Revisiting the illegal adoption case

Sometimes the best option is adoption, writes Mary Kenny

It is now believed that around 2,000 children were illegally adopted in Ireland in the 1950s, and Theresa Tinngal is one of them. Theresa is 58, and she only found out 11 years ago that she had been adopted – she had believed that the couple who adopted her were her birth parents.  Two years ago, her records, along with many others, were found in a Dublin attic.

These 2,000 adopted children – placed with adoptive families in 1950s – came from mother-and-baby homes, and were born to single mothers around that time. The Adoption Authority of Ireland and the HSE now face the Herculean task of tracing the biological links of the adopted individuals.



Clare Daly, the Independent TD, has described the situation as “one of these horror stories of Ireland in the past”. But if Ms Daly genuinely wants to know the truth, she needs to show some understanding of the context.

When adoption was first mooted in Dáil Éireann, in 1948, the subject itself met with a lot of prejudice. Country deputies in particular were hostile to the idea of adoption, because of the long tradition of the ‘blood link’ in land inheritance. One rural TD, said that adoption was like “interfering with the livestock record book”.

As a matter of interest, this attitude still prevails among the aristocracy. No adopted person can inherit land or titles – it must go to a ‘blood’ link, be it an eighth cousin once removed. I remember a country aunt of mine, who had come from a Protestant family, expressing doubts about adoption because “you didn’t know where the child had come from”. There might, she suggested, be “bad blood”.

So adoption had a struggle to be accepted. It was championed by people who considered themselves more enlightened and who thought adoption was progressive and in the best interest of the child, and the unwed mother, too.

Adoption was legalised in the 1950s, but it isn’t entirely surprising – given attitudes at that time if some were still carried out sub rosa.        

Of course, adoption should not have been done illegally; but it is possible that the people who fixed these adoptions did so with good intentions. It is possible that at least some of them thought it was in the best interest of the child to have a family life, and in the best interest of the mother to start afresh.


It may even be a comfort to adoptees to consider that authorities sometimes believed they were acting for the best.

We now know that adoption should be carried out with transparency, and certainly legally.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is indeed sometimes the best option. The actor Dan Stevens, the British Education Secretary Michael Gove, and Tony Blair’s late father Leo are all examples of people who were successfully adopted and have said their adoptive family meant as much to them as any birth family could ever have done.

This subject should not be approached essentially in a negative light.


It’s evangelisation that matters

The Church of Ireland has appointed a female bishop, the Rev. Pat Storey, who has been rector of St Augustine’s in Derry. Bishop Storey has made history because she is the first such appointment among the Anglican hierarchy in Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales.

She herself says that her “gender” is “no big deal”, as a bishop. As a mother of two children, her “gender” certainly is a big deal: she couldn’t have done it without those valuable X chromosomes!

The big deal, really, for the Church of Ireland ñ as for any denomination ñ is whether numbers can be sustained. In Leitrim recently, I met a Church of Ireland organist who plays the organ in nine different churches, because there is such a shortage of people. Anglican ministers are struggling to keep two and three parishes going, with small congregations in each. First things first: itís evangelisation that matters. If you don’t get the congregations, the identity of a bishop is pretty irrelevant.


The middle way on alcohol

Should there be an ‘Arthur’s Day’ celebration on September 26? Messrs Guinness, the porter-makers, certainly think so and are inviting the public to lift a glass of the black stuff to Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewery’s famous founder.

Doctors don’t like the idea, however: liver disease, they say, almost doubled between 1995 and 2007 and alcohol abuse is a huge problem.  Is there a middle way on this issue? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a pint for moderate drinkers. A little fiesta heartens community feelings, and doctors shouldn’t be killjoys.  But problem drinkers should be aware Arthur’s Day is not their cup of tea, and that it is essentially a commercial enterprise. Decisions on a vote of conscience, I think.