"I need to know who I am, please."
- Quote from Adoptee Voices report

Participation in a process that directly affects adoptees is a vital component of any future process, particularly those adoptees who were outside the remit of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes. 

Any future process must have the full involvement of all of those who are direct victims of the injustices of the past. The impacts and effects of adoption are not limited to a specific remit, a specific home or a specific set of circumstances. Throughout the investigation of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters, direct victims of the adoption system have been left outside the process. 

As has been evidenced by the Aitheantas Participation, Validation and Memorialisation Survey, out of the 50% of respondents who were within the remit of the commission, only 5% participated. 95% of those who were directly affected could not participate. 

If we are truly to move forwards as a nation, we can only do this when we are in full possession of the facts, what was intended to be ‘nothing about us, without us’ left far too many behind. 

Those who were outside the remit were subjected to arbitrary exclusion from a process they were directly affected by and should be included within any further process as a priority. 

Attempts to allow adoptees access to information and in so doing to exercise their constitutional right to identity are qualified and limited. The constitutional right to privacy of the birth parent is prioritised over the constitutional right to identity. 

The key recommendations of this report are as follows:

1. International best practice

Identify evolving and innovative practices internationally in enabling stakeholders to participate in the response to institutional abuses.

The survey findings, alongside the general response to the Mother and Baby Homes report and government apology, clearly indicate that many survivors and adoptees were excluded from the process. It is essential to give as many stakeholders as possible a voice in identifying needs and making decisions as to how these needs can be met, and in addressing and repairing the harm done. To focus on both stakeholder participation (as the inclusive process through which voices are heard and decisions are made) and repairing harm (as a core outcome which the response should aim to achieve) would be to take seriously and make good on the proposal that ‘restorative recognition’ 1‘Minister O’Gorman launches Consultation Process on the development of a Restorative Recognition Scheme for Former Residents of Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes’ Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, 12 March 2021. take centre-stage in the response.

There are many innovations at home and abroad from which learnings can be drawn and modern technologies applied to develop a bespoke inclusive process for the response. In New Zealand in 2019, the government funded restorative practitioners to include over 600 survivors of surgical mesh surgery and other stakeholders in addressing and repairing the harm done, through both face-to-face forums and an online database.2Wailling, Marshall and Wilkinson, ‘Hearing and Responding to the Stories of Survivors of Surgical Mesh’, New Zealand Ministry of Health, December 2019.

Also in 2019, Nova Scotia published reports, videos and summaries from its Restorative Inquiry into the ‘Home for Colored Children’, designed and delivered according to a restorative process.3Journey to Light: A Different Way Forward. Final Report of the Restorative Inquiry – Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, Province of Nova Scotia, 2019. In the UK, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has incorporated a ‘Truth Project’4The Truth Project: to maximise the number of voices heard, while Dutch restorative practitioners have developed and piloted community processing, a process by which significant numbers of (even conflicting) parties can be brought together to arrive at a consensus as to how to move forward.5Wolthuis, Annemieke & Claessen, Jacques & Slump, Gert & van Hoek, Anneke. (2019). Dutch developments: restorative justice in legislation and in practice. The International Journal of Restorative Justice. 2. 118-134. In sum, there is no shortage of international innovations from which Ireland could learn.

Here in Ireland, another 2019 report showed how restorative approaches – in particular, circle processes – could be used successfully to engage survivors of institutional abuse; this work was funded by the Department of Education and Skills.6Walshe and O’Connell: ‘Consultations with Survivors of Institutional Abuse on Themes and Issues to be addressed by a Survivor Led Consultation Group’, Department of Education, July 2019This is indicative of the substantial capacity Ireland has when it comes to restorative practitioners with the experience needed to operate in the institutional abuses and transitional justice arena. Ireland additionally has internationally-renowned capacities in human-centred design and Citizen’s Assemblies7Citizens’ Assembly – both of which are inclusive processes and philosophies applicable in this context. It is essential that all of this learning is taken into account when considering how to maximise stakeholder participation and repair harm, so as to meet the needs of survivors in a fair, just and inclusive manner.

