British woman settles 'illegal adoption' claim against Catholic agency

Harriet Sherwood
Tressa Reeves and her son Patrick Farrell. They allege Farrell was illegally adopted. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

A British woman who spent 40 years searching for her son after he was allegedly illegally adopted through a Catholic agency in Ireland in the 1960s has settled a court action.

Tressa Reeves, 79, who now lives in Cornwall, and her son, Patrick Farrell, sued St Patrick’s Guild, an adoption society run by the Sisters of Charity, and the Irish state. They alleged he was never properly adopted, a claim that was denied.

In May, the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, issued a public apology to 126 people who were illegally adopted through St Patrick’s Guild between 1946 and 1969. The disclosures were “another chapter from the very dark history of our country”, Varadkar said.

The Irish high court heard that Reeves came from a “respectable” English Catholic family with Irish connections and was sent to Ireland after she became pregnant in 1960. She gave birth at the Marie Clinic in Dublin on 13 March 1961.

Reeves called her son Andre in the hope that she would be able to trace him later by his uncommon name. A few days later, he was handed over to a childless couple, Jim and Maeve Farrell, who named him Patrick.

Farrell did not know he was adopted until after his adoptive mother died in 2012. Reeves had spent decades trying to track him down and they were finally reunited in 2013, when Farrell was 52.

The court heard that Farrell’s adoptive mother had strongly opposed him being told he was adopted or that his birth mother wanted to make contact.

Correspondence between St Patrick’s Guild and Farrell’s adoptive mother recorded that she described the boy as being vulnerable, was against telling him he was adopted and said he had moved to Australia. Farrell has never been to Australia.

Reeves claimed she was given the brush-off by the guild and other authorities when she sought to make contact with her son. She said she was told by a nun that he had been probably sent to America. In 1997, she discovered he had been placed with an Irish family, but she was not given information she requested that would allow her to make contact with him.

Reeves and Farrell claimed the adoption was unlawful, saying false birth and baptism certificates were procured, and they sought damages for alleged false misrepresentations and failure to protect their family rights.

After the settlement, reached on the fourth day of hearings, Reeves said: “I sincerely hope the outcome of this case will encourage other people in similar circumstances to me to act as I did. Hopefully, the authorities will support and assist them. Now I intend to enjoy the love and fun of my whole family.”

The guild denied the claims and lawyers for the Irish state said it was not liable for any wrongs committed against the plaintiffs. The terms of the settlement were confidential.

Adoption rights campaigners have said they believe the figures quoted by Varadkar in May are the “tip of the iceberg”.