucracy to find their true identities will broadcast on Wednesday at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.

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