Dr Ian Marder, Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Maynooth University

2. New agency

Agencies that were part of the problem cannot be part of the solution. A new agency to replace the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla must be formed, to improve interactions with adult adoptees. 

As has been shown by the responses to the Aitheantas surveys, the interaction with representatives of these agencies has been an overwhelmingly negative experience for adoptees. Aitheantas recommends that there be a new agency formed, to replace the Adoption Authority of Ireland and TUSLA, to take responsibility for front-facing interaction with adoptees.

Aitheantas has outlined the legal difficulties in having agencies that have previously adjudicated on adoptees’ cases hearing those cases again. The result of which is simply that adoptees do not trust either of these two agencies. The experiences as outlined in these surveys have impacted upon the respondents to such an extent that Aitheantas believes that negative association with these agencies could be a barrier to participation by adoptees in any future tracing or access of personal data, if it were still entrusted to these same agencies. 

Following the success of the Aitheantas #RepealtheSeal campaign8Aitheantas – Adoption Identity Rights: Repeal the Seal, Open the Archive petition, Uplift, January 2021, access was secured to the testimony given by survivors to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes.The Commission’s files and testimony are currently held by the Minister in an Information Management Unit within the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Youth. Aitheantas believes that all files should be held within one agency and  subject to a higher and more transparent standard of data access. There is no confidence in existing agencies to sufficiently deliver on that obligation. 

This recommendation is further reinforced by the words of the AAI themselves earlier this year, whereby they admit that they do not have the resources, in terms of costs and staff, to carry out a full review of files in which the State’s adoption agencies do not know what happened to thousands of babies for whom adoption files were opened but never completed.9‘Not possible’ to say what happened to thousands of babies with incomplete adoption files’’ Irish Examiner, 26 March 2021, available at:

It is not acceptable for the AAI to assert that an investigation is not feasible when it is required by our commitments to European and human rights conventions. Costs should not be an obstacle in this regard.10‘Spend the leftover €11.5m on investigation into adoption files’, Irish Examiner, 27 March 2021, available at:

Unquestionably, the constitutional right to identity recognised under Article 40.3.1 would include the right to know the identity of one’s siblings yet for various reasons this fundamental personal right is still denied to many adoptees/survivors.

Quite clearly, the AAI and Tusla are no longer fit for purpose in this aspect of their functions.

3. Review of legislation

Any future legislation must prioritise Adoptees access to information within a supportive and information based model.  The Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2021 is at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. Yet again, the mistakes of the past are being repeated in the General Scheme of this Bill, despite the best intentions of the Minister. 

Going forward in any future legislation in this area, a review phase is essential. Periodic reviews of the workings of legislation is an increasing and welcome development in recent acts, for instance the Judicial Counsel Act 2019 provides for review periods of the workings of the personal injuries guidelines every three years. 

Aitheantas strongly recommends a similar review period in any reform of the law on access to information for adoptees.  For far too long this area has suffered from a dearth of legislation and lacking a review provision on the rare occasions that legislation was attempted, resulting in the issue being left in abeyance for decades. 

4. Investigation

A full investigation into all homes, agencies and institutions involved in historic, domestic adoption, to include practices within the Adoption Authority of Ireland and TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency. 

The remit of the Commission of Inquiry was too limited and omitted direct victims of this system. 

The fact that Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children made comments and observations on the workings and remit of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters in November 2019 is telling and significant in itself.

‘However, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that the limited scope of the Commission’s work—as with those of other commissions examining abuses in institutions before it—will mean its investigation is not broad enough to uncover the full scale of illegal adoptions, which still affect Irish citizens today.’11Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, Visit to Ireland (2019), available from:

Allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as the circumstances surrounding alleged vaccine trials in testimonies are extremely serious and must be fully investigated by the Gardaí. 

Testimonies reveal allegations of serious violations of constitutional rights and international human rights. These demand further investigations or inquiries pursuant to the State’s obligations in domestic law and its obligations under international law as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The scope of such inquiries must be comprehensive and have a broader remit to include all institutions, homes and agencies involved in all adoption practices, both public and private, to comply with the State’s obligations in international law. 

It is Aitheantas’ view that the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters was too narrow in its remit to comply with these obligations in light of its findings and recommendations. Quotes from survey participants emphasise this point. 

