An initial phase of an independent review into Ireland’s illegal birth registrations was ultimately “unable to establish clear evidence of incorrect birth registrations” after analyzing a sample of nearly 1,500 Irish birth records.

“A Shadow Cast Long - Independent Review Report into Incorrect Birth Registrations” was published on March 9 by TD Roderic O'Gorman, Ireland's Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth. 

The independent review was commissioned in 2019 after Tusla (Ireland's Child and Family Agency) informed Ireland’s Department of Children and Youth Affairs that it had found documentary evidence of apparent ‘incorrect’ or illegal birth registrations in a number (126 records) of the 13,500 records which had been transferred to it from the former St. Patrick’s Guild Adoption Society.

Incorrect birth registrations, a criminal offense in Ireland, occur where the persons named on a child’s birth certificate are not in fact the child’s birth parents. While they are often referred to as "illegal adoptions," the vast majority had no adoption order in place.

The review's phase 1, described as a "scoping exercise" in the document published on Tuesday, was designed to provide information to assist the Minister in reaching a decision about what, if any, subsequent action might be taken to identify more fully the extent of incorrect birth registrations.

This initial phase did not seek to provide “proof of illegal practices;  rather it highlights the potential for illegality in relation to the registering of birth records.” Additionally, phase 1 could not “investigate allegations of Irish children being trafficked or the significant issue of the adoption of Irish children by American couples.”

With more than 100,000 records between Tulsa and the Adoption Authority Ireland (AAI), a sample portion of records were analyzed in order to determine what, if any, “markers” were employed in the agencies’ case records which might indicate the likelihood of the birth registration being incorrect, as occurred in the St. Patrick’s Guild’s records.

Tusla and the AAI separately examined, under the oversight of an Independent Reviewer, a total of 1,496 case records in respect of 1,493 children. (Some records related to more than one child while a number made no reference to a child.)

The records came from more than 30 agencies, which included adoption societies, nursing homes, and boarded-out records.

Upon the publication of the independent review on Tuesday, Ireland's Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth said: "The review shows, as the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes also concluded, that some practices in the past fell far short of what would be expected today.

"There was no comparable marker in the files of other agencies to indicate the practice of illegal birth registration with sufficient documentary evidence on the files to enable a threshold to be reached to allow the confirmation of an illegal birth registration in an individual case.

"The report also concludes that a wider review of adoption files is unlikely to yield evidence that would confirm illegal birth registrations to the necessary level of certainty."

In the wake of the publication, Minister Roderic O'Gorman said on Tuesday: "I note that in the opinion of the Independent Reviewer that it is unlikely that a more comprehensive review of records would provide clear information relating to the existence of markers or wording suggestive of markers and the degree to which they may potentially be linked to incorrect birth registrations.”

He added: “The results of this independent review have shown that the St. Patrick’s Guild files were unique in that there was a clear marker on the files which, when examined, correlated to illegal birth registrations.

"The contents of the close to 1,500 records sampled for this review contained no such markers.

"The review of the sample of records referenced potential concerns about historic practices, including issues relating to informed consent, adoption to other jurisdictions, and child protection issues.

"This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the many revelations, over many years, about how women and children were treated in Ireland in the past.”

Regarding the next steps, Minister O'Gorman said: “I know significant concerns remain about the practice of illegal birth registrations, and for that reason, I have also asked the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection to consider the very significant complexities and challenges, including the deep ethical issues, which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations, and to propose an appropriate course of action.”

“The Independent Reviewer is clear on the importance of an effective information and tracing service. I have committed to urgently progressing legislation in this area, and am working intensively with the Office of the Attorney General to this end. I am hoping to bring Heads of Bill to Cabinet in the coming weeks."

O'Gorman added: “I have established an Interdepartmental Group which is currently examining issues arising for the individuals whose birth was the subject of an illegal birth registration in the St. Patrick’s Guild files, including issues around inheritance, amending birth registrations, taxation, identity documents, etc. which span the responsibility of a number of Departments and offices.

"This group will report to me with proposals within a two-month window, and I will continue to engage with my Cabinet colleagues on the matter.”