From top: The former Mother and baby Home in Bessborough, Cork; from left: Irish Examiner journalist Conall Ó Fátharta, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Dr James Gallen, of Dublin City University
In April 2017, Dr James Gallen, a lecturer in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University, was appointed by the Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone to help the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.
Specifically, Ms Zappone asked Dr Gallen “to assist by mapping out a model of ‘transitional justice’ as a means of giving voice to former residents of Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes”.
This morning, Conall Ó Fátharta, in The Irish Examiner, reports that Mr Gallen has accused the State of being:
“more concerned with managing the ‘potential scandal and legal liability’ of illegal adoption, birth registration, and other coercive adoption practices than helping victims”.
Mr Ó Fátharta reports:
Mr Gallen said “the State simply doesn’t get it” and pointed to the fact that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has committed to a “transitional justice” approach to the Mother and Baby homes scandal.
“Talk of transitional justice is fundamentally undermined when the ongoing relationship between citizens and the State is one where the interests of an individual are countered by the desire to maintain the reputation of institutions,” said Mr Gallen.
Mr Gallen was speaking in light of a detailed special investigation by Mr Ó Fátharta published in Monday’s Irish Examiner about a woman Jackie Power (not her real name) who had to sign a consent form for her son to be adopted under a fictitious name.
Mr Ó Fátharta reported how, in 1974, Ms Power had a baby boy when she was a teenager in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork.
Five months later she went back to Bessborough and signed a consent form allowing for her son to be adopted through the Sacred Heart Adoption Society.
She was told to put a false name on the consent form, which was also signed by a named nun.
The boy’s birth was illegally registered under this false name while the false name was also used for the formal adoption order.
In official documentation that followed, including the adoption order issued by the State’s regulatory body, the Adoption Board, both Ms Power and her son’s names were replaced by fictitious names.
Mr Ó Fátharta explained that if Ms Power’s son, who would now be 44, tried to contact his mother, he would, unbeknownst to himself, be searching for her under a false name.
In 2005, Ms Power told the Adoption Board (the AAI’s predecessor) about the false name and illegal registration and the agency didn’t inform the gardaí.
Mr Ó Fátharta reported:
“Almost half a century later, the attitude of certain State agencies — the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), and Tusla — to her case is as cold-hearted as the nuns who forced her as a 16-year-old to sign away both her and her son’s identities.
“Instead of offering support or offering assistance, emails between staff members show the attitude of Tusla to be one of institutional self-preservation.
“Just last year, staff handling Jackie’s case were instructed in emails not to refer to situations like hers as “illegal” but instead as “possible illegal registrations”. Reference is made to having to “hold our powder” because “that stuff is FOI’able… and it could be used against us if someone takes a case”.