“I think the terms of reference was [sic] designed to look at homes where they knew there was problems [..] they are afraid to dig deeper because they know there’s serious malpractice.”

5. Apology

An Taoiseach’s apology was felt by all respondents to the Aitheantas survey not to have sufficiently acknowledged the experiences of birth mothers, adoptees or stakeholders in the homes within the remit of the Commission, or to have acknowledged those that could not participate in the Commission’s inquiry as they were outside its remit. 

The impacts of adoption are not limited to a specific home or institution but are broadly experienced within adoptees as a whole. Adoptees who were not within the remit of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters could not participate in this investigation and have subsequently been omitted from the apology issued on this matter by An Taoiseach. 

The apology could have addressed the omissions within the remit of the Commission by including stakeholders who are affected by this issue but who could not participate in the Commission’s inquiry.

In issuing such a limited, and rushed, apology, An Taoiseach stratified, and minimised, the experience of adoptees, birth parents and survivors who have yet to be heard and are still awaiting acknowledgement. The commission excluded far too many who are directly affected, a fact An Taoiseach should have also acknowledged. 

Aitheantas believes that this omission and oversight would be best addressed in a specific ceremony for adoptees, acknowledging the social and moral wrong they were subjected to and the effects of which they and their families still live with daily.

An apology is viewed by adoptees as a vital part of a restorative recognition process. This issue needs to be revisited, incorporating a broader vision acknowledging the losses suffered by all parties involved. Respondents to the surveys emphasised the importance of a proper State apology.

“Adoption needs to be recognised as trauma to the baby that’s enduring and has huge consequences for all future relationships”. 

“If I had history of x illness and was showing symptoms I would immediately be fast tracked for tests etc. I feel Adoptees should be presumed automatic at risk of everything or at least given frequent free scans/tests/screenings etc. for common illnesses”. 

“Really with advances in medical screening in the absence of any history adopted adults and the surviving children of deceased Adoptees should have access to free genetic screening to help fill in the gaps”.

6. Autonomy over identity

Adoptees’ birth certificates and the original names they were given, as established by Aitheantas through this research, have significance far beyond the document itself. Adoptees view this document and autonomy over their own name and identity as a restorative means of acknowledging past wrongs. 

Aitheantas has already called for adoptees’ birth certificates to be historically and genealogically correct as part of a restorative recognition process. The birth certificates should include both birth parents’ names, and also have a specific mechanism for inclusion of birth parents’ names in instances where one or either birth parent has passed away. 

Aitheantas also believes that errors on adoption certificates, which are currently deemed to be immutable, is a significant issue that speaks the lack of dignity afforded Adoptees also needs to be addressed. 

Aitheantas recommends that this is addressed within a specific, private, application process for amendment that allows for corrections or additions to be made into these documents, in order to allow adoptees autonomy over their own identities. 

Given the social sensitivities that adoptees still feel exist with this issue, a process of amending or correcting the adoption certificate should not be public, or involve any financial cost to adoptees. Respondents to the survey noted the importance of adoptees’ autonomy over their own personal information.

“Access to information is one thing. Contact with genetic family members is a separate issue. The biggest flaw in the currently proposed legislation is that this has not been taken into consideration”. 

“Whilst legislation continues to deny access to identity information for Adoptees it causes a collective psychology that views Adoptees as ‘less than’ and perpetuates a view of illegitimate[acy] in its legal sense”.

7. Terminology

The results of these surveys make it clear that the issue of terminology around adoption is important to adoptees. 

For instance, it is common for agencies and the media to use terms such as “natural mother/father” when the question in the survey about preferred terms section shows that most adoptees prefer the term “birth mother/father”. This discrepancy indicates that all stakeholders understand the importance of consistent and sympathetic language. Any research on this issue must be adoptee/survivor-led and not carried out by academics or specific to an institution. 

Further to and separate to the surveys contained in this report, Aitheantas is continuing to conduct research in the area of terminology and language usage. This research is designed to address knowledge gaps and to lead reform on the issue of terminology surrounding matters of historical, domestic adoption in Ireland. 

“Right to identity should move with the times. Start listening to the voice of the baby who is now an adult and deserves a voice, an identity and a right to know birth parents”. 

8. Medical supports

Concerns over lack of knowledge regarding hereditary health concerns remains a significant, if not the main concern, and an ongoing issue for adoptees. 

An aging demographic, adoptees are concerned not just how lack of knowledge about their genetic medical history impacts on themselves, but also on their children. 

Aitheantas recommends comprehensive health screening programmes for adoptees and earlier entry to existing screening programmes for adoptees and their children. 

“When I found my birth father (through DNA), the first thing he told me was to be careful of my heart. I also have developed Type 2 Diabetes”.

9. Mental health supports

The long-lasting social stigma around adoption in Ireland has caused feelings of marginalisation among many adoptees, affecting their mental health.

The majority of respondents to the Aitheantas survey stated that they are perceived differently if they state they are adopted, and that there is still a social stigma to being adopted in Ireland. Adoptees and their children frequently feel marginalised as a result of being adopted. This has clear implications for the provision of mental health services. 

Aitheantas recommends that mental health supports, such as access to counselling, be made available to all adoptees, not limited to a specific remit, and that this service also be extended to the children of adoptees.

10. Changing language

A recurring problem over the years has been the way that adoptees are described as a “threat” to their birth parents, by the media, government and agencies. 

As recently as 2019 then-Minister Katherine Zappone referred to her wish to ‘protect a potentially vulnerable cohort of birth parents’ in response to a Parliamentary question raised in relation to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016.12Parliamentary Questions, Oral (Minister for Children and Youth Affairs) – Adoption Legislation (2019) available at: Language such as ‘protect’ and ‘vulnerable’ presents adoptees as a threat to be protected from. 

The pervasiveness of this language reveals how deep-seated the false idea is that adoptees and birth parents have conflicting interests by default. This is not the case.

This problematic mindset, reinforced over decades, is clearly reflected in the survey which shows a majority of adoptees still feel there is a social stigma to being adopted in Ireland. They also feel that if they state they are adopted they are perceived and treated differently by others.

The language that portrays adoptees as a “threat” needs to change and not reinforce ‘othering’ or social stigma. Aitheantas recommends that the language used by media, government and agencies surrounding adoption needs to change.  Given our raw – and largely unknown history- with regard to this area and the sensitivities around these issues in Ireland, Aitheantas recommends that damaging stereotypes are no longer reinforced and the use of ‘adoption’ and ‘fostering’ needs to be limited to the correct, legal definition.

11. Genealogy support grant

Genealogy supports have proven to be an ongoing and effective support for Adoptees in filling the lacuna by lack of support and Tracing and Information Legislation with a high degree of accuracy and success. Any future Legislation needs to reflect this fact.

Aitheantas recommends that any future legislation incorporate this support by providing a one-off grant to allow adoptees to conduct and support their own tracing. 

This grant would acknowledge the significant costs incurred by adoptees in order to establish information which the State now acknowledges should not have been withheld from them. 

As evidenced in this report, information and control of it remains a sensitive issue for Adoptees. Adoptees therefore wish to remain in control of their own information and research on this issue and prefer a grant over this service being provided for them.

“We have to depend on services like AncestryDNA to find out the truth”. 

“Through DNA, I found my family, but the mother I had longed for all my life was dead 14 years by the time I found her. I have spent a fortune on searching and trying to address the years of trauma involved in being adopted and in not being able to have access to my true family”. 

12. Commemoration

Adoptees are the custodians of their own history. They view this history as being primarily their own and that of their immediate families. This must be acknowledged and supported in any future commemoration of the history of forced and coercive adoption. 

According to the survey results, adoptees envisaged the most suitable model of commemoration as an interpretative centre which is Adoptee/Survivor led and gives the historical context of Mother and Baby Homes and how they related to the State, the Church and Irish society. Such a centre should also feature permanent exhibitions, with priority access to records given to adoptees, survivors and their families. 

There was a preference for the future site of such a centre being a neutral location and not one linked to the previous history (e.g. a former Mother and Baby Home building). There was also preference for the centre to be shared across several sites to enable widespread access. 

Aitheantas recommends that there should be extensive consultation with all direct victims on this issue, with numerous models of interpretation and types of site considered. 

Given the sensitivities surrounding this issue it would be essential that all who are directly affected have input and that they be clearly facilitated with regard to their views.

Another key consideration under the heading of Commemoration is institutional burial grounds and preservation of same. This issue has arisen in the pre-legislative scrutiny stage of the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill earlier this year. Following submissions to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth concerning the above bill, Aitheantas was invited to appear before the Committee as expert witnesses. 

Evidence was given to the Committee on 27 April 2021 and Aitheantas recommended the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO’s) in instances where the land in which the institutional burial was located was not owned by the State and/or the landowner was not amenable to the transfer of the relevant part of the property to the State in order to preserve and commemorate the site. 

While suggestions have also been made regarding a national holiday or day of commemoration, Aitheantas feels that given the strong feelings regarding the involvement of the church in the issue of forced and coercive adoption that consultation with direct victims on this matter is vital.

13. Education about adoption

Adoptees want the history of forced and coerced adoption within the wider societal context to be taught at both secondary and third level education in Ireland. This was supported by every respondent to this survey. 

This speaks to adoptees’ understanding of themselves as the custodians of their own history. Teaching the history of forced and coercive adoption, and adoptees’ role as direct victims of this system, would acknowledge and understand adoptees’ and survivors’ experiences outside of the narrow confines, or remit, within which this history is currently understood. 

From these findings, Aitheantas recommends that the history of forced and coercive adoption be incorporated as part of the curriculum for secondary and third level.

Aitheantas further recommends that this progresses within a reasonable timeframe.

14. Adoptees as Educators

Aitheantas recommends that adoptees, survivors and their children are supported in becoming educators of their own history and not the subjects of academic study. 

Respondents to all of these surveys, both adoptees and their children, have shown that they understand and appreciate the significance of the social history of adoption and their own place within it. Adoption, the issues surrounding it and numerous decades of inaction has had a profoundly negative impact on both adoptees and their families. 

The fact that a majority of respondents have stated that there is still a social stigma attached to being adopted not only means that this has impacted on them negatively but that it has also become an intergenerational issue. 

Adoptees and survivors are the experts on their own experience and should be empowered to claim it as such through education supports. 

Aitheantas recommends that all colleges and universities with these areas as a source of study or research provide scholarships specific to adoptees, survivors and their children in instances where this is not already the case. 

Aitheantas further recommends that any funding for further education as outlined in the Commission’s Key Recommendations is specifically directed to adoptees, survivors and their children. 

15. We need to face our history with courage and not repeat the errors of the past.

    1. Aitheantas recommends a full review of all practices surrounding domestic intercountry adoption in line with current investigations in Belgium, The Netherlands and Sweden13Human Rights Watch – Sweden To Investigate Illegal Intercountry Adoptions (2021), available at:
    2. Aitheantas recommends that greater and more targeted supports as regards single parents and marginalised families be put in place to show that we have truly ‘learned from the past’.

    3. The involvement of the Church in past practices of forced and coercive adoption remains a source of deep hurt for some respondents.
“influence over the State with their attitudes to unmarried women having babies”

“what [the] church and state [have] done [is] not right. We are paying [for it]”

“Not happy with [the] church and state the way they have dealt with it. So many lives distroyed. [sic] An apology from [the] Catholic Church.. Removal [of the Church] from all schools. Atonement assets ceased [sic] by state.”


The tone of the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters was felt by Adoptees to have been excusatory and to have pushed responsibility for these institutions, and their failings, back on society at large.  This was a society whose views and morals were shaped by the Church and the State. A society whose adults of 1950’s were the children of the new Free State, who were educated, shaped and dictated to by the Church, whose views were enshrined in our laws and wider society, a society hamstrung by propriety and paternalism, all of which occurred with the full permission of the State. 

This was a society which utterly failed the women and children who still suffer as a result of the legacy of forced and coercive adoption.

History is repeating itself even today with the controversy over the new National Maternity Hospital. Aitheantas fully supports the campaign for a publicly-owned and secular National Maternity Hospital as a vital first step in acknowledging past wrongs. 

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